Lack of evidence on Cashless Debit Card brings its introduction into question

27 November 2019

This legislation is fundamentally flawed.

Labor Senators listened to all the evidence presented at the inquiries, read all the submissions and carefully considered our response to this Bill

This legislation will have a direct impact on the lives of 23,000 people, the majority of them First Nations people living in the Northern Territory

It will impact their families, their communities and their futures

What this legislation does is turn the entire NT into one Cashless Debit Card trial and creates three classes of people who will be forced to participate

It requires 23,000 people to open a bank account with Indue Ltd.

It allows personal data to be collected and shared between the Federal and Northern Territory Governments, with a lack of clarity and transparency about Indue Ltds role in data collection and use.

Mr Acting President, it fails to provide a fair process for people to exit the trial, even where it is causing harm

The bottom line is that there is no independent, verified evidence to support the idea that broad-based income management reduces social harm.

It might fit with your preconceived philosophy and views about people who receive income support

But the fact is there is no evidence

Quite the contrary as a matter of fact

We have 12 years experience of it in the Northern Territory

The Howard Intervention of 2007 introduced compulsory income management to the Territory

Despite being subject to this unrelenting and costly policy, poverty has worsened in remote areas.

There is no independent rigorous evaluation of the CDC in the trial sites that indicates it is effective in reducing social harms, particularly in reducing the harmful use of alcohol and other substances

And there is no robust evaluation on the BasicsCard that it reduces social harm.

Evidence from Danila Dilba Health Service given to the Committee that inquired into this Bill showed that more than 23,000 Aboriginal people have been subjected to income management or income quarantining since 2007.

The original objectives of income management were supposedly to improve the health, wellbeing and education outcomes of Aboriginal children and to protect women and older people from humbugging and violence.

Mr Acting Deputy President, over the 12 years of compulsory income management in the NT, Danila Dilba said there was an absolutely astonishing lack of credible evidence that income management has made any significant improvement to any of the key indicators of wellbeing: child health, birth weights, failure to thrive, and child protection notifications and substantiations.

There are no improvements in school attendance, and certainly nothing we can see would suggest that there has been a reduction in family or community violence.

Given the Government contends this Bill is a 'swap' for recipients from one tool to another, that is from BasicsCard to the Cashless Debit Card, the lack of evidence regarding the efficacy of either card brings into question why this legislation is being imposed.

In fact, many submitters and witnesses provided evidence of negative impacts of both the BasicsCard and the CDC.

Two of the stated objectives of the cashless debit card are to ensure that vulnerable people are protected from the abuse of substances and any associated harm and violence, as well as giving people increased ability to meet their basic needs.

Some witnesses and submitters gave evidence that a CDC could exacerbate the harms it was purportedly meant to reduce.

MoneyMob Talkabout Limited, a financial literacy and assistance organisation, told the committee that their data suggests welfare quarantining can cause harm.

While older people and people with disabilities won't be directly put on the CDC, it's unlikely to stop them from being targeted because they receive those higher payments, such as an aged pension or a disability pension.

We're seeing them currently having their cards and income management allocations taken and used by other people who've already expended their income.

So it's actually increasing their vulnerability and diminishing their ability to meet their basic needs.

One type of vulnerability could be just supplanting another one.

This Bill gives the Minister extraordinary power to determine the level of restricted payments

And now we see from amendments that have been introduced in the other place today the real agenda of this Government is to increase the level of all income support recipients to 80 per cent, in line with the other trial sites

Having your dollars quarantined by 80 per cent that is the true intent of this Government.

There are huge flaws in the operation of the CDC.

Its been proven that the CDC can be used to purchase supposedly banned items

The loopholes in the CDC provisions that allow participants to purchase supposedly banned items such as alcohol through the use of credit cards and barter-type arrangements with unscrupulous individuals is of great concern

These loopholes bring into questions the effectiveness of the card and were summed up in comments by Senator Lambie in a hearing -

So I can go and get eight bottles of wine on my Visa card and you guys (the department) have got no idea, and I can just pay it off with my other card. That's a new one. That's a beauty! Everyone will be getting Visa cards tomorrow, watch.

Very true words and very valid concerns.

There has been no real consultation with the people of the Northern Territory none of the stakeholders, affected communities in terms of the planned rollout of the Cashless Debit Card.

The government is spending $129 million on this expansion of a flawed system that no one wants and that doesnt work.

If the Government really wants to spend $129 million dollars to support welfare recipients in the Northern Territory Ive got a few suggestions.

How about the spending a few million on the provision of support services in remote regions?

It is well established in the medical profession that the treatment of alcohol and drug misuse disorders requires individualised responses and access to services.

But there is a shortage of rehabilitation and mental health services, especially in remote communities.

The imposition of this Cashless Debit Card with absolutely no consultation with the community is reprehensible.

Has this Government learnt nothing since the disaster and the harm caused by the Intervention 12 years ago?

We know that community developed and run initiatives to reduce social harm have more chance of gaining support and, get this, even positive outcomes. Well what do you know!

There are proven examples of this.

The Arnhem Land Progress Association's FOODCard and Tangentyere Council's previous voluntary income management system were cited as evidence of community driven solutions that should be supported by this Government.

A delegation of people from the Northern Territory was in Canberra this week talking to Senators and others about why they dont want or need the Cashless Debit Card.

These are people with the lived experience and I thank colleagues who took the time to meet and speak with the delegation, who travelled thousands and thousands of kilometres just so you could understand, at least try to understand the pain that is being placed on our First nations people. Not just in the Northern Territory but really right across the country when Governments, when representatives of parliament, do not listen and do not take heed of the positive programs that are working when you work with First Nations people instead of coming top down and always imposing your views and your policies on top of Frist Nations people.

Their message was very clear, and its one that First Nations people around the country are saying louder and louder: Senators please listen again, every time I stand I ask: Listen to First Nations people. Nothing for us, without us.

The Cashless Debit Card is not for us, and you will do it without us.

THE SENATEPROOFCOMMITTEES Community Affairs Legislation Committee Additional Information SPEECH Wednesday, 27 November 2019