A number of submitters and witnesses expressed their support for the
objective of the cashless debit card scheme which would be expanded to more
sites by the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill
2017 (bill). In particular, submitters and witnesses noted the potential of the
cashless debit card to address excessive alcohol consumption, anti-social
behaviour, neglect of children and violence within communities.
While submitters and witnesses recognised and supported the need to
reduce the social harm caused by alcohol and gambling, they also raised a
number of concerns regarding the expansion of the card to new sites, including:
the effectiveness of the card at reducing social harm;
the results of the independent evaluation;
the extent to which affected communities were adequately
the operation and impact of the cashless debit card;
human rights implications; and
Reducing social harm
In its submission, the Department of Social Services (department) noted
that the objective of the cashless debit card scheme is to limit the amount of
income support payments available to be spent on alcohol, drugs and gambling, which
would lead to a reduction in social harm.
The department advised that the Goldfields region and Hinkler electorate
had been selected as new cashless debit card sites due to a number of factors
including 'community readiness and willingness, high levels of disadvantage and
welfare dependence, and high levels of social harm caused by alcohol, drugs and
The committee heard that the social harm caused by drugs and alcohol is
of particular concern to communities in the Goldfields region. The Mayor of the
City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Mr John Bowler, told the committee that the level
of antisocial behaviour on the streets of Kalgoorlie-Boulder had increased in
recent years and led to a number of people leaving the town.
Mr Bowler explained that the majority of inquiries he receives as Mayor relate
to people being abused in the street and how this can be addressed.
Mr Bowler expressed support for the introduction of the cashless debit
card in the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder after visiting Ceduna. Mr Bowler
considered that after speaking with locals and the Deputy Mayor of Ceduna, people
in Ceduna thought life there had improved dramatically since the introduction
of the cashless debit card trial.
The Shires of Laverton, Coolgardie, Leonora and Menzies expressed
similar concerns regarding the social harm caused by alcohol, drugs and
gambling in their local communities. Mr Patrick Hill, President of the Shire of
Laverton explained that the shire's support for the cashless debit card was as
a result of other measures not working:
Everyone in town—the police, the hospital, the school, the
Laverton Crisis Centre, the ambulance, the fire brigade, the resident group,
the shire—has done everything possible to try and stem this abuse and the
effects that alcohol, drugs and gambling have on our towns and the availability
of cash. Council has formally adopted and supports the cashless welfare card
because we see this as an opportunity to try and do something.
Mr Malcolm Cullen, President of the Shire of Coolgardie, advised the
committee that his shire believes the cashless debit card will address a number
of social issues facing the local community:
We believe it will improve the housing and living conditions
of the people in the town. We also believe it will reduce the alcohol and drug
dependency of a lot of the people that we have. There are people I went to
school with who have passed away between the ages of 38 and 40, or less,
through alcohol abuse. In most of our towns, we have children who are not being
looked after. That is one of the biggest things that I think will improve for
our future. What we are looking at is the future of these people. We have
people who are not being educated. They are roaming the streets and committing crimes.
They are burgling houses to feed themselves and their siblings.
Councillor Betty Logan of the Shire of Coolgardie also expressed support
for the introduction of the cashless debit card, noting her personal experience
caring for neglected children in the community who were not cared for by their
parents as they were continually affected by alcohol.
Mr Jim Epis of the Shire of Leonora explained that social harm caused by
alcohol and drug abuse has increased in recent years:
In the last three years, it has been devastating to see the
escalation of antisocial behaviour between individuals caused by alcohol and
drugs. This has often reached crisis levels. Some of the issues include young
people taking their own lives, violence within the community and the impact
that this has on families, such as young children roaming the streets late at
night because they don't have a safe home to go to. Every child deserves a safe
place to sleep at night, and this has to happen very quickly.
In contrast, the Shire of Menzies noted that they do not experience the
same problems with anti-social behaviour and drug and alcohol addiction in
their community. However, the Shire of Menzies expressed support for the
introduction of the cashless debit card in the Goldfields region as they are
concerned that the social problems in nearby communities will spread to their
town and recognised that the card is in the interests of the whole Goldfields
The department submitted that the intention to implement the cashless
debit card in the Hinkler electorate to people 35 and under on certain income
support payment will help to determine the effectiveness of a cohort-based
approach to implementing the card.
