Dissenting Report by the Australian Greens


This bill seeks to permanently entrench compulsory income management, in the form of the Cashless Debit Card (CDC), as part of Australia’s social security system. The bill makes the CDC permanent in the current trial sites in East Kimberley, Ceduna, Goldfields and Bundaberg. It also entrenches the CDC for over 25 000 people currently on the BasicsCard in the Northern Territory (NT).
The Australian Greens reject the majority committee view that making the CDC permanent will see significant benefit and the recommendation that the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020 (the Bill) be passed.
The Australian Greens share the concerns raised by stakeholders regarding the incredibly short timeframes given for the inquiry. A single half-day public hearing was held due to this short timeframe which did not adequately cover the significant concerns of stakeholders, especially those in the NT.
As the Australian Council of Social Services noted:
There will be more hearings held into the impact of feral deer, pigs and goats in Australia than for this bill, which will make permanent one of the most punitive social security measures in our recent history, that limits the rights of more than 25 000 people in Australia.1
This inquiry process has been inadequate given the changes this bill permanently makes to our social security system and its ability to harm the lives of tens of thousands of people.
In the middle of a global pandemic and Australia’s first recession in 30 years, the Government has chosen this moment as the right time to make the CDC permanent. It is astounding that the Government refuses to make any decisions about the base rate of the Jobseeker Payment due to the changing economic conditions but is happy to prematurely entrench compulsory income management.
There are also real practical implications of rolling out the CDC to remote communities during a global pandemic that has seen state and territory border closures.
In the final sitting weeks of 2020, the Senate will again be forced to vote on a complex and divisive piece of legislation in a short timeframe while many questions remain unanswered.
One such question is whether the Government will choose to place new income support recipients in the four trial sites onto the CDC. Although the Minister paused new entrants being placed on the CDC in March, it is unclear whether this pause will remain in place once the card becomes permanent. People have a right to know whether they will be placed onto the CDC before the scheme becomes permanent.
Another question is whether the Government will move to permanently expand the CDC to additional sites, or nationwide, without any requirement to undertake community consultation.
The Australian Greens condemn the Government’s pursuit of this ideological, ad-hoc, top down scheme. The CDC has not been demonstrated to be reasonable, necessary or proportionate. There is no evidence to justify the card’s permanent roll out.
We continue to hold serious concerns about the punitive nature of compulsory income management as expressed in our dissenting reports to previous inquiries into the CDC.

Lack of consultation around the permanency of the CDC

The Australian Greens remain strongly concerned at the absence of consultation about this bill, particularly the permanency of the CDC.
It is clear from evidence received through this inquiry and at Budget Senate Estimates that the Government did not consult communities in the NT about its intentions to make the CDC permanent.
Prior to COVID-19, the Department of Social Services (DSS) held information sessions with individuals and stakeholders in the NT. However, these information sessions did not ask communities in the NT if they supported the introduction of the CDC or the continuation of compulsory income management.2
As many submitters pointed out, information sessions are not an appropriate substitute for consultation.
The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) described in its submission:
The information sessions have been a one-way communication strategy as opposed to partnership and genuine decision making, and it is unclear as to how many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community representatives were in attendance and had their voices heard.3
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, June Oscar AO, said the lack of genuine consultation about the card was highlighted by First Nations women through the Wiyi Yani U Thangani project:
Women cited issues with a top-down approach to the design and application of the card and emphasised the need for consultation with prospective participants, their families and their support organisations.4
Dr Shelley Bielefeld noted in her submission:
There is slippage between ‘engagement’, ‘consultation’ and ‘information session’ in government documents accompanying the 2020 CDC Bill—yet an information session informing community members as to what the government is about to do to them is not a consultation in any meaningful sense.5
Many submitters highlighted that the absence of any real consultation with First Nations communities goes against the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap which has been founded on the principles of shared decisionmaking and self-determination.
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) pointed out:
True partnership requires Aboriginal-led decision making, selfdetermination and free, prior and informed consent.6
NACCHO, Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory (APO NT), Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory (AMSANT), North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA), NATSILS and Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation (ALPA) all noted in their submissions that this bill is inconsistent with the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap.
As Professor Jon Altman noted in his submission:
Even before the ink is properly dry on this unprecedented agreement between all governments and a coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations, the Australian government as the key signatory is looking to unilaterally introduce laws that disempower rather than empower about 28 000 Indigenous Australians.7
Representatives from community groups, including the No Cashless Welfare Debit Card Australia and the Say NO Seven Community, provided evidence at the public hearing that they were not aware of any people currently on the CDC who had been consulted about making the trial sites permanent.8
The Australian Greens reject any proposition that genuine, two-way consultation has occurred with First Nations communities or anyone currently on the CDC about the proposal to make the scheme permanent.

