Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Opposition Whip) (17:36): I’m grateful for the member’s comments. I also support the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management Reform) Bill 2023, which provides an improved card to replace the BasicsCard, it must be said. However, the tragedy is that the SmartCard is, by any measurement, a direct replacement for the cashless debit card; it’s just without the compulsory component.
As it’s just been explained to us, about the only thing different is its colour and its name; it’s now the SmartCard. Even the technology is provided by the same provider, Indue. You, Deputy Speaker Buchholz, and other members would have heard government members railing against this injustice that the government should be wasting its money—millions of dollars—with a private provider, Indue. When they’ve tried to come up with a new card themselves, they’ve had to retreat to use Indue to provide the technology to run the card. For goodness sakes! It is beyond comprehension that they didn’t think to check those details before they threw rocks at the glasshouse. After trashing the card—this is the cashless debit card—last year, it’s back. Or it’s going to be back—hopefully, if they can ever get it organised—with a different colour and a different name. It reminds us of that great mistake the government has made—that is, the abolition of the cashless debit card. It is, without doubt, a graphic example of ideology overcoming reality.
When this was being proposed by the minister I made some warnings, and I’ll come to those in a minute. On the weekend I picked up the Weekend Australian—as, hopefully, another three or four hundred thousand Australians did—and there was an article by Ellen Whinnett, to whom I’m indebted; thanks, Ellen. She had been out to Ceduna and talked to lots of people on the ground to get a handle on what is happening there. I remind the House that Ceduna was the first community in Australia to stick its hand up to take on the cashless debit card, and it’s been a very good period of time in Ceduna as that place has improved under it. This is what she found:
South Australian police data show 111 offences were recorded in Ceduna—population 3000—in January. This is almost double the number of offences being recorded monthly when the card, which quarantined 80 per cent of welfare payments for some vulnerable recipients—was abolished four months ago, and is almost triple the crime rate of the previous January.
That was when the card was in place. Now, I didn’t want to mislead the House, so I checked the police statistics and confirmed that those numbers are correct. There are some more numbers they provided. When Chris Lovell addressed Ceduna council he noted that police had been tasked 422 times in December, when there were 146 victim-reported crimes and 42 people arrested. In January police were tasked 418 times, and there were 200 victim-reported crimes and 50 arrests. Between 1 February and 3 March Ceduna police had been tasked 381 times, with 138 victim-reported crimes and 25 arrests. That’s in three months. About 1,200 tasks would be one in three people if it were somebody different every time, for a population of a bit over 3,000. They are appalling statistics, and the crime of it is that those numbers weren’t happening when the card was in place.
When I asked Minister Rishworth in this House about the deterioration of social behaviours in Ceduna, she said that Ceduna had been dealing with a funeral on the day she was there, so that’s why there were fights. Of course you have fights at funerals. In the Goldfields she said there were too many visitors. In East Kimberley she said there was a flood—not in response to my question but at various times. You can’t explain this stuff away. These were the very things I warned the minister about before the government made this move. I said, ‘You will own the result.’ I warned her privately, I warned her in this place, in the House, and I warned the government in the press when I put out press releases, spoke on radio and whatever. These numbers I’ve just given to the House are exactly what I predicted would happen. It doesn’t give me any solace to say, ‘I told you so.’ I am grieving for this community, which is dealing with some serious issues here. In the period before we had the cashless debit card in Ceduna, many of the shops, at least in the main street, had bars over the windows. Over the four years of the card those bars disappeared, but they’re coming back. I understand the butcher’s shop main window has been broken three times.
To give people a bit of an understanding of what’s happening, a personal story on the ground, I’m going to do something I don’t normally do in the chamber. I’m going read a letter from Allan Suter. Allan was mayor of Ceduna when the cashless debit card was introduced. He was appalled by the carnage that had happened over there, the six untimely deaths caused by alcohol consumption that led to a state coroners report. Of course that eventually led us firstly to the BasicsCard and then to the cashless debit card. While he’s the former mayor, he still lives there and he is still vitally interested in what happens in his community. I’d like to thank him for the work he did through that period of time. This letter will take a little while to read out, but I’ve got time to do it and I think it’ll be worth the House’s time to hear it:
We are experiencing a growing problem within Ceduna partly due to the cancellation of the cashless debit card. At the same time, we have a very good situation with our local Ceduna/Koonibba Indigenous population because of their capable leadership and generally excellent relations with local people. Almost all trouble is caused by people from remote communities who are predominately in Ceduna to drink and have absolutely no concern for this community.
Many of these visitors have abandoned housing and children in their communities to sleep rough in Ceduna in order to cater for an addiction to alcohol, gaming or drugs. There are unsupervised gangs of children roaming in those communities.
In the past weeks our next-door neighbour has had his home broken into 3 times. Our whole neighbourhood has endured sleepless nights because of drunken revelry. Our local golf course and adjacent land has numbers of rough sleepers and in some areas is more like a rubbish tip than anything else. At times our central business area is inundated with visitors waiting for an opportunity to get a drink, humbug people or whatever. We are spending $13,500.00 on security shutters on our house because it seems necessary for the first time after 44 years living here. We would like to see this repaid to the many locals who also have needed to instal security since the card was cancelled.