The department also advised that potential benefits identified included
more money being spent on meeting basic living needs, increased savings,
increased motivation to find employment, and positive impacts on parenting and
The Hinkler region has the second highest rate of youth unemployment in
Queensland at 23.6 per cent.
In addition, the department informed the committee that of those 35 and under in
the Hinkler electorate, half of Newstart recipients have spent over three years
on income support, half of parenting payment recipients have spent over five
years on income support and approximately one-quarter of those aged between 30
and 35 years old have spent over 10 years on income support.
The department's advice on the cashless debit card also noted that community
organisations have advised that their services are increasingly being used by
young families and raised concerns that money intended to support children is
being spent on alcohol, drugs and gambling.
East Kimberley and Ceduna
During the committee's inquiry into the Social Security Legislation
Amendment (Debit Card Trial) Bill 2015 (debit card trial bill), the committee
heard that alcohol, drug and gambling related harm was a significant problem in
the East Kimberley and Ceduna.
The Far West Community Heads Group, representing Indigenous communities
in the Ceduna region, expressed particular support for the cashless debit card
trial, commenting that 'past, measures to reduce alcohol fuelled violence and
chronic alcohol misuse – contributing to the premature deaths of our people –
have been tried and tested and failed.'
The District Council of Ceduna submitted that the trial will be 'a life
saving measure which will have positive health benefits, significantly improve
the quality of life for many and help to put an end to premature and tragic
Similarly, the Wunan Foundation submitted that Indigenous people in the East
Kimberley are among the most disadvantaged in Australia and experience high
rates of family violence, child abuse and neglect, suicide, alcohol fuelled
violence, increasing rates of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and large number
of children spending night on the street than returning to unsafe homes.
Mr Desmond Hill from Kununurra in the East Kimberley told the committee
that since the introduction of the cashless debit card, he has seen the
difference it has made to his community:
I've actually seen more kids go to school with uniforms. I've
had grandparents say that they're happy the cards are there because now their
children have food in the fridge, the kids are clothed and they're all going to
school. We're living with the changes, albeit it took 18 months to see the
changes happening. They are actually happening.
Councillor Allan Suter, Mayor of the District Council of Ceduna,
informed the committee that the cashless debit card trial has been the most
effective initiative to address excessive use of alcohol, drugs and gambling
products in Ceduna and that it has resulted in significant improvements for
families, particularly for children.
Effectiveness of the cashless debit
The Government commissioned ORIMA Research to undertake an independent
evaluation of the cashless debit card trial in Ceduna and the East Kimberley.
The evaluation was reported in 3 stages: Initial Conditions Report, Wave 1
Interim Evaluation Report (interim evaluation) and Wave 2 Final Evaluation
Report (final evaluation).
The department noted in its submission that the final evaluation report
on the cashless debit card trial found that the card had been effective in
reducing alcohol consumption and gambling in both trial sites and that there
had been a subsequent reduction in violence and harm related to alcohol
consumption, illegal drug use and gambling.
However, some submitters questioned whether the reduction in social harm
could be entirely attributed to the cashless debit card scheme. Carers'
Australia submitted that other measures and programs to reduce alcohol and drug
use were introduced in the trial sites including the Take Away Management
System in the East Kimberley and new outreach support services in Ceduna which
may have contributed to a reduction in drug and alcohol use.
The final evaluation report indicated that alcohol was identified by the
communities of Ceduna and the East Kimberley as a leading cause of violent
Community leaders and stakeholders across both Trial sites at
the Initial Conditions stage felt that alcohol was the primary contributor to
violent behaviours. Drug use and gambling were also identified as contributing
factors. Stakeholders and community leaders noted that intoxication tended to
lead to anger and negative behaviours. Alcohol consumption, illegal drug use
and gambling also led to increased financial pressures, resulting in arguments
The final evaluation noted that the first few months of the cashless
debit card trial were associated with a reduction in alcohol consumption,
illegal drug use and gambling. Information collected approximately nine months
later indicated that these reductions had been sustained and broadened in the
communities with a larger proportion of trial participants reporting a
reduction in alcohol consumption, illegal drug use and gambling.
