Most submitters and witnesses expressed support for the objective of the
Social Security Legislation Amendment (Debit Card Trial) Bill 2015 (Bill) to
reduce the social harm caused by alcohol and gambling. A number of these supported
the introduction of the trial as outlined in the Bill, provided it was
accompanied by appropriate of wrap-around services, community consultation and
a thorough evaluation.
However, a number of submitters and witnesses expressed concern about whether
the trial would reduce alcohol and gambling related harm, and the detail in the
Bill on how the trial would operate, including:
the support services that would be provided;
possible human rights infringements, as raised by the
Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights;
how trial participants would be determined and any exemption
the level of community consultation in proposed trial sites;
the role of community bodies;
how the proposed debit card would operate in practice;
the proposed evaluation of the trial; and
cost of the proposed trial.
The Parliamentary Secretary, the Hon Alan Tudge MP (Parliamentary
Secretary) noted in his second reading speech on the Bill that the trial and
accompanying support package:
...will enable those communities to become healthier, to reduce
that welfare fuelled alcohol, drug and gambling abuse and, in the process, that
women and children can be safer, the community can be safer and more people,
overall, can lead better and healthier lives.
Reducing alcohol and gambling related harm
A number of submitters and witnesses expressed support for the trial as
an attempt to reduce the social harm caused by alcohol and gambling,
particularly in the proposed trial sites of Ceduna and the East Kimberley
The committee heard that alcohol and gambling related harm is a
significant problem in the Ceduna region. The Ceduna Aboriginal Corporation
(CAC) submitted that alcohol and drug abuse, including the drug ice, is a particular
problem, noting that in 2013-14, there were over 500 admissions to the Ceduna
Hospital Emergency Department attributed to alcohol and drug use including
assault, and 4 667 admissions to the Sobering-Up Shelter. The CAC also noted
that the rate of alcohol related assault in the region is 68 times the national
As a result of the alcohol problems, CAC noted that 'children are going
without food and essential clothing and as a result failing to attend school or
are subject to all night parties, potential adult violence (assaults),
including domestic violence'.
Mr Greg Franks, CEO of the Yalata Community, told the committee:
People in the community are fed up with alcohol harm, family
violence, kids not attending school. There is so much harm within our
communities that we have to do something.
The Far West Community Heads Group (FWCHG) representing Indigenous
communities in the Ceduna region expressed particular support for the trial.
Mr Michael Haynes, a member of the FWCHG representing the CAC, told the
committee the trial provides an opportunity make a positive change in the lives
of Aboriginal communities:
In the 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 have failed. It is our belief that as a first trial
site, amongst a possible three across Australia, we now have an opportunity to
make positive change in the lives of our people. We also look forward to a
fulsome analysis and review of the trial's impact to inform further community
based consultations and strategies to reduce the impact of alcohol, substance
abuse and gambling on our communities.
Collectively, we seek the support of this inquiry to
understand the pain and grief many families have had to endure over many years
at the loss of loved ones who have struggled with alcohol addiction, alcohol
related violence, premature death attributed to sleeping rough or health
related disease caused by excessive drinking.
Ms Mima Smart OAM, a member of the FWCHG representing the Yalata
Community, expressed support for the debit card trial as a way to reduce
...there have been a lot of people who have died and a lot of
people ending up in hospital because their life was destroyed by alcohol.
Instead of being in Ceduna drinking people will now go home to be with their
families and teach them culture.
The committee heard the objectives of the trial were also supported by
the non-Indigenous community. In its submission, the District Council of Ceduna
(DCC) noted it 'strongly endorses and supports' the proposed trial of the
cashless debit card. The DCC noted it views the trial as:
...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 deaths.
The DCC noted that over the past decade, it has initiated or assisted
with a range of strategies to address substance abuse in the region,
particularly in Indigenous communities. Following a coronial inquest into the
deaths of six Indigenous people in the Ceduna area in 2011, the DCC reported
that there has been an increased level of coordination between Commonwealth,
state and local governments and Indigenous community leaders to address these
issues. The DCC noted it is achieving positive outcomes 'to try and improve a
very distressing situation'.
The DCC suggested that it is the 'right time' to trial limiting the
availability of cash for welfare recipients to reduce the harm caused by
gambling, alcohol and drug abuse, particularly the drug ice:
The best option not yet tried for restricting the
availability of drugs, gambling funds and alcohol is clearly the restriction of
cash for those who are on benefits. It is clear that many sufferers of
alcoholism are on welfare benefits partly because of their illness. Coupled
with the steps already implemented we believe that the trial together with the
appropriate support measures will help immensely.
The South Australian Liquor and Gambling Commissioner expressed its
support for the trial, noting that previous measures to address issues
associated with alcohol abuse have had limited success:
In cases where the safety and welfare of a person, their
dependents and/or the community at large is threatened as the result of
excessive alcohol consumption and alcohol misuse, limiting the income that is
available to those individuals to purchase liquor, will contribute to a
reduction in unacceptable levels of harm within the community.
