Transcript: 5AA Breakfast interview with David Penberthy

15 March 2016
Cashless welfare card trial in Ceduna


We have spoken to Mr Tudge a couple of times about this cashless welfare card that has been developed, in part, off the back of the recommendations by the mining magnate Andrew Forrest to look at how to tackle Indigenous deprivation.

But it sort of extended beyond that into a more thoughtful look at how you tackle the scourge of drugs, alcohol, gambling and violence in some of our more put upon communities.

Alan Tudge is on the line now. Alan, good morning. Great to catch up with you again.

Now the reason we are talking today is the cashless welfare card is being rolled out in Ceduna from today.


Yeah that's exactly right. The first cards are being sent in the mail today and they will be sent and implemented progressively over the months ahead.

This is formally the beginning of the trial in Ceduna. We have a further trial site up in the East Kimberley that will start a month or so later, then a third trial site a couple of months after that.


So how's it been received by the community? Are many people arcing up about it?


We haven't got unanimous support. You will never get unanimous support for something like this, but there is very strong community support for it.

This has been a trial that has been co-designed with community leaders on the ground.

I really take my hat off actually, to both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders in Ceduna, who have worked hand in glove with us in co-designing the card; what the parameters will look like; how it will be rolled out; what the services are that need to be put in place; and they're also overseeing the implementation as well along with us.

It has been a co-design process. I think that doesn't guarantee the success of the trial, but it certainly increases its chances.


When you talk about the leaders - be they Indigenous leaders, non-indigenous leaders - Alan, do you find in your experience, working on this for as long as you have now, that a lot of the people who are the most passionately in favour of it are often women, and maybe even older women, who are sick of seeing the damage that gets done in these communities?


That's exactly right. It is often the women who are responsible for seeing there is food on the table and they might find that there is no cash in the kitty to pay for the food.

Or they find it is women who are getting bashed, or it is the senior women holding the communities together, so they are often very passionately in support of something like this.

In Ceduna's case we have both senior men and senior women who are backing this.

Our desire collectively is that it will have a very profound impact on some of that alcohol-fuelled drug and gambling abuse which is unfortunately prevalent in Ceduna and is indeed prevalent in many communities across Australia.


Alan Tudge, what sort of consultation did you undertake with that community in that area? Because the crux of the Greens' concern they have about the plan was the consultation period wasn't wide enough.


We consulted over the period of probably twelve months, I think.

We established a community regional leadership group. There were meetings held in most of the communities affected, often held by the community leaders themselves. I think that most of the communities involved passed a formal resolution in favour of the trial proceeding.

It really irritates me that the Greens, during the legislative process here in Canberra when we had to pass the legislation to enable to trial to go ahead, some of those Indigenous leaders from Ceduna came all the way to Canberra to speak to the Greens and the crossbenchers.

The Greens didn't even have the decency to meet up with those community leaders who came all the way here to lobby them to say, 'We want this legislation passed'.

They didn't have the decency to meet with them. So now the Greens are going around saying, 'Well isn't it terrible we didn't properly consult'. Well please.


Yeah, it's a very good point Alan.

One thing that I am wondering with this card down the track, do you see it as something where there could be a mechanism, whereby, where this idea falls down – I'm sort of thinking aloud here and I'm not sure how you would actually implement it – everyone knows someone in their neighbourhood, who while the rest of us are out working hard, there are some people who don't use welfare as a safety net.

Obviously we are having major upheavals here in South Australia at the moment, particularly in manufacturing where people by necessity will need to go on the dole, hopefully for short periods of time to get them from unemployment into a new job.

The big struggle, and it is a separate issue, is working out what the new jobs are.

But for the people who don't use welfare as a safety net, but regard it as a quite comfortable and luxurious hammock, and just want to stay there forever, is there a way that potentially, this system could be triggered?

Where, if you can find out that someone has not looked for a job for two years, say, and is clearly just living off the welfare, spending it on smokes, booze, and whatever they like, that you could trigger this system, where you go, 'ok bad luck, you're not going to get your welfare money handed to you in the form of cash anymore; you're going to go on the cashless system and we're going to put the screws on you a hell of a lot more', and almost use it as a punishment for people who don't play by the rules?


We haven't considered that yet David, at this stage we are focusing on the trials.

The intent is for the cards, at least in Ceduna and the other trial sites, is for it not to be a punishment as such.

In some respects the most responsible people who are on this card, they will have very little impact on them other than having to get used to a card, rather than having cash.

Down the track we will examine how we may roll this out should the trials be successful. Some people have put to us - does it become a further incentive for somebody to go and get a job?

Obviously if you've got a job, you've got cash going into your account and you can do what you like with that versus if you're on welfare, you've got this card and you've got some restrictions on how you spend your welfare dollar.

I would say though, the broader point you're making is everything in the welfare system should be geared around encouraging people to be seeking work and taking every possible job that is available.

Certainly that is very much our intent because it benefits no one from being on welfare long term. It is debilitating for the individual, it sucks the life out of them and of course it costs the taxpayer money as well.

Everything needs to be geared around that central objective of getting a person off welfare and back into a real job.


Well good luck with the trial Alan. We will follow it with keen interest and we always enjoy catching up with you on 5AA Breakfast.