Overwhelming opposition from First Nations groups

There is overwhelming opposition to the CDC and compulsory income management from First Nations groups. It appears from the evidence received by the committee that the Government has wilfully chosen to ignore this critical opposition.
ALPA noted in its submission:
In every community in which ALPA discussed the potential expansion of the Cashless Debit Card the feedback has been universally consistent. People do not want the Cashless Debit Card, they do not feel that need or receive any benefit from Compulsory Income Management.9
Mr John Paterson, Chief Executive Officer of AMSANT, noted that the enormous consultation APO NT undertook with First Nations communities demonstrated that they do not want the CDC.10
If the Government had bothered to undertake genuine consultation with First Nations communities, they may have learnt about the concerns with introducing the CDC to the NT. This included issues around locking in food insecurity by removing people’s access to cash,11 increased demand for social security legal help,12 regular network outages and connectivity disruptions leading to people being unable to buy basic goods with the card,13 and increased need for financial services, banking services, financial counsellors and administrative support.14

Missing evaluation data

The Australian Greens are deeply concerned that the Government has decided to make compulsory income management permanent without all the available evaluation data.
The University of Adelaide Second Impact Evaluation, which was apparently designed to develop an evidence base and understand what works, has not yet been publicly released. It appears the Government is making the decision to entrench the CDC without considering all the available evidence. It is unclear whether this evaluation will be released before the bill is debated in the Senate.
The Government continues to rely on data from the widely debunked ORIMA evaluation to justify compulsory income management while ignoring other independent studies. For example, researchers from Monash University, University of South Australia and Menzies School of Public Health who undertook quantitative research at the Ceduna CDC trial site found that:
Across all measures we found NO IMPACT of the CDC. Meaning, neither a decrease nor an increase in measured crime rates, emergency department presentations, electronic gaming (pokies) nor apprehensions for public intoxication - Our analysis focused on the South Australian trial region (Ceduna and surrounds).15
As noted by the Human Rights Law Centre, the CDC has not been trialled in a location similar to the NT in terms of population size or geographical area.16 This raises questions about whether the Government has enough evidence to implement the CDC on a permanent basis in the NT.
The Australian Greens strongly believe there is not a sufficient evidence base to justify making the CDC permanent.

Cost of making the CDC permanent is unclear

There has been little to no transparency around the cost of the implementing and rolling out the CDC. The future outputs for the scheme are shrouded in secrecy and ‘commercial in confidence’ agreements with the cardholder, Indue. The community only ever discovers the cost of the scheme after the fact.
This bill is no different. We have no understanding of how much it will cost to permanently entrench the CDC, lift the cap on the number of participants who enter the scheme, and roll it out to the NT.
This scheme goes to the broader question of a private company, in this case Indue, profiting from our social security system.
As the Human Rights Law Centre noted in its submission:
The permanent introduction of the Cashless Debit Card also paves the way for the Federal Government, and companies which profit from the scheme, to advocate for broader implementation of the card across Australia in the future.17
The Australian Unemployed Workers Union also highlighted:
The AUWU stands against the intrusion of the private sector in social welfare; the welfare of a population should not be turned into a profitbased market. Furthermore, the use of the private sector is another measure designed to reduce transparency and further enable the use of public funds for private gain.18
The Australian Greens continue to oppose the role of private companies profiting from our social security system. Social security is an essential public good and must remain free from private corporations.

