Media Release by The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Welfare Debit Card centrepiece of major reform package for Kununurra and Wyndham

Kununurra and Wyndham in the East Kimberley will become the second trial site for the Welfare Debit Card. The introduction of the card will be part of larger package of reform.

The Government has been working with the Kununurra Indigenous leaders, Wyndham community representatives, the Western Australian State Government, the Shire of Wyndham and East Kimberley, and the local business community over the last six months to design a trial of the Welfare Debit Card to address welfare-fueled alcohol and drug abuse, empower local leaders, and provide greater employment opportunities.

The package consists of an initial five components (outlined below), with an overall commitment to prioritise the region for further attention and reform. These five components represent the implementation of key recommendations of the Forrest Review.

When community leaders stand up and call for reform, governments should listen. This is exactly what we have done.

The Hon Terry Redman, the Western Australian Government’s Regional Development Minister, and Ms Melissa Price MP, Federal Member for Durack joined me at the announcement.

Both the Federal and West Australian State Governments have committed to work with the local leaders in the implementation of the reform package and in the development and implementation of future initiatives.

My hope is that this will be a model for other regions of how community leaders identify local solutions and partner with state and federal governments to work together for the advancement and empowerment of local people.

Discussions for further reform are also ongoing for the Halls Creek region.

The five components of the reform package are:

1. Trial of the welfare debit card

The welfare debit card will be introduced in the reform area to operate on the basis of a 12 month trial.

All people who are working age and are income support recipients will receive the debit card. Aged pensioners and workers may volunteer to opt-in.

The welfare debit card will operate like any other ordinary debit card. That is, it will work everywhere and enable the purchase of anything, but it will not work at liquor stores or gambling outlets. Cash will not be able to withdrawn from the card.

Eighty percent of a person’s welfare payments will be placed onto the card. The remaining twenty percent will continue to be placed into the recipient’s existing bank account.

Bill Payments and direct debits will be able to be made from the debit card, just as they can from their existing accounts.

A local authority may be established in the region which will have the power, on application, to reduce the cashless component that is placed onto an individual’s debit card. The individual would need to satisfy the authority that basic obligations are being met, such as regularly sending children to school.

2. Support services to assist people reduce their dependence on alcohol

The Welfare Debit Card aims to reduce the cash supply available for alcohol, drugs and gambling. To complement the operation of the card, the Government is ensuring that there are sufficient services to support people to reduce or eliminate their dependence on alcohol, drugs and gambling.

The federal and state governments already invest significantly in an established network of services to help people reduce their dependencies. This includes residential rehabilitation, drug and alcohol counselling and a night patrol.

In addition to existing investments, the Government will invest a further $1.3 million to meet service gaps. This includes:

  • Improved access to drug and alcohol rehabilitation for adolescents who are currently unable to access age-appropriate services within the region
  • The establishment of a drug and alcohol brokerage fund to enable rapid assistance to people with alcohol or drug problems.
  • Funding additional workers to assist people suffering from mental health issues and drug and alcohol misuse.
  • Additional services to support families facing challenges such as poor behaviour and school attendance.
  • Additional youth and diversionary activities targeted at vulnerable individuals.

The Welfare Debit Card and the additional targeted investment represent a full-frontal assault on the scourge of drug and alcohol abuse that causes so much harm, particularly to women and children.

Financial counsellors for the Wyndham-Kununurra region will also be funded by the Government to assist people to manage their money better through one-on-one budgeting advice under the Commonwealth Financial Counselling programme.

In addition to having access to trained financial counsellors, the financial institution providing the Welfare Debit Card will assist participants to

  • Manage the transition to the Welfare Debit Card;
  • Set up regular deductions / payment transfers;
  • Establish BPAY arrangements for the payment of bills;
  • Organise the transfer of direct debits to the new account; and
  • Understand basic card functionality and how to get a speedy resolution if an issue arises.

See Attachment A for further details.

3. Greater local empowerment

The Government is committed to working with the East Kimberley regional leaders to provide greater local empowerment over initiatives that impact on local people.

East Kimberley leaders were co-authors of the Empowered Communities Report that was delivered to the Government earlier in the year.

In alignment with the Report, the Government will work with the foremost Indigenous corporations and the other regional leaders to establish structures to ensure that decisions are made as much as possible at the local level and jointly with local leaders. The first step will be the local leadership group providing detailed guidance on how best to allocate resources in the area.

This leadership group will also oversee the implementation of the regional reforms outlined here. As capacity is developed the Government will seek to delegate more power to the leadership authority to have a greater say in shaping government policy on the ground. The Government wants to work jointly with local leaders who want to take responsibility for the health of their communities.

