Transcript: Sky News, Interview with Peter Van Onselen and Kristina Keneally

10 August 2017

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

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

PETER VAN ONSELEN:          
Welcome back to the program. Well, our guest now is the Human Services Minister, Alan Tudge.

Thanks very much for your company.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:
I thought I was doing that.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:          
Oh sorry, I thought you just said you pick up and then…

KRISTINA KENEALLY:
No, I thought you were going to ask the first question.

ALAN TUDGE:
Do I need to be here?

KRISTINA KENEALLY:
Yes you do, we have questions for you.

ALAN TUDGE:
Well, thank you for having me on the program.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:
Gambling. Your gambling reforms went through...

PETER VAN ONSELEN:          
You have stolen my first question.

ALAN TUDGE:
Gambling reforms.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:
Your gambling reforms, they went through Parliament.

ALAN TUDGE:
They passed the Senate yesterday.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:
Alright.

ALAN TUDGE:
Really significant reforms in the online gambling space, and they do a couple of things. Firstly, they crack down on the illegal offshore gambling providers. Which basically means we will be keeping more money and more jobs in Australia, and preventing money from being connected to some of the crime syndicates in Asia.

The second thing they do is they provide stronger consumer protections and, in particular, we are preventing the gambling companies from providing lines of credit to their customers to continue to bet.

Because at the moment, believe it or not, or as of before yesterday, you could spend all your savings account, you could blow out and max out on your credit cards and then the gambling companies could still give you a line of credit to continue betting with.

I actually had a constituent, an unemployed bloke, who was given $80,000 in credit by one of these big online gambling companies.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:
If you are someone who does online gambling, what is going to be different if you log on, and when will that be obvious?

ALAN TUDGE:
In addition to those measures, there are also a bunch of additional initiatives which I have been leading with the states and territories, and that is going to include things like a national self-exclusion register.

Which basically means if you want to self-exclude yourself because you know, or one of your family members thinks you are starting to get into a bit of trouble, you will self-exclude from, say, Sportsbet, and it will automatically apply across all the other platforms as well.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:          
Can you change that? Can you reverse it? Or when you self-exclude you can't?

ALAN TUDGE:
You will self-exclude for a certain amount of time and you cannot reverse that for the time specified, so that is going to be a really important one.

It will also have a voluntary opt-out pre-commitment mechanism. So, you will be asked: do you want to pre-commit a certain amount? And you will be required to opt out of that.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:          
Why not just go down the path of, and this is specific, I guess, to gaming machines that I am talking about here - why not just try to work with the states to ban them and get to a scenario like what happens in Western Australia?

I mean, WA only has them in the casino. They do not have them in every corner pub like happens in all other states. It is such a regressive tax.

ALAN TUDGE:
It is unfortunately very difficult to unscramble that egg. I personally like…

PETER VAN ONSELEN:          
You guys, this is the party that managed to unscramble the carbon tax, so surely you can find a way to do it.

ALAN TUDGE:
I personally like the Western Australian situation where there are destinations where you can go and use the pokies if you want to rather than being on every corner location, it feels like.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:          
Genuine question, though, Minister. Why can’t you unscramble it? You guys did unscramble the carbon tax; that was incredibly complex.

ALAN TUDGE:
The answer to this is basically we do not have jurisdiction over this space. The poker machines are regulated by the states, they are licensed by the states, all the money is collected by the states; they have got full jurisdiction over the pokies.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:          
But would you do it if you did? Would you do it if you had jurisdiction?

ALAN TUDGE:
We have got responsibility in the online space almost by definition, because it cuts across jurisdictional boundaries, as well as has an international dimension. That is why we are taking such a strong interest in the online space.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:          
Here is a way that you can, though. A way that you can have an impact in that jurisdiction that you do not, as you say, have legislative control over is via how the GST is calculated from state to state.

Because at the moment WA, in that calculation process, effectively gets penalised because it does not engage in the regressive taxation via clubs and pubs pokies.

If you guys adjusted that, that would be a way that you could actually have a really profound impact without it being an area that you actually have direct responsibility for.

ALAN TUDGE:
There is barely a Western Australian I speak to today does not raise the GST…

KRISTINA KENEALLY:
And here is one more.

ALAN TUDGE:
And here is one more. We know this is a really important issue to resolve, and I have heard that argument being made before, and I think it is a legitimate argument which is being put.

There is a lot of work which is going on, led by my Western Australian colleagues in this space.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:
Can I ask you about public housing? You have also recently announced that nearly 9,000 households - sorry, excuse me, that households in public housing will be able to have their rent automatically deducted from their welfare payment.