East Kimberley region
The committee also heard that alcohol related harm was a significant
problem in the East Kimberley region. In its submission, the Wunan Foundation,
representing Indigenous people in the Kununurra area, highlighted that Indigenous
people in the East Kimberley region are among the most disadvantaged in
Australia and experience high levels of social dysfunction, including
widespread drug and alcohol abuse, that result in:
high rates of family violence (in 2012-13, there were 100
reported incidents of family violence per 1000 people in the East Kimberley,
compared to the next highest figure of 43 incidents per 1000 people in the
south-eastern region of WA);
high rates of child abuse and neglect (100 per cent of children
in out-of-home care in the East Kimberley region are Indigenous);
large numbers of children spending their nights on the street
rather than returning to unsafe homes;
increasing rates of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder; and
high rates of suicide (the rate of suicide in the Kimberley is 70
per 100 000 people, compared to the national rate of 11 per 100 000 people);
high rates of alcohol-fuelled violence (the hospitalisation rate
for assault in Kununurra is 68 times higher than the national average due to
In his second reading speech on the Bill, the Parliamentary Secretary
noted that Indigenous community leaders in the East Kimberley region
representing the Wunan Foundation, MG Corporation and Gelganyem Trust wrote to
the Commonwealth Government noting:
We acknowledge that agreeing to the East Kimberley being a
trial site for the restricted debit card may seem to some a rather drastic
step. However, it is our view that continuing to deliver the same programs we
have delivered for the past forty years will do nothing for our people and, besides
wasting more time and money, will condemn our children and future generations
to a life of poverty and despair. As leaders in the East Kimberley, we cannot
In its submission, the Wunan Foundation noted:
Too many of our people are living broken lives and our most
vulnerable – our children and old people – are paying the price. Without
radical reform the future looks grim. Wunan strongly believes that the proposed
Restricted Debit Card trial could be the catalyst we need to break the devastating
cycle of poverty and despair in the East Kimberley.
Mr Ian Trust, Executive Director of the Wunan Foundation, explained that
the expected outcome of the trial is to 'stabilise' communities, especially for
The people who are suffering the most in all of this are the
children. They tell us they are on the street in the first place is, because
they do not want to go home because it is unsafe there. There are parties going
on during the week and all sorts of things are happening there, so a lot of
these kids do not want to go home. It is a situation that we just cannot allow
to continue. The initial outcome we would like to see is some stability brought
back to these families so that the services that are currently provided by
government through NGO organisations and so on can actually have some impact.
At the moment, generally, they do not.
Similarly, the East Kimberley Chamber of Commerce and Industry (EKCCI),
representing 200 businesses in the region, expressed support for the objectives
of the trial:
The introduction of the Cashless Debit Card means welfare
income is spent on items that support families being fed, housed and educated,
instead of alcohol and drugs. This can only have a positive impact on our
region; leading to better education and employment opportunities for our future
Efficacy of income management
A number of submitters and witnesses suggested that the proposed trial
was similar to current income management programs across Australia,
particularly the Basics Card. These submitters and witnesses expressed concern
that income management programs have not been effective in changing behaviours
in relation to alcohol abuse or improving social outcomes.
For example, a 2014 evaluation of new income management measures in the
Northern Territory, where 50 per cent of welfare payments can only be used to
purchase essential goods and services using the Basics Card, found that there
was 'no evidence of changes in spending patterns, including food and alcohol
Mr J Rob Bray from the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research
at the Australian National University told the committee the three key findings
of the 2014 evaluation were:
income management 'did not change behaviours and it did not
improve outcomes...rather than creating independence the program created greater
dependence upon the welfare system';
there was significant diversity in outcomes, tending to work 'where
an individual was very specifically identified as having a problem—then, not
only were they income managed but that was part of a group of services being
provided to the person—and also where the person was willing to change'; and
the system could be circumvented and 'where people wanted to get
around the system they found ways to do so'.
However, the Parliamentary Secretary suggested that the proposed trial
of cashless welfare arrangements 'is not income management' as it differs
significantly from existing income management programs:
There will be no compulsion for anyone to spend their payments
in a particular way, although of course people will be encouraged to establish
a budget. There will be complete freedom, with the exception of two restricted
products [alcohol and gambling].
Mr Andrew Forrest, who proposed the introduction of a 'Healthy Welfare
Card' as part of his review of Indigenous Jobs and Training (Forrest Review),
also submitted that the trial should not be considered as income management:
It is disappointing that some social service and welfare
groups have made submissions attacking this trial and calling the card a form
of compulsory income management, when it is not. The technology recommended in
the Creating Parity Review, means the recipient of the card may use their card
to purchase everything a non‐cardholder
can purchase, except alcohol or gambling. There is also an amount of cash
allowed that can be used at the person’s discretion.
Similarly, Professor Marcia Langton AM told the committee that the trial
differs significantly from income management programs:
It is quite a different model. Income management works in a
kind of reverse way. What is being proposed here will work substantially
differently and it is important to trial this in order to see if this kind of
approach will work better.
The Department of Social Services (DSS) submitted that the trial would build
on the experiences of existing income management programs to develop a more
effective way to deliver welfare payments and reduce alcohol and gambling
Unlike the income management programme, which directs a
percentage of welfare funds to priority goods and services, trial participants
would be able to use the card to buy anything other than alcohol and gambling
products. In addition, cash would not be able to be withdrawn from the card,
limiting the amount that can be used to purchase illicit drugs. This model will
test a more mainstream delivery of welfare restrictions.
The trial is intended to be different from income management.
It will build on experiences of income management models across Australia,
contributing to the Government's evidence base about what works in welfare
payment delivery and identifying improvements.
