Second Reading – Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018
Mr PITT (Hinkler—Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister) (11:21): I thank the member for Barton for her contribution. I’d like to place on the public record an open invitation to the member for Barton to come to my electorate. Don’t go to a meeting with the local union hacks. Come to a meeting with the people who are providing frontline services in my community. This is a trial extension, not a nationwide rollout. This is a proposal for one electorate and, can I say, one which is not an Aboriginal community. This is an area where the numbers are nowhere near the levels in the other three trial sites. This trial will be in a typical community on the east coast of Australia. It is strongly supported.
I’d like to make these points. Firstly: the recommendation of the Senate inquiry was that the trial for the Hinkler electorate be commenced—that this legislation be passed. I’ve got to say, Member for Barton, I will assume that you’ve been misinformed, because the Senate inquiry very clearly stated that it supported the rollout in the bill. Secondly, in terms of the mayors of Fraser Coast and Bundaberg: the former mayor of the Fraser Coast Regional Council supported it publicly, and I have a two-page letter of support from the Bundaberg mayor. I would also say to the member and to those listening, particularly in the Senate on the cross bench: Brian Courtice is a former federal Labor member for Hinkler, and he is someone who has advocated for this card very strongly and very publicly. He is absolutely committed to his community still, and I commend him for it. There are any number of councillors who have provided us with letters of support and have told me and the Department of Social Services that this is something that we should trial.
In regard to the cost, Minister Tehan stated in May that the cost will be less than $2,000 per person once these numbers in the Hinkler electorate trial are included. That is publicly available and publicly stated. So, once again, I would say to those on the crossbench and to my community: I’m sorry this has taken so long. This has been over a year’s worth of debate locally. I accept that there are people who will be ideologically opposed, but, in terms of consultation, how much more can we do? The Department of Social Services had done over a hundred sets of consultation before this was debated last time. I’ll have to check exactly how many they’ve done since then, but they’ve done extensive rounds of consultations, and not just with consumers, merchants and frontline service providers; they have been there for months and months and months, initially to get an idea of whether there was support. I sent out 32,000 letters. We had an over-10-per-cent response rate. It was very strongly supported. I know there are people in this place and outside who won’t believe me. They’ll think I have a vested interest. Well, that’s not the case, and I would say to them: I’m disappointed that this is necessary, but the community strongly supports it.
The local newspaper engaged ReachTEL. I’m sure this is an organisation that those listening, particularly people in this place, have heard of. ReachTEL is a recognised polling organisation, and it identified that less than 27.8 per cent of the population is opposed. It doesn’t get a lot better than that—27.8 per cent. The majority support the cashless card. ‘Bring on the cashless card’ is the headline. How much more can we possibly do?
We are out there talking to people who are dealing with difficult circumstances. This is not a broad-based rollout; this is a select cohort, as the member for Barton identified: those on Newstart under the age of 36, parenting payment single, parenting payment partnered and another type of youth allowance. The reason we need this amendment is that there are 6,700 people who fall into that cohort. The reason there are so many is that when we consulted with the community and when we talked to the front-line providers—when we did all of that work—they said to us: ‘It is about children in our electorate. They are not getting fed. They are not getting the basic amenities of life.’ That is completely unacceptable.
I accept that this is not the panacea. This is not the only way to deal with this, but this is the only policy that is on the table. My community supports it. They support it strongly. We have been through all of the social media storm. We have dealt with those people from Sydney, Melbourne and Western Australia. I don’t care what they think. This is down to the ones that live there. It is my electorate. I was born there. I have lived my entire life in that place. This is not acceptable to me and it is not acceptable to them, and they want to do something. I would say to the crossbench senators: this is the time to stand up. They’re not your people, but it is something that they want. Now, surely in this place we can get to the point where we can accept what the community wants.
We have done all of the consultation. I have had people come to me. I have had the local state member in Hervey Bay telling me how many children he’s had to feed that have come through his front door because their parents waste their money on gambling and on alcohol. It is terrible. The people who work in our local schools—they can’t come out; they are employed by the state government and are restricted from making comment—have told me that in the district they are feeding over 1,000 children a day for breakfast. This can’t continue. We need to make change. Look at gambling: I had reports earlier last year of the average numbers in Hervey Bay and Bundaberg being almost $5 million a month in a small community like that. This is something which will make a difference. It will make a real difference.
