Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (19:55): I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Prime Minister and the cabinet on the way they’ve dealt with the COVID-19 virus right from the very start when they closed the borders with China, to some controversy at the time. As I travel around my electorate, the support for the government’s actions is overwhelming, whether it be JobSeeker, JobKeeper, the pension supplement, commercial tenancy arrangements, the mandatory code of conduct, the underwriting for new bank loans for small and medium enterprises, debt protection, early access to super, relief on utility bills, mortgage payment deferrals, support for the arts or the extra support for mental health services.
As with all broadbrush approaches—and we all accept that the assistance had to be put out there quickly to do the job, and it has been—in some cases things don’t go exactly as one might have anticipated or imagined. I’ve received some calls from the Ceduna district. Ceduna, of course, was the first place in Australia to get, and had the longest running trial of, the cashless welfare card, and the news when I was called was that we’d gone back eight or nine years and that there’d been an outbreak of antisocial behaviour. Could I come and have a look?
For the record, the reason that Ceduna and district ended up with the cashless welfare card came on the back of a coronial inquest in 2011, in which the coroner found that the deaths of six people in the age group of 33 to 43 between the years of 2004 and 2009 were as a result of alcohol abuse as the chief and common cause of death. He remarked at the time that Tank 18 camp just outside of Ceduna—which is where people were hanging out, where they were sleeping rough; a flat, desolate, pitiless area—led the Ceduna community. He gave a list of recommendations, many of which were adopted, around the sale of alcohol in Ceduna.
It also started Ceduna and districts on a pathway which eventually led them to the cashless welfare card, a card that was asked for by all community leadership groups in Ceduna. The card has had an outcome that has significantly improved the lives of many in Ceduna, the image of the town and the tourist outcomes, because some of the social issues that were dogging the town have been cleaned up—less abuse, less sleeping rough, and happier and quieter communities. I can remember an Indigenous leader saying to me one day: ‘I get all the figures. I get all the numbers and I read it, and it’s good. But the whole place just feels like a better place.’ I get that commonly.
The reports of recent times that we’ve seen an outbreak of sleeping rough, of alcohol abuse, of drunkenness and of antisocial behaviour just happen to go hand in glove with the government actions of increasing the cash flow to a whole lot of people across Australia, but in this case those on the cashless welfare card. I think perhaps we’ve had the same kind of issues in other communities. Let it be said that those government payments are highly valued and making a great deal of good difference in a lot of families, but in some cases it’s causing trouble.
Of course, if you’re on the cashless welfare card and you’re on Newstart allowance at $489.70 a fortnight, or close to $540 if you have children, 80 per cent of that goes onto the cashless welfare card and 20 per cent—or just under $100 a fortnight—is available in cash. That means it can be used on drugs, alcohol or gambling services. With the $550 supplement for JobSeeker, that amount increased to $220 a fortnight. That buys you a few cartons of beer or whatever. This was coupled with the fact that a number of these people had had jobs in the past and were able to access superannuation payments, and for quite a number they had been in lockdown for two to 2½ half months with little ability to spend the money that was due to them. It all came due at once and it led to these antisocial outbreaks. I think the links are clear, and we need to keep our eye on the ball.
House adjourned at 20:00