Transcript: Doorstop with Member for O'Connor Rick Wilson MP

18 May 2017

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

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

RICK WILSON:
It is a real pleasure to welcome Minister Tudge here, to the Goldfields for the third time in just over 12 months. My journey with the Cashless Welfare Card began in Leonora, around about the time where we had a spate of suicides.

I was approached by some local Indigenous leaders at the end of their tether and in complete despair about what was happening in their communities.

I spoke to Minister Tudge then, he came to Leonora within a couple of days, met with the community. We started a conversation about the Cashless Welfare Card.

We had an election intervene and there is a bit of water passed under the bridge but we are back here to re-engage in that conversation and to see if the communities are interested in having a Cashless Welfare Card trial here in the Goldfields to try and address some of these problems. 

JOURNALIST:
Who exactly have you been meeting with, Minister, regarding the Cashless Welfare Card in Kalgoorlie today? I presume the Mayor, but what have the discussions been?

ALAN TUDGE:
We have had a series of meetings today which have been organised by Rick Wilson with local council representatives, some indigenous leaders, service leaders and others. Overall, there is a combination of some people who are already strongly supportive and think that this could be a really useful tool for the community and others who, frankly, just want more information, and I can understand that.

My important message today is that this is, we are initiating a series of discussions, but we are not making any decisions. That will be down the track if and when the community would like this to proceed.

We have been successful in two other regions where we have got the Cashless Welfare Card in operation and it is in large part successful because there has been broad community ownership and desire to have the card implemented and seen through.

And if the community here would like to have it here then we will make sure that happens. 

JOURNALIST:
Just with, you mentioned the trial sites in East Kimberley and Ceduna, they have much smaller populations than Kalgoorlie, would this be the most significant trial so far and the biggest test of implementation?

ALAN TUDGE:
If we went ahead, the numbers of people covered by the card in the East Kimberley is about one thousand and similar in Ceduna. Here it might be several thousand. It would be in order of magnitude, larger.

I just want to stress though, we have not made any decisions. This is the first conversation, not the last.

JOURNALIST:
The proposals you have had from the people in Kalgoorlie and surrounding shires, how [indistinct]  Cashless Welfare Card?

ALAN TUDGE:
I have probably had a dozen different regions approach me or my officials wanting the Cashless Welfare Card introduced into their regions. We are talking with each of those community groups and determining what makes sense for at least the next stage.

In the budget we got authorisation for funding for two additional regions. I think this has got a very strong case here in the Goldfields, in part because we know there is very significant welfare fuelled alcohol abuse, particularly in this town which causes all sorts of social problems for families and the broader community.

But we want to make sure the community is with us. We are not going to introduce it here if the broad community leadership think it is a bad idea, otherwise we will go somewhere else.

JOURNALIST:
You have just said, it is about 12 communities that are fighting for the two spots. Is that right?

ALAN TUDGE:
There is about 12 different communities that have approached me, at least asking for further information, if not publically calling for it to be introduced in their regions. We have probably got the most advanced discussions already in this region and two or three others.

I think that Rick Wilson and some of the other community leaders make a very strong case that this should be very positively considered. But are not ready to make those decisions just yet.

JOURNALIST:
Is there scope for a region to be trialled, rather than just a postcode?

ALAN TUDGE:
We announced in the budget that two additional regions can be covered of up to 10,000 people collectively. Many people have made the case to me and Rick this morning that if we were going to proceed here in the Goldfields that really we should cover the broader region because there is quite a bit of mobility across the region.

That is something that we will have further discussions about if we do proceed in this area.

JOURNALIST:
Just the nay-sayers, people saying this is taking away people’s liberty, to an extent. What do you say to that argument? The Mayor John Bowler in Kalgoorlie has said it is for the greater good and that is why he is supportive.

What is your view?

ALAN TUDGE:
At the end of the day the objective of the card is to try to reduce the very significant harm caused by welfare fuelled alcohol, drug and gambling abuse. Welfare is there to pay for your food, your shelter, your clothing, your education. It is not there to support a drug or alcohol habit.

What the card does, it operates like any other visa debit card. It works anywhere, you can purchase anything, but it simply won’t work at the bottle shop, won’t work at the gambling houses and you cannot take cash out from it and consequently, you cannot purchase illicit substances.

Otherwise, you are free to spend your welfare dollars on whatever you like. That is how it has operated in Ceduna in South Australia, that is how it has operated in the East Kimberley and it has had very positive impacts.

If it were to proceed here it would operate on a similar basis here. For those people who are saying this is an infringement on their freedom, well, it is only infringing the person to spend all their welfare dollars on alcohol.

You still get 20%, by the way, of your welfare dollars in cash, which of course, you can buy a six pack but you cannot continually buy alcohol. 

JOURNALIST:
Has the work for the dole been part of your discussions today? I know John Bowler has said that it does not work in surrounding Aboriginal communities, [inaudible], do you have anything to say to that?

