Dissenting Report Australian Greens
The Australian Greens do not support the majority report of the inquiry
into the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Debit Card Trial) Bill 2015
Despite claims by the Government the proposed debit card is an extension
of Income Management. Compulsory Income Management is a failed measure, which
impacts negatively on the community and imposes significant costs on
Government. Evidence provided through submissions and oral evidence to this
inquiry show the fundamental problems in this approach. We thank submitters for
the time and effort put into the many submissions the Committee received,
including those who wished to provide evidence to the committee but were not
able to do so in person.
While the Government has attempted to define this approach as 'a more
mainstream delivery of welfare restrictions',
it is clear that the debit card trial is a form of income management, as
recognised by a number of submissions to the committee.
The Law Society of New South Wales noted that 'the concept underpinning
the proposal under the Bill is, in effect, compulsory income management',
and the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) notes that 'The Bill provides
for income management to apply to all people who rely on (nominated) income
support payments in trial sites'.
In his second reading speech, the then Parliamentary Secretary, the Hon
Alan Tudge MP said:
The trial, expected to start in the first quarter of 2016,
will make a vital contribution towards informing potential future arrangements
for income management.
Income management doesn't help those that need assistance
The Australian Greens argue that income management has proved to be an
ineffective policy, and that it disempowers and harms those that need help the
Submissions to the inquiry by peak social service organisations noted
fundamental concerns with compulsory income management.
A crucial issue is that despite the history of its imposition, there is
no clear evidence that compulsory income management works, or improves the
lives of those it affects.
A recent note by the Parliamentary Library found that 'The evaluation
reports published to date have not provided strong evidence of benefit for
those referred under the "membership of a class" measures', which
would apply under this regime.
A submission to the inquiry by academic Eva Cox concluded that:
Despite denials by the government, the evidence is that a
universally applied limited access to cash does not restrict access to alcohol
and drugs. The percentage differences are not likely to make much difference,
nor the Bank versus Centrelink delivery...there is no valid evidence that the
income management program, in its various forms, has improved the alcohol and
related problems in the range of communities in the NT where it has been
One of the most extensive evaluations of income management is the
evaluation of income management in the Northern Territory, commissioned by the
then FaHCSIA. The report was completed by experts from the Social Policy
Research Centre at UNSW, the Australian National University and the Australian
Institute of Family Studies, over several years.
The final report, building on extensive research, concluded:
The evaluation could not find any substantive evidence of the
program having significant changes relative to its key policy objectives,
including changing people's behaviours ... The evaluation data does not provide
evidence of income management having improved the outcomes that it was
intending to have an impact upon ....
In oral evidence to the committee, one of the authors of that report
confirmed the findings and relevance of that report:
...the evaluation of income management in the Northern
Territory is very relevant to this particular trial. The measures are very,
very similar in how they operate. There are some differences, but I think on
balance the substance of the measures is very similar. It is basically putting
some limitations on how some people can use some of their funds. Turning to
what we found in the evaluation of new income management, the first was
effectively that the program did not achieve its goals. It did not change
behaviours and it did not improve outcomes.
In addition to broad concerns with income management, there are clear
concerns with the processes associated with this measure. The inquiry process
highlighted significant gaps in the consultation process, and a risk that
individuals directly impacted by the measure may have not been adequately
consulted or in fact consulted at all.
It is also clear that the Government has focussed consultation on
Aboriginal peak organisations and some individual members of Aboriginal
communities but has not consulted broadly with community members including
those who are on income support.
The North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) stated:
It is clear from the consultation that NAAJA has been
involved in that the Commonwealth does not have ready access to information
which should have already have been provided to community organisations and
trial participants ... We note that whilst there appears to have been extensive
consultations with community organisations, government appears to have wholly
failed to consult with potential trial participants.
This is reminiscent of the rollout of income management and
the subsequent introduction of the BasicsCard ... we consider that the failure to
consult with trial participants will mean that the Commonwealth is unaware of
participant's views on any negative consequences of the
trial, or strategies for overcoming them.
In a supplementary submission, the National Welfare Rights Network
(NWRN) noted that:
The effectiveness of the consultation arrangements for the
trial is of significant concern and conjecture. Individuals impacted by the
Debit Card trial have expressed dissatisfaction to the Committee and directly
to the NWRN. The media has also reported a range of views about the
consultation process to date. Documents provided to the Committee indicate that
extensive consultations have taken place locally with organisations in and
around Ceduna. Witnesses however were unable to advise of the number of people
directly consulted who receive income support payments and who will be directly
impacted by the trial.
In its submission to the Committee the Shire of Halls Creek said:
To date consultation has been at a high level with groups and
individuals considered by the DPM&C to have leadership roles in the various
communities and in some cases local business operators. It appears to have been
focused on Aboriginal people and relied on others to make contact with
non-Aboriginal income support recipients rather than groups or leadership.
Consultation does not appear to have been undertaken with the income support
recipients who will be affected by the trials nor has any official information
been made available to them. The media and word of mouth has been the only
source of information for these people in the communities affected.
The Shire of Halls Creek also noted that they had first heard of the
trial through the media, and that from the timing between meetings and
legislation 'it is clear that the views of the Shire of Halls Creek were not
The Shire of Halls Creek has rejected the measure. They have set out
several reasons for their decision, including: the evidence in the Evaluation
of New Income Management in the Northern Territory; the practical impact of
the measure on people who need cash for everyday transactions; the lack of
other resources; and, the consultation process.
