Second Reading – Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022

Tuesday, 2 August 2022

Mr PITT : What an appalling attack on democracy—an appalling attack on democracy—an automatic gag at 10 o’clock. There are 151 members in this House who have just been gagged by the Labor government. This is outrageous. This is Australia’s democratic right. We are elected to come here to speak. I will go on to speak about the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill, but this is an outrage, an absolute outrage.

Ms Madeleine King interjecting

The SPEAKER: The Minister for Resources is interjecting not from her seat.

Mr PITT: We have four cashless debit card sites around the country, and in my electorate of Hinkler is the biggest site in the country. There were some 6,552 individuals on the card at this site as of 1 July 2022, and it’s making a difference—it is making a big difference. My site is significantly different to the other three. We do not have a majority of Indigenous or Aboriginal descent in my patch. It is only on four payments: Newstart, youth allowance other, parenting payment single and parenting payment partnered. That is all. It has worked, and that has been demonstrated by the evidence. But what we’ve seen tonight is a move to urgency because they want to meet their own deadline. It has been in place for years. The cashless debit card has been in the trial sites for years, operating successfully. Another two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, six weeks, will make no substantial difference, apart from the fact that it affects the agenda of those opposite.

Firstly, can I thank those individuals who are willing to go out and support the cashless debit card locally: the former member for Bundaberg David Batt; the member for Burnett, Stephen Bennett; the now retired member for Hervey Bay Ted Sorensen; our two mayors—one mayor was opposed, and I understand that, the mayor of Fraser Coast, George Seymour, was ideologically opposed. He’s also opposed to pokies. I thought this was a pretty good solution, but I’ve always respected George for being consistent. The Bundaberg mayor, Jack Dempsey, gave an absolutely fantastic letter of support, and I seek leave to table this letter, Mr Acting Deputy Speaker Georganas.

Leave not granted.

Mr PITT: It’s not granted? Very well, Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, thank you so much. This is correspondence between the Bundaberg mayor and me providing support for the cashless debit card, and we can’t even allow a tabling of this document in the parliament. If it were any more ridiculous, it would be funny. But let’s come back to the cashless debit card once again. It’s an 80 per cent, 20 per cent split. It is a debit card that can be used on any EFTPOS machine, except to buy alcohol, except to buy gambling products. It works. The concept being put forward by those opposite is that these 6,552 participants in my electorate can’t pay their rent, can’t buy things, can’t get their kids to school. I would have a queue outside my office that I couldn’t see the end of if that were the case. It is just complete nonsense.

On a more serious note, these are all very serious discussions. I want to read out a statistic and I think everyone in the House should hear this and be ashamed, absolutely ashamed. When the electorate was announced as the fourth region for the cashless debit card, of those individuals who were under 30 and on welfare, 90 per cent had a parent who was also on welfare during the past 15 years, the majority of whom were on welfare for at least nine of the last 15 years, and without any intervention it has projected that 57 per cent of those under 30 on welfare would still be on income support in 10 years time. That is appalling; it is absolutely appalling. This is the youth of our nation who are finding themselves in difficult circumstances and unable to get out of them. Surely our job as politicians, as MPs, as representatives, is to do things that make a difference. These are tough decisions—I’ve always acknowledged that—and what do we see from those opposite? They continue to remain silent on what they’ll do afterwards, because the answer is nothing. They will take away what works, and they will do nothing. And not only that, but we cannot get a commitment from the minister on the $30 million of support that is going into the four trial sites to make sure we can provide more assistance. This is on top of what was already provided.

So I say once again to the minister, and I’m sure the minister’s staff are watching: just give us a commitment to maintain this money, because it makes a difference. It helps kids get into work, it helps them get a job and it helps them pay their own way. Thirty million dollars is not that much. It’s in the budget. Please do not cut it, because we need it.

