Transcript: Sky News PM Agenda, Interview with David Speers

27 April 2017

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
Gambling reform, Jobseeker compliance
E&OE

DAVID SPEERS:

Minister for Human Services, Alan Tudge, thank you for your time.

ALAN TUDGE:

G’day David.

DAVID SPEERS:

Let’s start on what you did agree on. Are you able to share with us what came out of today’s talks?

ALAN TUDGE:

We had a very good meeting today David, and in essence we agreed to a number of elements to help provide a safer environment for people to gamble and to help empower individuals over their gambling expenditure.

Perhaps the most important element of those were, firstly the agreement to introduce a National Self Exclusion Register.

What that means is, you will be able to go onto one of your apps, self-exclude yourself from betting, and that will automatically apply across other apps which you might have on your phone or your computer.

We have also agreed, as you outlined in your introduction to prohibit lines of credit being offered by gambling providers to their customers. Our view is there is too much of a conflict of interest for a gambling provider to be a provider as well as, effectively, a bank. Therefore, that should be prohibited.

DAVID SPEERS:

Alan Tudge, that is something – just on that one – you have been campaigning on this for some years, as I understand it, after an incident in your electorate about someone who was offered lines of credit by an online gambling site.

ALAN TUDGE:

That is exactly right David. This was several years ago now where there was an unemployed chap who came to see me, he was a gambler. He was offered – believe it or not - $80,000 in credit by one of the big online corporate bookmakers.

He blew all of that over the course of a weekend and then he was asked to pay it all back. He was bankrupted by the company and they were about to seize his and his widowed mother’s house in order to recoup the money.

When he came to see me, I determined at that particular time that I would try to save this guy’s house, but that I would also try to change the law.

I just think it is unconscionable for a company to provide lines of credit for them to continue to bet, once they have emptied out their credit cards, they have emptied out their savings account, and yet they are provided lines of credit.

DAVID SPEERS:

Most states have done this, but the Northern Territory has not. As you know, most online gambling sites are, at least, registered in the Northern Territory for the more relaxed rules around their operation.

Is the Northern Territory on board now?

ALAN TUDGE:

The Northern Territory Minister was not present at the meeting, but her representative was there and they are broadly on board. Indeed, the major corporate bookmakers themselves have largely come to an agreement that they should not be doing this anymore in any case.

I think they have come a long way to realise that they have got to be responsible going forward if they are to continue to operate effectively in Australia.

DAVID SPEERS:

So you’ve convinced the Northern Territory, who has been the big problem in this regard, with lines of credit, for online gamblers, they will act.

Do you know when this is going to happen?

ALAN TUDGE:

We have not agreed in terms of how this will be actually implemented. It could be implemented in a couple of different ways.

One could be that the states or territories themselves all agree to legislate or make conditions as part of their licensing agreement.

Or indeed the Commonwealth Government could legislate to prohibit lines of credit itself. We have not come to that conclusion yet, but we do want to act on this fast.

Given that we do have an agreement, we want to get some of these other measures going fast as well. Many of them, we think, we can implement by the end of the year – a National Self-Exclusion Register, because of the IT build and the like, it might take a little bit longer.

But we are absolutely determined to put these measures in place to provide a safer environment to empower individuals over their gambling, but to still allow individuals to have a punt if they want to, but in a safe environment.

DAVID SPEERS:

It is the problem gamblers that are the issue. Tell me about this self-exclusion register. If you know you have got a problem, you are saying you can just get online. Where do you go to and how does that work to ensure you are not going to be enticed to spend too much?

ALAN TUDGE:

Some online gambling providers already have a self-exclusion mechanism on their own app. Most people bet on their phone.

We also know from the research that most people have more than on gambling app on their phone and often they will have one, two, three or four.

You might self-exclude yourself from Sportsbet, but in a moment of weakness you might go to Ladbrokes or go on to one of the other sites and start betting.

What this is aiming to do is to provide one vehicle where you can self-exclude from Sportsbet, and say listen, I just don’t want to be tempted by this for another week or another month or however long you specify and that rule would automatically apply across other gambling sites.

So you can’t just jump across to Ladbrokes or someone else to continue your betting. That is an important mechanism, which as I said, really just empowers the individual so that when they know they are getting themselves into trouble - or a family member does, they can take some action and it will be more effective because it goes right across the board.

DAVID SPEERS:

What about the idea, that I understand was to be discussed, about a pre-commitment scheme for online wagering, so that you could opt out, you could pre-commit to not be allowed at all to get on one of these sites.

ALAN TUDGE:

In essence, that is what the self-exclusion does. It actually excludes you from jumping on for a period of time which you might specify.

