The Cashless Debit Card is not the right thing for us in the Northern Territory

03 February 2020


SUBJECT: Cashless Debit Card; Christmas Island coronavirus evacuees

KATIE WOOLF, 104.9 FM: Now we know that federal parliament resumes next week and joining us live in the studio to talk a bit more about what is on her agenda is Senator Malarndirri McCarthy. Good morning.

MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY: Good morning, Katie, and good morning to all your listeners.

WOOLF: Lovely to have you in the studio.

MCCARTHY: I love being in the studio. Thanks for having me in here.

WOOLF: I mean, you do have to be away so often.

MCCARTHY: Canberra. That's right. We're they pretty much, you know, feels like two weeks of the month, you know? It's half the year. So that's the reality of being in the Federal Parliament. But hey, you know, live representing the people of the Northern Territory.

WOOLF: For sure. Now before we get into what's happening next week in Parliament, I'm keen to ask, we know that Jacqui Lambie was recently in the Northern Territory learning more about the Cashless Debit Card legislation. How did that go? Was that something that you just sort of said, you know, gave her a bit of an invitation.

MCCARTHY: Yeah, no, look, thanks, Katie. It was really important for me to ensure that the crossbenchers were able to come and see what was going on in the Northern Territory. And just for the benefit of your listeners, in the Senate, we can have an opportunity to win if we get the crossbenchers on our side. And in this instance, because the Cashless Debit Card is going to impact 23,000 Territorians immediately and then obviously more if the legislation goes through, I invited Senator Lambie and also from the Centre Alliance party, Rebekha Sharkie to come up. Now Jackie Lambie took out the invite. Rebekha Sharkie agreed but unfortunately, there was the fires in South Australia. So she sent her staff. So at least she was represented. So I was really pleased that they came up and were able to just listen firsthand to people in the Northern Territory.

WOOLF: What did Territorians tell? Because we know that we've had a system operating for some time and it's not necessarily working.

MCCARTHY: That's right. So 22-23,000 people Katie are on the Basics Card here in the Northern Territory, which means 50% of your income is quarantined and the other 50% you can get in cash. If the Cashless Debit Card comes into being, then all of those people who are on the Basics Card will have 80% of their money quarantined and only 20% in cash. Now, it will affect immediately those 22-23,000 people, but it will also impact people who are on Newstart, people who are on Youth Allowance, Abstudy, Austudy. So it will impact all of those people if this legislation goes through. I have real concerns about it. I don't think it's the right way for us in the Northern Territory. It was certainly something that was proven in the Senate inquiry across the Territory. And it was important to get Jacqui Lambie here because her vote is really going to be the decider.

WOOLF: Just to get down to the nitty gritty of it. When we talk about, about this being quarantined about the Basics-- currently, we've got the Basics Card. But when we talk about this quarantining does it mean then that 50% of all that money would have to be spent on things like food and essentials?

MCCARTHY: Absolutely. So the Basics Card came in with the intervention in 2007. So those people who are on the Basics Card have had it for 13 years now. And you know, one of the things they were telling Senator Lambie is that: why change from this card to a new card, and there will no real answers given other than, well, you'll have 80% of your money quarantined and 20% you can get in cash. You can buy smokes, you can access pornography, you know, those things you can't do on the Basics Card. So I know that might sound odd to listeners, but if you understand the history of the Intervention, the Intervention came in with the intent of stopping people looking at pornography.


MCCARTHY: And now all of a sudden the Government's changed its policy. And I'm trying to understand well, why have you changed all that? You know, like--

WOOLF: Do they realise that?

MCCARTHY: Yeah, look, they did get caught out on that in Senate Estimates, when I did ask the Department, when was that policy decision made to to change that purchase? And they, you know, they shook their heads and said, well, there wasn't one.

WOOLF: Where do you reckon this is all going to land Malarndirri? Obviously, like you said, those crossbenchers they, you know, you've got the ability to change their mind. How did Jackie leave? Was she sort of... what were her thoughts?

MCCARTHY: All right, well, just to walk you through. We took her to Central Australia, so she was in Alice Springs. She certainly came out to Glen Helen area to -- we drive out there. We went out to places like Hart's Bluff, Papunya, and then flew up to Darwin so she had time up here, and then out to another Arnhem Land community, Milingimbi. And she then left here and went over to WA to meet with communities over there. Now, basically, the real message that came through was people were unaware of what was going on, unaware that the government wanted to roll this out. This is Prime Minister Morrison wants to roll this card out in April. And people were like, well, what, what's it all about? What's going on? And so Senator Lambie was quite furious really, when she realised that no one was aware because her understanding was from the Government, from Prime Minister Morrison and the Minister was that people were consulted and were aware and that was certainly not what Senator Lambie found out.

WOOLF: Well, there's no doubt that is going to be high on your agenda for next week when Parliament resumes. What else will you be really pushing for for the Northern Territory?

MCCARTHY: Yeah, look, I think in the immediate future we're obviously concerned about our constituents on Christmas Island. Christmas Island comes under the Northern Territory, Katie, so with the move to quarantine people on Christmas Island with Warren Snowdon, he's the member for Lingiari, we've certainly been made aware that the residents there - and there's around 1800 people who live there - are asking a lot of questions. So there's lots of questions I need to ask on their behalf.

WOOLF: Yeah, they're a bit worried. As I understand it, there's some pregnant women there. There's also some young children. They're a bit worried that this coronavirus could have an impact aren't they?

MCCARTHY: Well, there are families there just like any town, you know, about what 1800, that's around the size of Nhulunbuy, and so you've got a genuine family grouping of people who live there all the time. And we represent them as federal members. So they're questions I need to put the federal health minister and others just about how the residents who live on Christmas being informed? And who can they go to get answers? How will they be treated separately to those who are going to be brought there? For quarantining?

WOOLF: Interesting stuff and no doubt we'll hear plenty more next week. Senator for the Northern Territory, Labor Senator for the Northern Territory, Malarndirri McCarthy always great to speak with you, but great to have you in the studio this morning.

MCCARTHY: Thanks Katie. And can I just add that I'm enormously proud of our Northern Territory health area because of the critical care unit. And I'll be actually heading out there to have a look and I just want to commend our people in the Northern Territory who always step up and above, for such a small jurisdiction, we really push above our weight.

WOOLF: Yeah, they do a phenomenal job don't they? Well, Malarndirri McCarthy, good to speak to you.


SUBJECT: Cashless Debit Card; Christmas Island coronavirus evacuees