Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

BILLS;Social Security Legislation Amendment (Debit Card Trial) Bill 2015;Second Reading

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (16:37): As I was saying in my previous contribution to this debate on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Debit Card Trial) Bill 2015, this is a really important trial, and to make a trial effective we have to have all the issues considered and examined closely, both by the parliament and by the community which is involved.

Certainly, one of the core aspects is the fact that we are changing social security access by members of the community. As I said, many of these members of the community may not know that these changes are going to occur, so it is very important that that information is shared. But what has become very clear over many years in this place is that there is never a single, brought reaction to any process. In this case it became very clear that the change to the healthy welfare card must be supported by wraparound services that identify the very issues that the community has said they need to struggle against. And those are the impact of alcoholism, drugs and gambling, and the dissolution of effective community.

One of the core aspects of the investigation that we took in the Senate Community Affairs Committee inquiry was what the process was going to be for ensuring that these wraparound services are introduced, well-resourced and also evaluated, to see that not just the card process alone but in fact intensive support for the community can make a difference in lives. That is what the community has asked for. The community of Ceduna-the leadership of the community of Ceduna-told our committee that they wanted a change in their area.

At the time of our community affairs inquiry we had no detail at all. We were just told that there had been discussions, that there would be changes and that there would be processes put in place. Only very recently-in fact, at the end of last week and earlier this week, at the time when this piece of legislation was being brought to the Senate-the assistant minister responsible in the government has been in communication with Ms Macklin and also, I take it, with other people in this place, about what will be invested in Ceduna to ensure that the community has the most effective trial put in place. A figure has been allocated which has been added to existing services. Earlier, there had been an audit of services in the Ceduna community to see what was then available. Then, through agreement with the federal government and the state government, it was going to be the full wraparound package for the area.

We do appreciate that there has been more detail provided now. We appreciate that this detail has been put forward by the government after discussions with the local community. But I just put on record that for there to be any outcome-any effective response to the issues that have been identified-it is most important to make sure that the kinds of support services which we discussed at our committee are in place. They include things like appropriate alcohol support for people who are struggling with this process and appropriate financial counselling support. When you are living on a low income in any way it is hard enough to cope. But when you have assessable income and the way it is received by you so massively changed by the introduction of an 80-20 split, that is when you certainly need that financial counselling support.

Mr Tudge, in his role as assistant minister, has provided that detail very recently. We think that it gives an opportunity to ensure that the community can work effectively with the three levels of government-local, federal and state-to ensure that Ceduna and the outlying areas have support. As we know, it is not only the township of Ceduna involved; there is also the range of outlying communities which are in the coverage area for the trial.

Another aspect that was talked about consistently was the absolute need for an effective evaluation process. Since we had our committee hearing-and I do apologise, Mr Acting Deputy President: I had been talking earlier with some concern about the lack of information that was available to us when we actually had the one-day hearing to look at this legislation-there has been provided to the committee and also to the shadow minister, more detail about the importance of and the process for putting in place an effective evaluation mechanism.

Again, there is still much which has yet to be finalised. This is another time when this parliament is being asked to support a process without having all the information in front of it. I think that we need to have it to feel certain that the trial process is given every possible chance.

On that point: in some of the interaction that has occurred with the assistant minister talking to the shadow minister, Ms Macklin, and other people, there seems to have been some issues raised that Labor may not be responding to the demands and needs of the people of Ceduna. I want to put clearly on the record that the Labor Party is interested in responding to what the people of Ceduna and the surrounding region have asked for, which is support to look at the social issues which are, in their words, 'destroying their community.' As I have said, we have listened to that.

But this needs to be an effectively designed, resourced and evaluated trial. If not, it will add again to what I believe is the betrayal of the people of that region. They have been given a set of expectations that they will be given the necessary support they need to work together to ensure they can rebuild their community. And, as we have heard from them, they want their kids to grow up healthy and safe, and want people to feel as though they have that chance for a future. Again, if any process is not done with the most strict understanding of what can work, how it will be evaluated and how the people in the community will be actively involved it will be another failed process. What the people of Ceduna do not need is another failed process.

On that basis, the first step included in the bill is about three communities which would be identified to be part of the trial. There may well be variations in the way in which it operates in different parts of the country-you would expect that. But the most clear aspect of our inquiry was that people want this to work. We do not want to be part of any process that does not give that the best possible chance. So there needs to be considerably more exchange of information. There needs to be a commitment that, should things change in Ceduna during the time of the trial, there will be more support available so that, if things are identified that should be introduced, the governments will make a commitment that they will intercede at that time. This needs to be a flexible, dynamic process. We cannot just say, 'This is how the trial will operate,' and walk away from it.

I know there are different views. I particularly want to acknowledge the submissions provided to our committee by ACOSS and the National Welfare Rights Network, who have great concerns about any of these processes with changing the way the social security system works or impacts on people. Because of technical difficulties on the day, we could not hear their evidence, on top of their very detailed submissions. But they have raised serious issues about how we can most effectively work with the community. Should the trial proceed, we have to get everybody who has interest, concern and expertise involved. In terms of the government process and the range of departments involved-this is not a single department process; this crosses at least three Commonwealth departments and a number of departments in the South Australian government-there needs to be confidence that information will be shared openly, that there is a transparency about this process and that consistently along the way there are checkpoints to see how the progress is occurring and what evaluation is taking place, because it is in everybody's interest to ensure that this community is safe and healthy.