Transcript: 3AW Drive - Melbourne interview with Tom Elliott

13 October 2016

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Cashless debit card trial

Our next guest is the Federal Minister for Human Services. Alan Tudge, good evening.

G'day Tom.

Now, I think it was either early this year or late last year you and I spoke about cashless welfare, and you were going to trial it in remote communities; I think Western Australia, Ceduna, and South Australia. How's it gone?

They are going as well as we possibly could have hoped for at this stage of the game. They've been running for six months now.

In essence, what it's about Tom, is that instead of providing welfare into a person's savings account, which of course they can access as cash, we put 80 per cent of all of their welfare dollars into an account which is only accessible via a Visa Debit card.

And that card works everywhere, but it doesn't work at the bottle shop or the gambling houses and you can't take cash out from it and therefore you can't purchase illicit substances.

And to date it seems to be having a great impact on the ground in terms of reducing some of the drunkenness, reducing some of the violence and the assaults in the area.

Okay, so if it's working in these remote communities, do you plan to roll that out across Australia, for all welfare recipients?

We haven't made any decisions yet about what we're going to do post these trials. We've still got another six months, and then we'll have a proper independent evaluation of them.

But in these locations, you've got really serious welfare-fuelled alcohol, drug, and gambling abuse. Basically, where people are spending enormous amounts of money on alcohol and then they're not only damaging themselves in the process, but they're causing havoc in the community, particularly in terms of violence against women and children being neglected.

Not every region is like that in Australia, of course, but there are many regions which are like that, and we want to explore with maybe some of those other regions whether they'd be interested in also having a similar type of arrangement.

Is that what's going to happen? You'll only look at regions where you can identify a community which has got very high rates of I don't know, alcoholism, or I don't know, child abuse, or gambling problems, or something, and only apply it there? You're not going to contemplate just rolling it out for everyone?

Oh, that's not part of our plans in terms of rolling it out for everyone, as you've said. We're taking it very steadily, because this is a brand new product. It's a pretty radical idea in some respects, and we want to get it right.

We want to make sure the technology works and that the results are there, and then we just want to be steady as she goes. So I just want to take it one step at a time, and then we'll contemplate where we go after that. The other- the only other thing [indistinct]

[Interrupts] I believe though in New Zealand this is how they deliver unemployment benefits in New Zealand for everybody. Is that correct?

Not for everybody, I was over there in New Zealand a couple of weeks ago having a look at this - for under 18s. If you're on unemployment benefits, then you get delivered a welfare card, effectively.

What happens there if you're under 18 and already you're on welfare, you not only have to do a budgeting course, you then have your rent which is paid for automatically out of your welfare before you even see it.

Then most of the rest goes onto this welfare card, and you're left with 50 bucks cash in your savings account. And it seems at least in New Zealand that that provides a bit of structure for young people's lives and assists them to get on top of their finances.

Because of course, if you're on welfare already as a 16 or 17-year-old, the chances are you probably do need a bit more structure and a bit more assistance to get your life back on track.

Very quickly, is there any evidence that people are trading these cards on the black market? So if they get a welfare card with $300 on it, is there any evidence they're going to sell it to someone else for 150 bucks and spend that money on alcohol and cigarettes and gambling?

Yeah, we've heard a little bit of that. I don't think it's particularly widespread, but we're certainly keeping an eye on it. In some respects, you can never stop all of the illegal behaviour which will go on.

But at the same time, even if some of that goes on, the overall impact on the community in terms of reducing social harm I think will be very positive, even if some of that does go on.

I constantly say, Tom, that this is a tool, and it's never going to be a perfect tool, but we're not going to let perfect be the enemy of the good, and there's demonstrable good which seems to be coming out of these trials at this stage, and so we're keen to continue them on.

Alan Tudge, thank you for your time. Mr Tudge is the Minister for Human Services. I think it's a great idea. I really do.

If you're on welfare, particularly if you're someone who might suffer from alcohol problems or whatever, this is the Government trying to nudge you towards not drinking so much, not smoking so much, not pouring the money down the pokies. Again, only for certain groups of people on welfare, but there it is.