Transcript: 3AW Drive, Melbourne, Interview with Nick McCallum

20 September 2016

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
Australian Priority Investment Approach to Welfare announcement, Availability of labour for fruit picking in regional areas
E&OE

NICK MCCALLUM:          
Now we’re joined by the Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge. As I mentioned a little earlier in the program, there is reform underway of our welfare system. Mr Tudge, thanks indeed for your time.

ALAN TUDGE:   
G'day Nick.

NICK MCCALLUM:          
Okay, so let’s get down to some nitty-gritties. What are we going to see that will change as a result of this?

ALAN TUDGE:   
In essence what we have announced today is a new approach to tackling welfare dependence, which as you would know, Nick, can be an absolute poison on individuals in terms of sucking the life out of people that are on passive welfare for too long.

And we know there are certain cohorts of people who are particularly susceptible to being long-term welfare dependent. And we’ve suggested today, based on a lot of analysis and modelling, that we can identify which particular groups of people are likely to be on welfare for a long period of time, and to be able to provide much more targeted interventions to them. [Inaudible].

NICK MCCALLUM:          
[Interrupts] Okay, so give us a couple of examples of the people you mean, then.

ALAN TUDGE:   
Well, one example is for example young carers. Now, these are people who might be teenagers who are effectively getting a Carers’ Payment to look after- typically it’ll be their mother or father who is sick and requiring care. Now, there’s about 11,000 of them that we know from looking backwards that the likelihood of them being on welfare for the rest of their life is very high.

In fact, the statistics would show that on average, that 11,000 group of people today will be on welfare for at least 43 years of their remaining life, i.e. they're - you know, really their prospects of getting into the workforce are very, very poor.

So that says to us we’ve got to do things differently for that particular cohort. We now know the details. Let's be innovative in terms of the approach which we have in order to get them on to a better trajectory. That’s good for those individual carers, and of course it's good for the broader society as well.

NICK MCCALLUM:          
Okay. Now, there’s been a lot said about a quote: Try, Test and Learn Fund, which will cost about $96 million. So what's that?

ALAN TUDGE:   
[Talks over] Yeah, that’s right. So we’ve got $96 million set aside, in essence, to do this highly targeted interventions on those particular cohorts who we know statistically are going to be on a poor trajectory. So we’re going to be asking the community organisations and other entities to come forward with innovative ideas to put those young carers onto a better pathway.

Similarly with say, students. We know that there’s a very large cohort of students who might be on Youth Allowance right now who statistically we know are going to be on welfare payments for another decade or longer as well, and simply aren’t getting off those student payments and going into work.

So again, this Try, Test and Learn Fund will enable a flexible pool of funding to have very targeted interventions at those particular groups to hopefully put them on a better trajectory.

NICK MCCALLUM:          
Okay. Couple of things that were suggested today during the National Press Club launch of this. One was a suggestion of linking welfare payments to school attendance.

ALAN TUDGE:   
Yeah, that’s right. Now, we’ve had- and I’ve personally had this view for some time - that in some circumstances where you've got particularly poor school attendance that we should be linking the welfare payments to the school attendance. Now, Christian Porter …

NICK MCCALLUM:          
[Interrupts] Is this to the parents or to the kids?

ALAN TUDGE:   
[Talks over] This is to the parents, so …

NICK MCCALLUM:          
[Talks over] Okay.

ALAN TUDGE:
… so at the moment, parents typically will get Family Payments, which are there to support the looking after of their children. Now, the number one thing about looking after your children is, of course, sending your kids to school and some parents aren’t doing that.

So there is a case of making that linkage and what Christian Porter, the Social Services Minister, said today is that there is at least a case for trialling this idea, and I know of some communities in more regional areas who would be interested in trialling that.

So we’re going to explore that and to see whether or not it actually does make a difference in boosting school attendance, because as you know, if kids aren’t at school, they're not going to learn, and if they’re not learning, their chances of being on welfare for the rest of their life are very, very high.

NICK MCCALLUM:          
There have been a lot of trials - initially in areas where the predominant population is Aboriginal, but it's now extended beyond that - of cashless debit cards. So forcing people to actually send a certain percentage of their welfare cheque on groceries and necessities.

Any suggestion that as a result of these reforms, that will be extended and adopted in a greater number of communities?

ALAN TUDGE:   
Yeah, so I’ve been overseeing the implementation of those cashless welfare cards over the last couple of years, and we’ve got good trials going on in two locations: one in Western Australia and one in South Australia. And it is still early days, but they’re getting very, very good results at this early stage.

Now, we’re contemplating right now in terms of what the next step might be. Do we roll it out to high welfare areas? Do we roll it out more broadly?

We honestly just haven't made that decision, Nick, and we want to get a full evaluation, first of all, of the trial so we know the technology works, so that we know the impact on the ground is there, and then we'll make further decisions.

NICK MCCALLUM:          
So Minister, there's a long road ahead, but part of it obviously is creating programs to entice young people into work. But there’s also got to be an attitude change, hasn't there?

ALAN TUDGE:   
I think that's exactly right. Now, you’ve got to- on the one hand, you’ve got to have the jobs which are there and are available, and in some respects, that’s why we keep talking about jobs and growth, and we have to grow the economy because ultimately that leads to more opportunities for people.

On the other hand, though, there is a smaller proportion, but it’s still a significant proportion of people who, frankly, don’t want to work, and I’m sure many of your listeners would know such people.

And we need to make sure that there is a strict compliance regime in place so that those who are able to work do work, and that means having pretty strict enforcement about looking for jobs and pretty strict enforcement about taking a job if one is available, even if it’s not the most perfect job for you in the first instance. Any job is better than sitting on welfare.

NICK MCCALLUM:          
And finally, Minister, I know it was actually raised as a solution to another problem, but it strikes me that it’s not a bad idea full stop. And that’s Senator Nick Xenophon’s idea of trying to entice younger people who are on welfare to go and pick fruit, because there's now a shortage because of this stupid, I think, backpackers’ tax.

But he says why don’t we boost up the amount of money that people can earn, say to $5,000, so that entices them to go to areas like Mildura and pick fruit?

ALAN TUDGE:   
Yeah. Listen, it’s a good issue to raise, and that absolutely frustrates me that we can have fruit which literally rots on the trees because the farmers say that they can’t get fruit pickers, and at the same time, we’ve got youth unemployment of 12 per cent across Australia. Immensely frustrating.

Now Nick Xenophon’s idea, we'll take a look at it. I mean, we should point out that already you can earn a reasonable amount of money before it impacts on your welfare payments at all. I think from memory it is a hundred bucks a fortnight, so what’s that, about $2,500 a year.

NICK MCCALLUM:          
Yeah, so effectively we’d need to double it.

ALAN TUDGE:   
So what he is sort of saying is to double that. I’m not sure if that’s the impediment, actually, for people taking those jobs. I would like to look into that further, but it’s immensely frustrating that [audio skips] sometimes in regional areas themselves we get pressure from the farmers to allow immigrants to come in and pick the fruit.

At the same time you’ll have a large group of people who are unemployed right in that area. We need to be better matching that and insisting that those people who are able to work actually do do the job.

NICK MCCALLUM:          
Okay, thank you very much. Alan Tudge, Minister for Human Services, a lot to talk about there. We’ll return to the phones shortly.

[ENDS]