15 March 2021

SUBJECTS: Cashless Debit Card rollout to the NT from Wednesday 17 March; Services Australia Data Breach; March 4 Justice


STEWART BRASH, HOST: Malarndirri McCarthy joins me. Good morning, Senator. 

SENATOR MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY: Good morning, Stewart, and good morning to your listeners. 

BRASH: Now, have you been given any indication of how this is going to work when we now have two systems, a parallel system rolling out from Wednesday? 

MCCARTHY: No idea, Stewart. And that's the real concern here is that we debated this late last year expecting the Federal Government to provide information and for those communities across the Northern Territory and certainly those recipients of the basics card to understand what the federal government was doing. And as far as I'm aware, and I certainly call on your listeners, I understand that not much has occurred in this space. 

BRASH: Well, it's interesting that businesses, merchants who will be dealing with this only got an email on Friday relating to the rollout. We put a call into Anne Ruston's office. Obviously, we want to speak to her about what's happening. Though Services Australia, I understand, are the ones will be rolling out the Indue card. Given businesses themselves, as opposed to welfare recipients themselves, have only known for a day or two. And this will happen on Wednesday. What do you make of the preparation? 

MCCARTHY: Well, it's abysmal. And I think it's again, Stewart, it just shows the lack of trust that there is in this kind of process. All we've asked and I certainly spoke with the crossbenchers, Senator Jacqui Lambie and Senator Rex Patrick at the time, was for the federal government to be really open and transparent in terms of this process. We're talking about over 23,000 Territorians and possibly more, who will be supposedly voluntarily invited on to the cashless debit card. But as far as I'm aware, there hasn't been that communication. And I think it's really concerning that over 600 Northern Territory businesses were sent an email late on Friday about something that's going to happen this Wednesday. 

BRASH: It is only voluntary. I mean, that's the key thing. People who are currently on the basics card, there's no reason for them to move onto this new card. So at the end of the day, it may make no difference to current welfare recipients who are on the basics card. 

MCCARTHY: But the problem is, Stew, is that a lot of the communication that I've heard anecdotally from some of the basics cards recipients, is that, you know, they're just being told, look, you're better off going on the cashless debit card, just go on it or here's your cashless debit card---

BRASH: So that's the communication they're getting. They're getting communication saying you'll be better off if you move to the new card?

MCCARTHY: That's right. So these are anecdotal. So if I'm travelling around the Territory and I'm just asking and having conversations with people who are on basics card: "How are you going? How have you been informed?" And a lot of them are just saying, well, we are being told it's just going to happen and this is the way it's going to happen. And I said, well, that's not exactly how it should be. According to legislation, it's meant to be voluntary and you should be given every bit of information to choose wisely what you want to do. 

BRASH: Well, one of the-- that raises the issue, and I'm pretty sure we spoke to Anne Ruston about this last year, that people would not be sent spam mail with a card in it. Have you heard any suggestion that people have been sent cards already without even asking for one? 

MCCARTHY: Well, look, I wouldn't have probably asked the question, but now that over 600 businesses have been sent an email, you know, with a breach of privacy, I have to ask those questions, Stuart. Next week we've got the Senate estimates process where I will be talking to and asking the department all of these questions because I am concerned. 

BRASH: But just to clarify, we don't have any evidence of people being sent cards as yet. 

MCCARTHY: Not that I'm aware of, but if your listeners have received it, I'd be interested to know. 

BRASH: As I would, look if anyone is a welfare recipient on the basis card, look get in contact 1300 019 783 or text me 0487 991 057. Is it possible, Senator, that people might flock to the new card in droves? Now, I say this because it's got more flexibility. You can use it in other places and you can buy tobacco on it. Do you think people might actually choose just to move on to the new card because it will be more flexible? 

MCCARTHY: Well, we know that this is the intention of the federal government, Stewart. They've made it clear in the other jurisdictions that they're rolling it out. What I've pointed out on this occasion is the concern around the compulsory nature. We've certainly not had an issue with people having voluntary view on it. But but initially this legislation was about it being compulsory. 

BRASH: But, just to stress, it's not. It is going to be voluntary, but what we want to know and I assume you do want to know is how is it being rolled out? What what is the mechanism by which it will actually get into the hands of those individuals? 

