ABC AM Program Interview with Michael Brissenden

Release Date: 
5 August 2015
Transcript
E&OE

Topics: Cashless Debit Card trial, Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians, Labor's hypocrisy on entitlements.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:
Twelve months ago a review of indigenous training and employment recommended a radical almost cashless welfare card be introduced to help stem chronic alcoholism in remote Aboriginal communities. Today, the town of Ceduna on South Australia's remote west coast will become the first community to sign up to the trial of the Healthy Welfare Card. Alan Tudge is the Parliamentary Secretary overseeing the trial and he joins me now from Ceduna. Alan Tudge, welcome to the programme.

ALAN TUDGE:
Good morning, Michael.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:
So, Ceduna has signed up to the trial. When will it start?

ALAN TUDGE:
We'll be signing the Memorandum of Understanding this morning and it will authorise the trial to begin from February of next year. I've been consulting with this community over the last six to 12 months, determining what the parameters of the trial are going to be, how it's going to look, what the product will look like and we've worked very closely with the leaders here and today we'll be announcing the trial will proceed.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:
And how much of the card will be cashless and how much cash can they access?

ALAN TUDGE:
We've discussed this at length with the community leaders and we've settled on the figure that 80 per cent of all welfare payments will be placed onto this cashless debit card and the remaining 20 per cent will go into an ordinary cash account. Now, this means that most people will still have between about $60 and $150 cash per week depending on their family circumstances.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:
So, pensioners and veterans will be exempt, I understand. The mayor of Moree told this programme a few weeks ago that she believed those who were quarantined from the trial could become targets for criminals looking to get hold of their cash.

ALAN TUDGE:
Well we're going to allow veterans and aged pensioners and indeed some workers to opt into the card should they choose to do so, and I believe that many people will, because certainly amongst some communities they might get targeted or humbugged for money if they're the only ones that have an access of money there. So, we're going to provide that opportunity for people to give them that protection should they choose to have it.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:
So trials are planned in other small communities, aren't they? Is it really your intention to make every Australian on welfare subject to these restrictions or is this, as some have suggested, targeting indigenous people only?

ALAN TUDGE:
No, this is not targeting indigenous people and even in the Ceduna region, two thirds of people covered will be indigenous, the other third will be non-indigenous. This was always supposed to be a trial which will cover high welfare communities where they have serious alcohol and drug problems.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:
So how do you determine what's a high welfare community?

ALAN TUDGE:
Well, in a community like Ceduna, unfortunately they've got a hospitalisation rate from assault which is 68 times the national average, much of which is due to alcohol abuse. Last year they had 4,500 admissions to the sobering up centre from a small community of just 4,000 people. Now, I don't think anyone would suggest there aren't some significant issues here which this card will hopefully address -- it won't eliminate altogether
-- but will certainly make a big dent into.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:
How do you measure its success?

ALAN TUDGE:
We will be having full evaluation of the trial, we'll be assessing and tracking the data as we go along. Overall the key objective is to reduce the harm caused by welfare-fuelled alcohol, gambling and drug abuse and we're hoping that those harm indicators will decline over time.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:
Ok. Can we talk about indigenous recognition and the anger felt clearly by some indigenous leaders over the Prime Minister's rejection of their idea to achieve indigenous consensus on the referendum question by instituting a round of sort of community consultations? Now, the Prime Minister said that that jarred with the notion of finally substituting 'we' for 'them' and 'us'. Does it?

ALAN TUDGE:
What we were proposing is that, instead of having indigenous specific conferences first, before the broader conferences involving everybody, that instead that would occur in parallel so that each can inform the other.

It's absolutely essential that we get indigenous support for a constitutional recognition question.
Without indigenous support, it's almost pointless, but at the same time, we do need to bring across the entire community on this journey because, Michael, as you know, it is so difficult to get a referendum question up. Only eight out of 44 referendum questions have ever been successful, the last one back in 1977.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:
Well exactly, isn't that the point, that everybody needs to work together on this and it seems that the Labor Party and the indigenous leadership all agree that this idea of a number of indigenous conventions is a good one but the Government seems to be the one that's on the out here?

ALAN TUDGE:
Oh no, we certainly support indigenous people being able to get together and determine what they want, but we want that to occur in parallel with our engagement with the overall Australian community because we have to get not only the support of the indigenous people, but we must ensure that we've got the broad support of the Australian public. If we don't have that, then we won't have a successful referendum.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:
But the Prime Minister said this proposal risked producing something like a log of claims which he thought wasn't a good thing. Do you agree?

ALAN TUDGE:
I think what he was concerned about is that if we had a proposal whereby indigenous communities alone determined what they wanted first independently before we had the broader conventions, then they may come up with the questions that the broader Australian public may not necessarily agree with. Now, each has to inform the other in my view and in our view. So, that's what we're proposing – in essence, a parallel process rather than one before the other.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:
Ok. Just on one of another of the issues of the day. It seems that every day there's a new story about MPs' entitlements. Now, it's emerged, as I'm sure you're aware, that Labor's Tony Burke took his family to Uluru for a family holiday at the expense of taxpayers while he was working, he says. Have you ever done this?

ALAN TUDGE:
I don't believe I have, Michael. I know that my wife has come up to Canberra a couple of times and specifically flown economy class. But just in relation to Mr Burke, it seems that the standard demanded by him of Government MPs don't apply to himself. I mean, it's absolutely classic Labor hypocrisy when it comes to Mr Burke given that he's had to refund I think 15 times now for trips that he has taken and it's revealed today that he's even charged taxpayers to go to a Robbie Williams concert.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:
It seems you're all auditing yourselves sort of furiously at the moment, though, doesn't it? Are you doing that?

ALAN TUDGE:
I've been in Parliament I think for four or five years and as I said, I believe that the only time that any of my family members have travelled with me is a couple of times to Canberra where my wife has come up with me.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:
Ok. Alan Tudge, thanks very much for joining us.

ALAN TUDGE:
Thanks very much, Michael.

[ENDS]