A number of submitters and witnesses expressed concern that the Bill
does not provide for appropriate support services, including financial
management and drug and alcohol rehabilitation and counselling, to accompany
the introduction of the trial.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman highlighted in its submission the importance of
providing support services to accompany the trial:
Restricting the amount of money a person has available to
spend on alcohol is only one of a number of interventions required to address
underlying problems faced by individuals. Without investment in other support
services, it is difficult to see how the measure will succeed in addressing the
long term, underlying causes of the social problems it proposes to address.
Similarly, the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) submitted that:
...any trial of the card should only be introduced as part of a
wider legislative package that explicitly recognises a range of interventions
in the trial sites, including resourcing of complementary services, case
management to co-ordinate these services and development of employment pathways.
The importance of support services in reducing alcohol related harm was
also highlighted by the recent report by the House of Representatives Standing
Committee on Indigenous Affairs on its inquiry into the harmful use of alcohol
in Indigenous communities. The report made a series of recommendations to
address alcohol abuse, including that:
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people be provided with
better access to a full suite of evidence-based alcohol treatment and support
options, bearing in mind that reducing the social and economic drivers of
harmful drinking will ultimately make treatment and rehabilitation less
Community groups in the two proposed trial regions noted that their
support for the trial was contingent on the provision of appropriate support
services. In Ceduna, the FWCHG noted that its support for the trial depended on
providing 'wrap around services' to 'ensure that people with substance misuse
issues can get access to appropriate counselling and treatment services',
substance abuse support and counselling;
improved early childhood education; and
improved economic development opportunities including training
and employment programs.
Mr Greg Franks, CEO of the Yalata Community in the Ceduna region, told
...whilst we are currently very strongly in favour of the
introduction of this trial, if it was to proceed without the support measures
that we think are absolutely necessary, then we—certainly from the Yalata's
perspective—would become severe critics of this trial. So it is fundamental to
proceedings that the support packages are put in place.
In the East Kimberley region, Indigenous community groups also
highlighted that their support for the trial is contingent on the provision of
additional support services.
Empowered Communities, representing eight key Aboriginal organisations in the
East Kimberley noted in its submission that their support for the trial is:
...subject to the provision of sufficient wrap around services
to support its implementation. The enhancement of existing services and the
provision of new services is required to cater for the consequences of the
trial, which we anticipate to include increased crime and other social issues.
Mr Andrew Forrest told the committee that his original proposal for the
Healthy Welfare Card included a range of comprehensive services. Mr Forrest
noted his support for the trial was based on an expectation that additional
support services, including police and counselling services, would be included:
I look at this as I would look at assisting anyone else who
suffers at the hands of alcohol and drug use, and that is to make available to
that community and to those people full access to the counselling which they
need to transform their lives. If we were to introduce the card without that
support, I would be withdrawing my support for the card. People will need
personal assistance, and the community will need community assistance, through
the transition from the suffering they currently have at the hands of alcohol
and drugs to the clarity and the ability to make proper decisions once one
comes out the other side.
In his second reading speech on the Bill, the Parliamentary Secretary
noted that there would be additional supports provided to accompany the
introduction of the trial:
Those additional supports will particularly include financial
management and financial counselling. They will include additional drug and
alcohol counselling or assistance to help people get off that addiction and
they will include some mental health assistance as well. Again, we are
negotiating with the local community leaders as to what makes sense in those
communities to complement the introduction of the card.
In the MOU signed between the Commonwealth Government and community
groups in Ceduna, the Commonwealth Government has agreed to:
...work with the South Australian Government and community
signatories to look at the current services being provided with a view to
delivering a tailored package of additional assistance. The package will aim to
support individuals and Indigenous communities to tackle their dependence on
drugs and alcohol and to improve individual and community capabilities and
The Mayor of the District Council of Ceduna, Councillor Allan Suter,
told the committee the DCC has been satisfied with the response from the
Commonwealth government to requests for support services:
With what has been discussed to date—bearing in mind we have
got another meeting next Friday and then a meeting every fortnight, and the
trial does not start until February—I am initially very happy with the
responses that we are getting to our requests for support services. I am also
very happy with the way that various government agencies are now working
together effectively, probably for the first time, to address the health issues
et cetera that will arise from this change.
Mr Michael Haynes told the committee the FWCHG was currently considering
a proposal from the Commonwealth government on the types of services that would
There are proposed additional alcohol and drug support
services—this is to undertake intensive AOD [Alcohol and Other Drugs] case
management and outreach services. There is a new alcohol and drug brokerage
fund, to support the provision of rapid assistance to people affected by drugs
and alcohol and their families. And there is a safe transition to the new welfare
card for people with substance abuse problems. We will also be looking at
supporting Indigenous early childhood services, improved community safety,
economic development, employment and training opportunities and financial
Representatives from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
(DPM&C) told the committee DPM&C is currently identifying gaps in
current service provision in proposed trial sites to determine what services
may need to be made available:
We are doing three things. First, we are having a look at
what is there now and trying to identify any gaps. There are gaps anywhere, as
we all know, but we are trying to identify the particular things that might be
of concern. Second, we are trying to make sure we have the capacity to respond
to any increase in need. This is why we are having a trial. It is not yet clear
what need we will have to respond to. Third, during the course of the trial we
want to watch very carefully so that if there is some unanticipated need that
we have not considered, we can respond to it.
