Cashless Debit Card Trial
Posted on Tuesday, 5 September, 2017
Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (19:00): I'm sad to announce that I don't really have a great grievance! I'm more happy than anything this evening. That's because, last Thursday, the Minister for Social Services, Alan Tudge, tabled the final report on the Ceduna and East Kimberley cashless debit card. Wow, what great results! This is really life-transforming policy at work. I've got a long list of people to thank for getting us where we are, but congratulations to the Ceduna community. They have led the nation.
The report is on those two centres, as I said. There were 2,141 participants in total, with 794 of those in Ceduna. The trial was being assessed on three major criteria: reducing the use of alcohol, reducing the use of drugs and reducing gambling. The trial, on those accounts, has been a resounding success. There have been two surveys, the first one six months after the trial began and the second one at the 15-month mark, or nine months later. The first survey was good. The second is better, showing that the change of behaviour is sustained and broadened. It's a very interesting point for all the nay-sayers—and there have been plenty of them—who predicted that, once this cashless debit card became established, we would see sophisticated circumvention of it, that there would be easy and widespread avoidance of the card.
The 15-month report destroys this argument. Forty-one per cent of the participants reported drinking less. That is an outstanding outcome. Only 38 per cent of the participants reported that they drink alcohol weekly or more often, which is down from the 63 per cent reported at the six-month survey, which was almost certainly down from the period before the trial began. This is a very large and significant improvement. Forty-eight per cent of the participants reported that they use illegal drugs less often than they did previously. I think we need to dwell just a little bit on the impact of both alcohol and drugs on households and what it means for children and what it means normally for women—but it's not a one-way street when it comes to violence and dereliction of duty. But this is the acid that destroys families, quite frankly. I have, as I often say, all the remote Indigenous communities in South Australia on my patch, and, where these things are out of control, they are very, very bad.
It's also very important to note that this cashless debit card is not just about Indigenous disadvantage. It is about the whole community. Failures happen in the white community, the wider community, as well as they do in the Indigenous community. That is why Ceduna as a town has such an important role to play in this trial, because it's not an Indigenous town. Probably about 20 per cent of the population in Ceduna is Indigenous, yes, but the other 80 per cent is not. So it's important that people right across Australia realise that this is not just about Indigenous issues; it is about the whole of Australia and this group of people whose lives are out of control and need to be reordered and they need a little bit of help.
Similarly, 48 per cent reported that they are gambling less often. Poker machine revenues are down by 12 per cent across the area, but it comes with a large caveat because only 40 of the 143 poker machines reported on were in the trial area. That information was provided by the South Australian government. Why we can't get better figures, I don't really understand. There is one venue in Ceduna that has 40 poker machines and then the other machines are actually anything up to 200 kilometres away. So if we've got a 12 per cent reduction with only 30 per cent of the poker machines in the trial area, it doesn't take a huge amount of extravagant maths to extrapolate that the impact is probably far higher in the target area—more like a 40 or 50 per cent reduction—so that is a very big change and, for those families who are trapped in that gambling vortex, it changes their lives. Really importantly, 54 per cent of participants spend more than $50 a day on gambling less often than previously. I can't tell you how damaging gambling is, as I have already said. But the problem is, for low-income families, once the money is in the slot, it's gone. It's not available for food, it's not available for clothing and it's not available for rent or electricity. Anything that winds back this unnecessary family expense should be applauded.
There is a more ambiguous message on crime statistics. Apart from drunk driving and public intoxication, general crime has not much changed, but that's a great result anyhow if public intoxication and drunk driving are down. This is a quite important point because the nay-sayers' predictions were that crime would go up because, of course, these people would be deprived of alcohol and drugs and so they'd go on a crime spree to feed their appetite. In fact, that type of serious crime hasn't risen at all so I think that's quite an achievement in itself for those that predicted doom. We haven't had doom. There is no upswing on that side of crime and there is a downswing on those other issues.
There have been lower levels of alcohol-related hospital presentations. Alcohol-related counselling provided by Drug and Alcohol Services SA is presenting a very clear picture of the vastly changed circumstances in the Ceduna area and in the surrounding small communities in the trial area. The qualitative research shows that almost 40 per cent of parents and carers reported they spent more time helping their kids with school and homework. I mean, that just has to be good. That's the kind of thing that really does warm the cockles of my heart, quite frankly, because I know the best path to success for these young children is to get a good education and to be able to interact with the wider world. And where parents are involved, as with many households, it becomes second nature for parents to help their kids.
Unfortunately, there is a group in our society, not just in the Indigenous community, where parents are once again failing in that duty because they're down at the poker machines or in the pub or they are taking drugs. If we take that away from them and they're back engaging with their kids, that's a great result. There's been greater use of public facilities such as BBQs and parks. People are out with their families. The community perception is that violent and antisocial behaviour has fallen significantly. Forty-five per cent say they're now saving money. When you've dealt with this disadvantage—Mr Deputy Speaker Coulton, I know you have a similar cohort in some of your communities—it's quite outstanding that people on welfare are able to save money for when the fridge breaks down or for when the car gets a couple of flat tyres or whatever it might be. This is a very important move forward. Forty per cent report they're better able to care for their children.
A few resisters remain and it's no surprise. They claim to be discriminated against, but I think it's important to focus back on the objectives. Safe homes, particularly for children, are such an important thing. Functional families are such an important thing. I'm reminded of a very powerful message the Prime Minister delivered to us in the joint party room this morning. He said he was in Kalgoorlie last week and met with a community leader, a lady, who said to him, 'Those who oppose this card are wrong. They should look into the eyes of a young child who has been abused and into the eyes of one who lives in a house where drugs, alcohol and violence are the normal course of events.' I think that's a life-changing experience. If you look into their eyes, it will tell you something that the work thus far tells us: this is better than anything we have done before to help these people.
I would like to thank again the community leaders in Ceduna: people like Mick Haynes from the Ceduna Aboriginal Corporation, Corey McLennan from Koonibba Community Aboriginal Corporation, Sharon Yendall from Oak Valley, Wayne Miller, Bobby Larking from Scotdesco, Keith Peters, Mimi Smart, Desley Culpin from Yalata and, especially, the mayor of Ceduna, Allan Suter, who has been instrumental in bringing all parties together. Collectively, they have made this possible and their strength and leadership have produced this result. I said to them at the time, 'We will look back on this day in history and see this as a turning point for Australia.'