Transcript: Channel 7 Weekend Sunrise

8 October 2016

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

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

ANDREW O'KEEFE:
Making news this morning: the government claims that trials of a cashless welfare card for parts of Australia have been such a success that they now plan to roll it out across the country.

Under the new system, the unemployed will have access to 50 per cent of their welfare payment swapped for a debit card in a bid to curb dependency and substance related violence.

MONIQUE WRIGHT:
The so-called Healthy Welfare Card, which works in all businesses except bottle shops and gambling houses, and doesn't allow users to withdraw cash from an ATM.

It has already been trialled in two sites around the country, with the government hailing it as a breakthrough, but not everybody is convinced.

ANDREW O'KEEFE:
So, to discuss this hot topic we are joined by Human Services Minister Alan Tudge in Melbourne, and social equity advocate Eva Cox in Sydney. Good morning to you both.

EVA COX:
Good morning.

ALAN TUDGE:
G'day.

ANDREW O'KEEFE:
Minister, to you first. So, is it true that you now plan to roll the card out across the country and also to extend this system to people on youth allowance for people under 18?

ALAN TUDGE:
Andrew, we haven't made that decision yet. We've got two good trial sites going on at the moment - one in South Australia, one in Western Australia - and what I floated earlier this week was that we're exploring what they do in New Zealand.

In New Zealand they do have such a model where if you're under 18 and on welfare payments, you not only have to go to a budgeting course but you do get given a welfare card where most of your welfare payments are put on, and you get about $50 leftover in cash.

On top of that, you have your rent automatically paid for out of your welfare payments. So it is in recognition, I think, that if you're under 18 and you're already on welfare then the chances are you've got a few things going on in your life and might need a bit more structure, and additionally this might just help you as a further stimulus to get work.

MONIQUE WRIGHT:
But Minister, the regime has been running for six months. What's the evaluation so far and how recent has that evaluation been on the success or otherwise of the Healthy Welfare Card?

ALAN TUDGE:
It has been going for 6 months; it'll go for another six months before we have a full independent evaluation done on it. And to date we've got some early data and good anecdotal evidence.

I was up in the East Kimberley in one of the trial sites just a few weeks ago and almost every community leader was saying that the community was demonstrably different.

The head of the hospital was saying that they've got fewer presentations to the emergency room; the ambulance drivers were saying that the ambulance call outs at night are 30 per cent down; the police were saying that there's less public drunkenness around.

So all of those indications are very positive. We do want to see the hard data at the end of the 12 months before making definitive conclusions.

ANDREW O'KEEFE:
The Minister says, of course, that this will help - the structure around these cards helps unemployed people and, I guess youth in future, to get their lives on track. So you agree with that?

EVA COX:
No, and quite apart from anything else - look, I teach research methods, I've done evaluations, I understand about data. I've got the stuff here from Ceduna and I know it's the same in Western Australia.

They have introduced - at the same time as they introduced the cashless welfare card - they've introduced a range of services that deal with alcoholism, that deal with other sorts of problems, and in fact, it's quite expensive and things.

They are probably effecting the things, they are stopping people getting people getting into hospital, and they are stopping those things because of the services.

Stopping people's cash: there is no evidence from the data from the Basics Card in the Northern Territory, which I've gone through in great detail, does not show that any of the areas that were covered by the Basics Card have improvements in terms of alcoholism, in terms of school attendance, in terms of employment.

All of the data that is actually about what's happening to people does not show that the Basics Card has made any effect...

ANDREW O'KEEFE:
...Right.

EVA COX:
The best thing that the University of New South Wales could find out was the fact that some people liked it, particularly those who were on it voluntarily. I do not have a problem if people volunteer for a card...

ANDREW O'KEEFE:
...Yeah sure.

EVA COX:
I do not have a problem if people have an alcohol problem and are put on the card as part of a case management. I do have a problem if everybody with a working age payment ends up on the card because a few people have problems with alcohol, which is fixed by services not the card.

ANDREW O'KEEFE:
Right.

ALAN TUDGE:
Just to be clear, we specifically designed those trial sites in South Australia and the East Kimberley to have those services being attached to the card as well. And we also have a leadership group which oversees the operation of it. Eva I can say…

EVA COX:
[Talks over] But how do you actually distinguish between the card effect and the service effect?

ALAN TUDGE:
[Talks over] Eva, we don't have services, for example in relation to gambling, but we know in Ceduna the amount of money going through the Ceduna Foreshore Hotel - the only gambling venue in the region - is down by 30 per cent.

And that's in a region where only about a fifth of all people are on this welfare card, and yet gambling revenue is down by 30 per cent. Now that's a great thing because it means there's less...

EVA COX:
[Talks over] But how do you know that that is really making a big difference?

ALAN TUDGE:
Well, I mean, Eva you can see that - you track the data already and then all of a sudden you see a drop in the poker machine revenue by 30 per cent following the introduction of this card.

EVA COX:
[Talks over] But you don't know whether the people who were doing that, whether that's just less cash in the area so maybe other people are getting the cash and they are putting it into the poker machine.

ALAN TUDGE:
[Talks over] Well, Eva, let's be open minded about this. Every...

EVA COX:
[Talks over] I'm sorry, I taught research methods. I would've failed you if you'd have been one of my research students, for bad design.

MONIQUE WRIGHT:
Eva...

ALAN TUDGE:
And Eva, I encourage you to go and speak to one of the community leaders on the ground. I have said that we're having a full independent evaluation at the end of the process.

EVA COX:
You can't evaluate things when you have two separate systems working: one which fixes the issues which obviously are a problem, like alcoholism for about 10-15 per cent of people that are on the card; and then the other one where you have the card.

You cannot say the card is working. It didn't work in the Northern Territory because taking away people's cash does not fix problems like addiction.

ANDREW O'KEEFE:
But does it create any problems, Eva?

EVA COX:
Yes.

ANDREW O'KEEFE:
I mean, if the anecdotal evidence suggests that a combination of card and services is having a positive impact - even if you can't distinguish between which of those two things is having the most impact - if the anecdotal evidence says that there is an impact, well you'd only not go ahead with it if there was a significant disadvantage to having a card.

What are the disadvantages?

EVA COX:
There is a disadvantage because people feel shamed, people feel uncomfortable, and people feel that they're being infantilised, they feel they're not being trusted.

People who for years have been on something like a disability support pension, manage their money, manage their lives, have everything organised, suddenly have to go and sort not be able to pay things in the same way they've always done.

They feel shamed, they feel really uncomfortable and and also, the other thing: the Northern Territory said that a lot of the people that liked the card liked it because they actually had other people paying their bills for them and they become less responsible, they start acting as though they are actually dependent.

ALAN TUDGE:
[Talks over] Eva, this is not the Northern Territory. We are talking about these trials and I encourage...

EVA COX:
[Interrupts] I know but you're talking about the same things. You're trying to disguise it.

ALAN TUDGE:
...Eva, I encourage you to go and speak to the community leaders who have led this initiative, particularly Ian Trust in the East Kimberley, some of the community leaders in Ceduna.

EVA COX:
[Talks over] I'm not saying some people don't like it.

ALAN TUDGE:
Speak to them and ask them why they have been such strong advocates for it.

MONIQUE WRIGHT:
[Talks over] Alan Tudge and Eva Cox.

EVA COX:
I am talking about the people that have actually got the welfare card who don't like it and feel shamed, uncomfortable, and mistrusted despite the fact they're not alcoholics.

ANDREW O'KEEFE:
We have to leave it there. Minister, Eva, thank you very much for joining us this morning and sharing those two very different views on these trials.

[ENDS]