I’ll repeat what I said in a speech to parliament in May 2017:

Change is difficult. Change will be hard. Change will be controversial. But change is absolutely necessary. It is absolutely worth the attempt. We have an opportunity with the cashless debit card to make change for our community.

That is why our community elected us. For two elections in a row, this has been front and centre of the Labor campaign, and we have continued to receive support from the people of Hinkler, because they know we are trying to make a difference and make change.

There is no silver bullet in this area. There simply is not. But this is a tool in a toolbox that actually works, and that is backed up by the ANAO report. I’ll go to table 3.4, which shows the performance measures for the cashless debit card. The first one is ‘Extent to which the CDC supports a reduction in social harm in communities’. It fully and/or mostly meets requirements for data, verifiable data, being free from bias, how it was measured and everything else that’s related—all of it. On the second measure, two out of the four are met.

The ANAO report was scathing about the department, because the department did not do what the minister asked or expected in terms of gathering the data that was necessary. I’ll acknowledge that it’s been incredibly difficult, particularly in Queensland, to get data. The Queensland Labor government simply won’t participate. They will not provide direct data around crime, health services or education. But what I can tell you is that every single schoolteacher I’ve spoken to has been supportive. In fact, a school principal, who I will not name, went to the community reference group for the cashless debit card and said that after its introduction their breakfast club halved and the number of kids doing extracurricular activities almost doubled. If that is not a good outcome, I don’t know what we’re doing here. I really don’t.

These are kids who find themselves in really tough positions. They have parents who are welfare dependent and, in a lot of cases, multigenerationally welfare dependent. These are tough issues to deal with, and they require tough policies to get an outcome. This was a tough policy, but it was the right policy. Right across the trial sites, it has been absolutely successful.

You don’t have to listen to me. I’ll read just a couple of quotes from constituents, given the shortage of time that we now have: ‘I would like to express my continued support for the cashless card. Being a taxpaying professional, I like to see our tax dollars supporting health, roads, security, pensioners and the disabled, but, being 30 years old myself, I believe able-bodied young people should be earning their own way. I don’t know if one email can make any difference to the card’s future, but, if it can, I hope this contributes in some way. Please continue to do the work.’ Another says: ‘We are constituents of Hinkler and very much support the work you’re doing to help people in our area to use their support from the government in the manner it is meant for. We have such high numbers of unemployed whilst having hundreds of backpackers, but our farmers are saying they are unable to find local people to fill these jobs. Keep up the good work.’ Everywhere I go, people raise this issue with me.

But here is what we have seen from those opposite. They said they would consult. We did over 100 meetings for consultation in my electorate, but they went and talked to some activists who don’t live in the area—in fact, they’re not in the electorate of Hinkler—who are opposed because, well, they’re activists, and that’s no real surprise.

I’ll go to an editorial from one of the local papers. It is from Jessica Grewal and it’s entitled ‘Hunting for villains in all the wrong places’. It says: ‘From the moment the cashless card debate began, some of the opinions expressed in this space have seen a villain cast in one of the most polarising chapters in the region’s history. But much of the contempt expressed on social media and at forums appears to be fuelled by completely false assumptions.’ This is an editor and journalist: ‘Comment is routinely sought from politicians, members of the public and anti-card lobbyists who are also encouraged to direct their members to the media but are yet to produce any proof that more than a handful of locals have had any issues accessing necessities or paying rent.’ This was brought to the journalists over and over and over. This is the answer from an independent editor. There was no evidence whatsoever that that was happening. They put it in the local paper.

In the last few seconds that I have to talk about this issue, I want to come back to one of our local police officers, who has now moved on, unfortunately. When the proposition that this would have an impact on crime was brought forward, he said, ‘Top cop backs cashless card and has a message for criminals: we will come for you.’ This has not been the case whatsoever. This is wrong. The decision that Labor is making is wrong. It has been supported in the communities where the rollout has occurred because they know that it works, and the Labor Party will replace it with absolutely nothing.

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