5AA Breakfast with David Penberthy and Will Goodings
Alan Tudge, good morning and thanks very much for your time.
I read your piece this morning in the Australian about the cashless welfare card. I think it’s in March the trial is rolling out here in SA in Ceduna. What’s the status of the trial up there and what are you hoping to find out from the trial?
Yeah that’s right. I’ve been negotiating with the community leaders in Ceduna over the last 12 months for this to begin in March of this year. We’re working very hard at the moment towards that implementation date.
When it comes to March, every single person on a working age income support payment will be issued what is effectively a Visa debit card. It looks and feels like any other Visa debit card which you might have in your pocket right now. This card will be different in that it won’t work at the bottle shop, it won’t work at any gambling house in the country, and you won’t be able to get cash from it.
We’ll be placing 80 per cent of people’s welfare payments onto that card with the remaining 20 per cent continuing to go into their ordinary savings account.
Now obviously a lot of the communities that are the problem areas where this sort of wasteful and dangerous use of public money is occurring is indigenous communities, yet the way you’ve described it in Ceduna, the card doesn’t discriminate does it? It operates on the basis of whether you receive that benefit or not doesn’t it?
That’s exactly right. It operates on a geographical basis. Anybody who is within that geography is issued with the card be you indigenous or otherwise.
Is there an argument, and certainly this is the way it’s being reported this morning, clearly the trial has to take place first, but is the Turnbull Government considering taking a policy to the next election of extending this card to welfare recipients across a broader part of Australia?
We’re just starting to think about that now. There’s a reasonably significant lead time to some of these bigger policy decisions.
First of all we have to have the trial start and we have to see the results of the trial. I’m very hopeful and very confident that the trial will be successful at reducing some of the welfare fuelled alcohol, drug and gambling abuse, but we have to get some of the results.
After that, how do we think about a further rollout? The most logical next step, I believe, would be to at least offer it to those regions who already are contacting me or some of my colleagues saying ‘hey we wouldn’t mind this card being introduced into our region because we’ve got some of these problems.’ Then it may well be a solution to getting on top of it.
That’s some of the thinking we’re doing at the moment but it’s very early days at the moment David.
I think this is an idea with merit. I think a trial is certainly a good idea. However is there any concern about the fact- this might well represent a fundamental misunderstanding of addiction, certainly in the case of drugs and alcohol, just quarantining a proportion of someone’s welfare isn’t necessarily going to suddenly overnight solve addiction, it might drive people to doing all sorts of other things, that might have a net cost to society that’s greater to what already exists?
It’s part of the reason for the trial is to actually assess what the result is. I do point this out, we’re not just introducing the card- as important as that is- but at the same time in a place like Ceduna, we’re introducing a range of other measures to help people get off their addiction. Most particularly, drug and alcohol support as well as financial management support.
That’s just as critical as the introduction of the welfare card. We’re working on both angles if you like. You have to address the cash side of things to stop the enormous amount of money which is being spent on alcohol, but equally you have to have the support structures there to help people get off their addiction.
What’s the science behind the 80-20 split? I know that was the Andrew Forrest model that was first talked about in 2014, but how did you arrive at 80-20?
He actually recommended 100 per cent welfare payments be placed onto this card. I don’t think that’s realistic. There’s still a lot of things you do need cash for. There’s not many these days but there still are some things, maybe it’s the school tuck shop money or going to a local market which just accepts cash.
This figure was decided basically by the community leaders in Ceduna. We worked through the numbers in terms of what it means at different proportions and they’re the ones that settled on that figure. I think it’s probably a reasonable figure.
I’m not sure if you heard Alan Tudge, when Will and I were talking at the start of the show about the case here in South Australia of the little girl Chloe Valentine and her welfare dependant mother. I think the bottom line is that we’re talking about adults with problems of addiction here but is it fair to say that the chief victims, these people are obviously doing harm to themselves, but often the chief victims in the families that are affected are the kids aren’t they?
Absolutely. It’s often women and children that are most affected. In places like the Northern Territory they’ve got astronomical rates of violence towards women, two-thirds of which is related to alcohol of which is nearly all paid for by the taxpayer.
Children neglect is rife in places where they’re just drowning in grog. Again I think this is an absolute imperative for us to try to get on top of some of the grog issues which unfortunately are the poison in some of these communities and cause so much damage and so much destruction.
The most disturbing figure David is in some places now there’s babies being born brain damaged because of what’s called foetal alcohol spectrum disorder which means women have been drinking too much while pregnant. Up to a quarter of babies now in some locations are estimated to be born with FASD and that’s just absolutely tragic.
It certainly is. Alan Tudge the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister, we thank you for your time on 5AA Breakfast this morning.