Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management Reform) Bill 2023

28 March, 2023

This address is not only to this parliament, but it is to all of those people listening across Australia that actually listen to the broadcast of parliament. I think there is a whole lot more, from my experience. You listen to these addresses live. There were two addresses today that made a fine contribution to this debate. One was from the shadow minister himself, Mr Sukkar, member for Deakin. The other, from the opposition leader of the House, Paul Fletcher. They, as government ministers at the time, lived through the processes, the intricate policy statements and the criticism they received as government members for what they put in place with regard to the cashless debit card at that time. Because I was only an observer—why was I an observer? I have great respect for senators and members of this House. When they ask me, 'Why do you get on so well with Llew O'Brien? He's a nat.' He is a representative of his community. Why do I see the member for Dunkley re-elected? Because she has established herself very tightly with the community of Frankston and the surrounds that she represents. I reflect the electorate of Monash. I think I do—white cut for toast, bit thick.

Making a contribution to this debate is more than just consideration of some policy. It's actually about people's lives and how they live them. The passionate addresses by some in the House and what has conspired over these last few months after the election of this government has been a real eye-opener for me. It has been a great support for me, because what I have always done is listen to the members of parliament that represent their areas. I have great respect for the members of parliament that represent these areas, particularly the former member for Lingiari and the current member for Lingiari.

I don't know the new member very well, but I knew the previous member very, very well. Their commission was to bring the difficulties around Indigenous policy to the House.

Before the election—I've got to explain myself first, in saying this to you—I was not a supporter of bringing in the cashless debit card. I wasn't vocal about it, but I just wasn't a supporter of it, for the all the reasons to do with not interfering in people's lives. The best philosophy that I can live by is that Australians have equal freedoms in all that they do and in all government services, and I felt that that card was a restriction on those freedoms. But this is what the communities were asking for. This is what the members of parliament on my side and the Labor side were asking for. They said, 'This will work,' and they gave me the reasons that it would work.

I have Indigenous communities within my electorate. I try to address their concerns in everything that I do, but I listen to those that have got a lot of Indigenous people in their communities because they're the ones who are closest to the people and they're the ones who know who the strong Indigenous leaders are in their community. We have heard stories from both sides of the House about strong Indigenous leaders—in Ceduna, for instance, as we just heard from the previous speaker—yet before the election we had the then Labor opposition taking the very high moral ground on this issue, saying, 'We will abolish this card on coming into government.' And they did, until their own people came to them and said, 'We have made a terrible mistake.'

This is now what has been happening in our communities since that time, even though we put into place some hundreds of millions of dollars worth of support services. But, quite often, support services are putting ambulances at the bottom of the hill, delivering after the fact of the problem. We don't just do it in Indigenous affairs; we do it in lots of portfolios, where we say, 'Because we have this problem, we will put more ambulances at the bottom of the hill, rather than dealing with the issues within community that we need to deal with so we are not faced with this.'

To me, the Voice is a part of that, but you all know where I stand on that. This is what I will put to you: had we listened to the Indigenous representatives here in this House and in the Senate and had we listened to what their communities were saying, we wouldn't have gotten ourselves into the debacle that we now find ourselves in with this legislation, which is trying to roll it back and say, 'We'll give it a new name; we'll call it the SmartCard,' while the underlying thrust of the policy is exactly the same.

The member for Deakin, the shadow minister for social services, was criticised because he said, 'What's changed?' Well, what has happened in these communities is a change all right, and, as has been described by many members today, that change hasn't been just a little change. That change has been a quite destructive change. In fact, the change has been so great that it has exposed not only those being affected by the alcohol, violence, drugs, stealing and money being ripped off from one another, as was the case beforehand; it's actually affected the lives of the authorities—the police and the welfare agencies. You've put enormous pressure on the services that you have provided as well.

What are you going to do, have another intervention? How long, as has been explained here—even though you've now allotted another $150 million—just for the process to go through to put the new card in place? It's the same as the old card.

An opposition member:  Different colour.

Mr BROADBENT:  Different colour, different name. That's going to take quite some time to put in place. And there has been a question mark: are there enough people left in the services that the government provide to actually implement it? Have they got the expertise to implement it and how long will it take? How much damage is going to be done in those Indigenous communities before the card comes into play? Are there no interim arrangements? Can people not choose very quickly? Can community leaders in given communities say, 'We want our people to stay on the old card', or is it too late for that? Have they gone? I don't know. I don't think anybody knows.

What I know is the government has got itself into a terrible pickle and it's trying to put lipstick on the pig, and you can't. Go and ask any of the members of this House that have major Indigenous communities in their electorates. Go and ask them. Go and ask them what they think. Go and ask the member for Grey. Go and ask Mark Coulton. Go and ask what they think. They just might happen to know what they're talking about, because they deal with the Indigenous leaders in their communities. They know them as friends. They know them as colleagues in their community and they work with them. They always have. They're long-serving members. They understand the issues. I know—politicians don't understand anything! No! When we try to inflict upon the Australian communities things that we think should be done, from here in Canberra, how often does that fall in a hole? How often do you hear somebody say, 'Oh, we've had years of inaction here.' No, we haven't. We've been trying with the wrong policies for a long time. We have failed to listen to what Indigenous people say to us. We have failed to listen to what Indigenous communities say to us—failed. And the outcome is that something that was working quite well, as I hear from the members, is no longer working.

Mr Ramsey:  And supported by the community.

Mr BROADBENT:  And supported by the community—all the community, whichever colour they were. It was supported by all of them. There's always more to the story. My uncle Keith Skinner was the lighthouse harbour master pilot for Ceduna port. My Aunty Loris and Uncle Keith lived over there after he came off the Lighthouse Supply Ship Cape York as the deputy mate. He went to Ceduna and he brought all the ships into the harbour. I only ever heard these wonderful stories about this beautiful place—Ceduna—yet in this parliament today, what do I hear? I hear shocking stories about what's going on in Ceduna. I hear the complaints that are coming to members. I hear the difficulties that the police force and all the agencies that support the Indigenous communities are now having. That doesn't paint a beautiful picture of a wonderful city. That doesn't mean you should have guard fences and barbed wire for protection. That doesn't mean people are being exploited for their weaknesses.

Goodness! We do that right across Australia. What it does say to me is, 'We've made a mistake.' And no-one's been brave enough to say, 'Yes, we have made a mistake, and this is the legislation we're putting in place to fix it.' If that were the case, I'd be totally supporting you.

We're not opposing this legislation, but we are making the point that people with a certain ideology and process, within the parliament, make big commitments in election campaigns without addressing what the people actually need and want, and what a difference it's made in certain communities, and what a blessing it's been to a lot of women and children who were better off under the old scheme. Does anybody think of that? I'll say that again: women and children. They're real people; they bleed. They could be my kids or your kids. It could be your wife, your sister or your family. And what do Indigenous people hold most sacred? Family. What we can do for family, as a nation, is get on with this legislation. We can recognise we've made a mistake and get this over with as quickly as possible because we may just save one life.

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Russell Broadbent MP
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