Transcript: 6PR, Perth, Interview with Oliver Peterson

16 May 2017

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

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

OLIVER PETERSON:

Alan Tudge, welcome to Perth Live.

ALAN TUDGE:

G'day, Ollie.

OLIVER PETERSON:

Nice to have you along this afternoon.

ALAN TUDGE:

Thanks for having me.

OLIVER PETERSON:

Now, a bit of criticism coming in from lots of sides of politics here about the idea that with some of the changes to the welfare system, that some people will be drug tested to receive their welfare. What do you say? Is it fair?

ALAN TUDGE:

 It absolutely is fair. I think it is fair to the taxpayer, because they do not want their hard-earned dollars going towards supporting a drug habit.

But it is also actually aimed at supporting people who might have a drug habit, to identify them and provide them with structured support, so that they are better able to get a job in the future. That is what this is about.

OLIVER PETERSON:

Okay, so three particular sites will be trialled over the next few months. Could this extend though into other sites, other cities, into the regions, et cetera?

ALAN TUDGE:

 We are just taking it one step at a time. We have said we are going to trial it for 5,000 people in three or four different locations across Australia. That is the first step.

We will obviously evaluate it and see how it goes. If it works, let's consider what decisions we make then.

But we are open to trialling this, we want to see how it goes, we want to identify people who are taking drugs. If they are, the first time they will get hit with a cashless welfare system, so they will have less cash available to support their habit. Then they will be drug tested a second time.

OLIVER PETERSON:

Okay, so they will go onto this welfare card?

ALAN TUDGE:

That is exactly right. The first time they will get drug tested and if they are found positive, they don't lose their welfare as such, but they will get given a cashless welfare system. It might be similar to this Cashless Welfare Card which we might talk about.

OLIVER PETERSON:

Yes.

ALAN TUDGE:

That means they have got less cash available to support any drug or alcohol habit. Then they will be asked to be tested again within 25 days.

They will know in advance, and so if they do test positive, then clearly they are much more likely to actually have a drug addiction, because they know they are going to be tested.

If that is the case, then they are going to be sent to a medical specialist to get treatment and that treatment will become part of their mutual obligation.

We want people to get off drugs so they are - well, for good reasons generally, but also so that they are better able to enter the workforce. You know how many jobs these days require a drug-free environment.

OLIVER PETERSON:

Well, yeah, it will happen in any workforce as well, it is not just somebody who is the recipient of welfare. I could get tapped on the shoulder tomorrow and say hey, Ollie, have a drug test.

ALAN TUDGE:

That is right, I mean, many major companies across Australia these days require regular drug testing. Obviously all the mining companies, for health and safety reasons.

OLIVER PETERSON:

Yes.

ALAN TUDGE:

QANTAS, the trucking companies, a lot of the construction sites. It is part of your everyday business these days and I think a lot of workers in those companies, those industries, sort of think ‘well, if it is good enough for me, why isn't it good enough for a welfare recipient’?

OLIVER PETERSON:

Okay, any particular sites in Western Australia that have been identified?

ALAN TUDGE:

We have not chosen those locations yet and Christian Porter, a local here, will be the one who does select the sites.

Basically, they will be selected on the basis of where there is high drug dependency, where we know that from the statistics and some places have very high levels of drug use.

And also, where we know there are services in place, so that if someone is on drugs and needs services, then there will be spots available to get help.

OLIVER PETERSON:

Okay. Will it be linked with areas that might have a higher use of drugs and perhaps unemployment?

ALAN TUDGE:

Certainly the former, where there is higher usage of drugs and we know in some places, particularly ice use, the figures are quite staggering.

And everybody knows the damage which ice does throughout the community and the last thing that we want is for welfare payments to be supporting ice habits, which cause so much damage to other people.

OLIVER PETERSON:

Figures from the ATO show that Mandurah is WA's welfare capital, also sometimes has issues with drugs. Is that one of the areas being considered by the Government?

ALAN TUDGE:

I do not want to specify any regions at this stage. We will go through a pretty rigorous process in selecting the regions that we do choose.

Three or four sites, I think, we will probably end up choosing and we want to give this a go.

Let's test it properly, let's evaluate it and see if it does have that impact on helping people get off their drug habit and hopefully, back into the workforce.

OLIVER PETERSON:

When I first met you up in Kununurra, where the Cashless Welfare Card was introduced, along with Ceduna, it has now been more than a year.

ALAN TUDGE:

That is right.

OLIVER PETERSON:

How is the trial going?

ALAN TUDGE:

Effectively, we have finished the trials. We have had the first independent evaluation of them, which came out positive, and we have extended the card in those two locations.

We have now made the decision, just in the recent budget, to also offer the card to two more regions across Australia as the next step.

I will be consulting with various regions over the next few months to identify which regions we will extend the card to.

Again though, they are going to be regions where there is significant welfare fuelled alcohol, drug or gambling abuse and where the community leaders are willing and able to support such an effort.

OLIVER PETERSON:

So you are asking for communities to nominate to the Federal Government?

ALAN TUDGE:

In some respects, and I have already had probably 10 regions who have approached me or some of my officials, to say listen, we are interested in considering this because we have seen it in action in the East Kimberley, or in Ceduna in South Australia, we can see that it is working and we have got similar issues, so let's give it a go in our region.