MCCARTHY: Exactly. 

BRASH: With that in mind, at the moment on the basics card, you can't buy tobacco. Is that a concern that under this, where we have the worst rates of tobacco use in the country, we have the highest rates amongst our Indigenous population of tobacco use, that we're now essentially making this into a tobacco card? 

MCCARTHY: Well, of course, that's a concern. I mean, only the Aboriginal health organisations, the hospitals, those areas where we've been concerned about cancer rates, of course, that's a concern in terms of the sale of alcohol on one card as opposed to not on another card. You've also got the sale of pornography on one card, which initially was the cause of the Intervention in terms of bringing in the basics card. So there's many contradictory reasons behind how this card is being rolled out. Then you hear from recipients across the other states who say that it's just unjust and unfair and they're left without having any monies whatsoever to do other things. 

BRASH: That may be the other case in other states where they've been trialling it, but we've we've had the basics card, which was, of course, kept in by Labor governments over many years as well. So let's not be, let's be honest, Labor has had a role in keeping the basics card in the Northern Territory. Is it not possible that people say, well, actually, I like the flexibility, I like what I'm able to do with this card and will voluntarily move on to it and make the basics card a thing of the past. 

MCCARTHY: Labor's never had a opposition to income management per se, Stewart. We've realised over the years there has to be that option. In particular for those people, whether it's in the court system or other matters. But what we have had a concern with was always about the compulsory nature of this particular card, and that's no longer the case. Now we need to get feedback from recipients across the Northern Territory as to how this rollout is occurring. I mean, let's remember the minister's own report, a $15 million dollar report has said that this card is not the answer to those problems that she's raised in the Senate. 

BRASH: It did show some benefits. It did show some benefits, though, Senator. 

MCCARTHY: One, two. When you say "Some " benefits ---

BRASH: Which was to do with alcohol, to do with alcohol consumption. But what I'm saying is it wasn't totally saying it didn't have an impact. There was some evidence to suggest it did have an impact. But there were also, it was also inconclusive in some other areas. 

MCCARTHY: It was predominantly not showing evidence that was overwhelmingly supportive of the cashless debit card rollout. In the Northern Territory, there are other alcohol measures. We have, in the Northern Territory, as you know, we have the BDR register. We also have certainly the point of sale in terms of alcohol. So there are alcohol measures being taken place in the Northern Territory that aren't in other jurisdictions. So they can't say that it's going to work in the Northern Territory in terms of alcohol, when we've already got steps underway in regards to alcohol. 

BRASH: Some very, very tough alcohol restrictions here. I'll let you go in just a moment, Senator, but you'll be putting these questions to the department next week. We'll hope to speak to Anne Ruston in the next few days about the roll out of this. Do you believe that in time the government will just say, well, if 75 per cent of people move to the CDC, let's just get rid of the basics card? Do you see that as the end game? 

MCCARTHY: Well, this was always the government's end game. I mean, they want to roll this out compulsorily across the country. They couldn't do it in December because we opposed it for the Northern Territory. So they're going to do it by stealth. That's exactly what they're doing. 

BRASH: Also, one question, we're having rallies, well they started yesterday in Perth, March 4 Justice rallies. The PM has said he would meet with organisers but not actually go out to address or be part of the actual, the rally itself. Does he not make a good point that he's happy to talk with individuals, the organisers in his office or in an appropriate place. 

MCCARTHY: Well, I think he's missing the point, Stewart. That's largely been the problem here. Our country needs really good leadership right about now. And it would be awesome leadership to see the prime minister, members of the coalition, the minister for women, out there showing the women of Australia that this is a pivotal moment in our history where everything needs to change. 

BRASH: Do you also believe and I'm not suggesting any media strategy on behalf of the PM, but he may also want to avoid thousands of women and supporters having a go at the prime minister on the steps of Parliament House. 

MCCARTHY: Well you use the word avoid. Isn't that really what the issue is here: the avoidance of so many things that matter at the heart of Australian women? And today, Australian women across the country are saying enough. Enough. You know, let's be really clear. Things have to change from grassroots up to the highest leader in the land. And I think it would be the right thing to do to come out and walk with the women of Australia. 

BRASH: Senator, I'll let you go. Thank you. 

MCCARTHY: Thank you.