Statements by Senators – Cashless Debit Card

Senator Matt O’Sullivan:  A significant period of my professional life, and now in parliament, has been dedicated to the cashless debit card program and working to improve the employment outcomes for disadvantaged people across Australia. I’ve seen the difference that both the CDC and a job make in the lives of individuals, their children, families, and the strength of communities in which they live. I’ve seen what it’s like for someone who gets their first fortnight’s salary deposited into their bank account. I’ve seen the change in their demeanour when they come home after a day of work, knowing that they’re supporting their family and contributing to their community. I’ve seen what happens when, all of a sudden, families can participate in all the wonderful things that 21st-century life provides. It changes them. It creates opportunities, and, importantly, it’s contagious.

As a government, we can be, and should be, backing the same outcomes for more families reliant on welfare. The cashless debit card is a circuit-breaker; it’s not a destination. But it’s working. For many, it’s the critical first step in helping them get ready to enter employment. It’s designed to rein in alcohol abuse, drug use and gambling, which take hold of far too many individuals on welfare payments. It helps to get them back on track and positions them to take up training and a job.

If you listen to the loudest voices in this place and online, what you’ll see are hordes of academic and social media activists hell-bent on trying to undermine the ability of trial site communities to determine their own futures. And based on the loudness of these voices you’d think that if you were a supporter of the cashless debit card, like I am, that you’d be run out of town when you go and visit one of these communities, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. If you actually get out onto the ground in these regions, like I have, and spend time with them and listen to them, what you see is a completely different story, and that’s because they can see the change that it’s making. Shop owners will tell you that they’re seeing a noticeable increase in people purchasing groceries, fresh fruit and vegetables and items for school lunches. Locals will tell you that school attendance appears to be increasing and participation in kids’ sport is going up, and the figures of how many transactions that have been blocked on items like alcohol, gambling and attempted cash withdrawals demonstrate just how much money which would usually be spent on these things is flowing back into the community. For example, in the goldfields alone we’re talking $2.5 million. That’s an additional $2.5 million which would have been spent on blocked items that can be diverted to spending on bills and on all the types of things that support the families and individuals on welfare.

It’s important to note as well that this is just the value of the declined transactions at merchants that would sell these products and not the full value of money which would have been diverted from changed behaviour—people who don’t buy those products because they already know that they can’t. These results are exciting because they are just the start.

To bolster the impact of the card and the wraparound services which support it, the Morrison government announced a $30 million job-ready package for trial site communities, which I am very proud to be leading. My primary focus has always been and remains getting people into meaningful, long-term employment, especially in regional and remote Western Australia where much of our economic growth comes from. I unashamedly self-proclaim myself as the senator for jobs. That’s my big focus here. I’ve seen the difference that a job makes in someone’s life, and, as I said, the cashless debit card is not a destination. It might be proving to be a more responsible delivery of welfare payments, but it’s not the destination that we want for people that aspire for greater things for their lives and for their families.

Every person, no matter where they are in this great country of ours, should have the best possible opportunity to share in the fruits of our economic success, and this $30 million package will go some of the way to ensure that those who most need the support get the services that they need on the ground. The support that this program provides will be targeted. It will be tailored as much as possible to each individual and community in which they live. Every community has different challenges. They have different needs, different industries, jobs, training and skills demands. We know that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this challenge. It requires a grassroots and granular approach, and I’m confident that the work that we are now doing will pay dividends for these communities.

Measures may take the form of additional wraparound services to assist participants to stabilise their lives to courses to improve skills such as financial planning as well as specific training opportunities to ensure that participants have the skills to capitalise on employment opportunities that exist within the community. We’re engaging with employers, finding out from them what skill requirements they have. These are employers that are prepared and willing to provide these opportunities, but they must make sure that individuals have the skills so that they can be productive, so that they can go about their work with the skills that are necessary to complete their jobs and, importantly, to operate safely. That’s why training is so important.

The rollout of this package will take all of this into account and actually deliver what each site would want to see. We’re listening to the people on the ground and working with them to plug the gaps that locals have too often fallen through. There are so many silos that are involved in all the different services and ranges and programs that people engage with. What we know is that long-term unemployed people have actually mastered the art of slipping through the cracks, and there are too many gaps that exist between all the different services and programs that are delivered. What we need to do is to make sure that there is a cohesive, connected system that enables someone to address their barriers to employment, trains them for jobs that actually exist and connects them with employers so that they can take up that meaningful employment. These are the opportunities that we’re creating.

Now, I’m not sitting here in my Parliament House office, coming up with great ideas and telling people what they need or should be doing, and nor is Minister Ruston. We’re actually getting out and listening to people and working to deliver what they want to see and what they believe will work for their regions.

Along with the cashless debit card, this approach is well received. What isn’t, though, are the loud voices of keyboard warriors on social media and on universities campuses, who actually haven’t taken the time to engage with communities or genuinely understand where they’re coming from, because, if they did, they would see that these communities have tried everything. Many of the challenges that they face are not particularly new. What we’re doing, in partnership with them, is providing them with the tools that they need to make the change that they want to see in their regions, to empower them, in their home towns where they and their families live and often have lived for many generations—communities that they are intensely passionate about improving.

As a government, we have an obligation to taxpayers and to those on welfare to ensure that Australia’s social security safety net is delivered in a responsible way. The cashless debit card should never be a destination. Welfare should not be a lifelong sentence, and nor should it be the foundation for social or societal issues to develop. So, along with providing welfare payments, we should also be giving people the tools that they need to get off those payments.

For some of these regional and remote communities, the challenges—which, in some cases, have been around for generations—will require a bit of out-of-the-box thinking and a new approach. So this further investment will help communities to bridge the gap between welfare and work, putting the measures in place that they believe will work on the ground for locals. It’s targeted and it will represent what locals have been telling us they need.

So I thank the Prime Minister and Minister Ruston for putting their confidence in me to steer this program, and I commend the government for taking this approach. The future of these regions and the program is exciting.