Transcript: ABC Radio Perth, Interview with Geoff Hutchison

14 March 2017

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

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

GEOFF HUTCHISON:       
Alan Tudge is the Human Services Minister, he joins me on the program. Good morning to you.

ALAN TUDGE:   
Good morning Geoff.

GEOFF HUTCHISON:       
Are you hailing this a success?

ALAN TUDGE:   
It's gone as well as we possibly could have hoped for and the figures you've just mentioned I think testify to that, as well as some of the other data which we've been collecting over the last six to 12 months.

We know, for example, in the Wyndham sobering up centre, their admissions have dropped by 50%. Over in South Australia, the poker machine revenue in the region is down 30%.

So, we're really encouraged by these pieces of information, we're encouraged by the results to date, and we think it's worthwhile continuing it on for some time yet.

GEOFF HUTCHISON:       
Okay. Who in the community is telling you that there's benefit here? That things have got better?

ALAN TUDGE:   
The last time I was up in East Kimberley was a few months ago and I spoke to community leaders’ right across the board, and by and large those community leaders were nearly all supportive of it.

This is from the ambulance drivers and the church leaders, to the local council Indigenous leaders. That's the feedback that I get from them.

The evaluation which we have released today also surveyed both welfare recipients and broader community members and it is the one which provides the real evidence, if you like, about what the perception is on the ground from the community members.

GEOFF HUTCHISON:       
Okay, the review finds a quarter of recipients were drinking less. Do you know how much less?

ALAN TUDGE:   
No, we haven't got that information and it is difficult to assess based on the qualitative surveys which we've done. We're hoping over time, when we get some harder data, we might know that.

But what we do know is, in that region, alcohol is the absolute poison which runs through that community and it can cause devastation, as you know Geoff, not only to the individuals who are consuming the alcohol in copious quantities, but often it leads to all sorts of other problems as well.

To domestic violence, to child neglect, to general harm done in the community, and that is what we are really focused on, that broader community harm.

GEOFF HUTCHISON:       
And that is well understood and certainly people in those communities are listening to you speak to me now. In the AM story that we heard earlier today, you were asked if there was a certain kind of push polling element of this, because the questions being asked was have you been drinking less since you went on the card?

You know, how independent is the independent survey?

ALAN TUDGE:   
It was done completely independently of government and obviously independently of me. My Department commissioned an organisation called ORIMA Research, who are a respected organisation.

They are the ones that designed the questionnaires, the methodology, and they have done the study and produced the report. So, it is completely at arm's length from me. I understand the allegation which is being made…

GEOFF HUTCHISON:       
Well, I guess it's not an allegation but I guess the question is if the review says people are drinking less you want to know how much…

ALAN TUDGE:   
Yeah, that's right.

GEOFF HUTCHISON:       
…if people are supposedly gambling less, you want to know how much.

There are also some loopholes. I mean, there's nothing about this that's particularly easy anyway but the stories of merchants who might be overcharging for a product or service and then refunding it to people in cash.

Again, it's a dubious practice but we know enough of it to know that it exists. Have you heard those kind of things?

ALAN TUDGE:   
You do hear that some people are trying to get around the system and where those practices occur we try to identify them and we can shut down their EFTPOS machine if necessary from the operation of this card.

We have had instances, for example, up in Kununurra where there was allegations made about a taxi driver who was doing such things. We were able to deal with that effectively.

We'll never be able to stop absolutely everything, Geoff, and I constantly say though that we are not going to let perfect be the enemy of the good, because there is some demonstrable good which is coming out of this initiative even if there are still some people who will try to get around it.

We have got to just keep our eye on the ball here in terms of what we're trying to achieve. That is, we are trying to reduce the hugely devastating harm which is caused by alcohol particularly, but increasingly from illicit substances and certainly in, less so in WA but in other states, the gambling as well where so many welfare dollars go straight into the pokies.

GEOFF HUTCHISON:       
Alan Tudge is my guest, the Minister for Human Services. If you would like to add to this conversation because you live in the region and you know what's going on, could you talk to us?

So, you extend it for another six months Mr Tudge?

ALAN TUDGE:   
The intent now is to roll it out on an ongoing basis but we will be reviewing it every six months and asking for authorisation from the Parliament every six months.

We are confident enough now that the trial was getting good enough results to be able to extend the trial onwards.

GEOFF HUTCHISON:       
Okay, you extend the trial on and at what time do you determine that you want to broaden it into other places too?

ALAN TUDGE:   
We haven't made those decisions yet, Geoff. I have been approached by community leaders from a number of other regions, including regions in Western Australia, who have been looking at what has been occurring in the East Kimberley and wanting it to apply to them. Now, we're…

GEOFF HUTCHISON:       
Which towns? We've been talking a lot about South Hedland on this program in the last few months and some really desperately difficult circumstances.

ALAN TUDGE:   
There are and many of those circumstances there in that region, the Pilbara, are also caused by welfare-fuelled alcohol abuse, particularly, and I think I said before, it is the alcohol that can just be the poison which destroys these places and we've got to have a concerted effort to tackle this.

This is one tool which can help attack all this. It is not the panacea, it is not the answer to all the problems, but this alongside some other interventions, such as the liquor restrictions which have been introduced in the East Kimberley, can have an impact.

If we do not frankly tackle the alcohol problems particularly, then I think we are going to be struggling to address so many of the other issues which are apparent in these places.

GEOFF HUTCHISON:       
It's going to be very interesting to have a chat to you maybe in six months and look at what a review and investigation can tell us, perhaps with a little bit more detail about the effectiveness of this scheme but for now thank you very much for talking to me.

ALAN TUDGE:   
Thanks very much, Geoff.

GEOFF HUTCHISON:       
Alan Tudge is the Minister for Human Services. Let me know what you know.

[ENDS]