Home Senate Hanson comments on Cashless Welfare Card, Outrage from Greens Senator Thorpe

Hanson comments on Cashless Welfare Card, Outrage from Greens Senator Thorpe

Senator Hanson: The fact that the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020 is going to struggle to be supported is a very sad indictment of who we have become as a nation and, more importantly, what we have become as a Senate. It should be passing with strong support from all sides of the chamber.

The cashless debit card trials have made sure that some of the most disadvantaged people in Australia have meals in their stomachs and that they and their children have clothes on their backs and shoes on their feet. Thanks to the card, there is fuel in their cars and a roof over their heads because their rent and household bills have been paid. The card does this by ensuring that 80 per cent of the social security funds people receive are spent only on the necessities of life. It only applies to welfare recipients of working age and excludes those on age and veterans affairs pensions.

It seems harsh and controlling to some, but if there is ill-disciplined spending that leads to significant health and social problems, the controls are beneficial. Without that control, many cardholders would slip back into a life dominated by alcohol, cigarettes, drugs and gambling, with the well-reported problems that go with those, including addictions. As we know, if you have the basics, you are more likely to participate in society generally— go to school, work well in a job, build a career, have a better life—and transition off welfare to your own income. These are among the outcomes that Australians want from the social welfare system. We don’t mind supporting those in need for a time, but we also want positive outcomes. We certainly don’t want the taxpayer-funded social welfare handouts to be wasted through poor spending choices.

Income management for many welfare recipients in the Northern Territory, Cape York and Doomadgee in the Queensland Gulf has helped to generate the same positive outcomes. The BasicsCard, which is held by those on these schemes in the NT and the Cape, ensures that a predetermined proportion of a participant’s welfare funds are spent on the basics of life including health items like medicines and hygiene products; some public transport services; certain bills, like electricity; doctors appointments; and school meals for children, where they are provided. Cardholders can also make purchases at department stores and even use funds to pay off bigger items through services like lay-by, if they choose. The BasicsCard can be used at 15,500 participating outlets around Australia. The cardholder can have 60, 75 or 90 per cent of their regular fortnightly payments managed, as well as 100 per cent of any advances or lump sum payments.

The overall aims of these systems are to support the needy through good financial management and to ensure that kids are safe, fed and educated. This lines up with one of my personal—

An honourable senator interjecting—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I would ask senators not to interject; the senator has the right to be heard in silence, and I would ask that you refrain from making comments out loud. Please continue, Senator Hanson.

Senator HANSON: This lines up with one of my personal platforms in all my dealings with welfare recipients, including those who are Indigenous Australians. The Cape York Welfare Reform aims to address dependence on welfare and support people in the communities of Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale and Mossman Gorge to resume primary responsibility for the wellbeing of their families and communities. The control mechanisms also mean that the welfare funds cannot be directly spent on alcohol, pornography, tobacco products, gambling, home-brew systems and ingredients, or gift cards that could be swapped with others in exchange for cash, credit or goods. The goal is for the sordid symptoms of such purchases to also then be reduced, like alcohol abuse; domestic violence, including abuse of children; drug purchases and drug use; hunger; and poverty.

The cashless debit card has been trialled in four places around Australia. Firstly, from mid-2016, it was trialled in the Ceduna region of South Australia and in Kununurra and Wyndham, in the East Kimberley. In 2017, an evaluation report from Orima Research found that the cards had considerably positive impacts in the two trial communities: 41 per cent of the participants who drank alcohol reported drinking alcohol less frequently, 37 per cent of participants who were binge drinking reported binge drinking less frequently, 48 per cent reported gambling less and 48 per cent reported using illegal drugs less often.

The evaluation also found many related benefits. For example, 40 per cent of those surveyed said they were better able to look after their children and 45 per cent said they had been better able to save money. Feedback from the communities revealed a decrease in requests for emergency food relief and financial assistance in Ceduna. These are the reports that have come back, and they contain the percentages I have just read out. But, if you listen to others in the Senate, the cards haven’t had any impact whatsoever. These reports clearly show that it has. There have been increased purchases of baby items, food, clothing, shoes, toys and other goods for children. Community leaders reported a reduction in crime, violence and harmful behaviours during the trial period.

It was rolled out in the Goldfields region of Western Australia from March 2018 and has been on trial in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland, where it has the additional restriction of applying only to those 35 and under. Welfare recipients are given the chance to opt in to this system and many choose to do this because they recognise the benefits of enforcing more focused spending of the money. Those on age and veterans affairs pensions can apply for voluntary inclusion in this scheme.

