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Speech: Cashless Debit Card extension

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 9 Dec 2020

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (12:14): I rise to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020. The Greens strongly oppose this bill. The Greens and I completely reject Senator Hanson's disgraceful contribution to the debate on this bill. Referring to and bringing in a family member of Senator Thorpe's in her speech is a new low for Senator Hanson. If Senator Hanson had a skerrick—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Faruqi, please resume your seat. Senator Hanson was asked to withdraw that remark, and did so. So it's not appropriate to continue to refer to it. Thank you.

Senator FARUQI: Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party epitomises what is wrong with this bill: racism and discrimination. This bill will make current cashless debit card trial sites permanent and extend the card to the Northern Territory and Cape York, to replace the BasicsCard. Compulsory income management is paternalistic, it is cruel, it victimises people, and it punishes people for being poor and unemployed. Compulsory income management in Australia has been cynically and disgracefully targeted towards First Nations communities, from the introduction of the BasicsCard as part of the Northern Territory Intervention to its expansion to trials in communities with higher than average proportions of First Nations people. This bill is racist, this bill is discriminatory and this bill further punishes people who have been targeted by governments for more than 200 years.

The government has provided no evidence that compulsory income management improves people's lives. As the Greens dissenting report to the bill inquiry points out, the government continues to rely on debunked data from a single flawed evaluation to justify compulsory income management, while ignoring other independent studies that question the card's utility and find that it causes stigma, shame and frustration. The evidence base for continuing or extending compulsory income management is just not there.

What we do have is the testimony of people who are directly affected by this terrible policy—people who have already been hurt and people who will be hurt if this bill passes. The Senate inquiry into this bill heard from people who have either experienced life on the punitive cashless debit card or who are terrified of being forced onto it when it is expanded. The inquiry heard criticism and concerns from First Nations people, disabled people, single mothers, people who have struggled with their mental health and people who have suffered as a result of unemployment and a broken social security system. I want the Senate to hear what some of these people had to say. You should all know exactly what you are being asked to vote on, in the words of most important people: those who have been and who will be harmed by the passage of this bill.

There are too many to fit in my speech today, but I will read out some of them. I will start with a couple of excerpts on racism and discrimination:

'I know myself it was targeted to Aboriginal people, but for the government to sort of keep their nose clean, they involved everybody else, so it didn't have to be, didn't look like, it was pointed directly at Indigenous people. But we know, as Indigenous people, that's what it was. In my point of view, it's racial discrimination and a human rights breach, because this card was really aimed at Indigenous people. The card was designed to control the alcohol, but it hasn't, and the people that are doing good by it, we are getting the full punishment. It's just racist and violates our human rights, and it's not fair.'

Some people reflected on mental health, saying,

'Having experienced the difference in my mental and emotional health by participating in the cashless debit card trial, I can unreservedly say that the trial was one of the lowest points in my life. The fear of possibly being forced into it again is absolutely debilitating to my mental health, and it has prevented me from fully appreciating the freedom of being taken off the card. The stigma of the card has increased my levels of depression and anxiety. It will be a consistent reminder that I am unable to gain paid employment because of my disabilities, which I was born with. I didn't have a choice in the matter. I feel that this card will make me feel like a third-rate citizen who is perceived as not being able to manage my own money'.

Other people described some of the most terrible of the impacts:

Over the last 5 yrs I have watched as people have become homeless, become hopeless, been medicated, tried to kill themselves, have opportunities ripped away for self employment as Indue refused to allow access to their cash to be able to buy stock etc.

I have seen people bullied, reduced to tears, I have seen Indue staff try to trick young people into giving out bank and credit card information for their parents without consent.

   …   …   …

The women and their children are copping the brunt of the stigma, exclusion and financial destruction caused by being forced onto the card.

Another said the Indue card:

… makes life as a single mother more difficult than usual. You just lose any control in your life. You can't even properly manage your budget and go shopping with confidence.

Others reflected on disability:

'I have enough to deal with already, being disabled. My life is already horrible, and my family is brought down by my disability. It's demeaning and an awful way to live. I don't need the card making my life more miserable than it already is. I feel my depression would become unbearable if there were more restrictions put onto my life and my husband's life.'

So many people reflected on the shame and misery that this card brings: 'The day I applied for this income support is the day my world changed as my life became one of shame. In the eyes of politicians and the Australian public, I was someone to be vilified and demeaned.' 'The thought of being put onto forced income management and the Indue card horrifies me, and the economic control it represents fills me with anger.' 'This card spreads misery and suffering. To support the cashless debit card and compulsory income management requires either supreme ignorance or intentional malice. I do not know which would be worse, though given that the result is the same either way I guess it does not matter. Please show the public that you are better than that.' I wish I had time to read more of these so the people who are supporting this terrible, cruel punitive bill that punishes others in the community could listen to more of what people had to say.

This rubbish card and this rubbish bill are all about controlling the lives of some people. We know exactly whose lives this government wants to control. The lives that they want to control are the lives that they don't think are deserving of the same dignity and the same rights as they have. So I ask you all today, and especially the crossbenchers, to have some empathy, to listen to and actually hear the people that you are effectively punishing if you vote for this bill. The Greens and I vehemently oppose this bill.

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