Media Release: Labor turns its back on welfare fuelled alcohol and drug abuse

5 December 2017

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services

Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge today condemned the Labor Party for opposing the Cashless Debit Card and effectively turning its back on desperate communities plagued by drug, alcohol and gambling abuse.

The Cashless Debit Card has been in operation in Ceduna in South Australia and the Kimberley in Western Australia since April 2016, and is planned for introduction in the Western Australian Goldfields and in Bundaberg/Hervey Bay from early 2018.

It was introduced with the support of local leaders to combat the excessive welfare fuelled alcohol abuse particularly.

As pointed out by the East Kimberly elder, Ian Trust, the card was supported because, "Alcohol abuse is destroying our community and our culture - and devastating the lives of children".  It is estimated that in many remote communities, a quarter of all babies are born brain damaged from alcohol abuse.

The card, which restricts money spent on alcohol, drugs or gambling, was subject to an independent evaluation done by ORIMA Research which found that there was “considerable positive impact” in communities where it is operating.  It found that 41% were drinking less, 48% were gambling less and taking fewer drugs. Forty percent said they were better able to care for children.

Labor's excuse for not supporting the further rollout is that there was insufficient consultation and support.

In the Goldfields, each of the elected councils in the region supported its introduction. There were over 270 consultations undertaken.

In Bundaberg/Hervey Bay, there were over 110 consultations, including public forums, and a community wide survey of which 75% responded in favour of the card.

The consultations included each of the bodies that Labor's Shadow Minister, Linda Burney, said would constitute "proper community consultation local government, peak organisations, the police, the emergency ward, drug and coordinators, facilitators, and community leaders and leaders of community organisations".

Many of the community leaders expressed their desperation for the card to break the cycle.

Coolgardie Shire Indigenous counsellor Betty Logan said:

“We know it will help make a difference to young kids’ lives. Kids are neglected and parents are out of control. We can’t stop that unless we have something like this.”

Goldfields undertaker, Mathew Taylor, told a Senate Inquiry in October that he went to school with many of the people he buries.

“I do not hesitate to say that, with 90% [of cases], it is a direct result of alcohol and other drugs.”

Laverton Elder, Janice Scott said that the community are desperate and their children are voiceless:

“We’re burying people every week. We’ve still got funerals ahead, still trying to lay them to rest from the abuse of alcohol.”

Minister Tudge said that Labor's opposition is purely ideological. 

"They have joined the Greens in opposing the card irrespective of the devastation that alcohol is causing these communities, paid by the welfare dollar," Minister Tudge said.

“These communities are crying out for help, to stop the drug and alcohol abuse; to stop the violence and to build better lives for their children.

“Why does Labor want to support welfare dollars continuing to go to alcohol and drugs knowing the devastation it causes in these places?

“The card is not a panacea, but it is has led to a fundamental improvement in these communities. There are very few other initiatives that have had such impact.”