Transcript: 2GB Sydney, Interview with Ben Fordham

14 March 2017

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Cashless Debit Card

BEN FORDHAM:              
Now, the Federal Government is calling its cashless welfare card a success following trials in two Australian communities.

We've been following this trial, year-long trials in South Australia and in the East Kimberley and the program is going to continue permanently in both of those areas. Alan Tudge is the Minister for Human Services, he's on the line.

Minister, good afternoon.

G'day Ben.

BEN FORDHAM:              
I'm not at all surprised and I'm sure you're probably not surprised either.

It has gone as well as we possibly could have hoped for. As you know, Ben, this card works a bit like a Visa debit card only that you cannot use it at the bottle shop, you cannot gamble with it, and you cannot take cash out from it and consequently of course you cannot purchase illicit drugs.

We have applied this to all welfare recipients in a couple of locations and the results have been pretty good.

BEN FORDHAM:              
So 80% of payments go to the cashless card, 20% into their bank account. So they can spend the 20% on whatever they want, the 80% they've got to spend on the right things. What are those right things?

It is basically whatever you like except for alcohol, except for gambling, and except for taking cash out and so consequently illicit products.

We are actually trying to give as much freedom, if you like, to welfare recipients as possible, in terms of how they spend their welfare dollars.

What we don't want them to do though is blow it all on the pokies, or drink it all, or use it for the consumption of drugs.

This is particularly a problem in some regions where people don't just drink a six pack and get a bit pissed and that’s it, but they drink copious amounts and then cause destruction in the broader community.

What we are really trying to do is reduce that community-level harm associated with very significant alcohol, drug, and gambling.

BEN FORDHAM:              
Yeah, and then there are the health benefits, the community benefits, so people are drinking less, and they're gambling less, and surprise, surprise, they are better off and their families are better off.

That's what our hope is, Ben. That is exactly the intent of these trials and of what we are doing.

I mean the results - we put out the evaluations today, a quarter of the people say they are drinking less, a third say they are gambling less, a quarter say they are taking fewer drugs, about a third say that they are better able to save and care for their children.

All of those are just terrific outcomes. We have still got a lot more work to do. Some of these places are pretty devastated places, largely because of the poison of alcohol to be honest, and this is just one tool to try to get on top of it, but it seems to be a tool which is working to date.

BEN FORDHAM:              
Minister, I know we've said this before, but as the success of these trials builds and is confirmed, you are going to have more and more people saying, well, if it's good enough for Ceduna, if it's good enough for the East Kimberley, it should be good enough for anyone, anywhere who’s receiving taxpayers' money.

I appreciate people are saying that and I do have leaders from other regions who are requesting now of us a roll out of this initiative in their area and obviously we are listening to them, but we simply haven't made any decisions as to what our next step might be.

BEN FORDHAM:              
Okay, good to talk to you Minister. Thanks for your time.

Thanks so much Ben.

BEN FORDHAM:              
Alan Tudge, the Minister for Human Services. We're not asking too much are we?

If we pay our taxes, which we do, and they don't miss us when it comes to paying income tax, then we do have a bit of a right, don't we, to have some say in where that money is spent and how it's spent.

And if it's spent on drugs and if it's spent on alcohol and if it's spent on poker machines, then it's not being spent on the things that it should be spent on.

So, you put the cashless welfare card in place and 80% of the money is spent in the areas that it should be spent, and surprise, surprise, almost a third of people say they're taking better care of their children.

Nearly a quarter of people using the card say they're drinking less and using less drugs than before, 27% say they're not gambling as much as they previously did. Surprise, surprise, it works, as any fair-minded person was predicting all along.