Minister can quaratine up to 100% on Cashless Debit Card

31 October 2019

Senator Malarndirri McCarthy speaks to Stewart Brash, ABC Alice Springs

STEWART BRASH, ABC ALICE SPRINGS: The Senate's Community Affairs committee is sitting in Alice Springs today. Theyre doing hearings into the Cashless Debit Card. One person on that committee is Labor's Northern Territory Senator, Malarndirri McCarthy. She'll be here this afternoon for the hearing and a good morning to you Malarndirri McCarthy

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

BRASH: Just looking at the Committee, there's a Senate committee obviously looking into the Cashless Debit Card, who will you be speaking to here in Alice Springs?

MCCARTHY: Sure, weve got the Central Land Council and also the Tangentyere Council appearing along with the NPY Women's Council, First Nations Foundation, the Jesuit Social Services and the Northern Territory Government.

BRASH: As we take evidenceI know you've already taken evidence in Adelaidewhat are you hearing?

MCCARTHY: Look we're hearing consistently the concerns around what this means. I think there's two fundamental ones in particular for the Northern Territorywe have had a hearing in Darwinand that is the rolling over of 21 to 23,000 people who are on the Basic Card to the CDC. And the issue of quarantining Stewart, that the Minister has the power to quarantine up to 100% of a person's income and I find that really concerning. And the evidence that's coming through from human rights groups finds that very concerning.

BRASH: This is an interesting one. We've been discussing this all through this process. The Government started off being unable to tell usthis is before they went to the electionbeing actually--I couldnt get a straight answer out of the Social Services Ministerwhat percentage they would quarantine under the new card if indeed it was rolled out in the Northern Territory. Have we got any greater clarity for people who are on the Basics Card if they go ahead with this as planned?

MCCARTHY: We understand the people who are currently on the Basics Card, the Government is looking at the 50% quarantining which is currently the rate of the Basics Card, but that's only at the moment. What they're not confirming is the fact that they can raise that rate at any time under the Minister's discretion, which is what will be in this Bill.

BRASH: Will that be down to Centrelink to make those decisions? Who actually would make that decision about the percentage of quarantining?

MCCARTHY: Yeah good question, it's something I've actually been asking consistently of the Minister just in last week's Senate Estimates as well. The response from the Department and the Minister is that it would be a community decision and I said well how do you define community, is it a mayor of a council, is it an organisation? Who actually determines if a person's income should go from 50% to 100% quarantined? So there is a real grey area around that and human rights groups have raised that concern as well.

There was another curious things Stewart which you and your listeners would appreciate. With the Basics Card, we know that people couldn't and can't purchase alcohol and pornography but with the Cashless Debit Card, they can purchase pornography.

BRASH: OK so that's one change there?

MCCARTHY: Yes and I did ask the Department. I said well what was the policy decision in that change and they couldnt answer the question and neither could the Minister.

BRASH: Is that because maybe they don't have capacity with this card, because it's really just like a bank card, isnt it?

MCCARTHY: Well I dont think they've actually given it any thought because I said to them that people of the Northern Territory, we've had consistent quarantining for such a long time as a result of the Intervention, and now you're asking people to move on to another card and yet you havent given any real evidence as to whether the current Basics Card has worked.

BRASH: Just wondering as one of the things that was rolled out in the last month or so was the suggestion that there were goodI think it was in Hervey Bay, Wide Bay Area, of Queenslandsuggesting there had been some favourable outcomes in terms of youth unemployment. Has that been presented to the committee?

MCCARTHY: Not as actual evidence. We did have one participant from Bundaberg and who's not actually on the card but is involved with it in terms of the advisory group. She gave evidenceanecdotal evidence--but there is no actual statistical or data evidence to say that its working at this stage.

BRASH: we're still waiting as I understand for the Department of Social Services to conduct a second analysis and review of the Cashless Debit Card. Have they presented that, has that actually been released as yet? Because the first one as we know was found by the Australian National Audit Office as having no evidence, they couldnt actually prove any evidence of benefit, has this second review come out?

MCCARTHY: It's still lacking in that kind of evidence as well Stewart, and thats whats really coming through in all of the witnesses, in particular the academics who face the Committee. They are repeating the fact there is no evidence showing that this actually works.

BRASH: Now Labor supported the trials but is now saying you would prefer it to be an opt in system, now does that remain the policy of Labor, that even though you did support the earlier trials, you're now not supporting the roll out any further and you do want it to be an opt in?

MCCARTHY: Absolutely. We are very concerned that, because of the lack of evidence that should have been there as a result of those trials, we have real concerns about it now being proposed across the board on to people. And the real concern of course here in the Northern Territory is the fact that there are people on the Basics Card already.

BRASH: Now in an opt in system, would that require for instance you would have to prove that you can manage your money? How would that work? Sounds like it could be very complex.

MCCARTHY: I think it's more about choice Stewart, so that people feel that if they need assistance, this will assist them. It's really down to their ability to choose, whereas at the moment, they have no choice.

BRASH: Now Jacqui Lambie we understand is an important vote in this debate. Has she come to any of these sittings?

MCCARTHY: Certainly not any of the inquiries I've been on but I have to say I have personally invited Senator Lambie to the Northern Territory and I'm hoping she will be able to do that in the new year.

BRASH: Has she made it clear what her thoughts are, because it was being reported she was for it, but when we spoke to her office earlier she said she hadn't made a decision. What's your understanding of her point of view on this?

MCCARTHY: My understanding's the same, that that final decision hasnt been made by Senator Lambie simply because she is getting the different evidence where she's going, so I am keen to get her to the Northern Territory.

BRASH: Yesterday we heard from the Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt who was appointing Marcia Langton and Tom Calma to head up a working group to look at creating a voice to Government. Sounds like Labor will support the process but is not happy with the process. Would that be fair to say?

MCCARTHY: That is fair to say. We obviously have maintained our position of enshrining the voice to parliament [in the Constitution] but naturally we want to continue the conversation and make sure that it doesnt fall off the rails.

BRASH: Does this point to the weakness of Ken Wyatt's position in Government to be able to influence his own party to say follow what was outlined in the Uluru Statement?

MCCARTHY: Look it certainly reflects the complexity that Minster Wyatt has to face within his own side and we're very aware of that and I think the fact that he's now got Professor Langton and Tom Calma on board, theyre also aware of that as well, as what we want to do is make sure that this continues in terms of trying to influence and encourage people to see the benefit of hopefully achieving a constitutionally enshrined voice.

BRASH: In replying to her appointment Marcia Langton made it clear that she supported the original proposal. Do you think they'll be pushing it uphill given their own personal feelings but also the fact they're working in a framework set by this Government

MCCARTHY: It was always going to be tough Stewart. I think what we have to look at here is we need to keep this alive. We need to keep the hopes and dreams of those people who came together at Uluru, very much front and centre. It may not be the direction at the moment that people want but certainly Labor will be encouraging all politicians who are involved with this process, to see the importance of having a voice enshrined in the Parliament.

BRASH: you still think it's worthwhile to go through the process and be part of the process?

MCCARTHY: Look we're not wreckers. We're not going to wreck this. We see it's got to be bigger and better than that. It's got to be above that. We're not happy that they havent accepted enshrinement but we do acknowledge and respect the fact that consultations are going to occur with two esteemed leaders in Professor Langton and Tom Calma and we will do our best to keep encouraging people to look at enshrinement.