Transcript: ABC Goldfields WA, Interview with Rachel Day

17 May 2017

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

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

RACHEL DAY:    
Now, the Federal Government is looking to expand trials of its Cashless Welfare Card with a couple of northern Goldfields towns named as possible sites. And to find out where our region stands in all of this, I'm joined by Federal Human Services Minister Alan Tudge.

Good morning, Mr Tudge.

ALAN TUDGE:   
Good morning, Rachel.

RACHEL DAY:    
Are you looking at Kalgoorlie or the Northern Goldfields as an ideal trial site?

ALAN TUDGE:   
I am here today in Kalgoorlie and just about to head up to Laverton on the invitation of Rick Wilson, the local member, and we are having discussions with some of the community leaders here about whether they would be interested in it.

Certainly the Shire leaders have indicated that they would be, but we need to have some broader discussions, of course, with some of the indigenous leaders and other community leaders as well.

RACHEL DAY:    
And you have been meeting with people today. You will continue to meet with people, I believe. What have you heard so far on the ground in Kalgoorlie?

ALAN TUDGE:   
That is right. Listen, some people are already very aware of it. They know the success that we have had in the other locations where it has been rolled out, and are keen to have it introduced.

There is others, who frankly just want more information about how it operates and how it would work on the ground, what results it has got in other the communities. So we have just been having those initial discussions today as well. Now, we won't be making any decisions today.

It really was those first discussions to see what people's thoughts were, to see whether it could be a tool to help address, particularly, some of the really significant welfare-fuelled alcohol abuse which you see, I know, in this community, as you do in many communities across Australia.

RACHEL DAY:    
You visited Leonora in December 2015. What did you not find out then that you are hoping to find out today?

ALAN TUDGE:   
We had some very good discussions then, and at that stage they had a spate of suicides and some of the leaders there were keen to progress it. We had an election which interrupted our conversation in some respects.

And so we are going to, if you like, reconvene those conversations to see where people are at - if they are still interested, if they would still like to proceed to the next stage.

I should say that there’s other regions around Western Australia as well who are also keen to have the card and its associated services introduced and those conversations are ongoing. Unfortunately we have only got the funding for a couple of regions at this stage.

RACHEL DAY:    
What is the time frame for any announcement which might happen?

ALAN TUDGE:   
We do not have a fixed date. It really is once we have done proper consultation and we do have a strong indication that, yes, there is community support. If that happens in the next few months, we will be able to make that decision and that announcement but we are certainly not at that stage yet.

RACHEL DAY:    
Would you hope that any trial site in Kalgoorlie or the Northern Goldfields would be accompanied by the same boost to wraparound services that we have seen in Ceduna and the East Kimberley?

ALAN TUDGE:   
Absolutely. In fact, while the card itself captures people's imagination, it’s always been a combination of both the card and the wraparound services. The card operates to reduce the available cash for drugs and alcohol.

The services help people get off their addictions. In Ceduna and the East Kimberley we have put in additional money, particularly for the drug and alcohol counselling, 24/7 outreach services and a bit of financial counselling as well so that people can help better manage their money.

All of those have been critical to the success on the ground, as much as the card itself.

RACHEL DAY:    
My guest is Federal Human Services Minister, Alan Tudge.

Just touching on the Government's trial of drug-testing new welfare recipients, are you concerned forcing drug users onto the cashless card could create a stigma of punishment that could make it harder to sell to communities?

ALAN TUDGE:   
That is certainly not the case. I mean, I don't think anybody wants welfare dollars to be spent on drugs or excessively on alcohol. At the end of the day, drugs are illegal and we certainly should not be using welfare dollars to support those.

If people are on drugs at the moment, we want to help them get off it. We have put hundreds of millions of dollars into additional services to help people get off it, and if we can identify people, we want to point them in the right direction, get off the drugs so that you are better able to potentially get a good job in the future.

RACHEL DAY:    
So you are not concerned that law-abiding people on welfare in towns like Kalgoorlie, Leonora, Laverton will resent being lumped in with the same arrangement as people who fail a drug test?

ALAN TUDGE:   
There are a couple of different issues there. The overall design of the card is such that it looks and feels, and operates just like any other Visa Debit card, which many of your listeners will have in their pocket right now, i.e. that card will work anywhere, you can purchase anything.

It simply doesn’t work at the bottle shops, it doesn’t work at any of the gambling houses, and you can’t take cash out from it, and consequently can’t use illicit substances.

So therefore, if you’ve been issued with the card because you’re on unemployment benefits and you’re still looking for a job but you’re not a drinker or a drug taker or a gambler, really the only difference is that instead of reaching into your pocket for cash, you will reach into your pocket, grab your card, swipe it and off you’ll go.

It has been specifically designed to have a minimal impact on those responsible individuals, but reduce the availability of the cash for those people who are drinking excessively or taking drugs or gambling.

RACHEL DAY:    
Okay. Before I let you go, the service does sound like it's getting a little bit tricky for you, cutting out a little bit.

But just going back to the discussions you were having in the Goldfields today, it is a divisive issue, this card. Are you confident that you have got the right people around the table to discuss this issue with you?

ALAN TUDGE:   
We have met up with several of the community leaders already this morning - we will be meeting up with more now and then up to Laverton this afternoon but these are just the initial discussions, Rachel.

We are not making decisions today, and there will be many more consultations and discussions before any decision is made - I just want to emphasise that.

The success of the trials in the East Kimberley and in Ceduna in South Australia have, in part, been because there has been broad community support for the card to be introduced. If we do proceed on that basis here, we also want to make sure there is that broad community support.

RACHEL DAY:    
Thanks for your time today, Mr Tudge. Appreciate you speaking to us, I know you are on the move.