The cashless welfare card, that is, getting Centrelink benefits on a card and the card of course, not being cash, restricts you from using it for certain items.
Now, it’s been described as a watershed moment for welfare but Allan Suter who is the Mayor of Ceduna in South Australia is just hoping it can save his town from a whole mess of a trouble.
It’s the first national trial, it’s started today, and this town has got some serious problems which are not specific to Ceduna, but the whole concept of a welfare card, across the board, is something the Government does need to take a look at and is doing so at the moment.
If the trial goes well, it will be rolled out to other towns and perhaps a new way of fighting alcohol abuse and the abuse of welfare in rural and regional Australia.
Alan Tudge is our Human Services Minister. Minister, thank you so much for your time.
Well firstly, let’s explain this. In Ceduna specifically, how will the card work? What are we dealing with here?
It is a very simple concept really, that is, instead of as we presently do – provide welfare payments into an individual’s bank account which you can then access as cash – we will be putting 80 per cent of their welfare payments into an account which is only accessible by a Visa debit card.
Now this Visa debit card will look and operate like any other Visa debit card, but it simply won’t work at the bottle shops, won’t work at the gambling houses, and you won’t be able to take cash from it. So consequently, you can’t purchase illicit substances with it.
We hope by providing welfare payments in this way that there will be less welfare-fuelled alcohol, drug and gambling abuse which is unfortunately quite prevalent in Ceduna, as is the case in many other towns across Australian, as you mentioned.
Well we’ve discussed these issues with various ministers, at various levels over the years. As you well know, it’s been a problem, that let’s be fair, to all levels of government, you’ve been trying very hard to find solutions to.
The most common criticism of any kind of welfare card - in the past it’s been suggested there are coupons – I know in some countries they have coupons or some kind of tickets – and things like that.
I understand that those things are unique and they do stigmatise the user but you’ve just described something here that really cannot be distinguished from any other kind of credit card.
That’s exactly right Bill. That’s been a specific design of ours to achieve that, for it to operate literally like any other Visa debit card.
If I held it up, it’s a silver one, you cannot distinguish it from any other credit card or debit card that probably nearly every single one of your listeners has in their pocket right now.
It will work everywhere. You can purchase whatever you like with it but you simply can’t purchase the alcohol, use it for gambling and you can’t take cash out from it. That’s the only difference.
We know that in places like Ceduna, unfortunately they have very significant problems, funded by the taxpayer effectively, to purchase huge amounts of alcohol, huge amounts of gambling and that has devastating consequences on that community.
So we hope that this, in concert with additional investments in drug and alcohol services will have some impact. It won’t be the panacea to every single problem, but we hope that it will significantly reduce some of that social harm which we know is caused by that alcohol, drug and gambling abuse.
Now, one resident of Ceduna has been quoted in one of the stories I read. He receives a disability pension. He says it’s unfair to link him with drug and alcohol abusers.
Now I understand veterans and age pensioners are excluded. Are people on a disability pension lumped in with these other people?
In that town, everybody on working age income support payments is included in the trial. The overall aim, if you like, is to take a lot of the cash out of the community so that it cannot be spent on those substances.
Now, if you’re a responsible individual, which this gentleman or this person may well be, they are not a big drinker, they are not a gambler or drug taker, then yes, it will be an inconvenience for them, I acknowledge that.
But really the only inconvenience will be that instead of reaching into their pocket to take out cash to pay for something, they will reach into their pocket, pull out their Visa debit card, swipe it, then off they’ll go.
On the upside, however, to compensate for that inconvenience, is potentially a much safer community. That is what our overall objective is.
So we are asking people and saying, listen, we appreciate it might be an inconvenience but the potential upside for your community, which you will be the beneficiary of, is very great.
Now there is the suggestion that if this works, it’ll be rolled out in other towns. Are you checking to see if there are key businesses in those towns that might still only operate on cash?
I know that might sound a bit spooky to some people that live in the city but even in the city there are some businesses that take cash only because they’re small and they don’t like using the machinery and the digital services.
I mean, is there a prevalence of that still around in these towns?
There isn’t in the Ceduna region and we’ve gone through business by business almost.
One of the issues actually was the church op shop - it did not have an EFTPOS machine and we are assisting them in terms of putting an EFTPOS machine in. We think actually, they will have a lot more customers as a result of this card coming in because there will be more cash available for that shop rather than going into the bottle shop.
The other issue of course is if there is any fees attached to swiping your card, particularly for low value items. Again, we’ve worked through shop by shop to ensure basically that is covered so there won’t be any cost to the user of the card.
Inevitably there will be some things we have not foreseen at this stage but we do feel as though we have planned this very carefully. It has been done in great consultation – in fact even a co-design process – with the local leaders on the ground.
We have been working hand in glove with them and that doesn’t guarantee its success but it means the likelihood of it succeeding is much greater when you have got that local buy in as well.
And finally, I know as a politician you don’t want to get too far down the track here but what about broadening even more, the idea of a welfare card to everybody basically, of a working age?
We are just taking it one step at a time.
[Laughs] I thought you might say that but you know it will get some support.
It does have some significant support out in the community. Let’s see how these trials go. I think we will get some early results within a few months to see if this does have the impact which I hope it does.
There are other communities already who have contacted me and said that they are interested in taking a look at this card and potentially applying it in their regional community which may have similar problems.
We are just taking this one step and a time and we want to get the trials up and running, see how they go, then make decisions from there.
Terrific. Alan Tudge Human Services Minister, thanks for your time.
Thanks so much, Bill.