4. Local employment

The Government will work with local leaders and the business community to ensure that more local Indigenous people are in real jobs. This will be a core priority.

Many local businesses struggle to fill local jobs, while many aboriginal people have been left out of the workforce.

Kununurra has a strong economic base already and there are more development opportunities coming in the near future. For example, a proposed ‘seafarm’ for the region will create approximately 200-300 jobs construction jobs during development and upwards of 500 jobs when fully operational.

The Government has produced the first ever White Paper on Developing Northern Australia, which outlines a plan for realising the full economic potential of the north, including the East Kimberley region.

The Government is currently putting in place a reformed Community Development Programme (CDP). A key role of the reformed CDP is to connect more local people into real jobs. Already, 74 placements have been made in the last 4 months.

A Vocational Education and Training Centre (VTEC) has also been contracted in the local area to train 180 local people into guaranteed jobs. This contract runs until March 2017 and is the highest performing VTEC in the country.

The work of CDP and the VTEC will also focus on addressing the issues that prevent people getting a job and maintaining their employment. They would also work with the Kimberley Development Commission to align with their blueprint for economic development in the region.

In addition to exiting initiatives, the government will provide Business Development and Employment Specialists to identify potential business opportunities, improve employment training, and drive local economic development. They will work with the region to evaluate priority economic development projects that have been identified by the community. They will speak with local businesses, regional aboriginal organisations, and local and state government to:

  • Map out business and economic opportunities in the region;
  • Work on business ideas and source start-up funding (for example through the Indigenous Enterprise Development Fund, which is a national Commonwealth investment of $25 million for remote economic development);
  • Link existing business activities to CDP, where they might be able to receive funding for hosting CDP participants; and
  • Connect and retain indigenous employment in local jobs.

Indigenous leaders in the region have been running a successful transitional housing model in Kununurra, which provides incentives and a path towards home ownership for families that are working or in training. They have expressed strong interest in expanding this initiative. The Government supports the transitional housing model will continue to discuss opportunities for additional transitional housing in the region with local leaders and the Western Australian Government.

5. Early Childhood

As part of an investment in the future, the government will invest further funds in early childhood initiatives in Kununurra/ Wyndham.

Along with the Welfare Debit Card, early childhood investment was the key recommendation of the Forrest Review. The Indigenous leaders in Kununurra have also nominated early childhood as their key priority in the reform process.

Kununurra has been recommended as one of ten communities across Australia to be prioritised for access to $20 million of the Australian Government 2015-16 Budget funding which focuses on:

  • Integrating existing early childhood services
  • Making it easier for parents and children to get the services they need
  • Improving links with local schools
  • Reducing barriers to school readiness

In addition, a further $800,000 per year as part of the Communities for Children program is provided to support families in the Kununurra Wyndham region with:

  • Parenting support programmes such as parenting skills and mentoring.
  • Early numeracy and literacy skill development for children
  • Playgroups and programmes to support children and families affected by domestic and family violence.

These will be implemented in close consultation with the state government and community leaders.

Attachment A: Details of support services to reduce drug and alcohol dependencies

There are a suite of measures that are either in place or are being put in place to assist people to reduce their dependencies on drugs and alcohol and also to assist with better financial management practices.

The additional $1.3 million in support services specifically for the trial has been designed to complement existing initiatives. There are also initiatives that are about to begin that are funded from other federal programs that will assist in achieving the objective of reducing dependencies and making the community safer and healthier.

A. Drug and Alcohol Support Services

i. Residential Rehabilitation

The Australian Government has committed over $1.6 million per annum for three years commencing in 2015/16 to the Seven Mile Rehabilitation Centre in Wyndham. This 22 bed facility offers seven days a week, round-the-clock accommodation and treatment and provides individual and intensive assistance for people experiencing severe alcohol and drug addictions. The facility currently has capacity to service a greater number of clients.

As part of the trial, further drug and alcohol workers are being put in place (documented below) which will assist in linking people up to the rehabilitation centre and supporting them when they exit.

There will also be a further $250,000 investment to improve the access to drug and alcohol rehabilitation for adolescents who are currently unable to access age-appropriate services within the region. This investment will provide additional services tailored to meet the needs of adolescents.

ii. Drug and alcohol counselling and support

There are already several services in place to address alcohol misuse in the trial region in addition to residential rehabilitation. This includes:

  • Sobering up shelters in Kununurra and Wyndham with a combined capacity to assist almost 50 people per night.
  • The Ord Valley Aboriginal Health Service which is receiving over $495,000 in Commonwealth funding over two years to (among other things) provide drug and alcohol support to individuals in the region.
  • The Kimberley Mental Health and Drug Service which focuses on drug and alcohol prevention, including providing support to adults in the justice system for offences related to substance misuse.
  • The Family Mental Health Support Services Program which assists vulnerable families with children and young people at risk of or affected by mental illness.