I have spoken before about humbugging, a term used in Aboriginal communities. It’s where a family member insists that they hand over money to them. That’s why they are quite happy to be on the card. They can say: ‘I can’t give you money. I haven’t got it.’ (Quorum formed) Humbugging is in these communities. They know that family members are taking money from them.

I want to turn to something here. We’re talking about the cashless debit card. I can’t let go what Senator Thorpe said earlier in this chamber. She commented that it’s her land. I remember her comment to me yesterday. We were talking about the Indigenous community. They have raised that this is racist legislation. It’s not, because it’s not just directed at Aboriginals. She said it’s her land. No, it’s the land of everyone who was born here.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Thorpe?

Senator Thorpe: I’ve a point of order. Sorry, what’s your name?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Hanson.

Senator Hanson interjecting—

Senator Thorpe: Whatever.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! What’s your point of order, Senator Thorpe?

Senator Thorpe: My point of order is that I find it offensive that we be called ‘them’, ‘they’, ‘Aborigines’—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Thorpe, that’s a debating point. Please resume your contribution, Senator Hanson.

Senator HANSON: As I was saying, they make comments that this is racist. It’s not racist at all. It’s about doing what is right for the people in our communities Australia-wide. These communities have asked for it. I have spoken to the Indigenous people, the elders and the different ones who want this because it’s helping the communities and stopping the abuse that’s going on. The Greens in this place are all the time going on about domestic violence in their notices of motion. Wouldn’t they want to address this so that there is no alcohol abuse? The drinking that’s going on causes the alcohol abuse and domestic violence. They’re not interested in that.

Senator Thorpe talks about her land. What about the white part? Where’s her white father in all of this, who I should say is a member of the One Nation party?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Hanson, I remind you that it is not appropriate to refer to other senators, so I ask you to withdraw those remarks, thank you.

Senator HANSON: I don’t need to withdraw those remarks, I’m sorry—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Hanson, you’re not debating with me. I’ve asked you to withdraw the remarks.

Senator HANSON: What remarks? Which remarks?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I am not repeating the offence.

Senator HANSON: There was no offence.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Hanson, are you arguing with the Deputy President of the Senate? I’ve directed you to withdraw those remarks.

Senator HANSON: Well, I need to know which remarks, because I made a few comments there.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Hanson, I am not going to repeat what you said.

Senator HANSON: Well, the part of ‘is her father’—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Hanson, please resume your seat. It is my responsibility under the standing orders of the Senate to ensure that debate is within the standing orders. I further remind you of a statement the President made on several occasions in this place about how this is a workplace and how we need to respect one another and to not refer to other senators in a personal way. So I would ask you to withdraw the remarks that you made about Senator Thorpe’s family. Thank you. It’s not a debating point. I’m directing you to do that, so please do that.

Senator HANSON: Sorry, Madam Acting Deputy President. To make reference to her father is right.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator, I am not the Acting Deputy President; I’m the Deputy President. I’ve directed you to withdraw the remarks, so please do.

Senator HANSON: Well, if it suits you, I withdraw the remarks.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you. Now please continue.

Senator HANSON: I—

Opposition senators interjecting—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Hanson, please resume your seat. No, please resume your seat. This is a very difficult debate, and I appreciate the sentiments on both sides, but Senator Hanson is entitled to make her contribution and she’s entitled to make it in silence, with the consent of other senators. If you don’t wish to listen to Senator Hanson’s remarks, or any other remarks of senators, you are quite free to leave the chamber. I would ask that Senator Hanson be given the respect of continuing her remarks with the silence and consent of other senators. Please continue, Senator Hanson.

Senator HANSON: Thank you very much. As I said, the cashless welfare card is of benefit to all Australians and it’s going to help those people, and I outlined the reasons here. I don’t like the debate in this chamber that it’s been directed because it’s racist. It’s about looking after and caring about Australians and helping them with their spending.

There are problems in these communities. I have been to these Aboriginal communities. I’ve spoken to the people. I’ve spoken to the business leaders. I’ve spoken to the councils. I’ve listened to the people’s concerns. It isn’t just plucked out of the air that we should be denying these people the right to spend their welfare payments. When it has an impact on the children, if we really care about the future generation, why aren’t we doing something about it? You know that the problems are there, so we’ve actually got to do something about it.

