Transcript: 6PR Mornings interview with Gareth Parker

22 March 2016

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
Cashless debit card trial
E&OE

GARETH PARKER:

Alan Tudge is the Federal Human Services Minister and he is responsible for this roll out of a cashless welfare card. The idea of this card, it was something that Andrew Forrest the mining billionaire recommended in his review of aboriginal disadvantage and employment a year or 2 ago and it's something that the Federal Government has looked at.

Alan Tudge was up in Kununurra in November last year, I actually covered that event for the West, and flew up there with the State Minister Terry Redman. The idea being that rather than just getting a cash welfare cheque deposited into your bank account each fortnight, your welfare goes onto a card where it's basically quarantined, 80% of it is quarantined and can only be used to purchase basics – food and so on. You can't purchase alcohol, you can’t purchase drugs.

This is a trial that's been ongoing and there is a suggestion now that the trial could be expanded to Geraldton, which would be the largest city where the trial of the cashless welfare card has been in place, and the first community where it is a majority of welfare recipients are not indigenous. Alan Tudge, the Human Services Minister, joins us on the line – good morning.

MINISTER TUDGE:

Good morning Gareth.

GARETH PARKER:

Is Geraldton next in line Mr Tudge?

MINISTER TUDGE:

We're having discussions with the leadership in Geraldton and I've been out there 2 or 3 times now and have got officials on the ground who are having ongoing consultations. But we haven't made a decision yet. We will be doing so in the next few weeks.

We're also having discussions, by the way, with the community leaders in Leonora and Laverton, at their request. I've been out there and we're having ongoing consultations there also.

GARETH PARKER:

Mr Tudge, tell us exactly how the cashless welfare card works.

MINISTER TUDGE:

In some respects it's a very simple concept and that is, instead of providing all welfare payments into an ordinary savings account which you can then obviously access as cash, we'll be providing 80% of people's welfare payments into an account which is only accessible via a Visa debit card.

Now that Visa debit card will work like any other Visa debit card – i.e. you can purchase anything anywhere, except that card won't work at the bottle shop, it won't work at the gambling houses and you won't be able to take cash from it, and consequently of course, you won't be able to purchase illicit substances with it.

Now that 80% of your welfare payments will be placed on to that card; the other 20% will continue to go into your ordinary savings account which you can access as cash.

GARETH PARKER:

92211882 is the number if you've got a view on this, whether you think that a cashless welfare card is something that's worth expanding out more. If you're a welfare recipient I'd been keen to hear from you about whether you think it's overly restrictive on you, but you might also have a view that welfare's meant for the essentials of life, not for things like alcohol and drugs.

Alan Tudge, what is the experiment so far, or the trial so far in Kununurra and other places revealed about the effectiveness of this?

MINISTER TUDGE:

We're really only just kicking those off as we speak, and so Ceduna in South Australia is kicking off this month, and Kununurra will start next month. Now these trials have been designed with the local community leaders, they've overseen the settings of the card, they've overseeing the implementation of it with me.

The overall objective of those 2 trial sites, as it would be in our third trial site, would be to reduce some of the very significant welfare-fuelled alcohol, gambling and drug harm, which unfortunately is very prevalent in many communities – indigenous and non-indigenous communities.

GARETH PARKER:

It's something that you've been pretty clear about, that you will only proceed with these trials where there is community support.

MINISTER TUDGE:

Yeah that's right. We said right at the get-go, Gareth, that we wanted to trial this idea in communities were 2 criteria were met. One being where there is some significant alcohol, drug and gambling harm which is occurring, and b, where there is at least an openness if not a willingness from the community leaders to want to participate in that trial.

Now certainly those 2 criteria have been satisfied in Ceduna and certainly up in Kununurra and I must admit, I take my hat off to the leadership in those 2 communities who have stepped up, they want to take this action, and they've designed the trial with us. We're having discussions with the community leadership in Geraldton, as we are in Leonora and Laverton, and to date there's not unanimous support, but there is strong support as the Mayor in Geraldton has indicated in the newspaper yesterday.

GARETH PARKER:

How do you decide whether this is something worth proceeding with? What are the indicators within the trial, the measures of success that you will look at to say, well look this is an experiment worth rolling out wider, or no this just isn't worth our while, it's not working.

MINISTER TUDGE:

We'll have a full evaluation of the trials, but we're going to be looking at most importantly, the social harm indicators. So, has the assault rate gone down, has the hospitalisation rate from assaults or domestic violence gone down.

We'll also be looking at some qualitative data, interviewing people, both people who are on welfare payments and may be in receipt of this card, as well as people who are workers or everyday community members, and their judgement as to whether or not this has made their community better. I think we'll start to get some pretty good answers, even within 1 or 2 months as to whether or not this thing flies, and it does have the impact which we hope it will.

Now you've got to bear in mind that in some of these communities and in Kununurra, as people probably know, it has some very significant alcohol problems there. In fact the alcohol is the poison that runs through those communities and results in enormous social harm in terms of women being bashed and children being neglected. So if we can have even a small impact on those things, then I think that we can be satisfied that it's at least achieving some positive progress.

GARETH PARKER:

92211882 is the number if you've got a view about this cashless welfare card. Alan Tudge there is no doubt that this is politically contentious, it is not universally supported. The Greens in particular are opposed to it and WA Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, there's the accusation that this program is racist. What do you say to that?

MINISTER TUDGE:

Oh well, it's not racist and that's a ridiculous thing for her to say. The card applies to welfare recipients, be they indigenous or non-indigenous. Now obviously in Kununurra and Wyndham it has a much stronger indigenous element.

In Geraldton, where we're talking with the community leaders there, it's a town which is 90% non indigenous, 10% indigenous. This is about addressing welfare abuse, it's not about indigeneity.

GARETH PARKER:

Is it overly paternalistic?

MINISTER TUDGE:

I don't think it is. At the end of the day these are welfare payments paid for by taxpayers, provided to people who, for one reason or another, are down on their luck and don't have employment.

And the nature of it is that the person who is in receipt of the card will still be able to purchase anything, literally they can go to the supermarket, they can go to the petrol station, they can use it in a cab, they can purchase whatever they like, but they simply can't spend all of their welfare dollars on alcohol or on gambling, or on illicit substances.

So I don't think that is paternalistic and I think actually there is a responsibility for the welfare dollar to be spent in the manner for which it is given.

GARETH PARKER:

When can we expect to see a decision made on Geraldton whether that is rolled out or not and in fact Leonora as well and Laverton?

MINISTER TUDGE:

Within weeks rather than months. We've still got a bit of work on the ground to do in terms of further consultation with the community leaders: understanding what their concerns are, understanding if there's additional services which would need to be put in place to complement the card, because this has been an important element of the trial – not just the card. Because in Ceduna, and certainly Kununurra and Wyndham, we've also put additional services in place to assist people to get off their addictions, if they are in fact addicted to those substances.

So whereas the card works to remove a lot of the cash from being spent on those substances, the additional services are there to help people manage their addictions and hopefully get off them altogether.

[ENDS]