Transcript: ABC AM interview with Naomi Woodley

15 March 2016

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
Cashless welfare card trial in Ceduna
E&OE

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

From today, most welfare recipients in the South Australian town of Ceduna will receive their benefits via a cashless debit card.

The trial program to address alcohol and drug abuse will see 80 per cent of someone's benefit paid directly to the card, which then can't be used for alcohol and gambling.

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge says the Government will start trials in two other locations before deciding whether to extend the program.

He's speaking here to AM's Naomi Woodley.

NAOMI WOODLEY:

Alan Tudge, at the end of this trial, how will you measure if it's been successful or not? What are your benchmarks?

MINISTER TUDGE:

We'll have a full evaluation and that will assess all the social harm indicators such as the hospitalisation rates from assaults, such as the domestic violence rates, as well as there will be some qualitative assessments asking people on the ground what their reaction to it was.

NAOMI WOODLEY:

There's broad community support but it's not unanimous support. How much flexibility is there for change during this 12 month trial period?

MINISTER TUDGE:

Listen there isn't unanimous support, but there is very strong support on the ground. And more than that, we've actually co-designed this trial with the community leaders.

But the very nature of a trial is that we can be nimble along the way and that's certainly our intent to be able to monitor it very closely, to adjust as needed, with the overall objective of trying to reduce that very damaging welfare-fuelled alcohol drug and gambling abuse, which unfortunately is very present in that community as it is in many communities across Australia.

NAOMI WOODLEY:

Because the ABC's heard from a disability support pension recipient this morning. He says he's not an abuser of drugs or alcohol, so why should he have to be part of this trial.

Why isn't it more targeted towards people you know are abusing drugs and alcohol?

MINISTER TUDGE:

Sure, it's a good question.

In part because our overall objective is to remove a lot of the cash from the community so that there's overall less cash in the community to be able to purchase alcohol, drugs or to gamble with.

Now, I'd say to that individual that, yes, I understand the inconvenience that will be imposed upon you, but that inconvenience is relatively small.

You'll have to get used to putting your hand into your pocket and pulling out your card rather than cash.

But the potential upside for the overall community of having less money spent on alcohol, less money spent on drugs, and less gambled away is potentially enormous.

NAOMI WOODLEY:

You want to remove the cash in the economy, but what's to stop an informal market springing up where somebody uses their card to buy legitimate goods - say, some piece of electronic equipment - selling it on a website, or something like that, and then using that cash to gamble or for alcohol?

MINISTER TUDGE:

Inevitably some people will try to get around the system, but because all welfare recipients will be on this card, a lot of the cash will be taken out of the economy, which means it will be much harder to do that type of trading.

In addition, if somebody does that, inevitably they will face a penalty because they will purchase something for $100 and only be able to sell it for $50.

NAOMI WOODLEY:

You say it's not income management, but the Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda wrote in October last year that this sort of a scheme does bring up painful memories, for particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, of a time when wages were controlled. How do you respond to those concerns?

MINISTER TUDGE:

Well these aren't wages, we're not controlling them. These are welfare payments and it applies to Aboriginal people and to non-Aboriginal people.

NAOMI WOODLEY:

But the majority are Aboriginal people.

MINISTER TUDGE:

The majority are in Ceduna in the first trial site. But other trial sites that we're looking at, the majority will be non-Aboriginal. This is about welfare abuse, not about indigeneity.

NAOMI WOODLEY:

I know you've had discussions with some communities in Western Australia who are interested in this program as well.

Do you envisage it, though, being used in metropolitan areas, or is this something that will only work in regional communities?

MINISTER TUDGE:

Well at this stage we're just trialling it in up to three sites. We want to get that trial underway, we want to assess it before making any further decisions.

I think we'll get some early results after a few months and we'll be able to start to make some early judgements as to where we might take it subsequent to that.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Human Services Minister, Alan Tudge, speaking to Naomi Woodley.

[ENDS]