Transcript: 6PR Perth Live, Interview with Oliver Peterson

14 March 2017

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

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

OLIVER PETERSON:         
Well the cashless welfare card will continue in Kununurra here in Western Australia and in Ceduna in South Australia. The trial of the cashless welfare card has been labelled a success. 

Alan Tudge is the Federal Human Services Minister, he joins me on Perth Live today. Minister, welcome to the program. 

ALAN TUDGE:   
G'day Ollie. 

OLIVER PETERSON:         
Now this was introduced, would it be … I would imagine it's about 12, 18 months ago. I was up there with you in Kununurra when I was at Channel 9 when you were introducing the trial. How has it been in operation? 

ALAN TUDGE:   
Just on 12 months now in Ceduna in South Australia and the East Kimberley in Western Australia and that was the duration of the trial.  

We have now had the first stage of the independent evaluation done which is showing good results in reducing alcohol consumption, gambling, as well as drug consumption. On the back of that evaluation, we are continuing on with the operation of the card. 

OLIVER PETERSON:         
Okay, so you'll keep the card in Kununurra? 

ALAN TUDGE:   
Yes, that's exactly right. The plan now is to continue this on for the foreseeable future. We will still have regular checkpoints as to how it's going every six months or so where we will assess how it is going, and seek further authority from the Parliament to continue.  

For the foreseeable future off the back of the independent evaluation, off the back of the community leadership support, we are going to continue on with the card. 

OLIVER PETERSON:         
Okay, so will you continue to review the use of the card? How often will you take stock of its success or failure? 

ALAN TUDGE:   
Every six months we will basically be doing that because we need to seek authorisation from the Parliament every six months and that of course enables us to continue to assess how it is going. 

To date, though, it is going really as well as we possibly could have hoped. Now it is not a panacea to all the problems up there but it certainly is having an impact on reducing some of the devastation which is caused, particularly by excessive alcohol consumption fuelled by the welfare dollar.  

At the end of the day we pay welfare payments to assist people for their housing, for their education, clothes, food and the like. 

Often it is abused, and when it is abused, it doesn't just affect the individual who is drinking the alcohol but often it can cause catastrophic outcomes for the broader community in terms of child neglect, in terms of domestic violence and general community safety.  

It is those issues we're trying to tackle here. 

OLIVER PETERSON:         
The Minister, Alan Tudge. Have you got any figures or any data on whether or not the amount that people are drinking has actually fallen or perhaps they're not gambling as often? 

ALAN TUDGE:   
Yeah we have. The evaluation shows that about 25% of people are drinking less, a third of people are gambling less - and that is more obviously a South Australian issue rather than a Western Australian issue - about 25% of people are taking fewer drugs.  

Also about a third of people say they are better able to look after their children as a result and better able to save money as a result.  

We also know from other data which we have that in the Wyndham Sobering-Up Unit, for example, their admissions to that have declined by 50% from this time compared to the same time last year which is quite extraordinary.  

All the feedback that we get on the ground from the community leaders - be they church leaders, supermarket operators or whatever - is that the community is a better place. 

I say this is not a panacea for all the problems, but it is, I think, a useful tool to try to address some of the issues, particularly the poison of alcohol which devastates some of these communities. 

OLIVER PETERSON:         
So less reliance on the local hospitals or doctors. And have we seen crime decrease at this stage? 

ALAN TUDGE:   
We haven't got the sufficiently robust data to be able to see that. The local police though are very supportive of any measure which can help stem the flow of alcohol.  

In relation to the hospital admissions, again it is anecdotal, but I've spoken to one of the heads of the hospitals there. He said there has been a decline in the admissions to the emergency room from alcohol-related injuries, which again is very encouraging. 

So a lot of the anecdotal evidence backs up the hard data which we have. 

As I said, it hasn't solved every problem and we didn't expect it to. But alongside some of the other measures which are in place, I think it is a useful tool try to tackle some of those issues. 

OLIVER PETERSON:         
Okay, so for those who aren't aware; with the healthy welfare card, you have 80% of their welfare is obviously put on to this card which means you can only use it for general items from the supermarket and the like and every day to day living items.  

And then what, 20% can be put into the bank account and used as cash? 

ALAN TUDGE:   
Used as cash, that's exactly right. You get issued with what effectively is a Visa debit card. That Visa debit card looks like a Visa debit card which you might have in your pocket, many of your listeners would have in their pockets right now.  

It works anywhere, it can purchase anything, but it doesn't work at any liquor shop in the country, it won't work at any gambling house and you can't take cash out from it and consequently cannot purchase illicit substances. And then the other 20% … 

OLIVER PETERSON:         
And any thought to change the welfare payment on that, perhaps adjust the figures so that it might be 70/30 or you'll keep it as 80/20? 

ALAN TUDGE:   
We will keep it at 80/20 for the moment. That was chosen on the back of a negotiation which we had with community leaders. There is an ability to adjust down the amount which you have on your welfare card by applying effectively to a local panel.  

If the local panel says; listen, you're doing all the right things otherwise, they can make an adjustment and effectively provide you with more access to cash. That mechanism is there already in place, and it will continue as well. 

OLIVER PETERSON:         
Alright, any thought about moving into other towns or communities or perhaps bringing it here to Perth and right around the country? 

ALAN TUDGE:   
We have had several requests from other regions in Australia who have been looking at what's occurring in East Kimberley or in the Ceduna region, but we simply haven't made any decisions yet as to what we might do next.  

We always said we'd take it just one step at a time, that we would trial it in a couple of locations where there was good leadership support for it, that we would assess it and then we'd make decisions from there.  

We have done the trial, we are going to continue those on in Ceduna and the East Kimberley and now we have got the task of assessing what do we do next. 

OLIVER PETERSON:         
And you've got other locations, other towns, other communities putting their hand up though, asking if you want to expand the program, they would be interested? 

ALAN TUDGE:   
We do have that and even places in Western Australia, some of whom have been publicly calling for it, but we haven't made any decisions.  

This does take careful planning and implementation as well. You want to work very closely with the community leaders, be they the Indigenous and the non-Indigenous leaders, to ensure there is that local support. If you have got that local support it makes the task so much easier.  

We had that in the East Kimberley and obviously if we do expand it out further at all, we would like to achieve that in other regions as well. 

OLIVER PETERSON:         
Alright. Alan Tudge, appreciate your time on Perth Live this afternoon. 

ALAN TUDGE:   
Thanks so much, Ollie. 

OLIVER PETERSON:         
My pleasure. Alan Tudge there, the Human Services Minister.