Transcript: 3AW Melbourne, Drive, Interview with Tom Elliott

12 May 2017

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
Cashless Welfare Card, Drug Testing, Welfare compliance
E&OE

TOM ELLIOTT:   
Joining us now on the line is the Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge. Mr Tudge, good afternoon.

ALAN TUDGE:   
G'day, Tom.

TOM ELLIOTT:   
Okay, now firstly Budget Night. I know it has been very exciting for you the past couple of days, but you have announced a new situation whereby people who are on the dole can be drug tested. How will that work?

ALAN TUDGE:   
That is right, Tom. So we are doing some trials of this and it will apply to new entrants into Newstart. Effectively in the trial areas when people apply for Newstart, they will be made aware that they may be drug tested.

They will be sent a letter and a text message to say they must come into Centrelink. When they are in Centrelink they will be tested in one of three ways: either through saliva, through a hair follicle, or a urine test.

And off the back of that, if it is a positive test, you do not lose your payment as such but you will be put on some sort of cashless welfare system, similar, say, to our Cashless Debit Card we have introduced in a couple of areas.

TOM ELLIOTT:   
Okay, yes, and you and I have spoken about the Cashless Welfare Card in the past.

So if someone has, I don't know, smoked a joint on Saturday or Sunday and they come in on Monday into their local Centrelink office and say, I am unemployed, I need the dole, and they have the drug test and the drug test reveals, you know, marijuana or whatever the active chemical is, in their system, are they automatically denied the cash welfare payment, then?

ALAN TUDGE:   
That is right. So on your first positive reading you will be placed onto a cashless welfare system. You are immediately asked for a second drug test within 25 days.

If you test positive on this second one, it is clearly an indication that you have got some sort of drug addiction problem, because you will know that you are going to be tested.

If that is the case, then you will be directed to get medical assistance and you will be directed to start to get your drug problem under control, and that will, in essence, form part of your mutual obligations on an ongoing basis.

TOM ELLIOTT:   
Okay, but is it up to the dole recipient to go and find the assistance or does the Government come along and say, here is our approved get yourself off drugs program?

ALAN TUDGE:   
So we will be able to assist the recipient in that, and as you probably know, we have put in hundreds of millions dollars, a lot of money in recent years, into a drug and alcohol treatment program, whether that is detox, resident in-patient facilities or counselling services.

So there is a lot around, but one of the criteria for selecting the areas of the trial will be where there is capacity for drug and alcohol treatment already.

TOM ELLIOTT:   
Okay, well that will be interesting. Do you expect to catch many people?

ALAN TUDGE:   
Well, we do. The overall aim here, of course, is to identify those people who are using drugs and to send a message that they should not be using welfare for the purpose of drug taking, and also to be able to assist the people to get off it, so that they are better able to get a job down the track.

That is the objective; we are trying to get behavioural change on the one hand and we are trying to assist people who might have a habit to actually get off it.

TOM ELLIOTT:   
Will they be reported to police for taking an illegal drug?

ALAN TUDGE:   
No, they won't. That is a very important point, actually. It will be very clear laws, which says that the test is only for the purpose of social security payments and the information won't be provided to anybody else for any other purpose.

TOM ELLIOTT:   
Okay. Alright, well, I will look forward to seeing how that works; I think it is a good policy, I really do, I do not like the idea of my taxes going into welfare payments that someone then uses to buy illegal drugs.

Alright, situation two: back in February a spear-fisherman in Cairns, Queensland, was attacked by a bull shark. He had his leg amputated pretty much at the hip and he's been denied disability payments by Centrelink because they say they want him to get a prosthetic leg, learn how to walk again, and then see if he can resume his old trade as a boiler maker.

And then, at the same time, we had a call from a chap who actually supervises people on community service orders- no, sorry, we had another call from someone who's a foster parent who says that the boy's father is an ice addict and he does get disability- sorry, he does get disability payments because of his drug addiction.

Now, can this truly be the case? That if you are on drugs you can get disability payments, but if you have your leg bitten off by a shark you cannot?

ALAN TUDGE:   
At the moment you are able to get the Disability Support Pension for having a drug addiction, but we are getting rid of that; that was another measure that we announced on Budget Night …

TOM ELLIOTT:   
Does that mean people who currently get it will cease getting it, or will it only be new ones?

ALAN TUDGE:   
No, it won't- it won't affect the current people, it is only for the new entry.

TOM ELLIOTT:   
But how can that make sense? How can it be that a bloke has had his leg bitten off and his only fault was that he went spearfishing, and he has got two young kids, and yet someone who just decides to go and take ice can get these payments?

ALAN TUDGE:   
So first of all we are fixing up the issues in relation to those, so you cannot get it just for having the drug addiction.

If that drug addiction is causing you all sorts of functional impairments, then you still may be able to get the Disability Support Pension, but not just because of your drug addiction, and that is an important change we have announced on Budget Night.

In relation to a person- I am not going to go into the specifics of this individual, but just talk generally, that if you have had a tragic accident such as this, then there are payments there to support such people.

He will be immediately- such a person would be immediately eligible for the Newstart payment and there would not be any mutual obligations attached to that, i.e. they do not, obviously, job search or anything like that, they will get that payment while they are then applying for the Disability Support Pension.

The Disability Support Pension, though, only kicks in once you have been treated and stabilised; then you get fully assessed as to what your job capacity is and whether or not you can indeed work post that stabilisation period.

We hope an individual who may have tragically lost a leg will be stabilised and will be able to contribute back to the workforce in the near future and that's certainly our ambition.

TOM ELLIOTT:   
Well, yeah … how we got to a situation whereby drug addicts do get these payments …

ALAN TUDGE:   
Well, you are right, Tom, but we're fixing up that one.

TOM ELLIOTT:   
Alright.

ALAN TUDGE:   
We are fixing up that one.

TOM ELLIOTT:   
Finally, we had a chap called Graham who rang us earlier. He is, I think, 68 and his wife is 65. They both say they are eligible for the aged pension and they applied at Centrelink back in December.

It is now May - so six months later - and they still have not heard anything. That is a long time to wait, isn't it?

ALAN TUDGE:   
That sounds like an extraordinarily long time to wait. It is an unusual one and I would like to get to the bottom of that.

An average wait time is about 55 days at the moment. That is probably still too long in my view; I would like to see that shortened.

I would say, by the way, that with the pension you can actually apply for it up to 13 weeks in advance, and of course you pretty much know when you are going to be going onto the pension because you are either going to be finishing up work or you have hit the eligibility age.

So you can get all your paperwork together well in advance so that when the pension day comes those payments will flow.

TOM ELLIOTT:   
Alright, look, we had better leave it there; I am afraid the line is not very good. Alan Tudge, Minister for Human Services.