5AA Breakfast, Adelaide with David Penberthy and Jane Reilly

Release Date: 
6 August 2015

Topics: Cashless Debit Card trial

DAVID PENBERTHY: Alan, thanks so much for coming into the studio today.

ALAN TUDGE: Good morning David.

DAVID PENBERTHY: You’ve obviously been up in Ceduna for the last couple of days. Why was it that Ceduna was chosen as the trial site and how will the card actually work?

ALAN TUDGE: We always said we wanted to trial this card in two or three locations around Australia and we would choose the locations based on two criteria. One being where there is significant welfare-fuelled alcohol, drug and gambling abuse, and two where there was an openness and willingness from the community leaders to give a trial a go. Ceduna satisfies those two criteria. The concept is very simple. Instead of putting all of the welfare dollars into a cash account as we do presently, instead 20 per cent will continue to go into that cash account but 80 per cent will go into an account which is only accessible through a basic VISA or EFTPOS debit card. That debit card will work anywhere, you can purchase whatever you like with it, but it won’t work at the bottle shop and it won’t work at the gambling houses.

DAVID PENBERTHY: So if you go to the local pub and say I want to spend $20 on pokie machines…

ALAN TUDGE: It just simply will not work. And if you go to the bottle shop, the bottle shop won’t work. No bottle shop in the country will work. We switch off what’s called the ‘merchant category code’ which corresponds to liquor outlets so this VISA card will not work anywhere in the country at liquor stores.

DAVID PENBERTHY: You might not be familiar with some of the things that have happened in Adelaide because we’ve had this debate about things like ‘dry zones’ in Adelaide, and we were just discussing this off air, where you’ll say ‘ok we’re going to ban drinking in this area’ and what happens is the people who have been drinking in that area might move back to the country town that they’re originally from or they might go to another part of the city. How are you going to stop people moving around and from trying to circumvent the system?

ALAN TUDGE: In some respects you won’t be able to because within the defined geographical area of the Ceduna region, every person who is on an income support payment of working age will be captured by the trial. So they will be issued with this debit card and that card will go with them. If they travel outside of the region to Adelaide or further afield, they’ve still got the card. That card will still work at absolutely every single store and they can purchase whatever they like, but it simply won’t work at the bottle shops and at the pokies venues.

DAVID PENBERTHY: So quite clearly, not to tip toe around this, there’s obviously a really significant indigenous component to this in Ceduna but I recon a lot of our listeners would wonder and probably even hope whether this could, if the trial works, be extended more broadly.Because one of the most notorious cases here in South Australia was the subject of a lengthy coronial inquest, was the death of a little four year old girl called Chloe Valentine. It was a child protection matter but at its centre it had the fact that her mother, who survived purely on welfare, was spending almost all of that welfare money on drugs.
She wasn’t feeding the child, she wasn’t properly clothing her, there wasn’t a book in the house, she was off her face on ice and bourbon, and the child ended up dying. As taxpayers, we effectively funded that child’s death.

ALAN TUDGE: This is not an exclusively indigenous problem. There are problems just as you have described in the non-indigenous community as much as there is in the indigenous community. I want to stress our proposal here for this debit card is not an indigenous specific card. Even in the Ceduna region, yes two-thirds of people captured will be indigenous, but a third of people won’t be, they’ll be non-indigenous. Should this trial be successful here and in a couple of other places where we roll it out over the next twelve months, then we’ll be assessing it, we’ll be evaluating it, and we’ll be working out whether it does have the application to be rolled out any further.

JANE REILLY: Alan, what kind of things are being put in place to support the community whilst it goes through the beginning stages of this. Just looking at the figures with the sobering up facility in Ceduna, it has a staggering 4,667 admissions last year from a population of 4,425. If you take alcohol out of the system, how do you fill that gap in terms of supporting that population?

ALAN TUDGE: It’s a very good question and those figures are staggering. The other figure which gets me is that the hospitalisation rate from assaults in Ceduna are 68 times the national average, most of which is related to alcohol. So we have to be doing something significant and I think this will be it. We’ll be working through with the community leaders, with the state government over the next six months, to work out what additional services need to be put in place. That may include some additional alcohol counselling but it will also include things like financial counselling and financial management support so that people can better manage their money.

