Transcript: 720 ABC Perth/WA Drive interview with Jane Marwick

22 March 2016

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Cashless welfare card trial


Yesterday we spoke about Geraldton being flagged as possible third location for a cashless welfare card trial. Up next my guest is Alan Tudge, he's the Minister for Human Services, who can tell us a bit more about this. We also heard some dissenting voices – I'd like the Minister's take on that.

We had a lot of feedback yesterday about the proposal for Geraldton to have this cashless welfare card. It looks and operates like a bank card but can't be used to withdraw cash, you can't gamble, you can't buy alcohol with it. It holds 80% of the welfare payment, the other 20% is still in cash.

We really did have a mixed response from you, and I'll play some of those responses in just a moment, but we thought it would be very interesting to hear from Alan Tudge, he is the Minister for Human Services, he joins me now. Minister, good afternoon.


G'Day Jane.


Firstly, can you confirm that there will be a trial for the welfare card in Geraldton, will it be starting this year?


I can't confirm it yet. We've had some very good discussions with the community leaders there and we're having ongoing consultations, and we'd like to make a decision in relation to Geraldton within the next few weeks as to whether or not we do proceed, or we don't.

I've always said that we would trial this cashless welfare card in locations which met 2 criteria – 1 being where there is significant welfare-fuelled alcohol, drug or gambling abuse, and secondly where there is the openness from community leaders to want to participate in the trial.

Certainly I think Geraldton fits the former, there certainly are some alcohol problems there, and I think we're getting pretty close to fulfilling the latter.


And we did speak to the Mayor yesterday who certainly sounded that he was pretty open to the trial. Minister we did have some critics and it was interesting listening to the critics and callers and people texting through who were really for the trial, when they listened to these different points of view thought that perhaps they might change your mind and I would in particular like you to just have a listen to Irina Cattalini, the CEO of the WA Council of Social Service, or known as WACOSS, these are some of her concerns and I'd just like to know if they'll be addressed. Let's have a listen.

Excerpt from Irina Cattalini: This is a trial that only goes to people who are dependent on Government income support, that are living on low incomes and that for some families are experiencing other complex issues.

We know in the Geraldton community when we've undertaken consultation there that they're telling us they need more access to housing affordability and homeless support services, they need more drug and alcohol support services, family support, early childhood development services.

Unless we're actually putting, if we're serious about supporting those families we need to put those services on the ground and make sure that they are responsive to the local community and adequate to meet the need.

Unfortunately, there's so silver bullet solutions to things like addictions, or violence, or abuse and neglect. We'd love to think there was a silver bullet solution that we could just fund, that would miraculously solve those complex issues, but that just doesn't happen. We know the evidence shows us to solve those issues you need sustained effort, there needs to be local community will and individual will and there needs to be the adequate service support. A cashless welfare card doesn't just miraculously solve those complex issues.

But also how have we learnt and applied the lessons of where we've seen this in other parts of the country. We've seen black markets emerge where people purchase the basics card off people and exchange them for cash because they can use them to purchase goods. People can go and purchase $100 worth of approved products and sell them for $80 of cash.


Minister Tudge they were some of the concerns raised by Irina Cattalini from WACOSS yesterday. Will the trial of the welfare card also have support services in Geraldton?


If we do go ahead in Geraldton absolutely it will. We can look at the other 2 trial sites which we've already announced and are proceeding down with, and that is in Ceduna in South Australia and Kununurra and Wyndham in Western Australia, in your state.

In each of those locations the trial actually consists of 3 components. The first is this cashless welfare card that we're talking about.

The second part is, very importantly, additional support services to assist people to get off their addictions. So in Ceduna for example, we've put additional drug and alcohol support services, additional financial management services in place, as well as 24/7 outreach service.

The third element of the trial is the regional leadership group. It oversees the design of the card, the services to be put in place, as well as oversees the implementation of it so that we have real local ownership of it and can respond very nimbly to any issues that arise.

They're the 3 components of the trial in the 2 sites we've already announced. Inevitably they would be the 3 components of the trial, should we proceed with Geraldton.


We heard from people saying, and you heard Irina Cattalini saying, people sell their cards. We also heard that people get mugged for their cards – and I don't know how widespread that is, you're better placed to answer that than I am. But is there any way to stop that sort of trading and the crime of trying to steal the cards to on-sell?


I'll just pick up on what Irina said that there's no silver bullet, and in part she is correct – of course there isn't. But what we do hope with this trial is that it will address some of the very significant harm which is caused by welfare-fuelled alcohol, drug and gambling abuse.

