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Expanding the Cashless Debit Card Trials

Senator BURSTON (New South Wales) (10:37): My contribution will be brief today. I rise to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018. This bill amends the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 to expand the cashless debit card arrangements to provide for a further trial in the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay area to run until 30 June 2020. It will specify the class of trial participants for the area and increase the total number of trial participants overall to 15,000. It also provides an exemption from the restrictive trade practices provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 for merchants that implement product-level blocking systems, firstly, to identify that a cashless debit card is being used for payment, and, if any restricted products are being purchased, decline the transaction, and secondly, to limit the use of the restricted portion of the payment to prevent that portion being used to obtain cash-like products which could be used to obtain alcohol—or drugs, for that matter—or be used for gambling.

Let me be clear: I fully support this bill to expand the trial sites for the cashless debit card. The more information we can gain from on-the-ground use of this program the more we can evaluate its effectiveness. It’s my understanding that the cashless debit card does not change the amount of money people receive from Centrelink; it only changes the way in which people receive and spend their fortnightly payments. Those on the cashless debit card receive 20 per cent of their welfare payment in their usual bank account and 80 per cent of their welfare payment on the cashless debit card.

There is already evidence from the current trial sites of the cashless welfare card being successful. I know others have quoted the Mayor of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, John Bowler, but I’ll repeat what he said. He said that, while the cashless debit card trial in the Goldfields only started this year, all indications were positive, with police reporting to a liquor accord meeting last week that the level of anti-social behaviour on the streets was clearly down over the last couple of months and that bottle shop retailers also reported to the meeting that disturbances around their premises were considerably less.

I recall a number of senators on the opposite side quoting Andrew Forrest last week and thanking him for his input regarding the marine park disallowance debate. I ask those same senators to heed his advice on this bill. Mr Forrest has championed this program as a means of tackling substance abuse and gambling in predominantly Indigenous communities, and savaged those who voted down the expansion of the scheme earlier this year. He said after the vote:

The feel-good merchants who vote against the cashless debit card, who have never visited a vulnerable community of white people who can’t get off welfare, or the indigenous people who have never had a crack … those people who think the only way to improve a person’s life is to throw more money and have no idea that they’re throwing it through them to a drug dealer, those soft, goodhearted persecutors of vulnerable Australians, those people keep vulnerable Australians and indigenous Australians down.

I implore the Senate to support this bill to expand the trial for this cashless debit card.