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Speeches

Debit Card Trial Bill

I rise today to speak on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Debit Card Trial) Bill 2015. The federal government is building a strong, prosperous and sustainable economy for a safe and secure Australia. Since coming to office in September 2013, more than 335,000 jobs have been created. This bill is part of the government's plan for a sustainable economy for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The bill will introduce a cashless debit card trial for up to three discrete communities across Australia, limited to 10,000 people. Welfare reform is critical if we are to ensure that all Australians have the opportunity to reach their potential. We have to try something, because clearly what we are doing in Australia with respect to welfare is not working, particularly in parts of my electorate in Durack.

Let me be very clear about this: this is only a trial; it is not necessarily the final result but it clearly is a good start. The trial locations will be chosen on the basis of high-welfare dependence for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, high social harm indicators and an openness from community leaders to participating in the trial. As I said before, what we have been doing so far is not working and it clearly is time to consider alternatives for a more sustainable economy, for a better Australia, for all Australians. The debit card trial is for up to three discrete communities, with locations chosen on the basis of high-welfare dependence and high social harm indicators, and an openness from community leaders to participating in the trial. If this bill is passed, the trial will operate for 12 months only.

The trial is aimed at reducing the welfare-fuelled alcohol, drug and gambling abuse, which plagues some Australian communities—both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Age pensioners and workers may volunteer to participate in the trial. The government has been working closely with communities on the ground on designing the proposed trial. Community leaders in Ceduna and the Kimberley region helped design this proposal, and Ceduna has recently signed an agreement to be the first trial site for the cashless debit card. Kununurra, which is in my electorate, together with the rest of the Kimberley are also considering participating in this trial.

Participants will receive an everyday debit card, which will be compatible with EFTPOS. This card will be able to be used anywhere except for the purchase of alcohol and for gambling. Furthermore, illicit substances will not be able to be purchased as there will be a limited amount of cash available from the card. The hope is that, because there will be a limited amount of cash, the opportunity to buy illicit substances will be limited. This side of the chamber is compassionate and believes in opening arms and lending a hand when necessary. I am confident those on the other side will also see the benefit of the trial of this cashless debit card.

This bill aims to reduce social harm, especially domestic violence against women and children caused by welfare-fuelled alcohol and other drug abuse. If passed, the trial would be independently evaluated. It is not set in stone that this bill will become permanent legislation, but I have high hopes that this will be successful and expanded to further sites around Australia, not just in regional Australia but in more urbanised areas.

Community leaders from around Australia have commended the proposal, illustrating their support in addressing issues in their communities. This is a consultative government. I have had a number of constituents and community leaders contact my office expressing their support for this bill, knowing that this will go towards reducing domestic violence and ensuring welfare recipients do not spend their government-provided income on alcohol, drugs or gambling.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Ian Trust, executive chairman of the Wunan Foundation, representatives from the MG Corporation and the Gelgangem trust together with then Prime Minister Tony Abbott in Kununurra in my electorate last month. These organisations all commended the government on the proposal for the debit card trial and it was an incredibly positive meeting. This is building on the many meetings that have been held in my electorate by the Hon. Alan Tudge, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister. I congratulate him on the work that he has done to bring this bill to the House.

 

I am pleased to say that the government and I support this bill because I believe it will make rural, regional and remote towns in Durack safer and, in time, more prosperous. It will create a better environment for families, locals and tourists alike to live and visit. This government's vision is for kids to go to school, parents to go to work and the family home to be safer, and I truly believe that this bill is one step closer to achieving the vision.

I believe in the party's core values of rights and freedoms of all people and equal opportunities for all Australians. I believe in supporting those who need it most. However, the current welfare system is not sustainable. We as a country cannot continue under the current rules or else our children and their children will be left a massive debt. This bill is not only about making our communities safer but it is about restoring faith in the welfare system and ensuring those who are on welfare spend it on what they need and what their family needs but not on things like alcohol, gambling and drugs.

I am pleased the Ceduna community agreed that 80 per cent of a person's social security payments will be placed into the recipient's debit card account and the remaining 20 per cent will be put into the recipient's existing bank account allowing for cash withdrawals. The cashless debit card would work at every store except those store categories which have been switched off. This includes liquor stores and gambling outlets. In the fraction of multipurpose stores, there would be a compliance element allowing people to purchase food goods only. Participants will benefit from advanced banking technologies, which include a range of online budgeting options. Participants can set daily spending limits, maximum transaction values and a maximum number of transactions per day—of course this is only an option and not mandatory.

As I said at the start of the speech, the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Debit Card Trial) Bill 2015 is only a trial and is not set in concrete. I fully acknowledge that there are some who will not agree that it will work and acknowledge that there are many potential pitfalls but I sincerely think that it is time for us to try this type of initiative. The bill will ensure welfare recipients spend their money on essentials and will minimise allowance for alcohol, drugs and gambling. It has been welcomed by leaders in my electorate of Durack and throughout towns such as Ceduna as I mentioned earlier.

The bill aims to reduce domestic violence and improve family life caused by welfare fuelled alcohol and drug abuse. As a federal member of an electorate which has some of the most remote towns in Australia, I simply cannot sit by and do nothing so therefore I am clearly very highly supportive of this bill. This government has inherited a massive financial burden and we need a sustainable and fair welfare system which does not lose faith in the Australian people.

I, like the member for Lingiari, am a member of the Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs. We recently completed our report on alcohol abuse in Aboriginal communities. There are some excellent recommendations contained within that report and many of those recommendations need to be considered very clearly and should be put hand in hand with this bill. I encourage the government and my colleagues to look very carefully at those recommendations. But, in the meantime, I sincerely commend this bill to the House.

 

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