The Labor Party were in a bipartisan position earlier. They supported the trial in two sites, in the Kimberley and in Ceduna. They are very strongly Aboriginal communities; I think we both accept that. This is not. We can’t say that it is only for those types of communities and not for this one. This is not a nationwide rollout. It is quite simply a trial of 6,700 participants. The Fraser Coast Chronicle reported that the latest electronic gaming machine statistics released by the Queensland government showed that $23.8 million had been lost just on the Fraser Coast, on 1,300 poker machines, since January. This is a card which does not restrict anything else. You can buy whatever you want. It can be used anywhere where EFTPOS is accepted, except for on alcohol and gambling products—and, of course, cash is restricted to restrict access to drugs. Surely we can trial this in one more location which is not an Aboriginal community.
As I said, we did our own consultation very early in the piece to see whether there was significant support to even attempt to do the rest of the consultation and then a rollout in the original trial. We did 32,000 direct mail-outs, phone polling of around 500 and 5,500 emails—as well as the calls and emails into my office—just from my office, from our small team of four people. Here is some of the feedback from local constituents:
I fully support this move. As the drug trade relies on cash, the move to a Cashless Debit Card will hopefully have a significant impact.
Yes the Cashless Debit Card would assist small businesses in revenue and also reap more tax revenue, as Centrelink dollars go to genuine retailers, not to illegal drug sellers who do not have a tax file number for their illegal sale and revenue.
They will not swap a six-pack of spaghetti for ice. This is about making a real change in our region, one which is wanted.
As I said earlier, the local newspaper engaged ReachTEL. They polled 637 people, which is a reasonable-sized sample. Fewer than 28 per cent were against. As well as that consultation, I’ve said that the Department of Social Services has undertaken significant consultation. This is by the Public Service. I don’t think that there is anyone in this place who would say that the Public Service are biased. The Public Service are here to act in the national interest. They are always fair and impartial. From July 2017 to September 2017, DSS conducted 110 meetings in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. As I said to the member for Barton, after the announcement of the site on 21 September 2017, the department continued to consult and engage with the community and conducted a total of 188 meetings to December 2017. We have consulted with business leaders, church leaders and heads of community organisations. They are all keen and eager to trial this for just two years.
As I said earlier, I absolutely accept that there will be people who are ideologically opposed, but there is no other proposal. No-one has put forward any alternative—not one of the complainants, not one of the advocates, not one of the social media warriors. None of them have put forward anything else. It is time to trial this in the Hinkler electorate. My community is sick of talking about this. They just want it implemented. The overwhelming majority of them want this implemented in their region.
Fundamentally, this is about kids. This is not about anything else. We have children who are not being fed. I want to do something about it. My community wants to do something about it. We have outstanding support. There are people who have stood up on their feet and said they support the card and have been criticised by people right across the country with access to a computer and Facebook. They have been threatened. They have been told that their businesses shouldn’t be used because they support the cashless debit card. It is absolutely outrageous what has happened there.
So I say to those opposite: this is a trial site for one more location. I don’t know what more we can do in terms of consultation—I honestly don’t. The department has been there for months. I once again say to the member for Barton: I have an open invitation for you to come to the electorate. I will put you with the people who provide these services, because what they have said to me is that they want to do this. They want to give this a go because they think it will work. If it doesn’t work, we will know at the end of the trial. But, if it does not commence, we will not know a thing—nothing; there will be no change. I say to the crossbench: think very seriously about this before the vote comes to the Senate. I know that there are ongoing discussions with the minister and those who are looking to support the bill.
Once again, I thank people like Brian Courtice. Having a former federal Labor member publicly supporting this type of policy should say to not only those opposite but also those in the Senate that this is not a stitch-up; this is a community which is asking for help. The government is trying to roll out something which we think will make a difference and it should be trialled. Once again, I say to the Senate crossbench: support the bill in the Senate. Consider what the local community wants, not what happens with your political masters or those who might have an ideological view. This is about one community. It’s my community and we want change.