Mr PASIN (Barker) (12:33): I rise to speak on the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020. For some context, I should say that I was lucky enough to grow up in a household with incredibly loving parents—parents who would go without even the basic things just so that I could have access to the things that perhaps, in hindsight, I didn’t even need. With the benefit of hindsight from the ripe old age of 43, I look back and I can see that it was a sheltered upbringing and one that caused me to be somewhat naive in terms of my perspectives on life.
Fast forward past a university qualification in the law and some time in a commercial law firm in Adelaide, all the way to a young lawyer returning—principally because of homesickness—to Mount Gambier and working in the criminal law. I’ve got to tell you that my naivety was immediately smashed.
As a young practitioner in the criminal law, in the very same community that I’d grown up in—in that very loving and protected environment—I had occasion to be exposed to families with young children that were completely different to mine. There were young children who were incredibly vulnerable. Because of the parents’ use and abuse of alcohol or other drugs or because of the parents’ other predilections, including gambling, the very simple needs of those children were not being met. I am still scarred by those occasions when I had to sit with a very young child as I went through their parents’ phone—while their parents, who I couldn’t get out on bail, were in custody—ringing relatives in the hope that they would come and look after that young child. I was the young lawyer who would have to sit in a cell with a child who had committed a dishonesty offence at a supermarket and have them honestly break down to me and say that they committed that offence because they were hungry. That’s why I say that my naivety was smashed at that point, and I became aware of a broader context of life where, unlike my parents, there were those in the community who weren’t appropriately caring for their children and, indeed, weren’t able to.
I came into this place seven years ago alongside the members for Hinkler and Durack, and, of course, I have known the member for Grey for a very long time. I know them to be people who know their communities and are deeply connected to their communities in the way that I’d like to think I am, too. When I speak to them about the cashless debit card initiative, all of them tell me—and I see that in terms of their passionate advocacy—that nothing has done more to support a change in cultural attitudes and, indeed, outcomes for young people in their electorate than this. I know, in the case of the member for Grey—whom I’m particularly close to, given the geography of our respective seats—that this is something that he will campaign passionately for on every occasion.
I think we need to accept that our nation has one of the most generous social safety nets in the world, but no level of social safety net can support a child in need if those with the financial resources courtesy of that safety net seek to use that money for things other than food and the necessities of life. I don’t begrudge—and nor do those of my constituents that I speak to—the provision of support to Australians in need via that generous social safety net, but it is for the essentials of life. It’s not to support a drug habit, it’s not to support a gambling predilection and it’s certainly not to support the kind of harm that the abuse of alcohol can deliver. So it stands to reason, doesn’t it, that, if we create a mechanism whereby the overwhelming majority—80 per cent in this case—of that social safety net needs to be used on the necessities of life, then it’s incongruous to argue that that doesn’t lead to better outcomes for the children I was speaking of earlier.
That’s not to say that every child in a vulnerable situation everywhere in this country is vulnerable because their parents abuse alcohol or drugs or other things, but there is a significant cohort.
Can I address the allegation from those opposite that this is in some way racially discriminatory. I’ll just call it out: it’s complete rubbish. This program applies equally to anyone in receipt of welfare in these geographical areas. So, if you want to call it discriminatory, call it discriminatory on the basis of geography. Don’t call it out as discriminatory on the basis of race. That really is playing the race card, and it’s wrong. I know that the member for Hinkler, the now Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia, would say that, and that’s why the rollout of the program in his community was so, so important.
As I said, my view on this policy is informed by my discussions with the Minister for Defence Industry, representing the communities in Durack. It’s informed by the member for Grey, representing the community in Ceduna. It’s informed by the minister for resources. It’s also informed by the member for O’Connor, who is equally passionate about this issue.
As to the member for Lingiari, who kept suggesting that there was no evidence, saying, ‘Show me the evidence’: I heard him say, ‘I’ve never supported this proposal and I never will.’ That doesn’t sound like someone who’s willing to accept the evidence and come to an evidence based decision. That sounds like someone who has a preconceived opinion of this particular approach and isn’t going to move, and the same criticism may well be made of some on this side. But, as I say, my strong views in relation to this are informed by my background. I expect I’ve dealt with more drug addicts, gambling addicts and alcoholics than anyone else in this place, just because my profession, before I came to this place, brought me into close contact with these individuals, many of whom, I’ve got to say, by the time I had an engagement with them professionally, were just so keen to be rid of those vices and would have taken any assistance to get to a better and safer outcome for them.
In addition to listening to the members I’ve mentioned who have that direct, close connection to communities who are subject to these trials and now will be subject to the will of this House—subject to this program, going forward—I just want to read some personal reflections from people impacted, because they say much more than I ever could. One says: ‘Alcohol by far is the biggest issue in our community. Across all communities, it creates much more harm and social problems and financial and legal problems. Absolutely, alcohol has remained our primary drug of concern in our treatment services for the last four years. It has affected sales through the bottle shop because they can’t use it at the pub, but they can use it at the deli so they are in there more and over at the supermarket, buying food instead of alcohol. It helps make the town a little better. They’re not spending so much money on alcohol and they’re actually looking after their kids.’
Another says: ‘The town seems quieter on Friday and Saturday nights in my neighbourhood, which is a hotbed for alcohol related issues. Less yahooing, less cop sirens, less bottle smashing, less arguments—these are things I’m observing in my neighbourhood, and my neighbourhood was considered the hotbed for that type of behaviour over the last 20 years and had a very notorious reputation for very unruly behaviour.
I’d say that the general care, like the basic care of a child, I think, is better—food, shelter and clothing.’
The shadow minister interjected before, saying, ‘But what about job creation?’ I’ve got to tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, not everything we do in this place is about jobs. This is a welfare measure. This is about making sure the welfare dollars that are provided in support of Australians in need create an environment in which the necessities of life are attended to. I can’t see anyone on the other side suggesting a different course. If someone wants to drink alcohol and wants to gamble—both things which are legal in this country, particularly, of course, for adults—then, under this system, there’s no reason that they can’t. But what we’re doing is limiting their access to alcohol and gambling by limiting the amount of welfare payments that can be available in cash. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. And I don’t think that that 80-20 split is unreasonable.
We hear those opposite all the time telling people in this place—and outside it—that the welfare payments that are received by those in receipt of Newstart, now JobSeeker, are historically, and indeed even now, inadequate. I just find that position incongruous with their position on this issue. If it’s inadequate, at 100 per cent, for the necessities of life, then surely you accept the concept that hypothecating 80 per cent of it for those necessities is reasonable.
This is by no marker an easy measure; I appreciate that. But nor is sitting with a young child and going through their parents’ phone trying to find someone to look after them tonight because workers at family and youth services don’t work after five o’clock. Nor is it easy to sit down with a young person who’s just been to Woolworths and stolen food and have a conversation with them about the law and explain to them why they’re in the predicament they’re in and their peers are at school and off to play sport this afternoon. None of this is easy, but it’s right. It’s right that young people are supported in families that are subject to the support of the Commonwealth via welfare payments. It’s right that that support makes it to the breakfast table, not the bookie’s bag; the breakfast table, not the bottle-o; the breakfast table, not the drug deal.
I commend the bill in its original form to the House. I oppose the amendment and I ask those opposite to think about those children when they make statements in this place about the community not wanting this measure.