Transcript: Doorstop - Ceduna

4 April 2016

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

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

JOURNALIST:

Minister can you talk about some of the teething problems, so far we've heard some people are a bit anxious about its use, some people have had PIN issues. Can you talk about some of the teething problems?

MINISTER TUDGE:

This is a trial and inevitably there will be some teething issues as we begin. But we've got people on the ground here and those issues are being dealt with as they arise.

The issue for example in relation to a person who couldn't get their PIN number, I understand was resolved within 2 hours.

JOURNALIST:

And what about some of the other issues people have, for example speaking to people in the street today, confusion between this new welfare card and the old card. There doesn't seem to be a lot of support for the old card and as such people think it's all the same thing.

MINISTER TUDGE:

Well they're not, they're 2 very separate products. Now this card has been specifically designed to work everywhere, to enable the purchase of anything, but it simply 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, which means you can't purchase illicit substances.

Whereas the previous Basics Card, it wasn't connected to your mainstream payments platforms. Consequently it was only those retailers that chose to be connected to this card where it worked. So if you had gone out of town that card may not have worked.

JOURNALIST:

Why does it have to be a blanket rule across everyone in this community? Why can't it just be targeted at people who have problems with drinking or gambling?

MINISTER TUDGE:

That's been tried before, and indeed in this community it's been targeted in the past but only 67 people got captured and meanwhile we had over 4000 people go to the sobering up centre, so clearly it wasn't doing the job.

Secondly though, the card is specifically designed so that if you're a responsible person, you're not a big drinker, you're not a big gambler, you're not a drug taker then the only impact on you is that instead of reaching into your pocket for cash, you'll reach into your pocket, grab your card, swipe it, put in your PIN number and off you'll go.

JOURNALIST:

How does the 80% work when people might have Housing Trust debts or Centrelink has organised payments from accounts for debts that they might have?

MINISTER TUDGE:

If you already have Centrelink organising for payments to be made from your account, those payments will continue to be made. Additionally, if you've got an electricity bill which you want to be on a direct debit, it will be paid.

You can have other direct debits being made, just like you ordinarily do. They can come out of your Visa debit card account, or you can choose for it to come out of your ordinary savings account.

JOURNALIST:

Can you understand the concerns of people such as disability carers, or carers who feel like they're losing autonomy over their lives?

MINISTER TUDGE:

I disagree that they're losing autonomy over their lives, because the only change which this card brings to them is that they have to get used to using a card rather than cash.

They still have the ability to spend their welfare payments on absolutely anything, anywhere in Australia.

They simply can't spend more than 20% of their payments on alcohol, or on gambling, or on illicit substances. That's the bottom line.

I think the Australian taxpayer is very happy to be providing welfare payments for those who need it, but they don't necessarily expect those welfare payments to be spent on alcohol or gambling or drugs.

JOURNALIST:

You would imagine setting this up would create a new economy where cards, goods, alcohol in particular is traded behind the scenes. What have you done as a Government to address that?

MINISTER TUDGE:

Inevitably some people will try to get around the system. But I'd say a couple of points.

Firstly, because all income support recipients are on this card we'll be taking a lot of cash out of the system, which means the ability to trade will be lessened. That's the most important point.

Secondly we'll have some tracking devices, such as for example if we see some unusual patterns of expenditure with a taxi driver for example, we'll be able to identify that unusual pattern of behaviour.

JOURNALIST:

And what about crime rates, because people who want alcohol and want drugs are going to find a way to get them. So there are concerns that there'll be a spike in crime here in order to do that.

MINISTER TUDGE:

My discussions with the police is that their expectation is that crime will come down, and that's the overall purpose of this trial – to reduce the very significant social harm which is caused by welfare-fuelled alcohol abuse particularly.

We know for example that the hospitalisation rate from assaults in this town is 68 times the national average. Now that's just unacceptable.

Most of that alcohol is paid for by the welfare dollar. So that wants to come down.

We see when we look in other locations, when you have an alcohol restriction, you typically halve the amount of assaults or violence almost overnight.

And I hope this might have the same impact, because it some respects it operates in a similar way.

But whereas instead of an alcohol restriction which works on the supply side, here this has the effect of working on the demand side, reducing the amount of cash which is available to purchase that alcohol.

JOURNALIST:

What about theft and burglary though?

MINISTER TUDGE:

We'll be monitoring that. I've spoken with the State Police Minister, he's in discussions with the Police Commissioner to ensure that they'll be monitored closely.

JOURNALIST:

What about chronic alcoholics? Are you concerned this might not work for some chronic alcoholics because it's a disease, they are chronic alcoholics by nature and can't stop drinking or cut their drinking?

MINISTER TUDGE:

A couple of points on that. Firstly, people don't have to go cold turkey overnight. There is still 20% of the welfare payments which are accessible in cash.

But secondly, a very important element of the trial is the introduction of additional drug and alcohol services.

For example now we have a residential rehabilitation facility down the road in Port Augusta. We've put in place additional drug and alcohol counsellors. We've got better mental health support. We've have a 24/7 outreach service, so that if people are in trouble at night they'll get picked up and brought into care.

So all of those things are a vital part of this trial. The card works to reduce the cash available to purchase the alcohol, the services are there to help people get off their addictions. They work hand in glove.