The department noted that, in particular the evaluation found:
of those who drank alcohol before
the trial started, towards the end of the trial 41 per cent of participants
surveyed say they are drinking alcohol less often (up from 25 per cent at the
Wave 1, which was conducted around six months into the trial);
of those surveyed who said they
had drunk six or more drinks at once before the trial started, 37 per cent
reported that they did this less often (up from 25 per cent at Wave 1 );
of those surveyed who said they
were using illegal drugs before the trial started, 48 per cent reported using
these less since the Cashless Debit Card's introduction (up from 24 per cent at
Wave 1 );
of those surveyed who said they
gambled before the trial started, 48 per cent reported gambling less (up from
32 per cent at Wave 1); and
of those parents surveyed, 40 per
cent reported being able to better care for their children since being on the
Cashless Debit Card, and 39 per cent reported being more involved in their
children's homework and school.
The final evaluation report stated that the administrative data
available in relation to the level of crime in the trial sites did not show
that there had been a reduction in crime since the cashless debit card trial
However, the administrative data considered during the final evaluation only
captured the period between February 2015 and April 2017 in the East Kimberley
and between July 2015 and March 2017 in Ceduna.
Superintendent Allan Adams of the Western Australia Police Force,
Kimberley District Office, informed the committee that while there had been
some reports that crime had increased in the East Kimberley during the trial
period, Western Australia Police Force data showed that between May and August
2017, property related crime had significantly decreased compared to the same
period last year.
For example, in the community of Kununurra, between May and August 2016 there
were 35 dwelling burglaries compared to 24 in 2017, and there were 135 thefts
between May and August 2016 compared to 60 during the same period in 2017.
Superintendent Adams noted that reports that domestic violence incidents
had increased could be attributed to a change in the response standards by the
Western Australian Police Force and that the increase in reported domestic
violence incidents had occurred across the Kimberley region and not only in
Kununurra where the trial occurred, and therefore could not be linked to the
introduction cashless debit card.
The Ceduna trial site saw a similar decrease in property related crime
during the trial period. Offences against property decreased from 496 in
2015-16 to 368 in the 2016-17 financial year.
The department submitted that the measures proposed by the bill will
enable the cashless debit card to continue to operate in the current trial
sites beyond 30 June 2018 and expand to new locations. The department
noted that considering the ongoing community support and positive evaluation
findings, if the cashless debit card scheme does not continue it would likely
have a detrimental effect on these communities.
Results of the evaluation
A number of submitters and witnesses questioned the methodology and
characterisation of the results of the final evaluation report prepared by
ORIMA Research. In particular, submitters and witnesses drew on analysis
prepared by Dr Janet Hunt from the Centre for Aboriginal and Economic
Policy Research at the Australian National University.
Dr Hunt expressed reservations about the data collected by ORIMA
Research in the initial conditions report which was not collected until after
the trial had commenced and included interviews with just 37 stakeholders who
were mainly regional leaders and service providers.
Dr Hunt submitted that ORIMA Research should have conducted a baseline survey
of participants in Ceduna and the East Kimberley prior to commencement of the
In regard to the interim evaluation, Dr Hunt noted that the evaluation
relied on subjective perceptions of participants without adequate triangulation
with other sources and that it was difficult to assess the level of change
without adequate baseline data.
In addition, Professor Eva Cox from the Jumbunna Institute for
Indigenous Education and Research at University of Technology Sydney, raised concerns
about the design of the questionnaire which was used to collect data from
participants for the final evaluation:
My criticism is wider than those in the report, as it
includes the user questionnaire design, its length, the order of questions, the
language and shape of some questions, and importantly, the probable
contamination of responses. Preliminary information, read from the tablet used
to record answers, includes promises of a gift card, $30 or $50 on completion.
Paying respondents affects relationships with interviewer and answers. The next
step is asking for respondents' ID. This is to avoid duplication, but, as this
is an official government survey, the reassurance of confidentiality may not be
believed and affect responses. Given Indigenous anxieties about authority, and
welfare, they are likely to give acceptable answers. It is also not clear if
the interviews were private or in the presence of others, which may also affect
answers. The above effects on the data collected are likely to be serious and
undermine the legitimacy of responses.