You talk about their rights and their human rights. Well, you know what? So many people, including former prime ministers in this country, have said the best thing to do is go and get a job. If you get a job, you earn your money and you go and spend it whichever way you want to. I’ll tell you the feelings of many taxpayers. One woman said to me, ‘I walk out of my house in the morning, and the neighbour next door is sitting on his porch and says, “Bye, love; have a good day.”‘ She goes to work all the day and pays her taxes. She comes home and the neighbour says, ‘Hi, love; I hope you had a good day,’ and he’s sitting there with a beer in his hand. He’s had a wonderful day. He hasn’t had the responsibility of going to get a job. So this is the attitude of a lot of people on welfare payments. They have no responsibility to the taxpayers, and I’ll tell you what: the taxpayers of this nation have had a gutful of getting taxed more and more and having their money go into welfare. Our bill in this nation is nearly $190 billion in welfare payments. Those people on welfare have a responsibility to the taxpayer, and why shouldn’t they have to be responsible? A lot of workers out there, including in mine sites, have to have drug testing. You can’t have drugs in your system if you’re going to attend a lot of workplaces. Why shouldn’t these people be accountable to the taxpayer to ensure that they are not spending taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars on alcohol, drugs and gambling? What is the problem with that?

What the government’s cash card is ensuring is that this money is spent on food, clothing and other essentials that they need. It is ensuring that their rent is paid. That’s what this card is about. It’s not about a person’s rights. When you go onto this card, you basically lose your rights as well. If you go on a welfare system, you’ve lost your rights. You have a responsibility to the taxpayers of this nation. That’s a big problem. We’ve got third and fourth generations that are on welfare because it becomes a way of life. That’s not good enough; that’s not what I want for the Australian people. There are real benefits in this. If you vote against this and you don’t support this card, from 1 January this is going to fall over. You are going to find that, in these communities, they will go and spend the money on alcohol. You will have an increase in domestic violence and you will have more problems in these communities, and you don’t give a damn about that. That’s what the big concern is about. You have to understand the impact of not supporting this card.

There is no evidence from the government whatsoever that they intend to roll this out Australia-wide to anyone else, any other areas, other than where it is now before the next election. These communities weren’t just plucked out; it wasn’t the case that a dart was thrown at a map of Australia and they said, ‘We’re going to put this cashless debit card there.’ These communities actually asked for this trial. You’ve got people that have signed it. They don’t have to be on it, but they’ve signed up to it. Why? Have you really asked yourself these questions? You’ve got a few letters from people saying: ‘You’re denying us our right. We can’t spend the money how we want to.’ They go to the markets and can’t buy fresh food because they don’t accept the card there. They have 20 per cent of their money in their pocket. Twenty per cent of the money is in cash. They can spend it how they want to. Yet you’re denying that. I don’t see any rhyme or reason to why you’re actually doing this.

I will not sit here in the Senate and hear other senators claim that it’s their land. This is racist; a certain number of people are being picked on. Like I said, in some of these communities, the population is truly Aboriginal. But the problem is that you really need to go and look at these communities. You need to travel through them. You have to understand that it’s not the case in Hervey Bay and Bundaberg. It’s for everyone. It’s for Australians. I’m sick and tired of hearing the division in this nation of whether it’s for the Indigenous or non-Indigenous. This is about helping Australians, regardless of the colour of their skin. It’s about trying to make a difference for many people here.

This card will finish on 1 January. I did give you the percentages with regard to the BasicsCard. The advantage for BasicsCard holders is that the number of retailers and outlets that they can purchase from jumps considerably to 900,000. I’ve got to say to the senators who are opposing this card that what you’ve said in the past is, ‘Go and get a job.’ To hear other senators say, ‘The government should be providing the incentives and siting infrastructure,’ I totally agree. We should have the infrastructure projects to make jobs for people. But you’ve got to also understand that there are a lot of people out there who don’t want to work. I’ve spoken to a lot of businesspeople. The jobs are available, but they don’t even apply for the jobs. A lot of businesses have availability. Farmers can’t get workers here in Australia. The whole fact is that they can’t get workers because the welfare is too good. It may look poor in our eyes, because we are fortunate enough to have very good jobs that pay very well. A lot of us have worked hard to get here, but many people are quite happy to live on the welfare payments that they receive.

Source: Transcript and Image Parliament of Australia Website 

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