Australian Greens' Dissenting Report

Australian Greens' Dissenting Report

The Australian Labor Party’s broken promise


1.1Sadly, this bill represents a broken promise. It represents a complete reversal of commitments that the Australian Labor Party made in opposition, and disregards the clear message from First Nations leaders, particularly in the Northern Territory, about the need to end compulsory income management.

1.2The Australian Greens urge the Senate to listen to the voices of First Nations leaders and others who have criticised this bill as a dramatic step in the wrong direction, and reject the bill in its entirety.

The Australian Labor Party’s promises

1.3In opposition, the Australian Labor Party made clear promises. Opposition social services spokesperson the Hon. Linda Burney MP said at the time:

Our fundamental principle on the basics card and the cashless debit card, it should be on a voluntary basis … If people want to be on those sorts of income management, then that’s their decision. It’s not up to Labor or anyone else to tell them what to do. At the moment it’s compulsion and that’s not Labor’s position.[1]

1.4In government, Labor party Ministers have repeated those commitments, with the Hon. Linda Burney MP saying that: ‘Labor's fundamental position is that we do not believe in mandatory income management’.[2]

Enhanced income management: Compulsory income management with a different brand

1.5Despite clear commitments from the Australian Labor Party, in opposition and in government, this bill represents a continuation of failed compulsory income management approaches.

1.6The Traditional Credit Union terms and conditions set this out clearly, describing the SmartCard as ‘Previously named “Cashless Debit Card (CDC) Account”’.[3] As Dr Josie Douglas, Executive Manager - Policy and Governance at the Central Land Council, said:

I'd only be comfortable with the card, whether it's a blue card, white card or grey card, whatever the name of the card is—the BasicsCard, the cashless debit card and now the SmartCard—if there was a sunset clause, an end date for ending compulsory income management.[4]

1.7Similarly, Ms Sarah Sacher, Law Reform Officer at Economic Justice Australia, outlined:

I'd just like to push back on something, because if government says that this is a transitional bill, we'd expect that to be reflected in the bill. But if you just look at the bill, the intention of the bill appears to be purely, stripped of other context, to actually make compulsory income management permanent, because it doesn't have a sunset clause, and it also enables the expansion of compulsory income management. That appears to be at odds with what we're hearing is government's intention. Just looking at the bill itself, it doesn't appear to be just about transitioning to a new card; it appears to be about making compulsory income management permanent.[5]

1.8The Accountable Income Management Network also outlined:

The Accountable Income Measurement Network welcomed the government's announcement that it would end the operation of the cashless debit card and that it would transition from compulsory to voluntary income management. The current bill being considered by the committee does not, in our view, support the move to voluntary income management; rather, it extends the existence of various forms of compulsory income management and simplifies the process for expansion.[6]

1.9Despite clear commitments to end compulsory income management, the Australian Labor Party has failed to do so. Instead, this bill perpetuates compulsory income management, entrenches it in the legislative framework, and expands the Minister’s ability to apply compulsory income management throughout Australia.

First Nations voices

1.10The Australian Greens are particularly concerned that the voices of key First Nations advocates, communities, leaders and organisations have been disregarded in the development of this legislation.

1.11As the Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory (APO NT) noted in a powerful submission:

The Albanese Government has signalled a huge reform agenda for government. To this reform agenda, APO NT and our individual member organisations have made submissions, attended public hearings, ministerial roundtables and government consultations. We have been inundated with requests to provide our expertise, insight, lived experience and evidence-based solutions. It is disappointing to yet again be making submissions on a Bill that clearly ignores the evidence that has debunked compulsory income management.

APO NT reminds the Government of our support for the repeal of the Cashless Debit Card. We note that while this has allowed some participants to exit income management or voluntarily opt into income management, this is not the case for the majority of NT participants who remain on compulsory income management. Therefore, Aboriginal people in the NT have suffered the longest under this regime and this Bill does nothing to change this.

Despite the Albanese Government’s stated intentions of consultation, or stated long term aim that income management is on a voluntary basis, it is important to view the practical and legislative effect of this Bill. The Bill continues the trend of making income management, and in particular compulsory income management, a permanent feature of social services in Australia, without adequate consultation. The legislative effect of the Bill is the opposite of the Albanese Government’s pre-election statements that income management should only occur on a voluntary basis [emphasis original].[7]

1.12The Australian Greens note particularly the powerful resolution made by the full Central Land Council (CLC) on 20 April 2023, and included in the CLC’s submission to the inquiry:

How many times do we have to say it until the government listens to our voices?

Since Income Management was introduced in 2007 as part of the Commonwealth Government’s Intervention in the NT, we have said no.

A different card, a different colour – it is all for the same purpose: to control our lives.

We are not guinea pigs.

