David Penberthy: If the federal government goes ahead with the trial, is it likely that it will be limited to Indigenous communities or would it be broader than that?
Alan Tudge: It would be broader than that. The proposal is not to limit it exclusively to Indigenous people but to cover communities where there is high welfare dependence and significant damage which is being done by alcohol fuelled violence and drugs.
David Penberthy: As everybody knows, a lot of the statistics are at their worst in Indigenous communities but it’s not like these communities have got a monopoly on these sorts of problems, is it?
Alan Tudge: No that’s exactly right. There are some communities which we know whereby there are non-Indigenous people who are also suffering and where there’s high welfare fuelled alcohol and drug problems.
This trial is squarely aimed at trying to address some of those problems. The concept, David, as you may have explained, is that we want to introduce on a trial basis a simple VISA debit card which you can use anywhere and purchase anything but you simply would not be able to purchase alcohol or gamble with it. And because your cash was limited, you also of course wouldn’t be able to purchase drugs.
Jane Reilly: Talking cash, most of us can get away with just having a debit card and using that. But you still do need to have $20 in your purse just in case the kids need something for school or to catch a bus. So how will you go around the cash aspect?
Alan Tudge: That’s right Jane. We won’t propose a completely cashless card. There would be an element of cash but we haven’t determined the precise figure yet. That will occur in part in consultation with community leaders.
The figure which is put onto the cashless component does need to be pretty high to meet this overall objective of addressing the welfare fuelled alcohol and drug abuse which is prevalent in some communities.
Jane Reilly: Does it go much further than maybe just looking after the kids and making sure the parents are buying them food and clothing, that when someone is drunk or out on drugs most of the time, they are not functional. They cannot work in society. So if you’re taking that away is there the hope that perhaps you can get them into mainstream employment because they can actually function?
Alan Tudge: That is absolutely the hope and this card proposal is just one element of the suite of policy recommendations from Andrew Forrest which we’ve spoken on the program in relation to this.
It is squarely centred around getting as many people as possible into real jobs but the Forrest proposal was that unless you can get control of the grog and control of the drug problem in some communities then it’s so much more difficult to get the kids to school and the adults into work. That’s where this card proposal comes in to try and squarely address some of those problems which are being fuelled by welfare payment.
Jane Reilly: So if not everyone is going to have this welfare card, if it’s just those deemed as having a problem, does that almost become a bit of a stigma that they’ve got this card then it’s known they can’t handle their money and they can’t handle their life?
Alan Tudge: The concept with the card is that if you’re a responsible person on welfare in a trial community, i.e. you’re not a big drinker, you’re not a big gambler, you don’t take drugs, then the only impact on you, really, is that instead of reaching for cash, you’ll reach for your card and tap it because the card will work at every single location where there is a VISA terminal, which is pretty much everywhere these days.
And, you’ll be able to purchase whatever you like but there will just be those two exclusions on alcohol and on gambling. Because you’ll have a limited amount of cash, of course you won’t be able to spend the majority of your welfare on drugs.
David Penberthy: Stick with us Alan Tudge, we’ve got a call on this from one of our listeners, Dave from Woodville. Morning David.
Caller David: Good morning. Thank you for taking my call. Has the government considered stepping it up a cog and every fortnight having the recipients drug tested so if they test positive to any illicit substances, alcohol, amphetamines, marijuana or drugs, they simply don’t get their dole?
David Penberthy: I’ll ask Alan Tudge that. Did you hear the question Mr Tudge? What do you think of that?
Alan Tudge: I did. We haven’t considered that proposal and we have no plans to introduce that. We do want to test this card concept to address the precise problem which that gentleman was talking about and that is welfare fuelled alcohol and drug abuse that leads to immense social harm in some of these communities. You mentioned it at the outset that in some communities now, the assault rate again Indigenous women particularly is now one in every ten women per annum. That’s just the reported one. That is completely unacceptable. Most of those assaults are related to alcohol consumption and most of that alcohol consumption is on the back of welfare payments.
That’s why we're so determined to at least trial this card, give it a go, and see if it does what we think it will do and that’s what we’re proposing to do later in the year.
David Penberthy: I’m certainly not trying to suggest here that it’s the job of government to do everything and 90 per cent of what we’re talking about here comes down to personal choice I think and the way people behave and the way their parents have taught them to behave.