Human rights concerns
A number of submitters and witnesses expressed concern that the Bill is
paternalistic in its approach and risks infringing on the human rights of
people receiving welfare payments.
For example, the St Vincent de Paul Society submitted that:
...we believe that the form of compulsory income management
imposed by this Bill is disproportionate, and poses a significant threat to the
human rights of people who will be subject to it.
The Australian Human Rights Commissions raised particular concerns about
the lack of monitoring and review processes for trial participants:
The Commission highlights the importance of ensuring the
participation of affected people in all aspects of the design, delivery and monitoring
of the income management measures. This would enable individuals and
communities to decide on the most appropriate measures to meet their particular
needs and the Government to respond to the specific circumstances of individual
people and communities.
These concerns were highlighted by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on
Human Rights (PJCHR), which noted that restricting how a person can access
their social security benefits:
...interferes with the person's right to personal autonomy and therefore
their right to a private life. In addition, being able to only access 20 per
cent of welfare payments in cash could have serious restrictions on what a
person is able to do in their private life.
However, Professor Marcia Langton AM, highlighted that the restrictions
on how welfare payments may be spent have been agreed to by the local
communities in the proposed trial sites and aim to protect communities from the
impact of alcohol and gambling related harm:
This is not a paternalistic measure; this is a protective
measure that leaders have examined closely and want for their communities
because children are unsafe, women are unsafe and, more and more, people are
being dragged into the drinking culture and increasing the proportion of
drinkers in the community.
Similarly, Mr Andrew Forrest told the committee:
...this card is not remotely paternalistic. Anything which
gives thinking adults caring for community—experienced adults—an ability to
further help their community is not paternalistic. To deny those Australians
that basic right without a trial, to deny them access to a better technology
which has transformed our own lives in this inquiry...is very paternalistic.
Mr Greg Franks, a member of the FWCHG representing the Yalata Community
told the committee the trial aims to 'reshape' rather than 'restrict' the lives
of trial participants:
The card is not a prohibition. People will still have 20 per
cent of their income to gamble and socialise with. It is not about restricting
people's lives; it is about providing an opportunity for people to reshape
their lives and to find a healthy life; and it is about putting the support
measures in to help them maintain that healthy life. Returning to community,
finding cultural activities to do and helping families rebuild—they are the
sorts of things that will make this card work.
In response to suggestions that the trial would 'breach the rights of
welfare recipients to spend welfare payments as they choose', Mr Ian Goodenough
MP noted during the second reading debate on the Bill that:
...the community has a justified expectation that governments
will take responsible measures to minimise social harm, violence and child
neglect. Overall, there has been little public opposition to the trial. The
debit cards are less proscriptive than the current BasicsCard, as they do not
set expenditure limits on prescribed categories and they are more universally
accepted by retailers and service providers as part of the wider Visa,
MasterCard and EFTPOS banking platforms.
Disproportionate impact on Indigenous
A number of submissions raised concerns that the trial would
disproportionately impact on Indigenous communities, noting that the
populations of the proposed trial sites comprise a high proportion of Indigenous
The PJCHR's report also noted the measure may have a disproportionate impact on
Indigenous people and may constitute indirect discrimination, given that the
two proposed trial sites have large Indigenous populations.
Data provided by DSS indicates that a large proportion of Indigenous
people would be affected in both trial sites. In Ceduna, DSS estimated that 72
per cent of people receiving trigger payments identify as Indigenous.
In the East Kimberley region, approximately 91 per cent of people receiving
trigger payments identify as Indigenous.
Professor Marcia Langton AM told the committee that the trial outlined
in the Bill does not discriminate on the basis of race:
The proposition is not race based. Both of these towns are
open towns that have multicultural populations, including Australian settler
folk, various kinds of Australians from elsewhere in the world, and very large
Aboriginal populations—and much larger Aboriginal populations in the Hinterland
of these towns. I was at an event on Saturday in Kununurra, where everybody in
the community, whatever their cultural background, were unanimous in their
support for this trial.
The Parliamentary Secretary emphasised that the trial sites will include
both Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants and have been selected:
...on the basis of high levels of welfare dependence, where
gambling, alcohol and illegal drug abuse are causing unacceptable levels of
harm and there is an openness to participate from within the community.
Determination of trial participants
Proportion of restricted payments
Some submitters and witnesses expressed concern that the proportion of
welfare payments available in cash under the proposed trial was too low,
particularly for those on the lowest support payments.
Submitters highlighted that access to cash was particularly important for
people on lower incomes. Adjunct Professor Eva Cox told the committee:
The inability to have access to cash, having to find a place
that takes the cards, to not be able to go to, say, markets, to not be able to
trek around and buy things at garage sales and various other things—if you are
poor, it actually removes your capacity to be in control of your money. Having
it on that card, even if it is not a green card that you can be identified with
at the cash register—which was embarrassing—is not going to be useful.
In particular, Carers Australia expressed concern that the trial would
have a disproportionate impact on formal and informal carers receiving either a
carer payment or other welfare payment:
...a restricted cash amount of 20 per cent is simply too low,
and has the potential to cause significant hardship to Trial participants.
Carers Australia notes that many unpaid carers with substantial caring
responsibilities are not eligible for Carer Payment and are in receipt of a
range of other social security payments including Newstart Allowance and the Disability
Support Pension (DSP).