The CLC calls on the government to end all forms of compulsory income management now.[8]

1.13The Arnhem Land Progress Association (ALPA) said in evidence to the Committee that:

It is the ALPA board's position that income management should only ever be voluntary, regardless of whether participants have been long-term welfare recipients or not. ALPA believes that voluntary and genuinely community controlled income management should be available to community members. We have run our own voluntary income management program, known as Foodcard, since 2004. The ALPA Foodcard evolved from community consultations and allows individual consumers to choose how much money they wish to allocate to their card. Community consultation determines what can be purchased on the card.

Initially, the ALPA Foodcard proved popular with community members. However, the introduction of compulsory income management saw the usage of the ALPA Foodcard drop off dramatically. In October 2008 there were over 11,000 community transactions on the Foodcard in ALPA stores and, by 2010, this was below a thousand. The ALPA Foodcard is evidence that community members are more than capable of identifying and engaging with services which can support financial management when they feel that they need to.[9]

1.14The Australian Greens are incredibly concerned that the Australian Labor Party has persisted in its approach despite the clear, powerful, evidence and statements from First Nations communities.

Social services organisations and other advocates

1.15The opposition from First Nations communities was echoed in statements by a large number of social services organisations, community groups and other advocates.

1.16Uniting Communities wrote:

We urge the Government to address all Compulsory Income Management regimes in the same way that they have addressed the Cashless Debit Card regime, namely by removing the compulsory nature of the regime and by extending existing support services and delivering a range of new initiatives that are community driven and place-based.[10]

1.17Economic Justice Australia wrote that ‘if the Government is in fact committed to ending compulsory income management, it is difficult to understand why various provisions of the Bill embed and extend compulsory participation’.[11]

1.18Suicide Prevention Australia wrote:

We support abolishing all forms of compulsory income management under social security legislation, including the BasicsCard and SmartCard Income Management program. This Bill essentially includes elements of the Cashless Debit Card program and compulsory income management which disproportionately target Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and remove financial autonomy from Australians.[12]

1.19The Accountable Income Management Network said:

It appears that the rationale underpinning eIM under the SmartCard is a continuation of the punitive, racialized system of income control established via Income Management under the Basics Card and continued through the Cashless Debit Card.

AIMN members are deeply alarmed that this specific Bill will reinforce and consolidate the establishment of eIM as a permanent program. Members are also worried that no additional legislation will be required to expand CIM, as the Minister will be enabled to do this via legislative instrument under the proposed provisions of child protection, school enrolment and attendance, other State/Territory referrals, vulnerable welfare payment recipients, disengaged youth, long-term welfare payment recipients, or voluntary participation.[13]

1.20The Northern Territory Council of Social Services similarly said:

NTCOSS maintains its position, supported by an evaluation into IM, that compulsory IM is a failed policy that unfairly targets and negatively impacts Aboriginal people, and has not delivered the intended outcomes.

NTCOSS is deeply disheartened to see the continual focus on adapting the current compulsory IM process, i.e. changing from the Basics Card/Cashless Debit Card to the new Smart card under enhanced IM, rather than full repeal.[14]

Evidence that compulsory income management doesn’t work

1.21There is a long history of evidence showing the compulsory income management does not work; that was reinforced by clear evidence before the Committee.

1.22Professor Matthew Gray, Director of the Australian National University Centre for Social Research and Methods, said in a statement that:

… we are, to put it frankly, horrified by what is proposed both in the legislation and in the documentation which has been provided to the parliament in the form of the explanatory memorandum.

Turning to the explanatory memorandum and the document which underpins and is cited in the impact analysis executive summary, the department's Reforming the cashless debit card and income management, the statement grossly distorts the evidence base relating to the effectiveness of the programs. This is most blatant with regard to the evaluation of new income management in the Northern Territory—evaluation which we conducted.

Firstly, the department only cites the first initial and interim report and not the final report, and so ignores the conclusion we came to on the basis of the whole of the information we collected. This was that the evaluation that could not find any substantive evidence of the program having significant changes relative to its key policy objectives, including changing people's behaviours. There was no evidence of changes in spending patterns, including food and alcohol sales. There was no evidence of any overall improvement in financial wellbeing, including reductions in financial harassment or improved financial management skills. More general measures of wellbeing at the community level showed no evidence of improvement, including for children.

Secondly, the department has deliberately sought to cite as evidence of a positive program outcome one survey response, that of some perceived changes and outcomes, despite the fact that the evaluation reported that this type of response was not reliable and documented how such perceptions did not match up with the answers given by the same people when they were asked about actual before-and-after outcomes, and that when they were tested in other studies against independent data on school attendance they were clearly misleading. All of this discussion was ignored by the department in their selective quoting of the evaluation report. We note elsewhere in our submission the limitation for much of the other claimed evidence, including from an evaluation which the Auditor-General recommended should be independently assessed, which the department declined to do.

