Transcript: 6PR Drive, Interview with Adam Shand

16 November 2016

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
Cashless Welfare Card
E&OE

ADAM SHAND:

Let's have a chat to Alan Tudge, he's the Minister for Human Services. Good afternoon Alan.

ALAN TUDGE:

G'day Adam.

ADAM SHAND:

Yeah, I think six months into the trial, it's going pretty well but what I did notice is a few different rorts there.

In particular, the tobacco rort where you have people who are able to buy tobacco on the card and now a packet of drum, you know, tobacco is worth about 50 bucks.

So, you can actually sell that to somebody for cash and you've actually thwarted the card. I spoke to one of the shopkeepers up in Wyndham—a guy called Dezzy, he runs the supermarket and the servo there—and this is what he had to say about it, Alan.

[Excerpt]

ADAM SHAND:

Dezzy, the card's been on trial now for six months, how's it going?

DEZZY:

Started off real good but now they've sort of worked out ways around it so it's not so flash.

ADAM SHAND:

What are the ways around it?

DEZZY:

Oh, well they buy smokes, fuel, someone else gives them the card, they buy it, then they give them the cash, but a little bit less cash back so they miss out on a little bit that way.

ADAM SHAND:

They're taking a fine but they're still getting cash.

DEZZY:

Yeah, yeah. They, yeah … getting cash then they buy the grog after that.

ADAM SHAND:

So, in your opinion, might it be better to maybe take tobacco off the card?

DEZZY: Yeah. For it to work, tobacco's got to go. Yeah, that's … it's no good otherwise.

[End of excerpt]

ADAM SHAND:

Yeah, that's Dezzy up there in Wyndham, Alan Tudge.

So, you can see there's a couple of rorts there; fuel and tobacco. Are you aware of these things?

ALAN TUDGE:

Oh, listen, inevitably some people are going to try and get around the system.

Now, we'll try to do everything that we can to stop that but at the same time, Adam, we're not going to let perfect be the enemy of the good.

And, while there might be some people who try to get around the system and even succeed in doing so, overwhelmingly it seems that this card is making a big impact on the ground because we've seen, for example, the number of ambulance callouts at night 30 per cent lower.

We've seen the number of people rocking up to the sobering up unit in Wyndham, which is almost 70 per cent lower than when the trial began back in April of this year.

So, we've had some staggering results already despite the fact that there might be a few people that try to get around it.

ADAM SHAND:         

I totally agree with that.

It is working on the ground and the majority of people are complying but you're always going to have people, the smarties, who are going to try and rort this. But I guess with tobacco, it seems to me a soluble fix where you just take tobacco off the card. Have you considered that?

ALAN TUDGE:          

Yeah, we did actually. We thought long and hard about this at the beginning of the trial and discussed it with the community leaders who co-designed this with us and we decided against it for a couple of reasons.

Firstly because the products that we took off the list, if you like, were things which not only damage yourself if you consume too much of them, but also tend to cause considerable harm to others and that's particularly alcohol and drugs, obviously. If you, you know, you'll drink yourself silly but then often the men will become violent.

ADAM SHAND:         

Yes.

ALAN TUDGE:          

In relation to cigarettes, yes we don't want you to smoke but you smack a pack or two packs of cigarettes and then you don't necessarily become violent and hit somebody else.

So that was the first reason. The second reason was a compliance issue. The way the card operates, it tends to operate at the store level rather than the individual product level.

What I mean by that is that we'll switch entire stores off, so every liquor store in the country is switched off, every gambling house in the country is switched off.

When it comes to tobacco, it's sold in almost every single corner store and we don't necessarily want to switch off all those corner stores which would sell tobacco.

So they were the two reasons we decided not to include it, at least in the trial.

We're very open to looking at this and if the feedback comes that, yes, we should be including it and maybe there's another compliance way to get around it then let's have a look at that if we extend it.

ADAM SHAND:         

The other little rort that I heard was about taxi drivers in Kununurra who were overcharging people and then a little bit of cash being liberated as well in that regard. Are you aware of that one?

ALAN TUDGE:          

Yeah, I was aware of that one and there's a particular taxi driver or business up there, and there's only a couple up there.

We're aware of them, we've had discussions with them and we've said that if there's going to be any issues here we can switch off his taxi from being able to use the card and that will impact on his business so from what we understand, that issue has largely been addressed.

We're trying to be as nimble as possible in these trials as well, so that when we do hear of little instances like this, we can quickly act upon them.

The community leaders tell us about it, we act upon them, and hopefully then we fix it and move on to the next thing.

ADAM SHAND:         

Currently this card, I understand, is coming out of your department, it's …

ALAN TUDGE:          

[Interrupts] Yeah, that's right. So, I've been overseeing the design and implementation of this for the last 18 months.

ADAM SHAND:         

See, I wonder whether this would be an opportunity for a major financial institution to get involved. I see this is just commercially an opportunity for them.

ALAN TUDGE:          

It potentially is and, to be honest, I have been having some discussions with the banks in relation to this.

Now, we do have a small financial services provider called Indue who actually does provide the card and they do it in concert with Visa.

So it's those two companies who actually provide the card but I've also been in discussions with some of the mainstream banks and say, listen, would you like to be part of this?