However, in its submission, the CAC highlighted that the trial 'will not
change the amount a person receives [in] their payment only the way in which a
person receives the payment'. Table 2.1 outlines the proportion of payments
that would be available in cash to selected welfare recipients, as estimated by
Table 2.1 – Proportion of restricted payments
Type of payment
Newstart Allowance per
fortnight for a Single person in private rental
Parenting Payment Allowance
per fortnight for a Single person with 4 Children in private rental
Source: Ceduna Aboriginal
Corporation, Submission 12, pp [2–3].
The Parliamentary Secretary noted that the proportion of available cash was
developed and agreed to by community leaders in Ceduna. While the Forrest
Review recommended that 100 per cent of payment be placed on a restricted card,
community leaders in Ceduna noted this was not practical:
We're not yet in a cashless economy. There's still some
things you do need cash for. It might be the kids [sic] tuck shop, it might be
the local bus, things like that. In addition, this was what was agreed with the
community leaders. We discussed this at length and the community leaders
settled on this figure that 80 per cent should be placed on the card and 20 per
cent into people's cash accounts.
A number of submissions raised concerns that determining trial
participants by trigger payments rather than individual circumstances may risk
having a detrimental impact on the wellbeing of welfare recipients.
The Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) submitted that:
Within the trial sites there will be a large number of
welfare recipients who manage their scarce resources well and who do not have a
problem with alcohol, illegal drugs or gambling. Their normal patterns of
financial management will be disrupted yet they will gain nothing from the
The committee heard from a number of people living in the proposed trial
site region of Ceduna who expressed concern that they may be affected by the
One Ceduna resident noted in their submission that as they receive one of the
trigger payments listed in the EM, they may be subject to the trial, even
though they have no history of alcohol or gambling abuse, expressing concern
...as a person who suffers chronic illnesses the proposed
changes and implementation of income management will take away one of the few
areas of dignity and worth I feel that is open to me that being the ability to
manage our financial affairs and act in an independent manner.
Mr David Pav, a Ceduna resident, told the committee he was concerned
about the lack of a targeted approach to assist those members of the community
with significant alcohol abuse problems:
...we are probably concerned more about the shotgun or
blunderbuss approach to dealing with the problem rather than a surgical attack
on the problem. There are 40 to 100 people who are considered as hard-core
drinkers and problematic. The mayor has been on record countless times saying
that. Why are we attacking the problem with a shotgun rather than targeting
those people who are at risk and are the problem?
In the Ceduna region, DSS estimated that of the 4 227 people in the
region, 807 are receiving trigger payments. The largest proportion receive the
Newstart allowance (347) followed by disability support pension (196) and
single parenting payment (95).
In the East Kimberley region, DSS estimated that of the approximately 11 300
people in the total population, around 2 700 would be receiving trigger
Mandatory participation and lack of
A number of submitters and witnesses expressed concern about the
mandatory nature of the trial, noting that existing income management
strategies were shown to be most effective when participation was voluntary.
Financial Counselling Australia and the Consumer Action Law Centre expressed
concern about the 'the imposition of mandatory income management' in improving
financial capability, noting that:
Financial counsellors work from a model of empowerment and in
way – the best way to effect positive and sustainable change is for people to
make and give effect to their own choices.
Further, a number of submitters expressed concern about the lack of
exemption categories, and the lack of incentives to transition from the trial and
Mr Ian Trust from the Wunan Foundation told the committee:
...we need to know exactly how we are going to assist people in
trying to get off that card, besides full-time employment. You have single
mothers with a couple of kids who cannot have full-time employment...You have got
many young people sitting in the East Kimberley Job Pathways for four hours a
day. If they are going to be affected too and get only 20 per cent of their
dollars...why should they go and work four hours a day if their money is going to
be restricted anyway?
The Cape York Partnership (CYP) suggested that the Bill does not go far
enough to reform how welfare payments are delivered. CYP noted that the model
of income management in Cape York had been successful in building financial
capability, but is supported by a range of measures and incentives to assist
people transition from welfare dependence:
Motivating communities, families and individuals to change
must be central to the task of overcoming welfare dependence. Reforms to the
welfare system must link people to increased opportunity. In this way we can
far more effectively mobilise people to change their lives, and those of generations
to follow, for the better.
Similarly, the Commonwealth Ombudsman recommended consideration of the
recommendation by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) in its 2013 review
of new income management in the Northern Territory to develop:
...strategies to assist customers to exit income management
where appropriate. This office supports the ANAO's position and suggests that,
given the proposed debit card scheme has a similar objective of encouraging
socially responsible behaviour, this recommendation should be considered in the
context of the Bill.
Further, the Commonwealth Ombudsman recommended the introduction of safety
...to ensure that vulnerable people impacted by the scheme are
able to be exited from the measure, where appropriate, to ensure they are not
According to the EM, trial participants will be determined by
legislative instrument. The legislative instrument may use multiple factors to
determine whether trigger payments will apply. For example, the legislative
instrument may determine that a trigger payment will only apply in respect of a
particular class of person living within the trial area.
Representatives from DSS clarified that the 'class of person' defined by the
legislative instrument 'could incorporate both people on a particular payment
and potentially other features such as being under a certain age'.