Finally, we would express our deep concern as to the validity of claims of human rights compliance. We have documented some of our concerns, and other submissions have raised these issues at greater depth. As we indicate, we would consider that the claims should not be accepted by the Senate without the department providing the legal advice underpinning them.[15]

1.23Similarly, Emeritus Professor Jon Altman said:

… in 2007, when income management was first introduced, I opposed it as lacking policy logic and lacking any evidence from anywhere globally that it might work to improve the circumstances of targeted Indigenous people in the Northern Territory. Instead, I suggested, it would be expensive to administer and likely ineffective. Sadly, nearly 16 years on, that prediction had proven correct—not just today in 2023 but over many years, many evaluations and many Senate inquiries.[16]

1.24This evidence to the Committee joins a long list of evidence of the failures of compulsory income management, which the Australian Labor Party has chosen to ignore:

In 2007, the Australian Human Rights Commission concluded that ‘Controlling how a person spends their money is a drastic interference into the way a person manages his or her life and family, and human rights require a proportionate response to a problem. In the context of the NT legislation, this means that governments are obliged to consider less intrusive or voluntary option as a first response before moving to options as broad-reaching as compulsory income management’.[17]

In 2014, the Social Policy Research Centre concluded that: ‘The evaluation data does not provide evidence of income management having improved the outcomes that it was intending to have an impact upon’.[18]

In 2016, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights said that: ‘... evidence before the committee indicates that compulsory income management is not effective in achieving its stated objective of supporting vulnerable individuals and families’.[19]

In 2020, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights said that in relation to the cashless debit card: ‘The trial evaluations and reviews raise a range of concerns as to whether the cashless welfare scheme is effective to achieve its stated goals, and whether it has caused or contributed to other harms’.[20]

The Australian Labor Party must abandon a failed approach

1.25The evidence before the Committee is clear. Compulsory income management is a failed, punitive approach that has no clear evidence base and disproportionately impacts First Nations communities. The Australian Labor Party should abandon its ideological fixation on implementing a Liberal policy, and instead provide additional supports and services for communities that need them.

Recommendation 4

1.26That the bill not be passed.

Ameliorating the worst elements of the bill

1.27Despite the clear consensus from submissions to the inquiry that the bill should not be passed, there were also attempts by a range of submissions to identify ways in which the worst elements of the bill could be addressed.

Recommendation 5

1.28That if the Australian Labor Party persists in ignoring the evidence and proceeding with a bill that has been resoundingly condemned, the bill should be amended to introduce a sunset clause, restrict Ministerial powers, and enable those at risk of harm to exit the framework.

Senator Janet Rice


[1]Luke Henriques-Gomes, ‘Cashless welfare: Labor vows to end compulsory use of basics card’, the Guardian, 19 April 2022 (accessed 5 June 2023).

[2]The Hon Amanda Rishworth MP, the Hon Linda Burney MP, the Hon Justine Elliot MP, ‘Cashless debit card repeal, support services, The Voice’, press conference transcript, 28 September 2022, Parliament House.

[4]Dr Josie Douglas, Executive Manager, Policy and Governance, Central Land Council, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023, p. 6.

[5]Ms Sarah Sacher, Law Reform Officer, Economic Justice Australia, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023, p. 6.

[6]Mr David Tennant, Chief Executive Officer, FamilyCare, representing Accountable Income Management Network, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023, p. 10.

[7]Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory (APO NT), Submission 24, pp. 3–4.

[8]Central Land Council (CLC), Submission 23, p. 1.

[9]Mrs Emma Kelly, General Manager of Community Services/Acting CEO, Arnhem Land Progress Association, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023, p. 32.

[10]Uniting Communities, Submission 9, p. 1.

[11]Economic Justice Australia, Submission 10, p. 4.

[12]Suicide Prevention Australia, Submission 12, p. 1.

[13]Accountable Income Management Network, Submission 14, p. 2.

[14]Northern Territory Council of Social Services, Submission 20, p. 2.

[15]Professor Matthew Gray, Director, Centre for Social Research and Methods, Australian National University, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023, p. 16.

[16]Emeritus Professor Jon Altman, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 15 May 2023, p. 17.

[17]Australian Human Rights Commission, Social Justice Report 2007 - Chapter 3: The Northern Territory 'Emergency Response' intervention,, p. 2017.

[18]J Rob Bray, Matthew Gray, Kelly Hand and Ilan Katz, Evaluating New Income Management in the Northern Territory: Final Evaluation Report, September 2014, University of New South Wales, Social Policy Research Centre, p. xxii.

[19]Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, 2016 Review of Stronger Futures measures, 16 March 2016, p. 61.

[20]Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, Human rights scrutiny report: Report 14 of 2020, 26 November 2020, p. 52.