Dr Hunt also expressed concern that the data from both trial sites was
weighted equally in both the interim and final evaluation reports, noting that
this favoured the findings from Ceduna, despite the East Kimberley having a far
greater number of participants.
The department informed the committee that ORIMA Research had recognised
in its reports the limitations of some of the data sources and provided caveats
The final evaluation report noted that the data may be subject to recall error
and response bias but that interviewers were trained to minimise its impact:
When reporting on their own behaviours, survey respondents
may be prone to social desirability effects and hence respond in a socially
acceptable way. In order to minimise this source of error, interviewers were
trained to remain impartial and free from judgement when conducting interviews
and respondents were also provided with full confidentiality of responses.
Furthermore, the department advised that the surveys were conducted by
ORIMA Research's Indigenous Fieldforce which includes trained Indigenous
interviewers who were supported by experienced researchers interviewers and
local Indigenous people, to ensure that that the data collection was conducted
in a culturally appropriate and sensitive manner.
When introducing the bill, the Minister for Human Services noted that
the evaluation undertaken by ORIMA Research had concluded that 'the trial has
been effective in reducing alcohol consumption, illegal drug use and gambling –
establishing a clear proof-of-concept.'
A number of submitters and witnesses expressed concern about the level
of community consultation regarding the extension of the cashless debit card in
the current trial sites of the East Kimberley and Ceduna and the proposed roll
out of the card in the Goldfields region and the Hinkler electorate.
East Kimberley and Ceduna
The MG Corporation submitted that while four local leaders in the East
Kimberley had taken a public stance in support of the cashless debit card, the
trial was implemented without widespread consultation and the proposal to
expand and extended the cashless debit card had also occurred without
consulting those who are most affected by the card.
Similarly, the Aboriginal Health Council of Western Australia expressed
concern that many people, services and organisations in the East Kimberley
first heard about the cashless debit card through the media and not through
The department submitted that the cashless debit card trial was
developed in close partnership with Ceduna and East Kimberley community leaders
who had a thorough understanding of issues affecting the local community and
that the co-design process enabled the cashless debit card to be tailored to
address local needs and incorporate local ideas. This included the card's
design, the percentage of income support payments quarantined and the wrap
around support services needed in the communities.
This is supported by documents provided to the committee by the
Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet at the committee's earlier public
hearing on the debit card trial bill which included an extensive list of
stakeholders consulted in both the East Kimberley and Ceduna.
Mayor Allan Suter informed the committee that in Ceduna consultation has
occurred with 184 organisations and individuals since the cashless debit card
The department advised the committee that prior to the announcement of
the East Kimberley as a cashless debit card trial site, approximately 110
consultations were held in Wyndham and Kununurra. The consultations consisted
of one-on-one meetings and group roundtables with a range of community members
including Indigenous leaders, family violence and family support service
providers, education providers, health providers, rehabilitation service
providers, Western Australian Police, local government, state government
agencies and local staff from the Department of Human Services.
The department made clear that the decision to extend the operation of
the cashless debit card in the East Kimberley and Ceduna was also made after
consultation with the local communities and in light of the findings of the
independent evaluation report.
Goldfields region and Hinkler
A number of individual submitters and witnesses expressed concern about
the level of community consultation and support in the proposed new sites of
the Goldfields region and the Hinkler electorate.
Mr Linden Brownley expressed the view that a more thorough and wider
consultation process was required in Kalgoorlie-Boulder as a range of people in
the community felt as though they were not well informed about the cashless
Similarly, Mr Champion described the consultation session he attended in the
Goldfields as 'lacklustre.'
Mr Dion Meredith told the committee he believed that there should have
been more consultation, particularly with Aboriginal people in the Goldfields
There should have been an Aboriginal person on the ground
doing the consultation alongside those staff. There was none. Every time there
is something happening and they want to consult Aboriginal people, they haven't
got an Aboriginal person there to explain in simple terms what's going on,
what's going to happen et cetera. There should have been more consultation.
Miss Sharon Feerick, a resident of Bundaberg in the Hinkler electorate,
informed the committee that she attended a departmental information session in Bundaberg
on 8 August 2017 where attendees were split into groups and heard conflicting
information, commenting that most people left more confused and distressed than
they were when they arrived.