But is one of the challenges with this system going to be the absence of any sort of rehab services for these people because whether you like it or not, if someone has been using their dole money for years to buy cheap cask red or to buy ice and they’ve been in this alcohol and drug induced stupor for years and in some cases decades, how to they go from zero to 100 in terms of not being able to get their hands on the thing that has sustained them for so long?
Alan Tudge: That’s one of the things we’re going to be working through over the next few months. You raise an important point about the accessibility to rehab. We’re certainly going to be looking at that. In many places now there are rehab services in place. I know of several in South Australia for example, but that’s certainly something we’re going to be looking at in the months ahead before any trial begins.
David Penberthy: We’ve got another call Alan. Errol from Peterhead has rung in. Errol how are you?
Caller Errol: Not too bad thanks. Do us aged pensioners fall into this category of cards?
David Penberthy: I don’t think you do but the Minister will know better than me. Aged pensioners aren’t affected by this are they, Alan Tudge?
Alan Tudge: The proposal at this stage is that aged pensioners would not be included. It would be targeted in disadvantaged communities, high welfare communities, and it would be targeted at those who are of working age.
We need to work through the precise details here, and we may have an option for example where aged pensioners in those communities could volunteer to be on the card and they may wish to do so. But we haven’t settled on that and at this stage the plan is not to include aged pensioners.
David Penberthy: So which types of welfare would it be? Would it be certain family payments and unemployment benefits?
Alan Tudge: We just haven’t worked through all the precise details on that yet. The overall objective we want to achieve and this is guiding our decision making and will be informed by the community leaders as well in the trial communities, is that we want to address the enormous harm that is being caused by welfare fuelled alcohol and drug abuse.
That’s the overall objective. So within that frame and taking into account the views of community leaders, we’ll then be making decisions about how the card will particularly apply in that community.
David Penberthy: We have one more call. Andrew from St Claire. Good morning Andrew.
Caller Andrew: G’day, how’s it going? Minister, the actual cards themselves, these have been going around in some communities in other parts of Australia already and I know they’ve been accepted by some retailers here in Adelaide.
Those cards were plainly and obviously marked as a Basics Card. Will the new card be marked as a Basics Card or will they just be provided by a particular bank with a VISA symbol on them and not be discernible from another standard credit or debit card? I’m thinking of the stigmatisation as a welfare recipient for those people.
David Penberthy: Alan, what do you say to that?
Alan Tudge: He’s referring to the Basics Card which is operable particularly in the Northern Territory and it’s a different proposition that we’re talking about there. With that Basics Card, if you like, retailers had to apply to be connected to the Basics Card.
Here, we’re talking about a basic VISA or EFTPOS debit card which can be used anywhere basically except for at liquor stores and gambling outfits. We haven’t determined exactly what the artwork is going to look like yet. In some states you can only purchase alcohol at dedicated alcohol outlets, so you can almost just switch off that entire store from operability of this card.
Where there’s a store, it might be a grocery store, that also sells alcohol, that’s when it becomes more complex from the technological perspective and that’s where we might need to be thinking about exactly what that card looks like.
David Penberthy: Margaret from Glenelg has called in as well. Good morning Margaret.
Caller Margaret: Good morning. I would just like to say it is an amazingly wonderful idea. I had a son living up in the Northern Territory and he was given one of the Northern Territory cards and it was the best thing that, truly, ever happened to him.
He was on Centrelink and I think for people on Centrelink I think it’s the number one thing, because a lot of the people on Centrelink are people who are not really good at managing their money and because of their oppression or the problems they have through being on Centrelink and trying to find jobs etcetera, this gives them an opportunity to at least have good quality food.
I just think if they can bring this in nationwide, I think you will find that a lot of people will regain a lot of their confidence because you get a certain amount of cash which enables you to use it for [inaudible] and just having money in your pocket.
But being able to get a lot of your Centrelink money on your card that you have to use for say food or petrol for a car, or cigarettes because sadly a lot of people smoke, to have that money there that they can’t just go off and waste and sit in a hotel feeding the pokies or anything to just stop their depression and feeling down to give them the opportunity to take a little more control of their life in regard to that.
I think it’s a marvellous idea and I for one would think if the government could bring this in I think you would see a lot of change and a lot of direction on a lot of the problems people have. It doesn’t have to be just for Indigenous people which I think would be a marvellous idea, but for people out there in the community on Centrelink. For single mothers and things like that, it might encourage them to buy the right sort of things for their family.
David Penberthy: It certainly sounds like it worked in the case of your son. Thank you Margaret for your call, and also to you Alan Tudge, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister. Thank you very much for joining us this morning.