Wed, 13 Feb 2019 - 11:25
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Introductory Speech: Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management and Cashless Welfare) Bill 2019

The cashless debit card is working.

An independent evaluation of the cashless debit card found a "considerable positive impact" in the initial trial sites, including:

  • 41 per cent of participants surveyed who drank alcohol reported drinking less frequently;
  • 48 per cent of participants surveyed who used drugs reported using drugs less frequently; and
  • 48 per cent of those who gambled before the trial reported gambling less often; and
  • A doubling of the proportion of participants trying to get paid work.

And I've heard firsthand from leaders across all four trial sites—Ceduna, the East Kimberley and the Goldfields, and most recently, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay—about the positive impacts they're seeing and expect to see in their communities, from a reduction in drug and alcohol related presentation in the emergency wards and less police call-outs late at night through to a general feeling of improved safety on the streets of these towns.

I've heard directly from business leaders, from local indigenous leaders, from elected members, from police and from health officials, and there is a consistent message—"The card must stay."

Feedback from local communities has informed every aspect of how the cashless debit card will operate in their communities, from the percentage of welfare to be quarantined right down to the colour of the card.

This is a community-driven, bottom-up approach to tackling the scourge of welfare-funded drug and alcohol abuse.


Technicalities of the bill

The cashless debit card has been in operation for almost three years in Ceduna in South Australia and Kununurra and Wyndham in the East Kimberley in Western Australia. It's been operating in the Goldfields region in Western Australia for almost a year.

This bill will allow the cashless debit card to remain in place for a further 12 months until 30 June 2020 in the first three trial sites of Ceduna, the East Kimberley and the Goldfields under the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999.

This will align the legislated review date for the first three sites to that of the newest trial site, the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay region, which is already legislated to continue until 30 June 2020.

This bill gives these communities further confidence about the government's commitment to reducing the devastating effects of alcohol, drugs and gambling in these communities.


CDC justification

Welfare payments are provided to people in need to help with essential living costs, in particular food, clothing, shelter and transportation. Australians expect that these payments will be used for these purposes rather than on harmful goods such as alcohol, gambling and drugs.

In these three trial sites, everyone on a working-age welfare payment is a trial participant. Eighty per cent of their welfare payments are placed into a separate account which is only accessible using their cashless debit card. The remaining 20 per cent is placed into their regular bank account.

The card operates like any other ordinary debit card, with the primary difference being that it does not work at liquor stores or locations where people can gamble—be they online or physical locations. Further, the card cannot be used to withdraw cash or purchase cash-like products.

Importantly, these amendments do not change any of the current parameters for the cashless debit card program, nor does it change a person's entitlement to welfare or how much they receive.

The only real difference concerns how a person can dispose of their welfare benefit, that is they cannot spend on alcohol, drugs or gambling the 80 per cent benefit which is paid on the card.



According to the first evaluation, the cashless debit card has been effective in reducing alcohol consumption and gambling in both trial sites, and that evaluation also found the participants who reported drug use before the trial were using illegal drugs less often.

In addition to activity underway to collect baseline data for the fourth site in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, a second evaluation of the cashless debit card trial by the University of Adelaide has commenced across the first three sites to assess the ongoing effectiveness of the program.

Data collection for the second evaluation will be completed by mid-2019, with findings expected in late 2019. Funding has also been committed for a further wave of data collection in late 2019 through to early 2020, in line with the new end date of 30 June 2020 in this bill.

Extending the cashless debit card trial for a further year will provide sufficient time to continue evaluation of the trial in these three sites, incorporating initial baseline findings from the Goldfields site. This will build on the positive findings of the first evaluation report.

In accordance with amendments recently passed through parliament, the second evaluation will be subject to an independent review process.


Cape York Income Management

In addition to amending the sunset dates for the cashless debit card, this bill will allow the continuation of the Cape York Income Management measure, as part of Cape York Welfare Reform, for an additional year to 30 June 2020. This applies to the Cape York Welfare Reform communities of Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale and Mossman Gorge.

The 2018-19 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook extended income management for a further year in all current locations; however, income management in Cape York is the only income management measure with a legislated sunset date of 30 June 2019. Ceasing this program without a mechanism to replace it could place vulnerable people in Cape York, in particular women and children, at risk.

As recently noted in the Queensland University of Technology Review of Cape York Income Management, the role of the local Family Responsibilities Commission (FRC) in Cape York Income Management enables it to be delivered in a way that is more culturally appropriate, community driven, and is uniquely matched to the individual circumstances.

The review specifically found:

… there is good qualitative evidence that the Family Responsibilities Commission (FRC) and Cape York Income Management have contributed to a reduction in alcohol (and in particular, harmful consumption of alcohol), drugs, violence and crime. There is also evidence that outcomes have improved in terms of children's overall health and wellbeing, and engagement in school.

These findings present a strong case for this measure to be maintained.

This extension will give further certainty to these communities in Cape York about the government's commitment to ensure that income support payments are spent in the best interests of children and families, with an aim to reduce social harm and drive positive social change in the community.


Summing up

We must continue to support communities that put their hand up and drive positive change and improved outcomes for vulnerable individuals within those communities.

This bill does exactly that.

Building on the significant positive findings, and strong, ongoing community sentiment, this government considers the extension of the cashless debit card trial and the income management program essential to sustaining the positive impacts of welfare quarantining and supporting communities to tackle welfare fuelled dysfunction.

Debate adjourned.




Video of speech available here: