I rise to contribute to the debate on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Debit Card Trial) Bill 2015—or the card I like to call the healthy welfare keycard. After being injured during my service in Australia's Army, I know what it is like to live from pay cheque to pay cheque on a disability support pension. I have experienced the anxiety and fear you feel when you are forced to pay for the grocery bill by credit card hoping that you are not about to max it out buying the essentials.
I know how hard it is to manage your money, make ends meet, break out of the cycle of poverty and raise a family while you are struggling to cope with physical and mental pain and the addictions that all too often come with those injuries. I know what it is like to be discriminated against by government agencies and treated like a second-class citizen I understand the fears of discrimination that people may have about the introduction of this new money management initiative. However, the time has come to face up to a few hard realities.
Our kids are needlessly suffering, because too much of our welfare money is being spent on illicit drugs and alcohol. Our mums and dads with diminished capacity through addictions and mental health disabilities are needlessly suffering, because too much of our welfare money is being spent on illicit drugs and alcohol. That is why I support the broad principle that a healthy welfare keycard is based on—namely, that it introduces a cashless method of managing welfare payments for communities which are suffering from a crisis with alcohol and drugs.
Once the teething problems with this new card and its technology are sorted out, I would like a healthy welfare keycard rolled out across the whole of Tasmania. It will save lives and needless personal harm and suffering. It will significantly reduce the rates of family violence and family break-ups. It will reduce the rates of admissions to our hospital accident and emergency departments.
The healthy welfare keycard is also a vital early intervention initiative. Not only will it save lives; it will save a lot of taxpayers' dollars in the long run. As one of the Jacqui Lambie Network senate candidates for Tasmania, Rob Waterman says, 'Every dollar spent on early intervention saves $7.' And that is exactly what the healthy welfare keycard is—an effective and compassionate early intervention initiative, which will save at least $7 for every dollar invested in it. The healthy welfare keycard contains a function whereby an automatic text is sent to a card recipient's phone, stating what the total of their account balance is after every transaction over $10.
This is an important tool, which will help people on welfare better manage their money. It will gently encourage better financial management skills. There are a number of groups of people who will either hate or be very disappointed by the introduction of the healthy welfare keycard. Drug dealers will hate this card, because over time it will mean fewer people will buy their products. Pub, hotel and bottle shop owners will experience reduced profits in the communities where the healthy welfare keycards will be in use. People who make a living from the gambling industry will also experience reduced profits in the communities where the healthy welfare keycard is in use.
This is because, as the explanatory notes reveals:
The trial will test whether significantly reducing access to discretionary cash, by placing a significant proportion of a person's welfare payments into a restricted bank account, can reduce the habitual abuse and associated harm resulting from alcohol, gambling and illegal drugs.
Despite the obvious social and personal benefits which this trial has the great potential to produce, I had and still have reservations about the manner in which this trial is to be conducted. One of the proposed trial sites is the South Australian community of Ceduna. I accompanied Senator Xenophon on a tour of the community on Friday, 2 October and spoke with many people about this trial. While I listened to all the community's concerns, from Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, it became apparent that a significant section of the community, mainly non-Indigenous stakeholders, had not been properly consulted with and their interests were not being properly represented.
Based on that meeting I had in Ceduna, I was prepared to vote against this legislation should the government fail to delay presentation of the bill before the Senate. However, after a further meeting I had in my Senate office this Monday with the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, Alan Tudge, and more Ceduna community representatives—Greg Franks, Michael Haynes and Wayne Miller—I have decided to support this Turnbull government initiative and trial immediately. I changed my mind after listening to the Ceduna community representatives and also after Assistant Minister Tudge gave a personal undertaking to travel with Senator Xenophon and me back to Ceduna in South Australia over the next month so that we can hear all of the community's concerns and answer their questions honestly and openly.
After my visit to Ceduna, I became very worried that the government was swooping in to 'save the day', without knowing all the facts—but that is not the case. I acknowledge the long, hard detailed work which has been put into this project. After reflecting on his commitment, advocacy and willingness to consult, I have to congratulate Assistant Minister Tudge for his leadership, passion and drive with regard to the healthy welfare keycard. It is also important to acknowledge the courage and bravery that local leaders, both in local government and within the Indigenous community, have displayed. They have borne the brunt of a lot of community heat and criticism. They could have easily folded under the pressure and opposed this initiative, but they knew in their hearts that what they were doing was a good thing for their community and for the generations to come.
So they pressed on and fought the good fight and had the courage to act on the knowledge in their minds and the feelings of love in their hearts for their community. This can teach us all an important lesson. It is one thing to have knowledge and feelings of love; it is another thing to have the courage to act on that knowledge and love and turn thought and feeling into deeds. And that is what we have with this legislation. It is a means for this federal government to resource and fund good deeds through a program which will make the world safer and happier for the communities which are fortunate enough to be selected for the healthy welfare keycard trial.
