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Motion: Select Committee on Poverty Final Report

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:31): I move:

That the report of the select committee be noted.

I rise to note the final report of the Select Committee on Poverty in South Australia. The select committee was formed in May 2018 for the purpose of inquiring into and reporting on poverty in South Australia, particularly its extent, nature and what practical measures could be implemented to address it.

Such a topic is, of course, a grand undertaking and so I would like to acknowledge and thank my fellow members who sat on this committee who remain within this parliament: the Hon. Frank Pangallo, the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos, the Hon. Russell Wortley, the Hon. Terry Stephens and, previously on the committee, the Hon. Justin Hanson. I would also like to thank the hardworking committee staff and, in particular, our most recent research officer, Mary-Ann Bloomfield.

The committee received a grand total of 72 written submissions and saw 17 witnesses in this last tranche of work across Adelaide and Ceduna. This particular third report makes 16 recommendations which aim to address issues of poverty within South Australia and, in particular, looking to the Ceduna region where the cashless debit card trial has been underway for some time.

The submissions and evidence we received painted a resounding picture of the failure of the cashless debit card in this region. It was demonstrated to the committee that the cashless debit card trial not only failed to achieve its goals but, in fact, lessened the quality of life for its participants. The trial was rolled out to address the issues of alcohol, drugs, gambling, financial planning and money management as well as crime and family violence, health and wellbeing. These were the purported aims.

However, the committee found little evidence that the trial helped curb any of these issues. In fact, the committee found the Orima evaluation used by the government, the federal government, to claim the trial had been successful so far included inflated and skewed data simply to justify the continued existence of the trial. Instead of helping the people around the Ceduna region, the committee found that the trial further entrenched the stigma behind poverty within the region and made the purchase even of essential goods difficult and stressful.

Witnesses reported feeling as though they had no autonomy or control over their lives. Such feelings have been linked to an increase in mental health problems for those placed on the trial. The committee also heard many reports, particularly of Aboriginal people, feeling targeted and discriminated against by the manner in which the scheme was implemented. One witness told the committee that the cashless debit card was yet another version of Aboriginal people being 'in chains', only those chains are a 'little grey card'.

The cashless debit trial also failed to take into account many of the realities of living in poverty in our state, as seen in its assumed access to and knowledge of the needed technologies. It also neglected to address the underlying societal issues that lead to and reinforce poverty. Despite all of these failures, the trial has of course been extended several times, much to the detriment of this community. For these reasons, the committee has recommended that the government of South Australia, through the national cabinet, call on the federal government to end the cashless debit card trial in Ceduna by the end of next year, not to continue this trial.

The region of Ceduna struggles heavily with the burden of poverty, and it is currently not being supported by the government in the way it needs. The submissions and witness statements we received echoed this, pointing to a variety of measures that the government of South Australia ought to take to assist in alleviating poverty in the area. This would be far more effective than the cashless debit card trial has been.

These measures include the development and implementation of a long stay drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre in the Ceduna region as opposed to forcing people to travel long distances. The current closest centre is quite a distance away. As well as this, additional and continued funding and support needs to be invested in the existing programs in the region.

Housing and homelessness were identified by the committee as a large issue for this region, and it is essential that there be an increase in public housing tenancies. The committee was advised that a specific proportion of this housing should be designated for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander residents, who are disproportionately impacted by poverty in this region—indeed, across the country. Further focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander residents is also needed at multiple levels, and this was frequently raised with the committee.

The committee explored recommendations that the government be willing to work with community leaders, with elders, with the community as a whole, in the development of future plans for the region. The committee particularly explored the development of further employment opportunities within this region. It was recommended that the government work with the Indigenous community to develop training courses, employment programs and, of course, the unique tourism opportunities that would help not only with skill development and creating jobs but also make it easier for Ceduna's Aboriginal population to lead good and fulfilling lives.

On behalf of the committee I sincerely thank those stakeholders and interested parties who took part, whether they presented as witnesses or prepared submissions. We certainly appreciated their time and expertise. This report is a small step towards improving the lives of those living in poverty; however, there is so much more work to be done. It is a step towards listening to their voices and needs, rather than prescribing compulsory income management as a panacea. We know that particular approach has further entrenched the impacts and stigma of poverty.

As a state, as members of parliament, we need to take a human approach to poverty and recognise that the wide range of factors that influence and feed into the poverty cycle are not intractable, that we can help empower people to combat it. I believe this government can truly make a difference for the people of Ceduna and do the right thing in opposing the cashless debit card continuing in our state, instead prioritising the needs of the community and making good on the agreements and promises that were made to this community in exchange for the implementation of this trial. With that, I commend the report to the council.

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