Cashless Welfare Card - Community Forum

November 27, 2019

 I rise to speak on the Community Affairs Legislation Committee additional information. This is important legislation that the committee work has been dealing with and it's something that I have spent time in Queensland dealing with over the last couple of months. Since the election I've been through a number of Cape York communities—Hopevale, Coen, Lockhart River and Napranum. The lack of consultation that has gone on in those communities is stark. The government tried to claim that they've consulted with these communities. They have done no such thing. So there is a lack of information about the impact that this rollout is going to have in these communities, and the government have been treating these communities in the same way they've been treating the communities of Hinkler—Hervey Bay and Bundaberg—like mushrooms: keeping them in the dark and not giving them accurate information to justify the further rollout of this card.

What we know from travelling to these places and listening to people—which is something the government haven't done and the sitting government members in these areas certainly have not done—is you actually hear firsthand the experiences of those people impacted by this card. That's been my experience in the last month, having been to Hervey Bay and Bundaberg, including in Hervey Bay where I conducted a forum for people to come along and have chat to me about the cashless welfare card. The reason why people were so keen to come along and have a chat to me is that their local member refuses to listen and refuses to engage with those people. Indeed Keith Pitt, the member for Hinkler, rose in the House this week and tried to claim that there were no concerns from locals. That's because he's not listening and he doesn't have an open door for those people who are impacted by this.

What we also know is that the government spin, as they try to justify the rollout of this card, is absolutely lacking. What we've seen through the efforts of the government is that they try and claim that this has led to a reduction in people who are unemployed and they also claim that there are 700 people who are no longer on the cashless debit card in the Hinkler community. When you look at that and break it down and ask the government to provide an example of what those people are now doing, the response from the government is: 'It would be an unreasonable diversion of resources to prepare this data.' So, on the one hand, they're trying to claim how great this is and what a success it has been, but, on the other, when you actually try to pin them down to provide some evidence about this, they provide no such evidence at all.

They try and claim that there's been a reduction in unemployment in the region as well, but when you compare unemployment in Bundaberg to unemployment in Gympie, which is a couple of hours down the road and isn't subject to the cashless welfare card, there has actually been no substantial difference over the last 12 months. So, for all the claims that the government have made to try to say that the cashless welfare card has been a success in Hinkler, there is actually no evidence, once you actually look at what the government are putting forward, to back their claim that it's a success.

The other thing that is important is that the Australian National Audit Office has previously criticised the department's data collection about this and has described the approach to monitoring and evaluation as 'inadequate'. So even the Audit Office is saying there's a lack of robustness in data collection. If they really wanted to treat this trial seriously and actually look at the impact it was having in the community, they would have a much more robust approach to how this was done. But they do not do that. And Keith Pitt, the member for Hinkler, has criticised those people who came along to my forum—discredited those who came along to give their evidence. It is really disappointing that he is treating his constituents with contempt.

I just want to briefly talk about Jodie McNally, who came along to my forum in Hervey Bay—and she actually drove from Bundaberg, which is about an hour's trip, because she was so passionate about being able to put her case to an elected official—something that, sadly, Mr Pitt won't do. She talked about her experience of going on the cashless welfare card, and her personal story was covered in the Fraser Coast Chronicle. Ms McNally has chronic pain from arthritis and prolapsed discs. She doesn't gamble or drink alcohol, but has debilitating anxiety, which she says the card has negatively impacted on. Ms McNally has applied to opt out of this trial, but has not heard anything since July. Mr Pitt keeps saying that he has heard anecdotal evidence from people that the card has been a success, but he clearly isn't listening to his local community and is dismissive of people like Ms Jodie McNally.

So I would say to the government and to those government members who are responsible for these communities that are going to be impacted that they need to get out there. They need to listen to those people. They should not roll this out from on high and just say: 'This is what local communities are getting.' This is having a negative and devastating impact on those people who have been affected.

Labor has taken the right position. We opposed the national rollout of this. It is something that we will continue to fight in Queensland, and we will continue to fight it across Australia as well.

Question agreed to.