Impact on non-trial participants
Submitters expressed concern about the possible impact of the trial on
community members who do not participate in the trial. The Shire of Halls Creek
expressed particular concern that elderly people on the age pension will be
particularly vulnerable to 'humbugging' (pressured to provide money to
relatives), or theft as they will continue to receive their payments in cash.
Professor Marcia Langton AM explained the concept of 'humbugging' or 'demand
sharing' in Indigenous communities to the committee:
...demand sharing is requests from relations, even distant kin
folk. These societies have become perverted by generations of poverty and
welfare dependence to the extent that it is now impossible for a social
security dependent nuclear Aboriginal family—they are never really nuclear, but
let us say a typical household in a typical house in a town—to be able to
afford to feed their family in the second week after the payment. The reason is
the pressure they are under to give money to people. They can even have their
money taken from them by force...The humbugging is the critical problem and most
of the humbugging is done by men—of all ages. They take the money for alcohol,
drugs, gambling or pornography, or they just take it because they can.
As noted in the EM, under proposed section 124PH, people on the age
pension or other welfare payments are able to volunteer for the trial to
protect themselves from potential 'humbugging' and may withdraw at any time:
An age pension recipient may choose to volunteer for cashless
welfare arrangements if they are experiencing financial harassment and wish to
safeguard the use of and access to their income support through a restricted
Consultations with potential trial sites
A number of submitters highlighted the importance of engaging local communities
through consultation prior to the introduction of the trial.
In the Ceduna region, the committee heard that the community groups consulted
were largely supportive of the trial. Mayor Allan Suter told the committee that
the DCC had publicised widely and received strong support from both the
Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities:
...we let it be known publicly that we were investigating the
possibility of a trial of the cashless debit card. There has been quite a bit
of publicity in the local press and on ABC Radio. We have, through the nine
elected members of council, consulted extremely widely, and I am very confident
when I say that in excess of 95 per cent of the residents of the Ceduna
district are supportive of this trial.
Similarly, Mr Ron Redford from the Ceduna Business and Tourism
Association noted that the community response had been largely positive:
...by and large the Ceduna Business and Tourism Association is
wholly and solely behind the initiative. In fact, I have not heard one word
against the proposal from anybody within our committee. The feedback, as I
understand it, from the members who have been contacted has been very positive.
In his second reading speech, the Parliamentary Secretary noted that the
Indigenous representatives from the FWCHG strongly supported the trial,
We want to build a future for our younger generation to
aspire to and believe we cannot do this if our families are caught up in the
destructive cycle of alcohol or drugs that destroys our culture, our lands and
At the heart of this reform is a change that is being shaped
specifically to meet our local needs. It has been a true collaboration to
ensure that we can give our mob and our Communities every chance to create real
and genuine change in their lives.
We have grasped this initiative; we have helped shape this
initiative; and we are confident that this initiative is for the betterment of
all people within our region.
In their submission, the CAC noted that local Indigenous communities
were supportive of the trial and actively engaged in determining how it would
Overall, Leaders across all communities in the far west
region have been given the opportunity to work with Local, State and the
Federal to help shape what we believe are adequate measures to ensure our
peoples entitlements are not misused in manners that are detrimental to
themselves and families.
Mr Corey McLennan, a member of the FWCHG representing the Koonibba
Community Aboriginal Corporation, told the committee that local Indigenous
communities had taken a leadership role in the debit trial consultations:
We have taken the stance to lead the government in this
particular initiative. The government has not come to us and said that this is
the ideal way for us to be moving forward. They came to us with some options.
We, as a community collective leadership group, who meet once a week about all
issues surrounding our people, thought this was an opportunity that we helped
build the parameters around so that it can be of benefit for our community.
Mr Andrew Forrest noted in his submission that participation in the
trial was supported and led by local Indigenous communities:
It is these communities and their respective elders and local
councils who want the trials. The trials are to test whether the debit cards
will work for the majority of those who battle with their addictions. We
acknowledge that it is not going to work for every recipient, but it is a start
on a long road of providing communities with the power and the resources to
However, some submitters and witnesses from the Ceduna region expressed
concern that they were not consulted on the introduction of the trial. For
example, Mr Peter Pav told the committee:
The first time we heard of the trial of this card that is
supposed to be trialled here was when it was announced that it had been signed
These witnesses expressed concern that the organisations consulted did
not represent the whole community. Mrs Suzanne Heseldine told the committee:
You are speaking to the few people out of an organisation,
you are not speaking to the people, the community. You are just talking to a
few people that it would never affect anyway unless they got awfully sick and
had to go on a Centrelink payment.
In the East Kimberley region, the Shire of Halls Creek submitted that it
did not support the introduction of the trial in Halls Creek. The Shire noted
that DPM&C did not engage in consultations until after the Bill was already
introduced, indicating that 'the views of the Shire of Halls Creek were not
In the 2015 Budget, the government announced $2.7 million for
consultation and testing the feasibility of the debit card trial.
At the 2015 Budget estimates, DSS advised that community consultations in
proposed trial sites included:
Aboriginal leaders, family violence service providers, family
support services, education providers, health providers, rehabilitation service
providers, police, local government, State Government agencies, and
Commonwealth Department of Human Services local staff.