ALAN TUDGE:
It has come up in the discussions, what is called the CDP programme, which operates in some of the more remote regions. It is something which Minister Scullion looks after, not myself, but I am happy to take some feedback which I got today and Rick and I will take that back to Minister Scullion.

JOURNALIST:
In terms of a decision, you have told us this morning that it could be several months before we know. Are the communities basically demanding, asking for it now as an urgent thing they need?

ALAN TUDGE:
I think some communities are. I think some communities have desperate needs due to enormous amounts of alcohol being consumed, which causes devastating consequences in communities. And this is prevalent across many regions in Australia.

I mean, the alcohol in my view, is the poison which runs through many remote and regional communities and underpins so much of the domestic violence, so much of the child neglect, and so many of the other social problems.

Unless we get on top of the alcohol, and in many cases the drugs as well, it is so much more difficult to deal with those other social issues. This welfare card can be a tool to address it. It is not the panacea, by the way, but it can be a very useful tool to address it because it does restrict the amount of welfare dollars which can be spent on booze or on drugs.

On the other hand, what we have done as well, in the other trial sites, is we have also put additional services to complement the card. Whereas the card restricts the amount of cash which is available, the services help people to get off their addiction.  

JOURNALIST:
In March, you extended the yearlong trials at the two other sites for six more months. Any indication as to whether they will continue beyond that yet?

ALAN TUDGE:
That is likely to be the case, but we will be constantly reviewing it and going back to get authorisation every six months. Certainly, many of the community leaders would like it to be an ongoing feature now. Now that people have got used to it, now that we have seen the results on the ground.

Certainly, if the results on the ground continue to show that it is having an impact in reducing alcohol, drugs and gambling, then the card will continue.

JOURNALIST:
Rick, because you are taking the Minister to – he is obviously in Kalgoorlie today, and then up to Laverton this afternoon, is that the two towns that, I guess, we should believe you are pushing the case for?

RICK WILSON:
I am looking for a regional trial here. Because of the mobility of people, I really think we need to cover the whole area. We are going to revisit Laverton and Leonora because we had some really good, positive discussions there 12 months ago and we want to make sure the community are still on board and we really want to spend some time with them and get a good feel for that.

Also, we spoke this morning with [inaudible] and we want to bring them on board into a regional trial. That is my personal preference. But it will be up to the Minister to decide how he wants to roll out a trial in a particular area.

My personal preference is for a trial across the Northern Goldfields region so that we can pick up the mobility between towns and make sure everybody is covered. And I think we will see a real social dividend from a card trial in this area.

JOURNALIST:
Has it come up in discussions with those councils that say one town, for instance, gets it and the issues might flow onto the next town down the road?

RICK WILSON:
Absolutely it has. Our job is to try to convince everybody to come on board and that is part of the process that we are going through today. Over the next month or so, we will be having, and I personally, as the local member will be having extensive discussions with the various councils and community leadership groups to try to bring them all on board.

JOURNALIST:
To clarify, how much is the funding for those two new trial sites?

ALAN TUDGE:
We have not announced the dollar amount, simply so that it does not interfere with our procurement process. As soon as you do that, then it obviously becomes much more difficult to procure a good deal.

JOURNALIST:
Was it about $20 million for the first two trials?

ALAN TUDGE:
From memory, it was about that figure. I cannot remember the exact figure, but it was about that. Obviously when you are starting something brand new, and this was a world first in how we deliver welfare, there are significant upfront costs, there is technology development, there is the design, planning and consultation phase which is quite expensive.

The ongoing run costs are lower and as we roll it out to other places, the costs go down even further.

JOURNALIST:
[Inaudible] did you hear their concerns for the Aboriginal communities that receive services [inaudible]?

ALAN TUDGE:
They were particularly concerned in the very remote locations such as up in the lands. I listened very carefully to what they had to say, in terms of potentially, the lack of providers there and ensuring the providers that are there are of sufficient quality, as they might be elsewhere.

We have taken that on board, we will have further discussions with Christian Porter, the Social Services Minister, who has overarching responsibility for the NDIS, but they certainly made a very strong case.

JOURNALIST:
Are there challenges in other states where the NDIS is in place and catering to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders?

ALAN TUDGE:
I do not have the direct responsibility for the NDIS, that is the responsibility of Christian Porter, although I do support him. For most Australians, I think this will be a terrific scheme and really will be transformative in their lives. Not only just the life of the person who might have a disability, but also their extended family as well.

But there may be some cases, such as in very remote areas, which we would have to look at and make sure the model works there as well.

It should not matter where you are located, as to what sort of service you get, if you are in a remote area, you should still be able to get good service.

JOURNALIST:
From your understanding, is there some flexibility for those people who use the NDIS a bit differently?

ALAN TUDGE:
This is something I will have to discuss with Christian Porter. A good case was made to myself and Rick Wilson today and we will take those arguments back to Christian and discuss with him and we will see how we go.