Mr RAMSEY (Grey) (21:07): I must say, as I stand here today as the member for Grey but also the member for Ceduna, how saddened, deeply apprehensive and angry I am about the gutting of the cashless debit card.
To understand the origin of the cashless debit card, I think the House needs to know about the South Australian deputy coroner’s report in 2011 by Anthony Schapel, investigating the six and then seven deaths close to the Ceduna township, all related to alcohol abuse. He wrote at the time of the ‘severe intractable culture of excessive alcohol consumption’ amongst transient Aborigines. Further, he said:
They bring with them their sicknesses and morbidities, all aggravated by continual self-neglect and the excessive consumption of … cheap alcohol.
He said of 18 Tank, near Ceduna, which was the unofficial campsite chosen by the visitors, that it was a ‘flat, desolate and pitiless area’ with ‘numerous discarded plastic wine cask bladders and containers littering the ground’.
I can inform you, Deputy Speaker Claydon, that that is not the Ceduna of today. It is a vastly changed community. There were a number of measures introduced in the wake of the deputy coroner’s investigation. It was not long after that investigation that, firstly, the blue card was introduced as a voluntary and directed measure in Ceduna, and then, not long after that, there was the cashless debit card. It has undoubtedly made a huge difference. I know the government disputes this.
Firstly, let me thank the Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth, for coming to Ceduna at my request and actually speaking to the groups who were proponents of the card, and a number of individuals around the town—not all, but she spoke to most of the ones I suggested she speak to. She allowed me to sit in on the meeting with the council. But, unfortunately, Minister Rishworth did not come to Ceduna—for the first time, on her first trip ever to Ceduna—to discuss whether the card could continue, or whether it was doing a good job. She came to discuss what it was the government would do to wind up the card and what extra services the community thought were needed. In the meeting I sat in on, someone suggested some financial counselling, and she leapt on that, saying, ‘Well, yes; that would make a great difference.’ I suspect it will not make a great difference. Alcoholics and drug addicts aren’t particularly interested in financial counselling. But I wish her luck.
More concerningly, the Minister for Indigenous Australians, before she was a minister, came to Ceduna on three occasions, and on all of those occasions she made it clear she did not wish to meet with either Ceduna council or the Far West Aboriginal Communities Leaders Group. This is the group of chairmen—elders, if you like—of each of the isolated communities and their CEOs. They have been a tower of strength through this process of introducing the card. Of course, not 100 per cent of their communities have been in favour of it, but they’ve seen the benefit. They’ve seen the benefit of the associated programs, and they’ve walked with the government hand in hand.
They are, though, completely fatigued from having to continually fight to keep this card. We’ve been through two extensions of the card, and, the last time, we—that’s the former government—tried to make it permanent. It was denied by the Labor Party, the Greens and a number of crossbenchers in the Senate. So we got a two-year extension. So, regardless of how this bill is decided this evening, the card is actually due to wind up on 31 December anyhow, without an extension. And they have been champions of the cause. They believe in it. But they are exhausted by the process.
How do we know what will happen when the card goes? Well, on a couple of occasions—two?—there’s been a flush of cash come in. The latest one, of course, was the doubling of the JobSeeker payments during the COVID outbreak, and, while only 20 per cent was coming through to them in cash, it was a doubling in cash. On the other occasions, it was a pensioner bonus that went into the community—$750, if I remember rightly—and that led to an influx of people coming in from the remote communities and, as Anthony Schapel said, bringing with them ‘their sicknesses and morbidities’, and hitting the grog in Ceduna and lying around in a stupor or fighting in the streets—and scaring the tourists away, I must say; that’s one of the nasty side-effects. The word goes out pretty quickly, I can tell you: ‘Don’t go to Ceduna.’ Ten years ago in Ceduna, we had bars on most of the windows. We don’t have that anymore.
Labor, the government, is fond of saying that the latest auditor’s report does not give a complimentary review of the scheme. What it does not do, though, is recommend its closure. What it does not do is find that it is not working. In fact, it says that it is meeting the targets on most of the criteria that it was expected to do. What it does find, though, is that it is not sufficiently well assessed to actually verify in numbers that it is working. I think this is a failure of the department that it has not devised tools that are better at measurement. And not enough base-mark measuring was done at the inception of the card.
But so many of these things are almost impossible to measure. How do you measure whether children are coming to school better fed or not? How do you measure whether or not their mum or grandma has been beaten up in the last 24 hours to get her money? How do you measure whether there are lower levels of violence in a household? These things are largely not reported. I mean, we know what is reported. Only a fraction is reported, and we know from a whole lot of studies—not just in Indigenous communities, but it’s even more so in Indigenous communities—that they are reluctant to go to the police. How do we know what those effects are on the growth of that child and the way they then treat their family in 10 or 20 years? These things are almost impossible to measure.
What I do know is that when I walk around Ceduna I find trouble finding people who are opposed to the card. I walked into a school recently, and I spoke to three or four people. They were all horrified that the current government was going to stop the card. They thought it would have a serious deleterious effect on the school. I’ve previously told the story of a woman, who was probably middle-aged—I’d say she was elderly; I don’t want to offend her! She grabbed my arm one day and she said, ‘I didn’t want this card, but don’t you let them take it away now.’ What she was telling me was that it was a buffer against the violence in her family and gave her the ability to stand up: ‘I don’t have money, mate. It’s no good beating me.’ Another young gentleman said to me: ‘I’ve read all the numbers. I’ve seen the surveys. But I can tell you it just feels like a whole lot better place.’ When I went there early on, when we were looking at the introduction of the card and I took a minister to Ceduna, we went to the drying-out centre and the staff there were telling me that the previous night a woman who was 8½ months pregnant and couldn’t stop vomiting for six hours had been there. Imagine how that child is today.
I give great credit to the former mayor, Allan Suter. He says the PM and the two responsible ministers will be held accountable for what this will do in our community, especially to women and children. The community is scared about what’s going to happen. The Indigenous people in the community are scared. All of the community are very, very tentative about the future. The minister says she will put in different safeguards. I don’t know what they are, and I think it would be a good idea if she trotted them out before the House before this bill goes through. I’m very sad I’ve only got 10 minutes to speak about this. I have so much more I could say.