Transcript: Question Time

12 September 2016

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Cashless debit card trial

My question is to the Minister for Human Services. Will the Minister inform the house of the progress of the Cashless Debit Card trials? How is the trial reducing the harm caused by alcohol, drugs and gambling abuse in communities around Australia, including the East Kimberley in my electorate of Durack?

The Minister for Human Services.

I thank the Member for Durack for her question and for her interest in addressing social disadvantage in her electorate and elsewhere across the nation.

I visited the East Kimberley last week to assess the progress of the Cashless Debit Card trial and can report that this trial, and the one in Ceduna are both going very well.

The trials have been going for several months now and consist of a simple concept. That is instead of providing all welfare payments into a person’s savings account, which can be accessed as cash, 80 per cent is provided into an account which is only accessible by a special visa debit card.

This visa debit card works just like any other visa debit card. It can purchase anything, anywhere, but simply won’t work at bottle shops, won’t work at the gambling houses and cash cannot be withdrawn from it.

The objective of the trial of course is to reduce the very significant harm caused by welfare fuelled alcohol, drug and gambling abuse.  The alcohol particularly is the poison that runs through so many communities and underpins 80-85 per cent of all domestic violence, assaults, and child neglect, according to local police in Kununurra.

In my visit, I had the pleasure of speaking to many of the community and service leaders and can report that there is widespread support and acknowledgement that the trial is making a difference.

The local St John’s Ambulance station, for example, reported to me that ambulance call outs are down 30 per cent since this time last year.

There has been a dramatic reduction in admissions to the hospital emergency room due to alcohol, according to the hospital’s chief medical officer.

The Wyndham sobering up centre has 30 per cent fewer admissions.

Public drunkenness is down according to police, with call outs to the local park - which is a notorious drinking spot - halved.

In Ceduna, equally encouraging results are emerging. About one-fifth of residents in the Ceduna region are on the card, but the pokies revenue from the main pokies venue in Ceduna is down an incredible 30 per cent.

There is also strong anecdotal evidence that food sales are up. The Ceduna Mayor reports that the town is the quietest it has been for a long time.

Ian Trust, one of the most respected Indigenous leaders in the East Kimberley, says that he believes that we will look back in 20 years and identify this trial as the turning point in his community.

Of course, it is still early days and we continue to monitor the data, but these early results are very encouraging.

It is also important to realise that the trial has been co-designed with the community leaders at every step of the way.

I also thank both the Western Australian government and South Australian government for their tremendous support for these trials.

But particularly, I thank the community leaders who have lead these trials along with the government at every single step.