TONY JONES: Alan Tudge is the Parliamentary Secretary of the Prime Minister. He's a key advocate within the Federal Government for the proposal to trial a cashless card. He joins us now from Melbourne.
Thanks for being there.
ALAN TUDGE: G'day, Tony.
TONY JONES: Now, can you tell us whether this card will in fact be trialled in the East Kimberley region, which includes Kununurra, which we just saw, but also Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing as well as remote communities?
ALAN TUDGE: Tony, we haven't announced the trials just yet, but we're clearly in advanced discussions with some of the East Kimberley leaders.
Overall we said right at the outset that we'd like to trial this cashless debit card in locations which satisfied two criteria: one being that there is high welfare-fuelled alcohol abuse, and secondly, where there's at least an openness from community leaders to consider the trial and Kununurra may well fit those criteria.
TONY JONES: Yeah, we have seen key Indigenous leaders get behind it. We just saw Ian Trust there. I mean, how important is it to have someone like him obviously behind it, but with caveats?
ALAN TUDGE: I think it's immensely important for someone of Ian Trust's calibre to be backing it and be calling for it. I mean, Ian's now one of the most substantial Indigenous leaders in the country and when he's standing up and asking for reform, then I think that governments should listen and that's exactly what we're doing.
TONY JONES: Now do you regard this as an extension of the intervention?
ALAN TUDGE: I don't, Tony. There's significant differences from what we've done in the intervention versus what we're proposing here.
Here it is a quite a straightforward concept. It is to provide welfare, instead of exclusively in cash, to instead provide most of the welfare into an account which can only be accessed through a visa or an EFTPOS debit card which will work everywhere, you can purchase whatever you like with that card, but it will simply restrict the purchase of alcohol and gambling products, and because your cash is limited, you won't be able to purchase illicit drugs either.
TONY JONES: One of the lessons, I suppose, which one could learn from the intervention was co-operation and consultation with the community. Is that one of the other key differences in the way you're handling this?
ALAN TUDGE: Well, certainly the intervention was a particular time. It was responding to an emergency situation.
Now, in this instance, we've got the benefit of more time and certainly we are very deeply engaging with the various communities where we may be trialling it and indeed the community leaders in a place like Kununurra are shaping what the trial will look like, shaping how the card will look like, what its parameters are, how it might be rolled out. And I think if we do it that way, we've got a much greater chance of having a successful trial.
TONY JONES: How can you avoid the perception nationally that this is not a sort of racially targeted policy?
ALAN TUDGE: Well it's not. And every person within a defined geographical area that is on an income support payment will be captured by it and that's Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people.
While the East Kimberley has a higher proportion of Aboriginal people there, in other areas we're having advanced discussions with, the welfare community is more like 50 per cent Indigenous, 50 per cent non-Indigenous. So, it's very much a colour blind card. That was always the intent and it's as it should be.
TONY JONES: So are you talking possibly about trial sites in major cities, in the suburbs which have high concentrations of welfare recipients?
ALAN TUDGE: Not necessarily major cities, but certainly some regional towns where we've had advanced discussions with. We're not in the position yet to announce the other areas where we're likely to have a trial, but we're certainly having good consultations there. We want to ensure that there is that ownership on the ground before we have a trial commence.
TONY JONES: Now, let's go back to Kununurra and East Kimberley for a minute. There are complexities to this, obviously. As we saw from that piece, things get a lot worse during the wet season when people come from remote communities and they come into the towns, many times living in and around the towns in camps and the alcohol problem becomes a lot worse at those times. Now is there a way of making sure that all of the people coming in to the town also are under the same regime?
ALAN TUDGE: It's a very big problem to solve that and I've been having conversations with the community leaders in Kununurra about that precise thing and we're trying to work through a solution, but I don't think we have one just yet. But we've still got some time to try to be creative in relation to this problem.
TONY JONES: And there's an obvious question too about what support there would need to be under these circumstances: lots of people reliant on alcohol - alcohol addicts, I suppose you could say, alcoholics. Kununurra has a sobering-up centre, but it doesn't have an alcohol treatment centre. I mean, are things like that going to have to change in order to deal with the fact that you're stopping people from buying alcohol, effectively?
ALAN TUDGE: Yeah, we're very conscious of this point which you make and certainly once we decide where a trial will occur, we'll be having discussions with the service providers on the ground to ensure that there is appropriate capacity to deal with some of those issues.
It's not just things like alcohol counselling, which might be required, but it's also things like budgeting assistance or financial management assistance and other types of services which people may need under this situation.
TONY JONES: We're nearly out of time, but how quickly could we see this happen? How quickly could the trial sites be rolled out and are you ready to actually distribute cards, more or less?
ALAN TUDGE: Ideally we'd begin this trial early next year. That's certainly our aim and that's the timeline we're working towards.
TONY JONES: And the idea beyond that to, if it works in those trial sites, to roll it out nationally?
ALAN TUDGE: The intent is not to roll it out across Australia, but rather the intent is to have a trial, to evaluate it, learn from it and then to possibly apply it selectively in high welfare communities. But, let's get to that stage after we've done the trial, after we've done the evaluation and received the lessons from it.
TONY JONES: Alan Tudge, fascinating thoughts there and interesting to see how this works. We'll look forward to speaking to you again.
ALAN TUDGE: Thanks so much, Tony.