Power of Minister to increase quarantined income

The previous iteration of this bill allowed the Minister to quarantine 100 per cent of a person’s income support payment onto the CDC, leaving a person with no access to cash. While this bill has now lowered that figure to 80 per cent, there is still widespread opposition to the Minister having such a broad power.
UnitingCare Australia expressed concerns around the lack of legislative safeguards in place to monitor this power and the implications this would have on how participants manage their personal finances.19
This bill maintains the same 50:50 quarantine ratio for people moving from the BasicsCard to the CDC. However, organisations like APONT and NAAJA noted there is no guarantee the Government will maintain the 50:50 quarantine ratio for people in the NT.20
The Australian Greens continue to hold concerns about this unnecessary and unchecked power and question the Government’s motives behind including this section in the bill.

Changes to the wellbeing exemptions and exit process

It is already incredibly difficult for people on the CDC to exit off the card. Changes introduced by this bill will make it even harder for people to get off the card.
The Australian Greens are strongly concerned by the ability of the Secretary to revoke an exit or wellbeing exemption at any time. The retrospective application of this could mean exit approvals made prior to the passage of this bill could be revoked. We are concerned that people will live in constant threat of being put back on the CDC, permanently.
Change the Record noted this is disturbing as it implies a form of ongoing surveillance of an individual even after they have successfully exited the card.21
The Human Rights Law Centre noted the absence of any requirement for a state or territory government employee to give reasons or evidence when they request the Secretary to reconsider a person’s wellbeing exemption.22 This is extremely concerning.

Income Management in Cape York

This bill also transitions income management participants in Cape York to the CDC. It is important to note that the income management model applied in Cape York is very different to the way the BasicsCard operates in the NT and the way the CDC operates across the current trial sites.
The model implemented through the Family Responsibilities Commission and its local commissioners is embedded in co-design and has strong community support.
Evidence provided to the inquiry by the Family Responsibilities Commission, Mrs Tammy Williams, emphasised that income management in Cape York is a measure of last resort.23
The Australian Greens note the broad community support for the implementation of income management through the Family Responsibilities Commission and the Commission’s calls for this scheme to continue in Cape York.


The Australian Greens recommend that the bill not be passed.


The Australian Greens recommend that all forms of compulsory income management currently operating in Australia should be abandoned.


The Australian Greens recommend that the Government carries out extensive consultation around Australia for any move to make income management voluntary and ensure that any new program is co-designed.


The Australian Greens recommend that the Government consult immediately with communities in Cape York and the Family Responsibilities Commission on any further operation of the Cape York Scheme.
Senator Rachel Siewert
Deputy Chair

  • 1
    Correspondence to the Committee from the Australian Council of Social Service, received on 10 November 2020.
  • 2
    North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, Submission 134, p. 5.
  • 3
    National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, Submission 135, p. 2.
  • 4
    Australian Human Rights Commission, Submission 37, p. 6.
  • 5
    Dr Shelley Bielefeld, Professor Greg Marston, Dr Michelle Peterie and Dr Zoe Staines, Submission 118, p. 30.
  • 6
    National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, Submission 138, p. 7.
  • 7
    Emeritus Professor Jon Altman, Submission 106, p. 5.
  • 8
    Ms Amanda Smith, Policy Analyst and Campaign Coordinator, The Say NO Seven Community and Ms Kathryn Wilkes, Main Administration Officer, No Cashless Welfare Debit Card Australia, Committee Hansard, 5 November 2020, p. 13.
  • 9
    Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation, Submission 35, p. 4.
  • 10
    Mr John Paterson, Chief Executive Officer, Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory, Committee Hansard, 5 November 2020, p. 5.
  • 11
    Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory, Submission 132, p. 4.
  • 12
    Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory, Submission 39, p. 9.
  • 13
    Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory, Submission 132, p. 4.
  • 14
    North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, Submission 134, p. 4.
  • 15
    Monash University, Submission 5, p. 2.
  • 16
    Human Rights Law Centre, Submission 17, p. 2.
  • 17
    Human Rights Law Centre, Submission 17, p. 2.
  • 18
    Australian Unemployed Workers Union, Submission 34, p. 3.
  • 19
    UnitingCare Australia, Submission 32, p. 21.
  • 20
    Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory, Submission 39, p. 12 and North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, Submission 134, p. 3.
  • 21
    Change the Record, Submission 24, p. 7.
  • 22
    Human Rights Law Centre, Submission 17, p. 3.
  • 23
    Mrs Tammy Williams, Commissioner, Family Responsibilities Commission, Committee Hansard, 5 November 2020, p. 22.

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