24 May 2021

Subjects: Labor will scrap the cashless debit card if elected

JUSTIN FENWICK, HOST: Well, the federal opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, last week said that Labor would scrap the privatised Indue-operated cashless debit card if it wins the next federal election. So what would that mean for us here in the Northern Territory? The NT news this morning is reporting that only 24 Territorians out of the 26,000 income support pay income support clients have made the choice to shift from the basics card to the cashless debit card. So what would it mean for us here in the Territory if Labor were to scrap the cashless debit card? And what would they replace it with? Malarndirri McCarthy is Labor senator for the Northern Territory. Malarndirri, good morning.

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

FENWICK: Now, Labor has said last week that I should say that Anthony Albanese, the leader of the opposition, the Labor leader, has said that Labor at the next election will scrap the cashless welfare card if elected. Now, what would that look like?

MCCARTHY: Scrapping the cashless debit card is a welcome announcement by the Labor leader and something that I've certainly been pushing for many, many years over my concerns around the compulsory nature of the cashless debit card on Australians. The first thing that has occurred, and I've certainly noticed it on my social media, is the immense relief by those people who've been forced onto the cashless debit card over the last five or six years. And I think that is a critical point in this. I think when what we'll see going forward now is an opportunity, if Labor is elected, to reset the whole conversation around what we need to do in this space with all Australians.

FENWICK: Now, what will it look like? What will actually replace the cashless debit card if Labor's elected? What will replace the cashless debit card? Will it be back to the Basics?

MCCARTHY: Well, I think what we need to realise here, Justin, is that the current legislation already sets in stone, certainly for people in the Northern Territory is that we have the Basics Card and people are being obviously urged on to the Cashless Debit Card by the minister. And if they go on to the Cashless Debit Card, they will have up to 80 per cent quarantined, possibly 100 per cent under this current legislation. So there's some legislative arrangements we would need to have a look at to see the abolition of the cashless debit card as a compulsory tool.

FENWICK: Now, let's let's assume and there's there's 24 Territorians we know, as the NT News is reporting today, there's 24 Territorians out of the 26,000 of us that make up the population that, you know, potentially could be put onto the Cashless Debit Card. There's only 24 Territorians that have made the shift. It is voluntary in the Territory. They've chosen to jump over to the Cashless Debit Card if people are jumping over to the Cashless Debit Card because it's appealing, because you can use it at more places rather than the Basics card, should we really then turn to scrap a system that's starting to get some uptake? Shouldn't we see it's it's kind of, I guess, impact in the long term rather than, you know, jumping the gun and acting too quickly?

MCCARTHY: But we have seen the impact long term, the Federal Government's own report - $2 millionĀ  report has shown that it isn't working in regards to reducing violence, in regards to reducing gambling. That's a report by the Federal Government, which it refused to release, mind you, when we did have the debate around the legislation, so we have seen the long term ramifications here. It is not working Justin. So the sad thing that's going on now is that Minister Ruston is pressing ahead, spending millions on advertising, half pages in the Northern Territory News to try and get people onto a programme that just is not working.

FENWICK: But if it's got more, I guess, accessibility to to kind of being a little bit discreet, if you like, rather than having a kind of Centrelink run. Should we, I guess, kind of keep that in mind if we are looking at introducing something different?

MCCARTHY: Well, not if you look what's behind it. The Indue card. No one knows what is going on there. There's millions and millions being spent on that particular card, which is a part of this whole process. Even the budget papers don't identify just how much is going into the cashless debit card. It's a secret society. And these are things we are going to investigate next week in budget estimates. So, no, I don't agree with your summation there. This is of concern. And I would urge those Territorians who are certainly on the Basics Card do not rush into the Cashless Debit Card.

FENWICK: Do we need to be looking at I guess then, you know, if we're moving into a cashless society and that's the way things are going, then should we be looking at, you know, alternatives with the Basics Card? So then you can use paypass and you can use, you know, everyday banking things. Should we be looking to something like that in in in the future, if that sort of makes sense?

MCCARTHY: Well, look, of course, we're working towards, no doubt a cashless society, but let's hope we do that with genuine consultation with all Australians. When you impose a draconian piece of legislation on the most impoverished and disadvantaged Australians, that's not a choice.

FENWICK: How long after Labor is elected would you envisage that this would be scrapped?

MCCARTHY: Well, I would be pushing for it to be immediate.

FENWICK: So as in day one, Labor signed on the dotted line and is sworn in, you would imagine it would be within within the first few weeks or first few days?

MCCARTHY: Well, I would certainly I would certainly want to see it in the first 100 days of the Labor government, that's for sure.

FENWICK: Malarndirri McCarthy. Labor senator for the Northern Territory.