Ms Kathryn Wilkes, a resident of Hervey Bay, attended the information
session on 9 August 2017 and raised similar concerns:
We found at the community centre that they did the same
thing: they segregated everybody into three different groups. They had a couple
of officers from different areas. They virtually told people, "This is how
it's going to be when it's rolled out." There was no choice. There were no
answers to questions. We were basically just told, "You are going to have
to learn to live a different way."
The Law Council of Australia submitted that the cashless debit card
should only be introduced in communities where there is strong community
support for the program and on the basis of the free, prior and informed
consent of the community.
In its submission, the department noted that the Government's intention
to roll out the cashless debit card in the Goldfields region and Hinkler
electorate has been underpinned by extensive consultation in both locations.
The department advised the committee that in the Goldfields region
between May and September 2017, the department consulted with 16 state
government departments and agencies, representatives of each of the affected local
governments, 27 service providers, eight peak bodies, local businesses,
educational institutions and members of the general public. In addition, the
department undertook 11 public information sessions across the Goldfields
The Shire of Leonora and the Shire of Coolgardie also provided the
committee with evidence of public information sessions and consultation with
In relation to the Hinkler electorate, between July and September 2017
the department consulted with three state government departments, local police,
representatives of each of the affected local governments, 32 service providers
and community groups, and members of the general public. Public information
sessions were held in Childers on 20 July 2017, Bundaberg on 8 August 2017 and
Hervey Bay on 9 August 2017.
The department explained to the committee that attendees at the
Bundaberg and Hervey Bay information sessions were broken into groups to offer
a more conversational style and ensure that people were able to have their
views heard, due to the large number of people who attended.
Mr Tristan Reed presented at the information sessions and advised that the
department responded to a range of questions:
We answered questions about how the card operates and we
answered questions around some of the issues that were encountered in Ceduna
and the East Kimberley. It was definitely a session where people got to ask any
questions they wanted. Even after the session, we had one-on-one meetings with
people who wanted to ask further questions outside of the group scenario. I can
assure you that it was open to anyone who wanted to attend and no-one was
Furthermore, the department reassured the committee that a decision
regarding the implementation of the cashless debit card in the Hinkler
electorate had not been made prior to the information sessions.
The department advised the committee that achieving a high degree of community
support is a threshold which must be met before implementing the cashless debit
card in a location.
Operation of the cashless debit card
The cashless debit card operates by directing 80 per cent of a
participant's income support payments to a restricted bank account with the
remaining 20 per cent of the payments accessible through a normal, unrestricted
Payments directed to the restricted bank account can only be accessed by a
debit card and cannot be used to purchase alcohol or gambling products or
Participation in the cashless debit card is mandatory in the East
Kimberley and Ceduna for all working age income support recipients who receive
a specified trigger payment.
In the Goldfields region, it is proposed that the cashless debit card
will also apply to recipients of working age income support payments.
In the Hinkler electorate, the intention is to roll out the cashless debit card
to a specific cohort which includes recipients of Newstart, Youth Allowance
(job seeker) and parenting payments who are 35 and under.
In contrast to the BasicsCard, which is only accepted at approved
merchants, the cashless debit card can be used at any merchant that accepts
Visa Debit and has not been blocked as an excluded merchant.
The card provider, Indue, may block merchants whose main business is the sale
of excluded goods, for example, hotels/bars and casinos. Mixed merchants who
sell excluded and non-excluded goods, and have the ability to prevent the sale
of the excluded goods, can enter a merchant agreement with Indue in order to be
eligible to accept the cashless debit card.
Impact on participants
A number of submitters raised concerns regarding the practical operation
of the cashless debit card including how the card is used at mixed merchants,
the impact of directing 20 per cent of income support payments for unrestricted
use and stigma associated with using the card.
2.66 The St Vincent De Paul Society National Council submitted that
entering into agreements with mixed merchants adds administrative complexity to
the scheme which will be compounded if the cashless debit card is rolled out to
The Australian Hotels Association Western Australia told the committee
that it is essential to identify the mixed merchants which will be patronised
in cashless debit card sites. Otherwise, mixed merchants will be unable to
process cashless debit card transactions and this will impact on business
viability and cause hardship and inconvenience for cashless debit card
The Minderoo Foundation also commented on the limitations associated
with blocking particular merchants and recommended that the government invest
in technological solutions that allow for item-level blocking to enable
specific excluded goods to be blocked at the point of sale.
