3AW Drive interview with Brett McLeod

Release Date: 
18 December 2014
Transcript
E&OE

Topics: NT income management report, Forrest Review

BRETT McLEOD:

Alan Tudge, good afternoon.

ALAN TUDGE:

G’day Brett.

BRETT McLEOD:

Now thanks for joining us. I just want to say in the report itself- this was commissioned under the Labor Government - but the report by the Department of Social Services sees looking at about 35,000 people that have had income quarantined in the Northern Territory, there’s no substantive evidence of the programme changing behaviour relative to the key policy objectives of it and they say it did not provide evidence of income management having improved the outcomes for people. Is that your reading of it?

ALAN TUDGE:

Not precisely Brett. What the evaluation showed was that of the income quarantined proportion of people’s welfare payments, that was spent on the things which we pay people welfare for – on housing, on the supermarket, on clothes etc. and the 50 per cent that wasn’t income quarantined though was spent on other things which we may not necessarily want them to be spent on, such as alcohol, drugs, and gambling.
So in some respects it’s not a great surprise that if only 50 per cent of your money is quarantined for certain things, it still leaves reasonable amount of money that can be spent on alcohol and in some of these communities as you probably know Brett, there just awash with alcohol and it’s a very significant problem for those communities.

BRETT McLEOD:

Of course and trying to mitigate that, trying to fix that, is an issue that I think the whole community wants to try and assist with.

 

ALAN TUDGE:

That’s exactly right.

BRETT McLEOD:

The question is of course, is this the way to do it by quarantining income? Now Kevin Andrews has raised a point today that maybe 50 per cent is too low a level, you need to manage 60 to 70 per cent of people’s incomes.

ALAN TUDGE:

Well one of the reasons he raised that is you actually look at the volume of payments which people get and you might have say a single parent, if they’re an alcoholic and they’ve got say a kid or two, then they’ve got about $30,000 coming into their account each year. Now even if half of that is quarantined in housing, in groceries etc. you’ve still got about $15,000 a year which if you want, you can spend on alcohol and many people do spend a lot of that on alcohol.
Now that equates to still being a bottle of vodka each day or a case of beer each day. So Kevin Andrews is essentially arguing that if you want to get on top of the alcohol problem particularly then maybe we need to look at a higher proportion being quarantined and less discretion on cash.
Now that is exactly the recommendation that Andrew Forrest , by the way, has made to us. In essence he said that nearly all the welfare payments should be put onto a cashless debit card where you can pretty much spend it on whatever you like, but the things you can’t spend it on alcohol or on gambling (inaudible)…

BRETT McLEOD:

Andrew Forrest is a man…

ALAN TUDGE:

…socially destructive.

BRETT McLEOD:

Twiggy Forrest is well known to a lot of people. He’s a mining magnate, a man who’s done a lot to employ aboriginal people to assist. He genuinely cares about this it’s quite clear.

ALAN TUDGE:

Absolutely.

BRETT McLEOD:

But his background is not in social welfare. So I always wondered why the Government wanted a report from him when it’s not his area of expertise. No matter how much he genuinely cares about it, it’s not his really, his bailiwick is it?

ALAN TUDGE:

He was asked to provide some advice on how to get more aboriginal people into work - that was the essential goal which he was tasked to do. Now he has tremendous expertise in that area in terms of employing a lot of people in the training system etc. What he discovered in his review of course was that so much money is being spent on alcohol and it’s so destructive in some of these communities that unless you get on top of the alcohol and the drug problem, then you’ll really struggle to get people into work.
So that was one component of his report, but only one, and he also had very significant recommendations about how to change training from being training for training sake to training into work, get recommendations about what government can from a procurement prospective, what big companies can do to employ more aboriginal people because at the moment as you may or may not know Brett, the indigenous employment gap is actually getting bigger, not smaller. So we’ve really got to do something significant to turn that around.

BRETT McLEOD:

When you give us figures like that, that sort of overview you can understand why people shake their heads and say what can be done that’s in any way effective?

ALAN TUDGE:

Yeah I know and many people have worked on this for many years and I’m actually one of those.
Listen I think we’ve got a good platform where we can start to make some difference. We’re very much focused on three things. 1) Getting the kids to school. 2) Getting the adults into work. 3) Ensuring that communities are safe. And that latter point particularly relates to alcohol abuse.
Now we’ve already made significant progress on getting kids to school. There’s about a 15 per cent improvement this year compared to last year basically because we just got local people on the ground to knock on people’s doors and literally drag the kids to school, but more needs to be done on that front.
We’re just about to roll out next year, a very significant full-time work for the dole programme in the remote communities so that every capable adult will have a meaningful activity to participate in and there will be very significant incentives for them also to take work outside the community should they choose to do so.
So we think we’ve got a platform to move progressively forward. None of this can happen overnight but we’re absolutely determined and as you probably know, Tony Abbott’s made this one of his core issues. He’s brought all the programmes under his portfolio and I think we can make some progress over the next few years.

BRETT McLEOD:

I’m sure we’ll be talking about it for a long time to come. Thanks for your time today.

ALAN TUDGE:

Thanks very much Brett.