JOURNALIST:

One issue that I did want to touch on, if you've got a family, kids, your welfare payments are fairly high. 20% could be hundreds of dollars. Is there a concern that there will still be ample alcohol able to be bought?

MINISTER TUDGE:

To be honest I do have that concern and we do want to monitor that. But we had lengthy discussions with the community leaders here as to what the right mix of payments being on the card versus available in cash should be. And we did settle on this 80/20 situation.

Now if you're a single individual with no kids, that's not very much cash at all which is available. If you have several kids, it still ends up being a reasonable amount of cash. We want to keep an eye on that to see how it goes.

This is a trial in the very sense of the word, being that we are trialling something new here. We hope it works, but we'll be adjusting as we go along. We want to see how it goes and learn the lessons from it.

JOURNALIST:

The closest rehab centre is 5 hours from Ceduna, 7 from somewhere like Yalata. Is that a concern?

MINISTER TUDGE:

It's not because many people would say that for residential rehabilitation you actually are better off if you're away from the community where you can dry out properly and get that support there before you come back to the community.

JOURNALIST:

Are you worried about, you know homesickness can be a real issue for some indigenous people and communities. Are you concerned about trying to facilitate help for people who don't want to be 7 hours from home?

MINISTER TUDGE:

My main concern is the children who aren't being fed, the women who are being bashed, the violence which is occurring in this community because of welfare-fuelled alcohol abuse.

That's my main concern and that's the concern of the community leaders here and this trial is about trying to address that - to stabilise the community, so that fewer children are neglected, so that fewer women are bashed, so that the community is safer.

I hope that this trial will achieve that. We're doing everything we possibly can to reach those ends and we're going to be monitoring it closely.

JOURNALIST:

But in terms of options for help for someone say from Yalata, who doesn't want to be away from home, what options are there?

MINISTER TUDGE:

There's going to be drug and alcohol counsellors who are there, there's going to be some mental health counsellors who are on the ground to be able to support them, we met some of those today.

There'll be financial management support as well if they want to be able to establish a budget. But there's going to be less cash available in that community for the purchase of alcohol. So our hope is that by doing that there'll be less overall alcohol abuse in that community. At the same time there will be that support for those people that need it.

JOURNALIST:

Will some of those workers be based in Yalata, or will it just be commuting there from Ceduna?

MINISTER TUDGE:

We're working that through in terms of where that is the best place is for them to be based. Ideally they'd be based in Yalata, but you have to work through whether or not there' available housing and the like, so we're just being very practical about that.

JOURNALIST:

So it's something that's still being looked at though?

MINISTER TUDGE:

We're just being very practical about it, in terms of if there's housing available, what makes sense, do you have people there who can immediately step up and take on those roles, or do they have to be in Ceduna and more be going in there for several days at a time, and coming back out.

JOURNALIST:

So no immediate on the ground person?

MINISTER TUDGE:

You've already got some on the ground people, particularly in a place like Yalata. In a smaller community like Koonibba, where we went to this morning, the chances are we'll probably have the people based out here in Ceduna and then be able to travel into that community.

JOURNALIST:

If successful will you consider replacing the Basics Card with this card because it seems to be more effective and easier to use?

MINISTER TUDGE:

I think this card is a considerably better product than the Basics Card. The Basics Card is in place for another 2 years from memory, and some people have suggested to me that this would make a logical replacement for it.

But we're simply not in that position yet to make that decision. We want to see how this goes, we want to make sure the technology works, make sure it has the impact which we hope it will, and we'll be able to make further adjustments then.

JOURNALIST:

Just quickly, there's a family who's concerned they move money between accounts to make their lives work, pay their mortgage, pay their bills. They're quite upset and quite anxious about the fact they won't be able to do that anymore. Have these sorts of issues cropped up, is it a concern?

MINISTER TUDGE:

What's the exact example there?

JOURNALIST:

Just of a couple who move money between accounts into offset accounts to pay off their mortgage, and better themselves I guess, financially.

MINISTER TUDGE:

I think I know who you're referring to, you're referring to an individual who's concerned that the welfare payment, because it's in the card, won't be available to offset their mortgage payments.

JOURNALIST:

Yes.

MINISTER TUDGE:

Is that the individual you're referring to? I'm aware of this particular situation and it is right, that welfare money here will be going into an account which is only accessible via a Visa debit card. It won't be offset against your mortgage.

But if that's the biggest issue that this person has, well I suggest that's a very small one compared to the overall issues we're trying to tackle here, where you have over 4000 people who were admitted to the sobering up centre last year from a community of only just over 4000 people. Where you have an assault rate which is, frankly unacceptable, most of which is driven by welfare-fuelled alcohol abuse. Those are the serious issues we're trying to deal with.

I appreciate his concern, but our main focus here is to reduce the very significant social harm in the community.

JOURNALIST:

And any worries about, he's – same individual's – raised concerns about you know, his human rights being someone with a disability, is there any concerns along legal action along those lines?

MINISTER TUDGE:

The human rights that I'm most concerned about are the rights of children to be fed, the rights of women to be safe, the rights of the community members overall to have a safe community.

They're the human rights that we're most concerned about.

I fail to see how this is a breach of human rights when you still get exactly the same amount of welfare payments, you can spend that welfare payment on absolutely everything in the country, but you simply can't spend more than 20% of it on alcohol or gambling. How that is a breach of human rights, I do not know.

(ENDS)