We also agreed that there should be a voluntary pre-commitment option, which, when you sign up for an account, you will be asked to pre-commit the amount of money which you are willing to spend over a certain period of time.

You don't have to, but you will be provided with that option. I think that it is something that many people will take up.

What we find is that people start betting and don't quite realise how much they have bet or how much they have lost almost until it is too late.

So this is another mechanism which I think will empower individuals over their expenditure and hopefully prevent fewer people from getting themselves into trouble.

Another initiative which goes hand in glove with that is the commitment to ensure that people are getting regular activity statements as well, which very clearly outline precisely how much they have bet, how much they have lost in any period of time.

So again, they can see that clearly, in black and white, their family members might be able to see it as well, and so people can intervene if required.

DAVID SPEERS:

It's very interesting. Alan Tudge, can I turn to another aspect of your portfolio, away from the gambling issues.

Job seekers who don't turn up to job interviews when they are on the dole – they are required to, the front page Telegraph story earlier this week suggesting that you were keen to get tough on them once again, or try to at least. What are you planning?

ALAN TUDGE:

David, the issue here is that amongst all of the job seekers, say 700,000 job seekers, the vast majority, two thirds, do the right thing every single time: they barely miss an appointment.

But you have got a cohort of 100,000 people who are continually missing appointments, not searching for work, not taking the job interviews, not taking the jobs when they are being offered.

Actually, in amongst that 100,000, perhaps half have got some serious issues going on in their life, and we actually want to be able to identify those people earlier, that is one thing we want to do.

The other half, I think, are frankly taking the tax payer for a ride and are deliberately trying to skirt the system.

On the face of it, we have got some pretty tough penalties in place, but Labor introduced a waiver mechanism when they were in government which effectively allowed people to avoid facing any financial penalty simply by ringing up and agreeing to re-engage in an activity; it could be an activity as simple as a short training course.

As a result of that, virtually no one suffers a financial penalty for serious breaches of their mutual obligations, and that is what we are concerned about.

We would like to see a system which, on the one hand, finds the people who need support and finds them early so we can offer it.

On the other, for the category of people who are just skirting the system, to be able to actually have some proper expectations upon them; to say, you have got to search for work, you have got to take the job interviews, and you have got to take that job.

And if you don't, there will be financial penalties. And I think that that is only fair and that is only reasonable to them and the tax payer.

DAVID SPEERS:

So you are talking there around about 50,000, from what you are saying, who are skirting the system, in your words. You would want them to face the full penalty of, what is it, eight weeks no dole payments at all?

ALAN TUDGE:

In some respects, I think one of the weaknesses of the present system, is that some of the penalties initially, for maybe your first breach or your second breach, are quite weak, but then all of a sudden there is an eight week penalty which could be applied, with no dole for eight weeks.

I can understand why there is a reluctance from, say, either the job search providers or indeed my Centrelink officials, to apply that because they might see it is too onerous.

I think there should be a proportionate penalty; it should be an immediate penalty for when people are deliberately doing the wrong thing and haven't got any reasonable excuse for doing so.

DAVID SPEERS:

So forget one breach, two breach: if they miss a job interview without a reasonable explanation, you would have some sort of penalty. Not the eight week penalty, but some sort of penalty straight away.

ALAN TUDGE:

At the moment most people don't suffer any penalty at all. Last year not a single person lost a cent for failure to job search, not a single person.

You can't tell me that every single job seeker was diligently job searching all day, every day, all year. And we know that only about 10 per cent of the people who did not have a reasonable excuse for a serious breach received a financial penalty.

A serious breach is when you do not accept a job which is offered or continually do not turn up to a job interview. Only about 10 per cent of those people actually suffered any sort of financial penalty.

So we think that we have got to have high expectations upon people: if you are capable, if nothing is going on in your life but you are capable of working, then we expect you to job search, we expect you to go to the interviews, and we expect you to take the job because it is in your interests as much as it is in the community's interests for you to do that.

Because what we certainly know is that the longer that you languish on welfare, the steeper the road back to employment is.

DAVID SPEERS:

Is this something we will see in the Budget, the details around this new penalty scheme?

ALAN TUDGE:

David, you know the rule. I don't want to speculate on what might be in or not in the Budget…

DAVID SPEERS:

I've got to try.

ALAN TUDGE:

We have identified, I think, the nature of the problem and myself and Michaelia Cash and Christian Porter have worked very closely together on this, to try to at least unpick where the problems are.

As I said, there is a problem actually in terms of not identifying those earlier who need the help. We want to be able to do that, but we also want to be able to have, if you like, higher expectations on those people who are capable, they are fit, they are able to take a job and we think that they should when it is available.

DAVID SPEERS:

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge. Appreciate your time this afternoon; thanks very much for that.

ALAN TUDGE:

Thanks very much, David.