I am reluctant to make too many comments about Australian billionaires, given my recent, unfortunate and painful experience with one of them. However, if there is one lesson I have learnt from this legislation it is that there are billionaires and there are billionaires. It would be ungracious of me not to acknowledge the hard work of Mr Andrew Forrest, who really is the father of this healthy welfare keycard. Twiggy Forrest is a well-known Australian businessman and entrepreneur. This legislation would not be before this Senate if Twiggy Forrest had not decided to act.
Australian communities suffering from all the harms and illnesses that come with alcohol and drug addictions would not have the hope that comes with the presentation of this legislation. Twiggy is not just responsible for a new card; he is responsible for a new approach to solving the terrible problem of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian disadvantage. The JLN supports Twiggy's 27 recommendations of creating parity and ending disadvantage. I do not care what colour your skins is or what religion you are. If your community is suffering from alcohol or drug addiction then Twiggy's solution for early intervention—particularly through the establishment and integration of early childhood services in the most vulnerable communities and intervention before birth—will be vital for the safety of our children who are placed at risk because of the alcohol and drug addictions of adults.
If this legislation passes this Senate, then, according to the explanatory memorandum, it will: … enable a trial phase of new cashless welfare arrangements in response to a key recommendation from Mr Andrew Forrest’s Review of Indigenous Jobs and Training.
The purpose of the trial is to test the concept of cashless welfare arrangements by disbursing particular welfare payments to a restricted bank account, accessed by a debit card which does not allow cash withdrawals. The trial will test whether significantly reducing access to discretionary cash, by placing a significant proportion of a person’s welfare payments into a restricted bank account, can reduce the habitual abuse and associated harm resulting from alcohol, gambling and illegal drugs. It will also test whether cashless welfare arrangements are more effective when community bodies are involved.
Throughout this debate, the word 'disadvantaged' has been used by me and many other speakers. Many people watching these Senate proceedings or reading Hansard may ask the question, 'What is disadvantage?' Probably the best report I have read that clarifies, describes and quantifies the word 'disadvantage' is a report published by Catholic Social Services and Jesuit Social Services, written by Tony Vinson and Margot Rawsthorne, with Adrian Beavis and Matthew Ericson. Dropping o ff the edge 2015, or DOTE 2015, examines persistent communal social disadvantage in Australia. 'Social disadvantage' was defined as a range of difficulties that reduce a person's opportunities in life and prevent people from participating fully in Australian society. Social disadvantage is calculated by combining statistics and research on criminal convictions, juvenile offending, long- and short term unemployment, youth unemployment, disabilities, lack of formal qualifications, family violence, family incomes, rental assistance—to name just a few social indicators.
In Tasmania, the five most disadvantaged of the 29 local government areas, or 17 per cent, accounted for 64 per cent of our state's top-ranked consistently entrenched place-based disadvantaged people. We have some of the worst rates of unemployment and youth unemployment in Australia. This report shows that the local government authorities which are really doing it hard are Brighton, Central Highlands, Derwent Valley, George Town and Glenorchy.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the reasons why I want to support this trial is that I think it will be a success, and then I will fight hard to have the trial of the healthy welfare card transferred to cover the whole of Tasmania. If it is a success, I have no problem going into bat for it to make sure that the state of Tasmania is first in the receiving line. As Mission Australia's executive summary says in its 2014 youth survey, there is no doubt that in Tasmania:
Inequality and disadvantage remain entrenched in areas of our society with intergenerational poverty becoming well-known. It is becoming increasingly common to understand that this disadvantage is concentrated in some locations. Tasmania is one of those locations. This card will be one of the steps we take to address this crippling social disadvantage.
Other solutions that I have put forward to also address and solve the unemployment crisis and the lack of confidence include supporting an involuntary ice detox and rehabilitation act that gives parents the right to use non-consensual medical treatment on their drug-addicted children; supporting voluntary national service for our young people which will allow them to join the military for a year and learn some skills or participate in trade training and apprenticeships; making areas in Australia where high unemployment is endemic, including most of Tasmania, special economic zones that are payroll tax free; creating a national policy which guarantees the protection of Australia's prime ag land or best farming lands, noting that Australia only has 3.4 per cent prime ag land; guaranteeing the supply of health gold cards to members of the ADF and police who have served overseas in war zones and under warlike conditions, with that to be automatic; supporting the introduction of national legislation which targets members of organised crime groups and their associates, similar to America's RICO laws—the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act; and guaranteeing that Australia's fuel, gas and power are cheaper than our major trading partners' so that our manufacturers, small businesses and farmers can profitably compete in unfair world markets while maintaining wages and standards of living for Australian workers and providing a lot more jobs, especially for our youth.