Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Welfare debit card


JENNY MACKLIN: Thanks everyone for being here today.

The Australian Government is introducing a new debit card. We want to make sure that where we’re income managing parents’ welfare payments in the interests of children, we can guarantee that those welfare payments are spent on things that children need.

So this debit card will make it easier for those parents who have their income managed, who have their welfare payments managed, to be able to spend it in a wider variety of shops than they can at the moment.

The debit card will be available from July this year and we will progressively roll it out in cooperation with the states and territories.

We’ll be starting in the Northern Territory where more than 9000 welfare recipients already have their welfare payments income managed, and we’ll also begin to roll it out in some parts of Western Australia where we’re introducing income management with the Western Australian child protection authorities to make sure that where parents are neglecting or abusing their children, we can make sure that their welfare payments are spent in the interests of children.

QUESTION: So is it just those two jurisdictions, NT and WA?

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s where we’re starting. It will be progressively rolled out nationally but, in the first instance, from July it will start in the Northern Territory.

We have had some concerns from businesses in the Northern Territory about the way in which income management has been delivered over the last six months or so. This will enable it to be done more easily for businesses, less red tape. We will require businesses to be licensed because we’re going to require the agreement of business that they will not supply alcohol, tobacco, pornography or cash on these debit cards.

QUESTION: Does it mean that more families are going to have their incomes managed?

JENNY MACKLIN: What we’re proceeding to do is work with our state and territory colleagues to introduce income management in cooperation with their child protection authorities.

So where the Western Australian child protection authority recommends that for families, in the first instance in the Kimberley, would benefit from the introduction of income management, the child protection authority will be able to recommend to Centrelink that that family’s welfare payments be income managed so that some proportion of their welfare payments is only spent on things that will benefit children.

They will be able to use this debit card and then we’ll progressively work with the other states and territories to do likewise.

QUESTION: How many families to do you [indistinct]?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, in the first instance it will certainly apply to all of those families in the Northern Territory who are already being income managed. So there’s more than 9000 of those already, and we’ll continue to roll that out in the Northern Territory. And we’re still in discussions with the Western Australian Government so it’s a little bit difficult just yet to know how many it will apply to.

QUESTION: Tony Abbott said that you’re going to have problems with the states handing over information about children who might be at risk.

JENNY MACKLIN: The problem with the previous government is that they made a lot of noise about wanting to introduce a system of income management for those parents whose children are in the child protection system, but they put no money aside to make sure that the system would work.

So I don’t think that either Tony Abbott or Brendan Nelson are actually serious about this issue.

The new Labor Government is serious. We want to make sure that welfare payments are spent in the interests of children. We already have agreement from the Western Australian Government to do exactly what we’re talking about. And I think it would be better if the Opposition took a positive approach to this measure to make sure that children get the support that they need.

QUESTION: So are you committed to managing incomes of more families across Australia in all states, or just remote communities, despite I guess criticism that it’s a big brother approach or a nanny state approach?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’re very concerned that where children are being either abused or neglected, that we have welfare payments being spent in the interests of those children. That’s our priority. And we intend to do that both in urban and regional areas as well as remote parts of Australia. But we’re going to do it in cooperation with the child protection authorities in the states and territories.

We think this is a very important move to improve the protection of children.

QUESTION: What about families who receive family tax benefit A or B? Would they face the same kind of scrutiny?

JENNY MACKLIN: This will apply to those families whose children are in the child protection system. So where a child is either being neglected or abused, then the parents’ welfare payments and their family payments could be income managed. But we will take the advice of the child protection authorities. They’re the ones who have the best evidence about which children are either being neglected or abused.

QUESTION: [Indistinct] debit card pave the way for an Australia-wide ID card?

JENNY MACKLIN: No, I don’t think so. This is all about making sure that we can introduce a proper income management approach for those parents who are not properly caring for their children. It’s a targeted approach, it’s all about making sure that we have welfare payments being spent in the interests of children where parents are either neglecting or abusing their children.

QUESTION: So this will only take effect for families who – where the children to… have already come under the attention or the care of a child protection authority. But there must be other children out there who aren’t [indistinct]?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, unfortunately there are increasing numbers of children who are coming under the purview of the child protection authorities. We’re seeing more and more cases of either neglect or abuse. And so if we can, in the first instance, make sure that those children who are the children most in need of care and protection – these children really do need to know that their parents’ welfare payments are going to be spent in their interests. So we think this targeted approach will concentrate on those children who are either being abused or neglected.

QUESTION: But why not just introduce it across the board? Surely all families should be spending their welfare benefits on food and…

JENNY MACKLIN: Because most parents do the right thing. The good news is most parents love their kids, do a good job for their kids. And what we want to do is make sure that where parents are letting their children down, where there’s serious evidence of either neglect or child abuse, that we step in and guarantee that the welfare payments are being spent in the interests of children.

QUESTION: What percentage of welfare payment goes onto the card? And how do you protect from being sold onto a second or third person [indistinct]?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well just in relation to the second part of your question, it’s just like any other personalised PIN protected debit card, so it will have the same sorts of protections that you have for your card.

But on – in relation to the first part of your question, what we do want to do is have this card really working in a way that is going to make it easier for a wider range of businesses to be involved in delivering goods or services to people who have a card.

So that’s the purpose of introducing a debit card in the way we’re proceeding.

QUESTION: But does all their welfare payment – 100 per cent go on the card or is some of it still received in cash?

JENNY MACKLIN: At the moment in the Northern Territory it’s half and half. So half of the welfare payments are still delivered in cash, and the other half is delivered in an income managed way. We’re still in discussions with the Northern Territory and the Western Australian Governments about whether or not it may be better to have a range, sometimes going a little bit higher than that, if the parents really are taking – are not taking the level of responsibility they should be for their children.

QUESTION: What’s the future for the Community Development and Employment Program [sic]?

JENNY MACKLIN: We have indicated that we’re going to introduce significant reforms to the Community Development Employment program. We do recognise that this is an important way to make sure that we get Aboriginal people, especially in remote parts of Australia, job ready.

We intend to do some wide ranging consultations on this issue from July, and to be ready to introduce the reforms the following year.