The Australian Bankers' Association noted that the banking industry has
concerns with the technology and infrastructure limitations of the cashless
debit card scheme and the potential for adverse and unintended consequences for
participants where restrictions on access to cash could expose them to further
financial and social marginalisation and disadvantage.
A number of individual submitters raised similar concerns that the
unrestricted proportion of a participant's income support payments would not be
sufficient to meet their needs, noting that it is often cheaper to purchase
some goods and services by cash.
For example, farmers markets, trash and treasure markets, alternate food banks
and local charity shops often only accept payment by cash.
The National Congress of Australia's First Peoples noted the experience
of users of the BasicsCard in the Northern Territory and submitted that
participants in the cashless debit card trial experienced similar problems
inability to pay for second-hand goods;
inability to purchase goods at markets;
requirements to pay additional card payment fees or meet a
minimum spend limit; and
stigma and shame from being marked as an income management
participant whenever they make a purchase.
Dr Elise Klein of Melbourne University told the committee that through
her research in the East Kimberley, she had found that the management of money
was difficult for cashless debit card participants:
Specifically, limiting cash has limited peoples' ability to
undertake day-to-day activities to help their families' wellbeing and household
livelihoods—things like getting second-hand goods; lunch money; paying for
transport, which is essential to help people get to their CDP responsibilities;
and buying gifts.
Other witnesses noted that the amount of income support payments
participants receive does not change under the cashless debit card scheme. Mr
Ian Trust from Kununurra in the East Kimberley, explained to the committee that
in his community 'the only difference is that 20 per cent of it is cash and 80
per cent is on the card. So, in terms of the monetary value of it, it's the
same as before.'
The department informed the committee that once the cashless debit card
was implemented in the trial sites, participants were able to overcome their
initial hesitations, particularly around understanding the technology and how
the card operated:
... once people begin to use the card, the feedback that we've
had from our local partners is that they do appreciate the extra
flexibility—the fact that the card can be used anywhere, as long as it's not a
gambling or alcohol merchant. People report that they find the card, once they
begin to use it, less stigmatising.
In response to questions asked by a resident of the Hinkler electorate,
the department advised that the cashless debit card allows for many flexible
payment options. The cashless debit card will work at any business that accepts
EFTPOS (and is not an excluded merchant), can be used to pay bills via direct
debit or BPAY and can be used for online shopping at over 1800 online
retailers. The department also noted that participants can transfer up to $200
per month to non-restricted bank accounts if extra cash is required.
Furthermore, the department submitted that the restrictions ensure that
income support recipients and their children will have enough money available
for life's essentials and that for people who already spend their money
responsibly, the cashless debit card will have very little impact.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) submitted
that preventing people from purchasing alcohol or gambling products does not
address the underlying causes of the addiction.
RANZCP expressed concern that the trial was not set up in a way to provide holistic
care to individuals and that people with addiction issues may resort to
increasingly negative coping mechanisms.
Ms Michelle Nelson-Cox of the Aboriginal Health Council of Western
Australia, expressed concern that there are not sufficient culturally
appropriate support services in the Goldfields region:
One of the concerns we do have in this region is that there
is a lack of service providers that are culturally appropriate to deliver
programs that are going to meet the outcomes and expected targets of our
Aboriginal people, and providers are therefore not going to be able to meet the
necessary changes that our people need to have in place to take on their social
The Minderoo Foundation also noted the importance of appropriate support
services and guidance, in underpinning the cashless debit card's role in
reducing social harm.
The department informed the committee that it has undertaken extensive mapping
of support services in both the Goldfields region and the Hinkler electorate to
determine the requirements for support services.
In the Goldfields region, the department is undertaking a
children-driven community planning process which will consider how to better
streamline and coordinate the support services already in place.
There are over 50 federally-funded services in the Goldfields, receiving
approximately $20 million each year in funding, in addition to state and
locally funded services. Under the cashless debit card scheme, the Government
will invest more than $1 million over three years to ensure that children and
families in the Goldfields have a well-targeted, coordinated, effective system
of support services.