The committee heard that DPM&C had led consultations with DSS and a
range of community groups in the Ceduna and East Kimberley region. DPM&C
provided the committee with an extensive list of organisations consulted in
both the Ceduna and East Kimberley regions that included Indigenous and
Role of community bodies
A number of submitters expressed concern about the lack of detail in the
Bill about how community bodies may be appointed, how they will be funded and
what appeals processes would be available to individuals seeking to alter the
restricted proportion of their welfare payments.
The National Welfare Rights Network expressed particular concern that the Bill
does not provide Centrelink discretion to vary the proportion of welfare
payments, and that a person in dispute with a community body would have no
effective appeal mechanism.
Representatives from DPM&C told the committee that the role and
function of community bodies would be developed in consultation with the communities
That is a matter we will want to work through with the
community. We are expecting the community would nominate that and work up the
proposal. It is something that we are providing as an option in a location that
would be a trial. It is one that both the Ceduna community and those we have
been talking to in Kununurra are interested in. It is really at an reasonably
early level of development, because we want it to be led. It could be a range
of different arrangements.
Submitters, including the Office of the Australian Information
Commissioner (OAIC), expressed concern about proposed sections 124PN and 124PO
of the Bill that allow the disclosure of information about a person involved in
the trial between DHS, financial institutions and community bodies.
These proposed sections would invoke the exception in Australian Privacy
Principle 6.2(b) contained in the Privacy Act 1998 which permits the use
and disclosure of personal information where it is authorised or required by
law. The OAIC noted that in considering personal information handling issues:
...it is important to note the potential for an individual to
be embarrassed or discriminated against as a result of the mishandling of this
information, particularly in small regional or remote communities. The
challenge is to ensure that the scheme contains appropriate privacy safeguards
regarding the handling of individuals' personal information, while meeting the
overall public policy objective.
The PJCHR also raised concerns about provisions which allow the
disclosure of information about a person involved in the trial, noting the
disclosure of information 'engages and limits the right to privacy'. The PJCHR
sought advice from the Minister on whether the limitation is reasonable and
The OAIC encouraged the use of a Privacy Impact Assessment now and at
the conclusion of the trial in 2018 to assess:
...the potential privacy impacts of the trial and ensure that
the personal information handling activities are accompanied by an appropriate
level of privacy safeguards and accountability.
In response to the OAIC's concerns, DSS provided the committee with a
copy of the Privacy Impact Assessment prepared for the trial, outlining the
proposed safeguards to manage the handling of personal information. DSS explained
There is a clear, rational connection between sections 124PN
and PO and the objectives they are trying to achieve. In the absence of these
sections, information could not be shared between Government and the financial
institution(s)/community body, and the trial could not be implemented. Sections
124PN and PO do not provide a blanket exemption from privacy laws for
Government/the financial institution(s)/the community body – they simply allow
the sharing of information that would otherwise be prohibited. This means
there are still safeguards in place to protect individual privacy.
Operation of debit card
A number of submissions expressed concern about the lack of detail in
the Bill about the practical operation of the debit card, including
accessibility in trial locations, replacement of lost cards and how alcohol and
gambling products would be prohibited.
In addition, submitters raised concerns about whether fees would be
applied by financial institutions for the use of the restricted bank account.
For example, Financial Counselling Australia and the Consumer Action Law Centre
expressed concern that the trial could interfere with consumer sovereignty recommended
that account fees and charges on restricted back accounts be prohibited.
Representatives from DSS clarified that the proposed debit card:
...would look and operate like a normal banking card and would
work at all shops except those that are selling the restricted products of
either alcohol products or gambling services. It will also not be able to be
used to withdraw cash. A commercial financial institution would be responsible
for providing both the accounts and the debit cards, and trial participants
would become customers of that financial institution...That financial institution
would be responsible for providing all services, general account inquiries,
forgotten PINS, replacement cards and handling complaints. There would be a
number of services available to support people who would be using the restricted
debit card, including online services, access to mobile apps and SMS, if people
need to receive extra account balances that way. To all intents and purposes
the idea is that it would operate like a normal banking product.
Mr Forrest told the committee he had received advice that the technology
was available to facilitate the implementation of a cashless debit card:
I did go straight to the chief executives of the four major
banks before including the card as a cornerstone of the Creating Parity
review and was assured by them that the technology was available. They knew
that there would be some work involved on their side, which fortunately we have
now gone through, and now we have a situation where the technology can be
applied...It will be a mainstream bank-issued debit and credit card, which is, of
course, entirely different to the clunky, non-financial-services-orientated
In its submission to the Forrest Review, the Australian Bankers'
Association (ABA) warned that there would a number of technical and practical
challenges to implementing a cashless debit card and would require substantive
changes at all levels of the electronic payment system.
In its submission to the inquiry, the ABA noted that it was:
...pleased the Federal Government has taken on board our
concerns regarding the technical and practical feasibility of the Healthy
Welfare Card as originally contemplated and has decided to conduct a 12 month
pilot in a different and less complicated form.
The Parliamentary Secretary noted in his second reading speech, that the
government was 'still working through that [operation of the card] with the
financial services provider that we are contracting with to deliver the card'.
Representatives from DSS noted they are 'still in negotiations and
conversations with financial institutions as to the exact arrangements' of how
the restricted bank account would function.
Evaluation of trial
A number of submissions highlighted the importance of conducting a
thorough evaluation of the trial to determine its effectiveness in reducing
alcohol and gambling related harm.