We are going to have discussions with those regional leaders before we make a decision.

OLIVER PETERSON:

Do you see this welfare card eventually, if other regions pick it up, that this could eventually replace cash deposits into people's accounts?

ALAN TUDGE:

I do not, certainly in the short to medium term. Maybe in the distant future that will be the case, because the payments technology is changing so rapidly these days in any case.

I mean we're increasingly becoming a cashless society, but we won't be cashless obviously for many, many years yet.

Certainly our intent with this Cashless Welfare Card is not to roll it out across Australia, but rather take it steadily region by region, having consulted with regional leaders, knowing that there is issues associated with drug or alcohol or gambling abuse, then rolling it out with a tailored package for that particular region.

OLIVER PETERSON:

Okay. As an example, we spoke yesterday to the fruit and vegetable industry, who say that sometimes they are only able to pick up to two-thirds of their crops because they do not have enough workers.

We require low skilled workers to come in and quite often that is migrants, because Australians are not willing to do the work. Is there any sort of incentive, particularly to some say welfare recipients, to go and do some seasonal work?

They might even get a little bonus for going to do a little bit of seasonal work and literally labour, pick themselves up - or a person pick themselves up and move into the regions for say six months.

ALAN TUDGE:

 It absolutely frustrates me when I go to some regions where you have high youth unemployment and at the same time you will have thousands of say backpackers or foreigners who are coming into the country to do the entry level jobs.

I can understand why a business might select a German backpacker to do the work, because they will rock up on time, work hard all day and be back the next day. Whereas I hear all the time that some locals do not want to put their hand up to work, or they won't show up.

A couple of things we are doing. Firstly, we are strengthening the overall welfare compliance system, so that it is much harder for a person to knock back a job.

In fact, what we are saying is if you knock back a job which is offered to you, we are cancelling your welfare payments. So the very basic rule, we want people to be working.

Second thing is that - and this was actually Nick Xenophon's suggestion - is slightly increase the limits of how much money you can earn before it starts to impact your welfare payments. So, to go from $5000 to $10,000 that you can earn before your welfare starts to come off and that is an additional incentive, I think.

We have also got mobility packages to help people. If they want to leave a particular area and go to where jobs are, there are mobility packages.

So Ollie, everything is geared in our welfare reforms to getting people into work who are capable of working, because it is in their interests, as much as it is in the communities' interests for them to be doing so.

OLIVER PETERSON:

 It is an interesting headline though, that unemployed people who turn down work won't get their welfare payment. Some people describe that as quite brazen and unpopular.

ALAN TUDGE:

 I think it is a very reasonable proposition. You know, you are getting welfare when you are down on your luck, you have not got a job. And what we expect you to do is look for work, take those job interviews when they are there and if you are offered a job, for goodness sake take it.

But if you do not take that job which is offered to you, even if it is not the perfect job in the world initially, then I can see why the taxpayer would sort of say well hang on, why do we continue to support you then, if you are knocking back a perfectly good job?

And I always say to people as well, even if it is not the perfect job, at least take that job because that will be the stepping stone to another one.

It is so much easier to get the better job when you are in employment already, rather than just trying to apply for a job from the dole queue.

OLIVER PETERSON:

Now you are in Western Australia for a few days, visiting some of our regions as well.

ALAN TUDGE:

That is right. I am heading out to Kalgoorlie and Leonora and Laverton tomorrow with Rick Wilson, who is the local member out that way.

We will be discussing with community leaders a range of issues and taking a look at the employment prospects there, the welfare issues, some of their welfare fuelled alcohol abuse which I understand is pretty prevalent out there as well.

OLIVER PETERSON:

Malcolm Turnbull, the right man to still lead the Government?

ALAN TUDGE:

Absolutely he is. He is doing a good job, I think he just led a very - with Scott Morrison - a very good budget. We have got…

OLIVER PETERSON:

Difficult sell though at the moment, isn't it? You have been attacking the banks essentially, trying to take all of us with them and fight the Government and say do not put this levy on the banks.

ALAN TUDGE:

 I know that we are still a little bit behind in the polls, but when I looked at the polls in terms of that particular question, should there be a levy on the banks, the Australian public overwhelmingly said yes, there should be.

OLIVER PETERSON:

Is Peta Credlin just agitating? Because today she is saying there are some moves within the Party to replace Malcolm Turnbull. Is that balderdash?

ALAN TUDGE:

I do not think that is the case. Malcolm Turnbull has been leader now for what, probably 18 months or 20 months or so and he is doing a good job.

It is in tough circumstances, but we are getting stuff through the Senate. We have got the budget coming back into balance over the next three years.

We have got important things which we announced in the budget, such as housing affordability measures, stronger economic growth, which is coming. Obviously small to medium sized business tax cuts, which is going to help drive employment creation. More infrastructure dollars.

Really important things like that, which we hope will make a difference to everyday Australians from a job perspective and a security perspective.

OLIVER PETERSON:

Alan Tudge, appreciate you coming in to Perth Live this afternoon.

ALAN TUDGE:

Thanks so much, Ollie.

OLIVER PETERSON:

That is the Human Services Minister, Alan Tudge, answering a few of the changes to the welfare system and the Cashless Welfare Card.