The Shire of Halls Creek later wrote to the Committee, following
statements by the Assistant Minister the Hon Alan Tudge MP in the media. They
were concerned that the Assistant Minister may have had incorrect crime
statistics, and wrote:
The Shire is genuinely concerned that the Assistant Minister
would use incorrect statistics to defend the trials of a cashless debit card
and that they would then be published in the national media. It is another
example of the misuse of statistics to support a policy which will not achieve
its stated intentions.
Evidence in the Committee process and direct communication with members
in the Ceduna community suggest that the consultation process has focused on
select organisations, rather than talking to the people affected. Some
community members have organised petitions and meetings in opposition to the
This is a strong response in a small community, where community leaders may
have significant influence.
It is obvious from this inquiry that the Government is still working out
how this process will work. It's unclear how this debit card trial will be
implemented in practice, which raises a number of unanswered questions. During
the committee process, the Department of Social Services (DSS) were unable to
identify which financial institution would be involved in the measure and hence
unable to answer a number of questions about how the card system would work.
Among the practical concerns raised during the inquiry process were:
Minimum purchase amounts: Many merchants require a minimum
transaction, which will place an additional burden on participants.
Merchant surcharges and card fees: Many merchants charge an
additional amount for using EFTPOS or other payment systems. The Government has
confirmed that it will not be able to offset the cost of merchant surcharges
applying to transactions by trial participants.
This is an additional cost imposed because of the trial, which reduces the
amount available to individuals reliant on income support. For people on
income support every dollar is important.
Accessing funds while waiting for a replacement card: Participants
waiting for a replacement card may be unable to access their funds, which can
cause significant hardship for individuals without strong supports.
Identifying debit card trial participants: One argument put
forward for the debit card is that it will not involve the stigma associated
with the BasicsCard. However a DSS factsheet identifies the possibility that
merchants who sell alcohol or gambling products as well as other goods may
enter into a contract to accept the card, while preventing participants from
purchasing alcohol or gambling products.
It is unclear how this would operate in practice, and whether some form of
identification will be required, that will identify (and potentially
stigmatise) participants using the card.
The costs associated with potentially being required to operate
two bank accounts.
The practical challenges associated with undertaking informal
transactions around cash, such as providing money for gifts, splitting bills
when using cash, or buying cheaper second-hand goods.
How the proposed community panels will operate. The government
has proposed that 'community panels' can reduce the portion of an individual's
payment that is quarantined, but there is no information on how the panels will
be selected or their guidelines.
This means there is significant uncertainty about what effect they'll have, and
how representative of the community they will be.
The fact that these issues haven't been fully resolved, and the
potential problems dealt with, may have a daily negative effect for people who
are forced to access their income support through the debit card. That they
haven't been fully identified and dealt with, when
legislation for the trial has already been introduced into the Parliament, is
an additional concern for the Australian Greens. It is likely that the Senate
will be asked to vote on this legislation before these issues are resolved.
This is unacceptable.
A number of submissions noted concerns that the trial sites
disproportionately impacted Aboriginal communities.
In its report, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights noted that:
...international human rights law recognises that a measure may
be neutral on its face but in practice have a disproportionate impact on groups
of people with a particular attribute such as race, colour, sex, language,
religion, political or other status. Where this occurs without justification it
is called indirect discrimination. Indirect discrimination does not necessarily
import any intention to discriminate and can be an unintended consequence of a
measure implemented for a legitimate purpose. The concept of indirect
discrimination in international human rights law therefore looks beyond the
form of a measure and focuses instead on whether the measure could have a
disproportionately negative effect on particular groups in practice.
...the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister's Second
Reading speech stated that Ceduna in South Australia will be the first site
under the trial to commence, and that advanced discussions were under way with
leaders in the East Kimberly region to trial the arrangement. A high proportion
of the population of Ceduna and the East Kimberley region are Indigenous, many
of whom are receiving social security benefits. It therefore appears likely
that the measures may disproportionately impact on Indigenous persons, and as
such may be indirectly discriminatory unless this disproportionate effect is
demonstrated to be justifiable. This has not been explored in the statement of compatibility.
The measure has been identified as trial, and the then Parliamentary
Secretary the Hon Alan Tudge MP said that it will be used to inform future
income management. But there are major problems with how the trial would be
Experts from earlier evaluations highlighted the practical challenges in
evaluating income management measures, including obtaining data, measuring a
baseline, and finding a comparison which received similar support but did not
DSS has not yet identified how these issues will be resolved, or which
communities will serve as points of comparison.
Real help for people in communities means providing services they need,
not cutting off access to cash for everyday transactions. While the Australian
Greens welcome the announcement of funding for services in Ceduna,
these drug and alcohol services and other supports shouldn't be limited to
communities undertaking the trial. Communities across Australia need
well-funded, adequate social services that genuinely help those struggling with
substance abuse. These should be provided regardless of whether the communities
partake in particular trials, and regional, rural and urban communities across
Australia deserve better support from the Government.
The Australian Greens do not support the recommendation in the Committee's
The Australian Greens recommend that the Bill not be passed.
Communities facing significant challenges need genuine social services
that help individuals deal with the challenges they are facing. The Government
should abandon its punitive, ideologically driven approach that hurts rather
Senator Rachel Siewert
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