As part of the trial, the Australian Government is building on these existing services by providing extra funding for:

  • Extra workers to provide support to an increased number of people suffering from alcohol and drug misuse, and ensure that people are connected with visiting services. These workers will also be able to provide after-care services to support people to transition back into family and community life (e.g. connecting people with housing, financial counselling, addressing mental health issues).
  • A new Alcohol and Drug Brokerage Fund to provide flexible funding to allow for the provision of rapid assistance to people with substance misuse problems in the region as well as their families.

iii. Family support services

The Government wants to ensure that as part of the trial, there are family and support services in place. Families are sometimes under stress due to alcohol and other dependencies, which impact on family budgets and well-being.

There are already existing services in place to provide structured support for families. This includes an $800,000 per year grant to Save the Children to develop and facilitate programs to enhance early childhood development and wellbeing for children from birth to 12 years. This includes:

  • Parenting support programmes such as parenting skills and mentoring
  • Early numeracy and literacy skill development for children
  • Playgroups and programmes to support children and families affected by domestic and family violence.

As part of the trial, the Australian Government will provide additional funding for a youth and family service through a Children and Parenting Services (CaPS) grant. CaPS grants fund prevention and early intervention services aimed at improving children’s development and wellbeing, and supporting the capacity of those in a parenting role. Based on local intelligence, a new youth and family service will be funded to focus on supporting at-risk children, particularly those aged between 8-12 years.

Funding of $250,000 will also be provided to increase the capacity of the ‘One Family at a Time’ Program across Kununurra and Wyndham. This program was locally designed by the MG Corporation tailored to meet the needs of the people in the region and works intensively with families to improve their lives.

B. Domestic and family violence services

Many domestic assaults and family violence incidents are related to alcohol abuse.

The Kimberley Community Legal Service assists Indigenous people, particularly women, in accessing appropriate advice, information and legal services. It is already supported by federal funding of about $100,000 this financial year.

Over the next three years, the Kimberley Community Legal Service will receive an additional $1.2 million as part of the Australian Government’s recently announced $100 million Women’s Safety Package.

This funding will help establish a specialist domestic violence unit in the Kimberley which will take a case management approach in providing assistance to women experiencing domestic or family violence. This will ensure that services are personally tailored to each woman’s circumstances.

In addition to providing legal assistance, other practical interventions will also be available such as access to counselling and crisis accommodation.

C. Assistance with financial management and transitional support

The welfare debit card trial provides an opportunity to support people to establish better financial management practices. The Government will encourage people on the cashless card trial to establish a budget and will put in place the support staff and structures to facilitate this.

In addition, people will be supported during the transition to the trial, including with activating cards, setting up PINs and making sure any direct debit payments currently in place can continue. The Australian Government will also provide funding for financial wellbeing and capability services including providing people with access to financial counsellors and budgeting assistance.

i. Financial Wellbeing and Capability Services

The Australian Government currently provides funding of over $500,000 per annum to Kununurra in the East Kimberley region for financial counsellors and financial capability workers to assist people to manage their money better under the Financial Wellbeing and Capability Activity.

From 1 January 2016, $690,000 (to 30 June 2017) has been allocated to the region to establish a Financial Counselling, Capability and Resilience Hub in Kununurra to replace the existing financial counselling and capability services and better service the region. Financial counsellors will provide intensive one-on-one support and undertake in depth assessments of people’s financial situations, then work with them to improve their ability to manage their money and address any issues which may contribute to long-term financial hardship.

Financial counsellors can also help people to negotiate payment plans for debts. Financial capability workers will deliver financial literacy education, information and coaching, by focussing on supporting people to change their behaviours and ‘learn by doing’.

ii. Transitional Support

People will be given support to transition to the new card arrangements. In addition to having access to trained financial counsellors and financial capability workers, the card provider will assist trial participants to:

  • set up regular deductions / payment transfers;
  • establish BPAY arrangements for the payment of bills;
  • organise the transfer of direct debits to the new account; and,
  • understand basic card functionality and who to contact if they have any issues.

This support will be available on the ground in Kununurra and Wyndham prior to the commencement of the trial and throughout implementation. People who currently access Department of Human Services’ functions like Centrepay or Rent Deduction Schemes will continue to have access to these services as they did previously.