The department told the committee that in the Hinkler region,
consultation regarding support services has indicated the community is
interested in financial wellbeing and capability services, in addition to
alcohol and drug support services.
As part of the cashless debit card scheme, the Government will provide an extra
$1 million for support services to assist participants with budgeting and
financial planning and to help people access drug and alcohol services.
The government has also agreed to match the first year investment in the
East Kimberley and Ceduna, providing another $2.6 million for support services
in the communities for a second year.
Human rights implications
The statement of compatibility with human rights which accompanies the
bill, states that the bill engages the right to social security, the right to a
private life and the right to equality and non-discrimination.
As noted in Chapter 1, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (human
rights committee) expressed the view that while the cashless debit card trial may
pursue a legitimate objective, it also raised concerns as to whether the
extension of the scheme is a proportionate limitation on human rights and
whether adequate and effective safeguards are in place to ensure that the
limitations on human rights are the least restrictive way of achieving the
A number of submitters and witnesses expressed similar concerns that the
measures proposed by the bill are not proportionate to the limitations on
participants' human rights.
For example, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) expressed concerned
that there is limited evidence to demonstrate that the measures contained in
the bill have been effective in the existing trial sites and realised the
benefits sufficiently to justify the limitation of any rights.
The National Congress of Australia's First Peoples submitted that the
restrictions placed on participants' income support payments cannot be
rationally connected or proportional to the stated objective of the bill,
noting the evaluations of the BasicsCard and Stronger Future measures have
shown that income management policies are not effective.
Reconciliation Australia stated that the bill is not consistent with
past recommendations made by the human rights committee that income management
policies should only be implemented where there has been a request from the
community and that participants should be individually assessed as not able to
appropriately manage their income support payments before being placed on
Noting the human rights implications of the cashless debit card, a
number of submitters recommended that the cashless debit card scheme should be amended
to be a voluntary program. The Law Council of Australia submitted that research
has indicated that income management schemes which are voluntary and target
individuals with high needs are more successful.
In contrast, the Mayor of Ceduna, Councillor Allan Suter, told the
committee that he believes that the compulsory nature of the cashless debit
card is essential as the people who need help the most, are the people least
likely to volunteer for the card.
In his response to the matters raised by the human rights committee, the
Minister for Human Services, The Hon Alan Tudge MP (minister), noted that the
cashless debit card is aimed at addressing the impacts of social harm across
the community and is therefore most effective when applied to a majority of
income support recipients:
While Income Management, the Australian Government's other
welfare quarantining program, is targeted towards vulnerable individuals, the
Cashless Debit Card is testing whether restricting the amount of cash in a
community can reduce the overall social harm caused by welfare-fuelled alcohol,
gambling and drug misuse at the individual and community level. The community
wide impacts of these harmful goods mean that the Cashless Debit Card program
is most effective when a majority of people in a community who receive a
welfare payment participate in the program.
The department further explained that a community-wide approach is not
uncommon when seeking to address problems and harmful behaviours which affect
the community as a whole.
The minister outlined that the right to social security is only limited
to the extent of a participant's ability to use a proportion of their payment
to purchase harms goods, in an area whether there are demonstrated high levels
of community harm and does not detract from the eligibility or amount of a
person's social security entitlement.
Similarly, the limitation on the right to a private life and right to
self‑determination are only limited to the extent of restricting a
proportion of a participant's income support payments that can be spent on
harmful goods, which is directly related to the objective of the cashless debit
card to address high levels of harm in communities.
Disproportionate impact on
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
A number of submitters raised particular concerns that the cashless
debit card scheme has a disproportionate impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait
The AHRC noted that as at September 2016, 75 per cent of trial participants in
Ceduna, and 82 per cent in the East Kimberley were Indigenous.
The AHRC explained that the cashless debit card scheme has a
disproportionate impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the
bill targets a section of the population who are receiving income support
...whilst the measures may not directly target Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander peoples, their practical effect will unduly impact upon
them, as government pensions and allowances are a main source of income for
approximately 46.9% of this group.
