I rise to speak on this important bill, the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill. I want to add my voice to the support for the amendment that my esteemed colleague the member for Barton has circulated. It's worth noting once again, in the middle of this debate, what the amendment is. It calls on the House to note:
(a) thirteen years after the Howard Government's so-called Intervention in the Northern Territory, there is no evidence that compulsory, broad-based income management works;
(b) the Minister decided to make the Cashless Debit Card trial permanent before reading the independent review by Adelaide University; and
(c) this proposal is racially discriminatory, as approximately 68 per cent of the people impacted are First Nations Australians …
And it calls on the government to:
(a) not roll out the Cashless Debit Card nationally; and
(b) invest in evidence-based policies, job creation and services, rather than ideological policies like the Cashless Debit Card.
The member for Bass outlined a number of such policies that could be used in her own electorate instead of the cashless debit card, and we've heard from many previous speakers on the problems with this card.
Labor does not support this bill. In essence it is a racist bill, an ideological bill, a bill developed without an evidential base and a bill that impinges upon human rights and freedoms under the guise of fixing serious social issues. In fact, it is a bill that creates more problems than it purports to fix. It's a typical Liberal Party response; it is punitive and taps into negative populism, entrenching bias and disadvantage. We on this side of the House were profoundly disappointed to see that the government brought this bill forward for debate in NAIDOC Week, a week when we celebrate the achievements of First Nations peoples, appreciate their resilience and recognise their struggle.
As a non-Indigenous woman, I take my cues and I learn from my esteemed colleagues—the member for Barton, and Senators Dodson and McCarthy—when it comes to First Nations policy and legislation in this place. I listen to the people in the First Nations communities in my electorate, and there are many. And I hear the voices of First Nations people nationally, particularly through that seminal communique, the Uluru Statement from the Heart, a statement that Labor is committed to enacting. What they've taught me is that listening and talking is important but that, in truth, it is only part of what must be done. What is equally important, and harder to do, is taking action—actually doing the hard work of reconciliation. The Liberals talk a big game when it comes to reconciliation, but when push comes to shove they are not there to do the hard work. It's just like what we saw last month in the Senate, where the Liberal Party voted against a motion to hang the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags. Again, they voted against that during NAIDOC Week.
As we know, this bill, as has been stated time and time again by members from this side of the House, does actually affect more Aboriginal people. It is discriminatory because, as a percentage of people that this affects, First Nations people are disproportionately represented. Now the government is pushing through this legislation, which is an incredibly clear example of policy being done to First Nations people and not with them.
This bill will make the cashless debit card permanent in the existing trial sites of Ceduna, East Kimberley, the Goldfields, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. It will permanently replace the BasicsCard with the cashless debit card in the Northern Territory. The bill will also replace the BasicsCard with the cashless debit card in Cape York and extend income management in Cape York to 31 December 2021.
I acknowledge that the community of Cape York is in a unique situation with community management at its heart. It's a system that is not replicated across the country with the use of this card. We have long stated very clearly that, if people want to be on the card, that is their right, and it is not up to Labor to stand in the way, but it has to be done with full and informed consent. As far as I can see, there has not been full and informed consent in any of the other communities in terms of what the government is intending to do with this card. As the member for Barton said, the agenda is very clear. It is a continuation of the disdain that this government holds in relation to people who need to rely on social security payments.
It is true that the bill will make it easier for people to volunteer to be placed on the cashless debit card or allow a person to remain on the card when they move outside one of the prescribed areas if they want to, but it also enables the secretary to make value judgements about people far from their view and in another world, disconnected from anyone they know, to revoke the cashless debit card exit provisions. They can decide that they no longer believe that the person who exited the card is reasonably and responsibly managing their affairs.
We hear time and time again that applications to come off the card fail. It's almost impossible to be allowed to come off the card, despite people showing that they are managing their own affairs and that they are reasonable people. They should be allowed to come off the card. We know that it is virtually impossible. So few people are allowed to come off the card. In a fairer world than that run by the Liberal government, of course, coming off the card wouldn't be necessary, as you wouldn't be on one in the first place.
You might assume that a bill this far reaching would have an incredible weight of evidence backing it in. Well, you'd be wrong. The University of Adelaide has undertaken a review of the cashless debit card—an independent review by a reputable institution—yet in Senate estimates the minister was forced to admit that she had not read the review by Adelaide university before she and this government decided to make the cashless debit card trials permanent. It's unbelievable. It just says so much about this government's callous disregard for people's lives that it could press ahead with this without paying attention to the facts, without paying attention to the evidence and without paying attention to what is actually going on in people's lives. Just yesterday I was speaking about the Family Court bill. The government has done a similar thing here. They put together a whole piece of legislation that ignores all the evidence. The result is that we have legislation that does exactly the opposite of what this country needs.
Given the government doesn't seem to be aware, let me outline what some of the relevant research has found. Researchers from four universities said in a report released in February this year that they had uncovered an overwhelming number of negative experiences stemming from the card, ranging from feelings of stigma, shame and frustration to practical issues, such as the cardholder simply not having enough cash for essential items or important things like paying for their child to go to school camp or buying the little things that they need.
It's no wonder the community has been incredibly vocal on the issue of the cashless debit card. They know that it is in its essence a racist program—one that disproportionately targets First Nations peoples and takes away their agency and their control over their own money, their lives and their families' lives. Sixty-eight per cent of those affected by this bill are First Nations people. I've had hundreds of emails on this issue, with people describing it as blatant discrimination, harking back to paternalistic colonial policies, which we had all hoped our country had moved beyond.
I'm lucky to represent an electorate that is home to 12 First Nations peak bodies. Their position has been united and clear on this issue. They have told me that no-one should have this program forced on them, that this program so clearly represents the colonial attitudes that they struggle against every day and that it is yet another example of the government telling them that they aren't equals, that they don't deserve to have control over their own lives and that they need the oversight and patronising paternalism of the government to survive.
I'm humbled to be here today in my position of privilege to be able to amplify in this chamber the voices of the people who have come to me as their elected representative. They're asking not to be forced into this program, not to have it forced onto their communities that simply don't want it. Rather than blame and punish people in Australia, the government should be putting all its energy into reinvestment opportunities to close the gap. Many of those, as I said earlier, were described by the member for Bass. She was absolutely right when she said that.
The overwhelming message from this year's Closing the Gap report is that, 12 years on, the statistics, the numbers, the human outcomes are getting worse, not better. Labor knows that closing the gap depends on all Australians acknowledging the continuing trauma of colonisation and the stolen generations. This is what Prime Minister Keating acknowledged when he spoke at Redfern 26 years ago and declared:
… the starting point might be to recognise that the problem starts with us non-Aboriginal Australians.
It begins, I think, with that act of recognition.
Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing.
We need to listen, learn and take direction from our First Nations people. So we need to commit to no longer making decisions about them and for them. We cannot ignore the lessons nor ignore the way forward. We need constitutional recognition. We need to keep the process of reconciliation alive. We need to work towards a makarrata commission of truth telling and healing. And ultimately we need treaty, because I honestly believe that, if we had treaty, bills like this would never exist.