Tourists are advising all who will listen to avoid Ceduna at all costs because it is dangerous. I heard such a discussion in Streaky Bay between a group of young visitors who were going west. During last week we had 42 homeless people arrive on a bus with no arrangements to accommodate them and I strongly suspect the cost was covered by a government agency or by a government funded agency. These people were camped in the Adelaide parklands and were certainly not welcome visitors there.
I might add that this was during the festival of arts. He continues:
I believe that they may be here to attend a funeral, but they will remain in the longer term. This has solved a problem for Adelaide by dumping it on us.
I am concerned that the above trends will adversely affect Ceduna residents and that this may only be the “tip of an iceberg”. It is my opinion that many of these problems are being caused by Government funded agencies or Government agencies making it very attractive for visitors to stay in Ceduna in order to drink or cater for addictions.
Some examples of the problems and cause are as follows:
Free coffee is being provided by the Red Cross and others including Drug and Alcohol services. This is available all day and is provided in take away containers. This is leading to a major issue with litter and the containers are being used by many to surreptitiously consume alcohol in our dry area. This makes it extremely difficult for Police to enforce the dry area rules. It is also an attraction to visitors who are sleeping rough in order to be able to drink. I have written to Council suggesting that take away containers should not be given out and replaced by containers to be consumed and to remain on the premises.
There are 42 bodies providing services to these visitors and many (including me) believe that the level of services available are attracting growing numbers of visitors. The provision of free food and drink and other services certainly would appear to incentivise staying in town in order to drink, gamble or access drugs.
Most State Government Agencies, (particularly Health) operate behind a wall of secrecy and cite “privacy” as an excuse. The provision of general statistics has no implication about privacy and would greatly assist with the assessment as to where the problems exist yet are hidden from view. Why is this so?
Some agencies provide tents to rough sleepers despite the availability of accommodation provided at great cost to discourage rough sleeping. This accommodation is not used by some because they cannot drink there. I have photographs of a brand-new abandoned tent which appears to have been used once or twice before being left in an unusable condition.
We now have 2 groups of rough sleepers from Yalata camping illegally in Kuhlman Drive beside the Eyre Highway. This road is used by all heavy vehicles travelling along the highway together with many cars. The mess created by this camping area is disgraceful despite 2 thorough clean-ups by Council at the cost of local ratepayers. There is a high danger of a tragedy with heavily intoxicated persons sharing the highway with trucks and cars.
As a typical example of what our community is enduring at 10.14a.m. I saw four intoxicated persons pushing a purloined supermarket trolley containing an open carton of West End Draft cans together with a bag of other drinks (no food) while drinking from open cans of beer. This being in a dry area which is not respected by many of our visitors.
During dinner involving many locals I was told that quite a few decent citizens pick up rubbish from the foreshore and other areas every day. This was not necessary when the Cashless Debit Card was in place and is causing much resentment. I shudder to think what our town would look like if it was not for the efforts of good local citizens and Council. It was suggested we should send Minister Burney a bill to lighten the load on our community.
It would certainly seem that our efforts to protect rough sleepers may have the undesirable outcome that growing numbers are finding it better to sleep rough in Ceduna rather than remaining in community. This is harmful to women and children including the children left to roam community streets at night. It also has the effect of increasing drinking, gambling or drug taking. It may ultimately result in a tragic loss of life as has happened in the past. We did not have this level of problems whilst the cashless debit card was in place.
My suggestion is that the level of services provided to rough sleepers by Government Agencies and Government funded agencies should be reviewed as a matter of urgency with the aim of discontinuing those services which encourage rough sleepers to stay in Ceduna and achieve very little else. Providing such services within remote communities would be much more helpful.
If these issues are not addressed as a matter of urgency, many valued citizens may decide that Ceduna is no longer a great place to live.
That was written on 15 April.
I think that’s a very powerful letter. It is from someone who loves their community and has a very good relationship with the Indigenous community. Indeed, he worked very hard with the Far West Aboriginal Communities Leaders Group to build support for the card in the first place. Those leaders have been vocal in defence of the card in the past, but they are simply worn out. They are sick of having to fight the same battles. They have to come here to Canberra and fight the same battle for a decision that they have already made.
As a government, we put forward in the last parliament that this card should become permanent, but those who sit on the other side of this chamber now, the government, refused to back that point of view. Eventually, we got a short extension, just until they got into government and could cancel it. They made it one of their first actions in government to get rid of the card—to get rid of the card so people could drink more, gamble more and take more drugs! That was more important than a host of other things that the government had to do when they got into power. Quite frankly, they’ve created a hell of a mess.
I know Ceduna is not the only community dealing with this. We feel like we are going back further and further into a dark time. The resentment will build in the community among those good people who are doing the right thing but getting dragged down by these visitors who come in and just will not go back to the homes in their communities that we have provided for them.