Because, ideally you … you might have your accounts integrated for example, if you already bank with Westpac for example, maybe you have that—your cashless debit card—with Westpac and also have your savings account with Westpac.

ADAM SHAND:         

The other little complaint I registered was people saying, well, I can't pay my bills, I can't go and pay fines with the card, for instance, I don't have enough cash on there and these sorts of things.

I don't know whether that's true or not, but are you aware there may be limitations like that?

ALAN TUDGE:          

There's certainly—it can pay most things, if it's electricity, your general bill pays; you can do that on the card.

So we've thought through that, we've worked on it; you can even do some internet shopping on it.

It's not an exhaustive list that you can do internet shopping, but a lot of things you can.

But of course, you can't internet shop at places which sell alcohol or, you know, you gamble online or the like. But bill pay you should be able to do.

So in relation to fines, I mean if that's something that people have raised—it hasn't been raised with me—we can certainly take a look at that and have that added to the list so it's something that can be done.

ADAM SHAND:         

Yeah, sometimes these anecdotal complaints are not always borne out by reality.

ALAN TUDGE:          

Well that's right. So we get pretty good feedback actually, Adam, on the ground, because the community leaders—and this is Indigenous and non-indigenous leaders on the ground—have co-designed this with us.

And they tell us very quickly as well, because they're overseeing the implementation of it, if things aren't quite right, and we try to fix them very quickly. But that's something I hadn't heard of, but we can take a look at it.

ADAM SHAND:         

Yeah, sure.

Now, the leaders I did speak to are concerned, or at least they want to see this card continued, and they say that if the Government finishes its trial and says we won't continue with it things will not only go back to the way they were, the downward spiral will actually increase the sense of despair, particularly amongst the community leaders.

How are you pushing the argument within Cabinet to make sure that we go on from here to a permanent system?

ALAN TUDGE:          

Yeah, so in relation to the two locations where we've got trials, certainly if those community leaders request for the trial to continue, then obviously we'll look very favourably upon that.

What we don't want to do is set up something that's working and then pull the rug from underneath the community in the process. But we are going to do a proper evaluation of it, we've got independent evaluations being done, and we'll get that in the first half of next year.

Then we'll have to make decisions, by the way, as to more broadly what we're going to do with this.

So, do we roll it out further to other regions? Do we roll it out to particular cohorts? And that's the type of thinking which we're putting our mind to now, but that'll be informed by the evaluation as well, Adam.

ADAM SHAND:         

I think one aspect a lot of people miss in this—and people call it the ‘White Card’ up there, as if it's the white man giving it to the black man—but anybody who's on welfare in those towns, in those regions, black, white or brindle, will be under this regime.

ALAN TUDGE:          

Yeah, that's exactly right. It's not determined by your indigeneity or otherwise, it's determined by the basis of you being on a working age income support payment.

Now, anybody who is on such a payment will be issued with that card in the trial locations, and indeed if we go to other regions that would be the basis upon which it is issued.

ADAM SHAND:         

Putting aside the politics of the situation, but Alan Tudge as an individual, would you like to see this extended across the country, maybe to under-18s or this sort of thing? I mean, do you think this is the model for the future in your view?

ALAN TUDGE:          

Yeah, and I've floated this idea of it applying to younger people, having gone to New Zealand and seeing it work pretty effectively there.

But also, I've had other regional leaders approach me as well and say this thing seems to be working in East Kimberley, it seems to be working in [indistinct]; we've got some pretty significant issues in our community, maybe we should introduce it here.

We're obviously going to be very open to those discussions, should the evaluation prove positive.

We are though, Adam, being deliberate about this in terms of it being a trial, trying to learn from it, trying to get an evaluation from it, and then making decisions then.

And so while we are open to these suggestions and ideas, we haven't made any decisions yet, but that time will come in the near future.

ADAM SHAND:         

Yeah, certainly, I think as Andrew Forrest has said numerous times, that we have to adopt a culture of honest failure, take risk and have honest failure as part of our thinking.

It's difficult in the political world you live in.

ALAN TUDGE:          

It is actually, it is difficult in the political world, and I think that's absolutely right with some of the really tough issues that we have in Australia, and there are some very significant ones in Kununurra and Wyndham, as your listeners would know, that we have to be able to trial things, and if they don't work, well, they don't work, but if they do let's refine them and continue them, and that's the basis upon which we're trialling this.

And of course, we'd like to trial different things as well in the broader welfare space through our Try, Test and Learn Fund.

It's a $100 million fund, specifically targeted at trialling a whole bunch of different innovative things to tackle high welfare dependency in particular cohorts, and Christian Porter is overseeing that, and we hope it will come up with a whole bunch of great ideas.

But if they work successfully, then we can replicate those and put them around the place elsewhere as well.

ADAM SHAND:         

Okay, we shall see. But my advice is, on my little visit there, stay the course. Thanks for your time.

ALAN TUDGE:          

Yeah. Thanks so much Adam.

ADAM SHAND:         

Good on you. That's Alan Tudge, Minister for Human Services there, just reviewing where we're at with the cashless welfare card in Kununurra and Wyndham.

[Ends]