In his response to the human rights committee, the minister acknowledged
that although a significant proportion of participants are Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander peoples, the cashless debit card scheme is not applied
on the basis of race or cultural factors and locations are chosen on the basis
of objective criteria.
The department also noted that the proposed new sites have a much lower
proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples than the trial
The bill provides that the cashless debit card will be implemented in
new sites following the introduction of a disallowable legislative instrument.
A number of submitters raised concerns that new trial sites will be
determined by legislative instrument and that the bill will allow the expansion
of the cashless debit card program into new sites without a separate act of
The Western Australian Council of Social Service submitted that although
the legislative instruments are disallowable by Parliament, the level of
oversight and consultation will be reduced if the cashless debit card is
implemented in new sites without the process of amending existing legislation.
The Goldfields Land and Sea Council expressed the opinion that the likelihood
of Parliament disallowing the legislative instrument was low.
The AHRC raised concerns that there was not a requirement for particular
safeguards to be included in the legislative instruments, including
requirements that the instruments be time bound, limit the number of
participants or consult with affected communities.
The explanatory memorandum to the bill notes that the proposed
amendments do not remove the legislative safeguards protecting how, when and
where the cashless debit card can be implemented. Furthermore, the legislative
instruments which determine new sites can specify other parameters including
sunset dates and participant criteria.
This provides the opportunity for the Government to co-design these parameters
with the communities and tailor the program to suit their needs.
The department noted that while the current legislation allows for the
cashless debit card to be implemented in one further site, it does not allow
for the program to operate beyond 30 June 2018 or be rolled out to both the
Goldfields region and the Hinkler electorate or any further locations. The
department submitted that removing the limitations in the current legislation
provides more flexibility for expansion of the program and that the
Government's intention to implement the cashless debit card in the two new
locations has been prefaced by extensive consultation in both locations.
The department submitted that Parliament will retain the right to
consider each proposed cashless debit card site on an individual basis:
Instead of passing legislative amendments, for hypothetical
communities and participants, Parliament can accept or reject new sites by
considering the impacts and level of community support for the measure on a
case by case basis.
The committee notes the wide-ranging support for the objective of the
cashless debit card to reduce the social harms caused by excessive use of
alcohol, drugs and gambling. The committee recognises that views differ on
whether the cashless debit card has been effective at achieving this objective.
The committee heard strong concerns from the Goldfields region regarding
the devastating impact alcohol, drugs and gambling is having on communities in
the region and believes the cashless debit card will go some way to creating an
environment in which to address these issues.
The committee is encouraged by the results of the independent evaluation
conducted by ORIMA Research which indicates that the cashless debit card trials
in the East Kimberley and Ceduna have resulted in less public drunkenness, less
gambling, fewer alcohol related hospital admissions and people engaging with
local support services to improve their lives.
The committee notes the extensive consultation undertaken with the East
Kimberley and Ceduna trial sites, as well as the proposed new sites of the
Goldfields region and the Hinkler electorate, and that a high level of
community support has been fundamental to the introduction of the cashless
debit card in these locations.
The committee recognises that there are concerns regarding the operation
of the cashless debit card and its impact on participants. The committee is
satisfied that the department's continued consultation will ensure that the
proposed new sites are prepared to implement the card and that appropriate
support services will be provided to meet each community's needs.
The committee acknowledges concerns that the bill may limit a
participant's human rights. However, the committee is satisfied that the bill only
limits those rights to the extent required to realise the objective of the card
to reduce the social harm caused by the excessive use of alcohol, drugs and
The committee further acknowledges the concern that there is not a
requirement for particular safeguards to be included in the legislative
instruments nominating new locations. However, the committee notes that the
bill does not remove the legislative safeguards protecting how, when and where
the cashless debit card can operate.
The committee notes that disallowable legislative instruments are
subject to disallowance by the Parliament within 15 sitting days of their
tabling in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Further, the human
rights committee and the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and
Ordinances will have the opportunity to review the legislative instruments for
compliance with each committee's respective scrutiny principles and report to
Noting the results of the independent evaluation, the committee is
encouraged by the cashless debit card's positive impact in the trial sites and
sees significant benefit in the continuation of the cashless debit card in the
trial sites and expansion to new locations.
The committee recommends that the bill be passed.
Senator Slade Brockman
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