Don't pay so you can read it. Pay so everyone can!

Don't pay so you can read it.
Pay so everyone can!

Buried in Winter Break: how they played the media over a hot report into the Cashless Debit Card

by Rex Patrick | Jul 8, 2024 | What's the scam?

What’s the scam with dropping the Cashless Debit Card report at 10pm on Friday night ahead of Parliament’s winter break while leaking it to the Guardian? Rex Patrick unveils the political and media hijinks.

Information is the currency of power in a democracy. That’s why the government likes to control the timing and form of access to information.

There has been a bit of that going on in the Senate in recent days over a very sensitive report that the Government had commissioned into the effects of killing off the cashless debit card.

We put an FOI request in for the report on June 5 after a phone call from Senator Jacqui Lambie. The report was due to be handed to MWM on Friday.

On Monday 1 July, Senator Lambie got the Senate to use its powers to order the Government to hand the report over.

On Tuesday 2 July, Minister Amanda Rishworth advised the Senate that she was “unable to produce the document requested in the time provided”, whatever that meant. Perhaps email was down?

cashless debit card

After not getting the document by the due date the Senate ordered the Minister for Social Security to attend the Senate chamber to make an explanation.

On Thursday July 4, Minister Tim Ayres fronted the Senate and repeated the same excuse – the Minister was unable to provide the document. About an hour of Senate time was used up.  

On Thursday night, the Senate adjourned for a five week sitting break. Phew, for Labor – they had dodged an uncomfortable bullet. 

What’s the scam?

The scam was revealed the very next day, noting this was the day our FOI was due.

At 2pm that afternoon the report was sent to Senator Lambie’s office. She and her staff were scattered all over the country and so the email wasn’t actioned.

Shortly thereafter the Government handed it to the Guardian who wrote a soft story on the report. The report was online later on Friday evening. Was the tactic to leak the controversial findings of the report to a news outlet which would handle its sensitive detail diplomatically?

Guardian headline on Cashless Debit Card report

Guardian headline on Cashless Debit Card report

At 10pm, just after this Transparency Warrior went to bed, the FOI team in the Department of Social Security FOI team released the document to us. Of course, the FOI team would still be in the office working at 10pm on a Friday night to diligently meet the FOI statutory time frame.

Was the Minister playing games to ensure the report was buried in the winter sitting break. Some might say she operated with contempt for the Senate – given earlier demands for production.

The strategy didn’t quite work as well as the Minister would have liked however with a harsher headlines to be found in the Sunday Telegraph and other Murdoch titles across the country.

Cashless debit card headlines in Murdoch press

Cashless debit card headlines in Murdoch press

This game-playing with media re-enforces the lack of trust people have in the government, be it Labor or Liberal, when it comes to openness and transparency. It serves to remind the public that the old parties are the same – caring more for the politics than the policy. 

Rex Patrick is a former Senator for South Australia and earlier a submariner in the armed forces. Best known as an anti-corruption and transparency crusader - www.transparencywarrior.com.au.

Don't pay so you can read it. Pay so everyone can!

Don't pay so you can read it.
Pay so everyone can!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This