Transcript: AM – Radio National

14 March 2017

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

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

SABRA LANE:

The Federal Government says its trial of the cashless welfare card is a success. It's been run in Ceduna in South Australia and in Western Australia's East Kimberley.

The trial was designed to limit participants' access to cash, quarantining most welfare money to a debit card which can't be used to buy alcohol or gamble.

The Human Services Minister Alan Tudge says the cards will be now permanent in those areas with six monthly reviews, but he won't say when the Federal Government will decide if the system will be rolled out nationally.

From Perth, Eliza Borrello reports.

ELIZA BORRELLO:

After receiving a 175 page review, the Human Services Minister, Alan Tudge, says the cashless debit card has been enough of a success to keep it in place.

ALAN TUDGE:

The card is having the result of reducing the alcohol, the gambling and the drug abuse.

ELIZA BORELLO:

The card has been trialled for a year in Ceduna in South Australia and 11 months in Kununurra in WA's East Kimberley. The review Mr Tudge commissioned involved interviewing stakeholders, participants and their families.

It found, on average, a quarter of people using the card who drink said they weren't drinking as often while just under a third of gamblers said they'd curbed that habit.

But the researchers did record claims people were finding ways around the system, they included a couple of examples of suspected prostitution and taxi drivers booking up higher fares and handing back the difference in cash.

ALAN TUDGE:

We're monitoring this, we're constantly trying to avoid this occurring. And at the end of the day though, Eliza, and I've said this repeatedly, we're not going to let perfect be the enemy of good.

ELIZA BORRELLO:

The review reported anecdotal claims of an increase in crime committed by Kununurra children wanting cash and more domestic violence in Ceduna.

Data suggested overall crime had reduced in Ceduna, but there'd been no short term evidence of reduced crime in Kununurra. Alan Tudge says the crime figures are preliminary and not conclusive.

ALAN TUDGE:

I simply point to the local police who say that this is a good intervention and they support it.

ELIZA BORRELLO:

Are you absolutely comfortable with the questions that were put to participants? On page 40, for example, it seems that people were asked: you've been able to save more money before, yes or no? Doesn't that sound a little bit like push polling?

ALAN TUDGE:

This was done by an independent evaluator, I had nothing to do with the questions which were asked. It was deliberately done at arm's length from government.

I do know the answer to that question even though I don't have the page in front of me and it was that 31% of people said that they were able to save more money as a result of this.

ELIZA BORRELLO:

The big question is whether the Government will roll the card out nationally. Alan Tudge says that decision hasn't been made.

If it was to be this year, would we see some hints in the Federal Budget?

ALAN TUDGE:

Eliza, I'd get in big trouble if I talk about the Budget before it's released and so I don't plan on doing it now.

ELIZA BORELLO:

The card has its critics and one in two participants say it's made their life worse. Ian Trust, the executive director of the Wunan Foundation, an Aboriginal development organisation in the East Kimberley, says his support for the card has come at a personal cost.

IAN TRUST:

People in Kununurra see me as being one of the perpetrators of the effect it has on - this sort of card - on them.

But what we had before the card was just open sort of slather, people buying heaps of alcohol with the money that they get. The amount of damage that they're doing, I think, that this is definitely an improvement on what we had previously.

SABRA LANE:

Ian Trust, the head of the Wunan Foundation, ending Eliza Borrello's report. And AM asked the Opposition for its response: it says it wants more time to consider the report and speak with the Ceduna and East Kimberley communities before commenting.

[ENDS]