“Getting back country, looking after country and getting control of the future...”

Cashless Debit Card opening statement

Nov 16, 2017

Nov 16, 2017

KLC Deputy CEO Tyronne Garstone and Deputy Chair Merle Carter recently appeared before the Community Affairs Legislation Committee regarding the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017.

Parliament House, Canberra, 2 November 2017

Tyronne Garstone, Deputy CEO, Kimberley Land Council

Chair and Committee members, Thank you for the opportunity to submit an opening statement supporting my attendance before the Committee as the deputy CEO of the Kimberley Land Council.

First, I would like to give you a brief overview of the Kimberley Land Council. Our organisation was established in 1978 following a dispute between Kimberley Aboriginal people, the WA government and an international mining company at Noonkanbah.

The KLC was set up as a regional community organisation to secure the rights and interests of Kimberley Aboriginal people in relation to their land, waters and significant places.

Today, the KLC continues to work for and with Traditional Owners to get back country, look after country and assist Kimberley Aboriginal people to take control of their future.

The East Kimberley, one of the two chosen trial sites for the Cashless Debit Card, is a key constituent of the KLC, with many of our members residing in the impacted towns of Wyndham and Kununurra. In the 18 months since the Cashless Debit Card was introduced, the KLC has noted significant and sustained political will to see the CDC policy work, continue and expand. In recent months, our region has received multiple visits by Australian politicians, including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion. Australian

Senators Jacquie Lambie and Skye Kakoschke-Moore also visited the region with the specific purpose of investigating the Cashless Debit Card, meeting with KLC Directors at our July Board meeting. The Senators had travelled to Kununurra and Wyndham with Generation One – an organisation funded by Andrew Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation. The cashless debit card is a key recommendation of Mr Forrest’s 2014 Creating Parity report.

This unprecedented political interest in the Kimberley region of Western Australia is in response to the perceived epidemic of substance and gambling abuse among Aboriginal people. In reality the 14,000 Aboriginal people, including children, who live in the Kimberley make up approximately 0.56 per cent of the entire WA population.

In designing an appropriate response to the problem of substance abuse and excessive gambling within a sector of the population, it is important that the scale of the problem is not confused with the number of people in the population who engage in these behaviours. The solution should fit the problem and address the harm caused, not indiscriminately impact on those who fit a particular profile.

While we acknowledge the widespread negative impacts of alcohol and drugs in the Australian community, it is evident that it is Aboriginal people and communities who are most often penalised by punitive, experimental and top-down policies regarding an issue that impacts the whole of society.

The government has taken what the KLC would characterise as a ‘sledgehammer’ approach, which does little to address the root cause of the issues faced by Aboriginal people, particularly those in the East Kimberley.

The KLC is further concerned that for those people who need assistance to overcome alcohol and drug dependence, the CDC has very little proven ability to improve lives or create meaningful change.

In 2014 the Federal Government announced its $5 million Empowered Communities program, promising Aboriginal people a “greater say and greater responsibility about how best to respond to local issues”. Only two years later, we see Empowered Communities being undermined by the implementation of the cashless debit card, and the views of those most affected, local Aboriginal people, sidelined by a government seemingly determined to implement a flawed policy.

In the East Kimberley, the cashless debit card was rolled out following little consultation with a select few. Miriuwung Gajerrong Corporation (MGC) Chairman Lawford Benning was one of four East Kimberley leaders who endorsed the implementation, but has since withdrawn his support. We acknowledge and support MG Corporation’s submission and earlier appearance in this inquiry.

Since the Cashless Debit Card’s implementation, there has also been significant criticism of the lack of associated support services in the East Kimberley region. This was confirmed during the KLC Board meeting in Kununurra in July, when Senator Jacquie Lambie said the East Kimberley had received inadequate “wrap-around” services, causing considerable issues with the effectiveness of the card’s roll out.

The Federal Government has cited two evaluation reports as its main evidence for its continuation of the card in the East Kimberley and Ceduna, as well as a further roll out in the Goldfields and Bundaberg/Hervey Bay regions.

We have significant concerns about the validity of these reports, the evaluation methods used and the communication of these reports to the wider Australian public.

Independent assessments of the ORIMA evaluation reports are critical. In two separate reviews, Deputy Director of the Australian National University Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Janet Hunt, identified “serious flaws” with the ORIMA evaluation.

In her first assessment Dr Hunt questioned the methodology of the ‘wave 1’ report and presented evidence that for 77 per cent of participants in the CDC trial there had been “no positive impact”. In her second assessment of the ‘wave 2’ evaluation, Dr Hunt said the report had ignored critical data, including a sharp rise in assault incidence reports in the East Kimberley.

Questionable results from income management policies are not new. Since the introduction of the Basics Card as part of the Northern Territory Intervention, there has been significant criticism of its effectiveness and of compulsory income management overall.

The 2014 Evaluating New Income Management in the Northern Territory report, came to the following conclusions:

  • Compulsory income management does not change spending patterns, including food and alcohol sales.
  • There is no evidence of any overall improvement in financial wellbeing.
  • Rather than building capacity and independence, for many the program acted to make people more dependent on welfare.

The KLC believes that despite the endorsement of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by Australia in 2009, the Federal Government has in fact implemented an income management policy that does not meet the fundamental requirements of this declaration.

We believe that the CDC policy serves as an unhelpful distraction from the many pressing issues facing Aboriginal communities in our region, such as the unrelenting suicide of our youth, lack of employment and economic opportunities, as well as widespread education failure.

Positive change will only occur when Aboriginal people are at the centre of the planning, design and delivery of policies that impact our people.

Conversely, government programs that are forced onto communities, such as the Cashless Debit Card, work to undermine Aboriginal people’s ability to take on accountability and develop local, appropriate and effective solutions.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said it is time for governments to do things with Aboriginal people, not to them. The government’s top-down approach to the enforcement of the CDC in the East Kimberley does not meet this commitment and is in fact the opposite of this sentiment.

A full copy of the KLC submission is available here.

Cashless Debit Card image credit: Department of Social Services website