We know in some communities there's enormous amounts of alcohol which is drunk, paid for by the taxpayer, and that leads to terrible social consequences for the entire community. Women being bashed at extraordinary levels, children being neglected.

So the trial is about first of all, limiting the amount of cash which is available to purchase those substances, and secondly having the services in place to people get off their addictions.

We hope that the combination of those 2 things will make a difference on those social harm indicators.

Now just to come back to that question about will people trade the card. Inevitably some people will try to get around the system. Inevitably they will.

But I'll say a couple of things. Firstly, because all welfare recipients will be on the card there'll be much less cash in the community to be able to trade in the first instance. Secondly, if people do try to trade, inevitably they'll be facing a significant penalty, because they will purchase something for 100 bucks and they'll only be able to on-sell it for, say $50, and consequently will be paying a $50 penalty in the process.

But I repeat again, there's no silver bullet to this, but I do think it will have a demonstrable impact on the social harm which is apparent in many communities.


And we did hear that too on the text line yesterday, Minister Tudge, people saying that there are all sorts of problems that they would like to address. Of course the Mayor probably had a slightly different point of view, but we did hear all different perspectives out of Geraldton yesterday and of course from WACOSS.

We also heard from Chris Gabelish. I'll just play what Chris had to say. He's in Geraldton, he runs the Geraldton Resource Centre, and raised his concerns – here they are.

Excerpt from Chris Gabelish: One of the things that's clear in talking – and I've spoken to both Shane and the Minister and DSS staff about it – 1 thing that's clear is there's no answers when I've asked the question, what are the principles that are driving it? You know, what are those things?

So for example, if you're wanting to reduce domestic violence, the Government had domestic violence money available the other day that went to the Kimberley, northern suburbs of WA and Canberra. So on one hand I hear some things, but I don't understand what's really driving it in terms of getting it here in Geraldton.


They were his questions. He said that he's spoken to you. What is driving it?


Yeah I recall I had a very lengthy conversation with him and some of the other community leaders from the social services space. What is driving it? We've got a very clear objective and that is we want to reduce some of the social harm which is caused by welfare abuse. Particularly in relation to alcohol and drugs, because if you take those 2 substances it's often not just yourself that you're hurting, but often then you end up causing very significant damage to the broader community.

We see that in relation to the hospitalisation rates from assaults. We see that in relation to domestic violence rates. We see that in relation to child neglect. So this is what is occurring, paid for by the taxpayer.

So here we think we might have, at least in part, a solution which still enables an individual to receive exactly the same amount of welfare payments, to have complete freedom over where they spend their welfare payments, but does have restrictions on how much money is spent on alcohol, drugs and gambling. And in doing so, we hope that it will have that impact on the ground of reducing the number of women who are bashed, of reducing the number of children who are neglected.

If we can have that impact, which I think we will, then surely that is worthwhile pursuing.


And a question from Roslyn who's contacted the program and said what sort of welfare recipients would be on this card?


Well in the 2 trial sites where we've announced it so far, it is working age income support recipients who are captured by the card. That was agreed with the community leaders in each of the 2 trial sites. Aged pensioners won't be captured, but can volunteer onto the card, should they choose to do so. Certainly in a place like Kununurra and Wyndham I think that many people will in fact volunteer to go on to the card.


Why? Why will they volunteer?


Particularly amongst the Aboriginal community in order to prevent being humbugged, so they're not hit up for money if you like. And that's a very strong view that we've got back from some of the community elders up there.


I know that Geraldton has got a very different welfare profile to say Ceduna or Kununurra.


Yeah it does.


Can you explain that to us, because inevitably people have asked if this is racist program? So what's the profile in Geraldton like?


Well absolutely it is not a racist program, and I firmly reject that. Even in Ceduna it's about 70% of people covered are indigenous, 30% are non-indigenous. Up in the East Kimberley there's a higher proportion of people who are captured are indigenous.

In Geraldton though, should we proceed there, the population overall is 90% non-indigenous, 10% indigenous. There are of course different issues in Geraldton compared to what there are in Kununurra and Wyndham, but there's also some similarities too.

Inevitably, if we proceed there, we'll have a tailored trial for Geraldton. It will be informed by what the community leaders tell us will work there. We'll do a full service audit so we know what services are in place and what the service gaps are, particularly in relation to the drug and alcohol services, so that they are in place for when we switch the card on, if we proceed.

They're the type of things that we're very serious about doing. We've done that in Ceduna, we've done that in the East Kimberley, and should we proceed in Geraldton that's exactly what we'll do there as well.


Minister Tudge thank you very much for your time on 720 ABC Perth and local radio across the state this afternoon.


Thanks so much Jane.