I know this is something the states have been doing voluntarily, but now you will be able to move those tenants onto an automatic deduction. Is this one of those things that, a better federation arrangement we might have gotten to this much earlier?

ALAN TUDGE:
Kristina, you are probably right. I mean, I think this is a no-brainer this policy, even though the Victorian Labor Party is opposed to it for whatever reason. But I think it's a no-brainer.

What it will do is it means that if you are in a public house and you are on a welfare payment, we will be able to automatically take out your rent before you are in receipt of the rest of that welfare payment.

What that means is that A- it gives a guaranteed rent to the housing providers, which means we're more likely to get further investment in public housing…

PETER VAN ONSELEN:          
I do not have the slightest problem with that. Is there some controversy around this?

ALAN TUDGE:
There is a little bit actually. And secondly, it means that you are less likely to be evicted, of course, and we have about 2,500 people get evicted from public housing each year because they do not pay their rent, even though they are getting welfare payments.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:          
But what is the controversy around that? I mean, it is public money for the housing and public money for the…

KRISTINA KENEALLY:
It is because it comes from two different pools of money. First of all, that is the Commonwealth and the State.

Secondly, and this is the same issue around the cashless welfare card, this idea that people, you know, you take away some of their autonomy if you determine how their money is spent before it comes into their account.

ALAN TUDGE:
Yes. That is the argument which the Victorian Labor Government is using and, indeed, the ACT Labor Government is using.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:          
So what?

ALAN TUDGE:
And every other major jurisdiction is supportive of it, so…

KRISTINA KENEALLY:
Before you go slandering all Labor governments, I just want to point out the Labor Government in New South Wales went to this voluntarily with the Commonwealth many years ago.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:          
You did.

ALAN TUDGE:
They did.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:          
I am all for it.

ALAN TUDGE:
The problem with the voluntary scheme is that so many people sign up to the voluntary scheme…

KRISTINA KENEALLY:
And then they take themselves out.

ALAN TUDGE:
And then they take themselves out the following week.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:
Yes, that is right.

ALAN TUDGE:
Then they end up in arrears, and then they might end up getting evicted. And if you get evicted from a public house you are in serious trouble, because the chances are you are not going to be able to get into a private rental.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:          
I do not have the slightest drama with that. I mean, if you are receiving public funds…

ALAN TUDGE:
I don't think so either.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:          
…that you are dependent on, but you are also in public housing which you are dependent on.

ALAN TUDGE:
Get Dan Andrews on your program and ask him about it, why he is opposed to it.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:
I think he is a bit busy at the moment.

ALAN TUDGE:
He has got an ideological objection to it, which I do not understand, and same with the ACT Government here.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:          
What is your view, we interviewed Andrew Forrest yesterday here on the program and he made the point that in terms of the cashless welfare card.

He was talking about this idea that, look, at the end of the day, even if it is $300 on the card for buying products, even if a person sold that for $150 or $200 to get cash to do the wrong thing with it…

KRISTINA KENEALLY:
On the black market.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:          
…he says that is still not something that anyone should shy away from being anything other than a good thing, because they are getting penalised $100 or $150 on the spot fine, as he put it, I believe, for doing that.

So he said sure, it is not ideal, but governments should not be afraid of that, because that is better than the alternative. Your thoughts?

ALAN TUDGE:
I have always said that the cashless welfare card, which I have been leading for several years now and is getting terrific results on the ground, it is not the panacea but we are not going to let perfect get in the way of the good.

Inevitably some people try to get around the system by bartering their cards, but it is not happening that often, and I think Andrew Forrest is right, if you try to do that you will face an immediate penalty.

We have got other compliance mechanisms in place as well. We had, for example, a taxi driver in one of the locations who was in essence charging, say, $50 for a $10 fare, and then, giving $20 cash to the person and collecting an extra $20 cash themselves.

We were able to identify him and basically threaten to switch off his machine if he did not behave.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:
Alright. Minister Alan Tudge, we are out of time unfortunately.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:          
Thanks for your company.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:
You did not have a question on same-sex marriage.

ALAN TUDGE:
I am so disappointed.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:          
Incredibly…

KRISTINA KENEALLY:
Actual social welfare issues.

ALAN TUDGE:
I am so disappointed. A whole program, guys, but not on same-sex marriage.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:          
Thanks to our viewers who keep tweeting us telling us that is all we ever talk about. See? A genuine policy discussion with a Minister in his portfolio.

ALAN TUDGE:
How good was that?

KRISTINA KENEALLY:
Indeed.

ALAN TUDGE:
Thanks for having me.