The AASW expressed concern that a 12 month trial would not be long enough to
assess the impact of the debit card trial on the proposed communities.
In his second reading speech, the Parliamentary Secretary noted that:
...there will be a detailed evaluation process which will be
undertaken. It will be an independent evaluation, and by and large we will be
tracking the main harm indicators in the community as well as taking some
The Parliamentary Secretary further noted that in each trial location:
...the trial will last just 12 months unless of course there is
a demonstrable improvement and there is a desire for the trial to continue
beyond that. The firm intent is that this is a 12-month trial in each
In its submission, DSS emphasised that it will undertake a thorough
evaluation of the trial:
The trial is limited in scope – a trial in the true sense –
and will include an independent comprehensive evaluation considering the impact
of limiting the amount of welfare funds on community level harm. The evaluation
will include qualitative and quantitative data analysis providing clear
findings for Government and the communities.
Representatives from DSS clarified that the proposed 'independent and
comprehensive' evaluation would include:
...both quantitative and qualitative information to look at the
measurable social change in the trial communities. We are looking at exploring
data sets that include both commonwealth, and state and territory government
collections. We anticipate that they will have a level of detail that has not
been available in previous evaluations. It is likely to include, but not be
limited to, hospitalisations, incidence of domestic violence, crime, changes in
demand for drug and alcohol services, alcohol sales, gambling rates and any
indicators that we are able to obtain in relation to drug use as well.
In the planning stages that we are up to at the moment we are
anticipating that the evaluation will also canvass the opinions of trial
participants, service providers in the community and individuals in the
community so that we can really develop our understanding of the broader impact
of the trial on community functioning. We are also looking at a specialist
analysis that will explore the card's electronic function—how its functionality
has worked and how viable that has been. There will be a stream of it that
looks at that commercialisation piece and how effective that has been. Again
recognising the stage of the evaluation that we are at, the objectives are
whether the introduction of a cashless card in that community has corresponded
with this change in community harm.
Cost of trial
A number of submissions raised concerns about the cost of the trial
noting the high costs of existing income management programs.
According to the Parliamentary Library, between 2005–06 and 2014–15 income
management has cost the Commonwealth Government around $1 billion.
In the 2015–16 Budget, the government announced funding of $146.7 million over
two years for the continuation of income management in existing sites until 30
The Parliamentary Secretary has said that the operating costs of the
proposed debit card 'will be significantly lower than the operating costs of
The Forrest Review suggested that the use of existing terminals would be more
cost effective to manage than the BasicsCard as it would not require any
DSS noted at the committee's public hearing that it was unable to
discuss the final costs of the trial as negotiations with financial
institutions were still in process.
DSS confirmed advice provided at the 2015 Budget estimates, that funding for
the trial 'might be found in the contingency reserve', but that appropriation
details have not yet been decided.
The committee acknowledges that the Bill offers an opportunity to trial
measures to reduce alcohol and gambling related harm and improve outcomes in
welfare dependent communities. The committee recognises that DPM&C and DSS
have consulted widely with Indigenous and non-Indigenous community groups to
ensure that the trial has significant community support. While the committee
acknowledges that there may be some opposition to the trial, it is satisfied
that the ongoing consultation process will ensure these concerns will be
addressed as the trial is implemented.
The committee also acknowledges that the trial outlined in the Bill is
not a panacea to resolve social dysfunction caused by alcohol and gambling
related harm and must be accompanied by a range of support services, including
financial counselling and drug and alcohol rehabilitation. The committee is
satisfied that the consultation process DSS and DPM&C are undertaking with
proposed trial communities to develop a support tailored support package will
ensure services are provided to meet their specific needs.
The committee further acknowledges concerns, such as those raised by the
PJCHR, that the Bill risks infringing on the human rights of trial
participants. However, the committee is satisfied that the trial is strongly
supported by community leaders in the proposed trial communities in Ceduna and
the East Kimberley. The committee considers that the expected benefits of the
trial to reduce the social harm caused by alcohol and gambling, particularly
for children, justify the measures outlined in the Bill.
The committee recognises that practical details about how the trial will
operate are not included in the Bill, such as the determination of trial
participants, role of community bodies, practical operation of the debit card
and evaluation process, and will be outlined in a proposed legislative
instrument. The committee is satisfied that consultation processes to be undertaken
by DSS and DPM&C will ensure the proposed communities have the opportunity
to contribute to the development of these measures as the trial is implemented.
The committee is also satisfied that the proposed legislative instrument will
be subject to parliamentary scrutiny.
The committee recognises particular concerns about the need for safety
net provisions raised by the Commonwealth Ombudsman to ensure disadvantaged
welfare recipients are not further disadvantaged by the introduction of the
trial. The committee considers that these issues should be addressed prior to
the implementation of the trial in February 2016.
The committee recognises concerns about the potential cost of the trial.
The committee is satisfied that by using existing infrastructure, the
implementation of the trial will be significantly more cost effective than the
Basics Card and other income management programs.
The committee recommends that the Minister for Social Services include
safety net provisions in the proposed legislative instrument to ensure that
vulnerable people impacted by the trial are able to be exited from the trial,
where appropriate, to ensure they are not further disadvantaged.
The committee recommends that the Bill be passed.
Senator Zed Seselja
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