ABC Hobart, interview with Leon Compton

Release Date: 
23 March 2015

Leon Compton: Parl Sec, good morning to you.

Alan Tudge: Good morning Leon.

Leon Compton: And thank you for coming on. Could you describe- give us the bones of this proposal as the Government is considering it at the moment.

Alan Tudge: In essence Leon, we’re proposing to trial the introduction of a cashless debit card.

It would look like an ordinary Visa or EFTPOS card and you could use it anywhere and purchase anything, but you would just be excluded from purchasing alcohol and using it on the pokies. And because your cash was limited it obviously means you couldn’t use your welfare dollars for purchasing drugs.

The overall objective of it is of course to address the significant harm in some places which is caused by welfare fuelled alcohol and drug abuse, particularly against women.

Leon Compton: Tasmania has significant pockets of entrenched disadvantage. Are you considering this proposal for trial in Tasmania?

Alan Tudge: We haven’t determined the locations of the trial as yet. We’ll trial it in a small number of places.

The two criteria which we’re going to assess where we trial is, a) where there is significant disadvantage, high welfare dependence, where we know there is problems caused by welfare fuelled alcohol and drug abuse.

The second criteria is ideally where there’s at least an openness from the community leaders in a particular area who are wanting to participate in a trial. So that might be a location in Tasmania and certainly if community leaders of certain areas are open to considering a trial then they should get in contact with me.

Leon Compton: So if a community came to you and said can we do this in our part of Australia you’d consider rolling it out there?

Alan Tudge: We’d certainly take a look at it. If there were community leaders- and there already have been who have approached me- to say can we trial it here, then obviously we’d have a look at circumstances there and what are the practicalities of doing it there and compare it to other proposals that might be on the table.

Leon Compton: The Government must have floated this as more than just an idea. Do you already have trial sites in mind?

Alan Tudge: We’ve got a few places in mind but we’re not ready to announce where we might trial it yet because we’ve still got a lot of consultations to do with those community leaders and indeed with many other people before we go ahead and announce trial locations.

Leon Compton: Are any of those trial sites in Tasmania Mr Tudge?

Alan Tudge: I’m not going to rule in or out any particular trial sites at the moment. We’re very open still to where the trial sites might be as long as they broadly satisfy those two criteria.

The overall criteria we want to test in these discreet trials is to minimise the harm caused by welfare fuelled alcohol and drug abuse. That’s the overall objective that we’re trying to achieve with the card in a particular trial site. We want to do it carefully, we want to consult, and we want to assess how that goesbefore making then any further decisions.

Leon Compton: Some in the community sector in Tasmania have come out and said they really dislike this idea. What’s your response to that? It won’t be the first time you’ve heard that. What is your response to those that say that this is discriminatory, that it unreasonably targets and determines how people on welfare can spend what little money they get from the government each fortnight?

Alan Tudge: Well it won’t and I just want to make this point clear, that if you’re a welfare recipient in a trial community and you’re basically using your money responsibly- you’re not a big drinker, you’re not a big gambler, you don’t that drugs, then the only impact on you will be that you have to reach into your pocket, instead of pulling out cash, you’ll have to pull out a card and tap it.

Now because the card is designed to be used everywhere for anything, except excluding those two things that I said at the outset- alcohol and pokies- that’s what the card is about. Beyond that there is still complete choice where people spend their money and I just want to make that clear.

Leon Compton: How easy will it be to work? How will the card know that you’re trying to buy alcohol, rather than soft drink at a bottle shop?

Alan Tudge: We’ve been working with the financial services institutions over the last six months or so in relation to this and what technology is available.

In some states Leon, you can only purchase alcohol in a designated alcohol outlet. That means you can simply switch off that store from the operability of the card. In other states where you can purchase alcohol in a grocery store, the technological solution becomes a bit more tricky and we’re working through that with the financial services institutions.

Leon Compton: In Tasmania a lot of people on welfare are in welfare and living in small communities, they only have one or may be two shops to go to. If it were to roll out here it would need to be capable of incredible levels of discrimination to work out what was what when it came to what could be purchased and what couldn’t.

Alan Tudge: Well it depends on the nature of those shops as well and a particular community as to whether or not they were stocking alcohol or not. We would want to work through those and if there was a trial site chosen in Tasmania we’d have to work through that with the shop owners in those particular communities.

Certainly in some states you can just simply code the card so that it will switch off all liquor stores and that means you can’t use that card for purchasing liquor across the state.

Leon Compton: Would you be able to buy smokes with it?

Alan Tudge: The intent is you would still be able to buy smokes with it.

There is a bit of a debate about this. In part the reason being that we want to keep the restrictions narrow and also because the overall objective of the card as recommended by Andrew Forrest was to reduce the social harm caused by welfare abuse if you like.

As you know that’s particularly the case in some communities where alcohol and drugs are rife. Not only do they damage the individual but it can lead to catastrophic consequences for that community, particularly in relation to violence against women. Smoking doesn’t tend to do that.

Leon Compton: On ABC local radio around Tasmania, Alan Tudge is our guest, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister. Mel says via text this morning, here’s a question for you Mr Tudge. As a person on welfare payment I don’t have any problem with the banning of buying alcohol, drugs and gambling. I do have a problem with being treated as if I am a lowlife just because I’m on welfare. Will the card be useable everywhere or will it be very restrictive says Mel?

Alan Tudge: The answer to that- and two answers to that- one is that we’re not proposing to treat welfare recipients like lowlifes. I don’t like that term. It’s not accurate. Second is that this card will be useable everywhere to purchase anything, except for the purchase of alcohol and for gambling.

(inaudible) at the moment you can use your Visa or EFTPOS card in your pocket, you would be able to use this proposed cashless debit card.

Leon Compton: Just a quick one before you go, when will you decide where the first places to trial this are?

Alan Tudge: It’ll be in the months ahead. We’re proposing to trial it towards well into the second half of the year so we’re having ongoing consultations over the weeks and months ahead in terms of where the best trial sites are likely to be.

Leon Compton: Tasmania likely to be one of them?

Alan Tudge: We just haven’t decided Leon. We haven’t decided where the trial sites will be and as I said if there are particular community leaders who are thinking this could be a significant benefit for our community here and we’d be willing to trial it then of course they should get in contact with me.

Leon Compton: There’s always hundreds of questions which come cascading into your mind but will this apply to people just on unemployment benefits or will it apply to other forms of pension as well?

Alan Tudge: That precise question hasn’t been decided but the thinking is that would apply to people on unemployment benefits or people of working age. It wouldn’t necessarily apply to people on the aged pension. But that’s to be worked though, in partly in consultation with the community leaders in a particular trial location.

Leon Compton: Good to talk to you this morning.

Alan Tudge:Thanks so much Leon.