DAVID PENBERTHY: What sort of a reaction did you get from the people in the hospitality industry up there? Because I would imagine that a lot of the money that they make, sadly, would come from the people that were going to be affected from this card and equally they might have some security concerns- bottle shop owners thinking now if you’ve got a card that prevents you from buying the grog there, you might try to obtain the grog through illegal means.

ALAN TUDGE: Yeah it’s a good question David. We’ve spoken to all the community leaders and beyond in the Ceduna region, including the local chamber of commerce. They are very supportive of the concept.
This has been, I wouldn’t even call it a terrific consultative process, it’s actually been a co-design process with the community leaders both indigenous and non-indigenous on the ground. I think because we’ve done it this way, we’ve got a much greater chance of the trial being successful, because they’ve been intricately involved in setting the parameters of the trial, the design of the card, how much money should be in cash versus placed on the card, what additional infrastructure we might need around it.

JANE REILLY: What timeframe are you giving this to see if it works, and if it does work how will it be rolled out across Australia?

ALAN TUDGE: We’re proposing to start the trial early next year. So we’ve got six months to prepare from now to be ready. Then it will be a 12 month trial. We’ll have a proper evaluation to assess it, to monitor it. Then we’ll be making decisions from there as to whether we take it any further.

JANE REILLY: Just basic things to make this work, what happens if someone loses their card? Will you have a backup that they can use, because I can see dramas happening over that.

ALAN TUDGE: Sure, there’s a hundred little questions which we’re all working through in relation to this and that’s one of them. We’ll certainly be absolutely prepared for that. We may well have a stock of cards there on site so that if people lose one, they can very readily get one replaced quickly.

DAVID PENBERTHY: Just finally Alan, your title, you’re the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister. Normally I would have thought this is something that the Parl Sec for Social Security, or maybe indigenous affairs or maybe both might have picked up, but are you doing this because this is something that has the Prime Ministerial stamp of approval on it?

ALAN TUDGE: Certainly the Prime Minister is very interested and very supportive of this. It cuts across multiple portfolio areas- social security, indigenous affairs, into the Prime Minister’s department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and indeed it involves the state government as well. We think this would be a real breakthrough in the way that social security payments are delivered, not just for this community but indeed for the nation. We hope it can make a very significant impact on the ground in reducing some of those social harms which Jane you were talking about earlier.

DAVID PENBERTHY: Yeah and look I reckon our listeners would probably- based on the feedback that we get- occasionally you get that angry ‘just kick em all off the dole, kick em all off every benefit’. I think the more dominant view though is people go well if you’re on the bones of your bum, you need some sort of help, but don’t go wasting the money on stuff that is going to end up with your wife going to hospital, your kids going hungry. We think that people are going to be cheering this idea on. Glen from Ascot Park has rung in. Good morning Glen.

CALLER GLEN: G’day guys how’s it going?

DAVID PENBERTHY: Very well thanks.

CALLER GLEN: Just one question if I could ask. Just listening to you guys, these people on welfare in the outback area and dole payment or whatever, that this card they cannot purchase any alcohol but they can purchase food. Well they can purchase the food for sure and trade it with someone else for the grog.

DAVID PENBERTHY: Yeah that’s probably a fair scenario to paint. Is that something that could happen do you think Alan Tudge?

ALAN TUDGE: I think that it’s inevitable that people will try to get around system and that may well occur. Now we’ll be aware of that and we will try to prevent it. If someone does that, inevitably they’ll be paying say $100 to buy food and they might get $50 cash back. So they’ll be paying a $50 penalty in the process for it.
The other thing I would say is that the best analogy I think for what we’re proposing here is when alcohol restrictions are introduced in more remote places, discrete geographical areas. Now you can never stop the grog runners, you can never completely stop that, but at the same time all the evidence shows that you tend to halve the amount of assaults and violence almost overnight as a result. Despite the fact that some grog runners still get through.

DAVID PENBERTHY: Yeah, excellent point, Alan Tudge, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, it’s a really interesting initiative and good on you for spending all the time up there with the people of Ceduna and good on the people of Ceduna too for chancing their arm on something untested.

ALAN TUDGE: Absolutely David, I absolutely take my hat off to the leadership group in Ceduna. They’re a terrific group of leaders. They’ve got courage, they’ve got strength and they’ve been operating exceptionally well together and we’re working very closely in partnership as this trial rolls out.

DAVID PENBERTHY: Yeah it’s really interesting stuff, Alan thanks so much for your time.

ALAN TUDGE: Thanks David, thanks Jane.