Get the latest news

Cashless Welfare

December 07, 2020

I don't mind if those on the other side want to interject during my speech. It just shows their ignorance. If they'd wanted to speak on the motion they could have spoken on it, and they didn't.

Honourable members interjecting

Dr FREELANDER: I have spoken on this—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr S Georganas ): Order! Members, both on the left and on the right, will cease interjecting.

Dr FREELANDER: I rise today to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020. It's not the first time I've spoken in opposition to this government's discriminatory and insulting policy, nor do I suspect it will be the last, unfortunately. The government's policies in these areas are punitive and never curative. We have seen the absolute tragedy of robodebt, we have seen the fact that they refuse to adequately fund proper housing policies, we have seen their unwillingness to create a permanent increase in the JobSeeker allowance and we know that how they approach poor people is punitive. They never seen to flinch at the absolute obscenity of executive incomes of $5 million, $10 million or even $20 million. That's okay. But the poorest, the most disadvantaged in our society, are the ones they want to punish.

I have no hesitation in stating that I'm totally opposed to this bill. It's discriminatory. It's insulting. It has unintended consequences. The bill before the House seeks to make the government's cashless debit card permanent in a number of existing trial sites, and very likely we know this is the thin end of the wedge and they'll be continuing the cashless debit card throughout the country. It is an absolute tragedy that this is the government's welfare policy. It's paternalistic. It is really insulting to the most disadvantaged in our communities and, unfortunately, it will have dreadful consequences.

There's no clear evidence that compulsory broad based income management works. There is absolutely no evidence for that whatsoever. That's why Labor is opposed to the extension of a trial program. As has previously been mentioned, if it were a voluntary program, you would have a much higher chance of success. We know that from previous income management trials, on a voluntary basis, run by a number of organisations. It's of great importance to understand that. We shouldn't come into this place and make such significant decisions about other people's lives without appropriate evidence, consultation and communication. It is paternalistic. It's discriminatory. It is really insulting to people who struggle with a whole range of problems, from intellectual disability to drug and alcohol problems to extreme multigenerational social disadvantage. For us to come in here and impose this from on high to people in those situations is totally wrong. It is against any moral imperative that I can think of. If people in the community want to use the cashless debit card on a voluntary basis, that's fine. But parliament should not impose this on entire communities without consent, without evidence and without adequate consideration.

I believe the bill before us today is racially charged and discriminatory in nature. I don't think there is any way you can deny that. This legislation would place 35,000 people on the cashless debit card permanently. It's critical that we recognise that the vast majority of them—about 70 per cent, in fact—are First Nations people. I think the government really needs to rethink this. It is now well over a decade since the Howard government's intervention, and, again, there is no clear evidence that broad based income management works. We've had a decade to gather the evidence and it's just not there. It was this legislation which brought about the BasicsCard in the Northern Territory. The transition to the cashless debit card in the NT—a technology swap, if you like—is in effect an extension and continuation of the intervention measure. That's why we're so opposed to it.

The government's whole philosophy, its ideology, is based on the very flawed idea of lifters and leaners. We know how wrong that is. We know there is strong opposition to the scheme among the communities that are affected the most. A Senate inquiry into a previous bill discovered that First Nations organisations and representatives considered the policy to be yet another example of government imposition of paternalistic policies lacking in consultation and lacking in consent. Even the Auditor-General has found no clear evidence that the cashless debit card works. That begs the question as to why the coalition is relentlessly pursuing its warped agenda. I know why. It's because it's ideological. Unfortunately, that ideology continues the damage. Community members, organisations and officials, and the Auditor-General, are all telling the government to abandon this policy. But never mind, this lifters and leaners government, which picks winners and losers, thinks it knows best and it is going to push ahead with it anyway. It's also important to note that the government is pushing ahead with this legislation while still awaiting the results of an independent review by Adelaide university. It couldn't wait to try and get some evidence.

Ideologically, the government want to push through with this as part of their lifters and leaners, winners and losers policy. It's a tragedy. They want to ram it through parliament. They want to ram through these changes that affect the most disadvantaged in our communities. Those opposite aren't even trying to hide the fact that this is an ideological attack. We do not have countless coalition members sitting on the benches opposite ready to contribute to the debate. Where are they? Absent. This legislation is going to be imposed on very disadvantaged people, the majority of whom are First Nations people, yet very few of those opposite even want to comment on it. We have complete radio silence from the coalition benches. Perhaps, at this very minute, there are members of the Liberal-National government waiting to speak, but I don't see them. Perhaps we will see members on the other side pour into the chamber ready to tell Australia why the government know best, why the government like to attack the most disadvantaged and why they want to control the wallets of First Nations people. I think it's pretty unlikely, though. I don't think they'll be rushing in here.

This is what we've come to expect from this ideological, conservative government that is willing to punish the poor but not look at the obscenity of the massive salaries paid to the executives of our biggest companies. This is an obnoxious, stunt-driven operation, led by the great marketing man with little substance or willingness to show up and own any responsibility. In spite of waiting for the review from the University of Adelaide, the government have gone ahead and committed to making the cashless debit card scheme permanent in their budget—permanent in some communities, if this legislation passes, and very likely to be rolled out further around Australia. This is clearly an ideologically-driven policy, not evidence based policy, and an example of an arrogant government who doesn't understand those who are really struggling.

I cannot understand where those opposite derive their moral authority from. Putting forward this legislation is incomprehensible. We're in the midst of a global pandemic and an economic recession, and those opposite are pushing forward with the plans to control the day-to-day finances of so many of our First Nations people. None of us here have to account for every single dollar of our travel allowance for each and every time we meet in Canberra, and none of us have to account for each of our respective electorate support allowances. Those opposite certainly do not seem to feel the need to be held accountable to decisions such as subsidising the private jet of Clive Palmer, giving taxpayers' money to a billionaire in New York, performing political stunts, misusing the Air Force's VIP jet fleet, giving dodgy grants to lucrative sporting clubs with ties to the Liberal Party, giving huge council grants to Liberal-supporting councils and doing dodgy deals in the Cayman Islands with water licences. Yet they want to control the day-to-day finances of entire communities. This is morally repugnant. I do not know where members of this coalition government get their moral authority from. If anybody should be made to go on a cashless debit card it's those opposite.

The government's cashless debit card policy is based on ideology, not based on evidence. We know it's racially discriminatory. We know the government is pushing forward and ultimately seeking to roll this scheme out nationally, yet it won't even wait for the findings of the review it commissioned before deciding to make the card permanent. I implore those opposite to cease this racially charged, ideological attack and come to their senses. This is bad legislation, it's discriminatory and it affects very disadvantaged communities. It will be rolled out further, we know that from the government's ideology, and it is a tragedy. I'm totally opposed to the bill.