ABC Perth Interview With John McGlue

Release Date: 
16 November 2015

JOHN MCGLUE: When does it start and what does it mean for the people of Kununurra and Wyndham who receive welfare payments right now?

ALAN TUDGE: This is due to start next March or April and what it will mean is that instead of those people receiving all of their welfare payments into their ordinary bank account with which you can access cash, instead 80 per cent will only be accessible via an ordinary visa debit card.

This card will work like any other ordinary visa debit card, i.e. you can purchase anything, anywhere but you simply won’t be able to purchase alcohol with it or gamble with it and you won’t be able to take cash out from it. Consequently, you cannot purchase illicit substances.

The overall objective of this of course is to reduce the very significant alcohol and drug and gambling abuse which unfortunately is prevalent in Kununurra and Wyndham and some other communities.

JOHN MCGLUE: Lots of communities beyond remote indigenous communities it has to be said, including suburban cities.

ALAN TUDGE: That’s right. This is not an indigenous specific issue. This is a welfare issue if you’d like where the welfare payments which are given to people to help them with education costs, with food costs, with accommodation costs, are unfortunately being used at very high rates on alcohol, gambling and on illicit substances.

That just doesn’t damage the individual, but in many instances it causes very grave havoc to the entire community in the process.

JOHN MCGLUE: But Alan Tudge, you are targeting the abuse of welfare money being spent on alcohol, drugs and gambling. Clearly many of the people in these communities are alcohol and drug dependant. What happens to them when they no longer have access to the cash to feed their addictions?

ALAN TUDGE: It is a very good question John, we have thought about this. The card is aimed at restricting the amount of cash which people have to purchase those things, but at the same time we are making sure there are sufficient alcohol and drug services in place to assist people to get off their dependence.

Already there is a whole suite of services up in Kununurra and Wyndham including residential rehabilitation services. We are investing a further $1.3 million into additional services so that people can get the assistance they need to get off their dependence on alcohol and drugs.

JOHN MCGLUE: But how worried are you that the welfare recipients addicted to grog or to drugs no longer having access to the cash, and just don’t want to go to the detox programs, how worried are you they will simply turn to crime to raise the money to feed their habit? It has to be a major concern.

ALAN TUDGE: We have had discussions with police commissioners in relation to this. They fully expect the crime rates to decline as a result of this. A lot of crime in these areas is related to very significant alcohol abuse.

I should point out that there will still be 20 per cent of their welfare payments available through the ordinary course of your savings account which you can access in cash. People will not have to go cold turkey as such, but they simply will not be able to spend all of their welfare dollars on alcohol, gambling or drugs.

As a result of this, we hope that it will significantly reduce the overall harm which is done to the community as a result of welfare fuelled alcohol and drug abuse particularly.

JOHN MCGLUE: I’m hearing all of that, but if the scheme is so good, why haven’t other Kimberley communities take it up? I’m thinking here especially Halls Creek where the Council has backed its Indigenous Advisory Committee and says ‘we don’t want to have a bar of it, we don’t want it’?

ALAN TUDGE: There are some mixed views in Halls Creek. I’ve always said I would like to trial it in a couple of areas where there is strong community leadership backing it. That is certainly the case in Kununurra and Wyndham.

In Halls Creek there are mixed views. Some leaders want it to come in, some don’t. All we have said is we will continue the discussion with them.

Today we are announcing that Kununurra and Wyndham will be part of the trial. We will continue the discussions with Halls Creek.

JOHN MCGLUE: Ok. 13400 222 720. It’s six minutes to 9. Alan Tudge is my guest, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister. We’re talking about the cashless welfare card coming to WA.

It will be rolled out in the first half of next year. Two centres in the Kimberley to get started, Kununurra and Wyndham.

This is all to stop welfare money being spent on grog, on drugs and gambling. Should it be extended beyond Kimberley communities where the big indigenous populations are?

Should we broaden it to the suburbs of Perth? Does it have merit? If so, where would you put it, and on what basis would you accept it as part of city life here in Peth? 1300 222 720. Maybe some other spots around the state of Western Australia where you think this might be appropriate. 1300 222 720.

Alan Tudge, what is the longer plan? How far and wide would you like to see this scheme extended?

ALAN TUDGE: When haven’t made that decision yet, John. We are going to trial it in two or three locations first. We will assess how it goes. We think it will make a demonstrable impact by the way, and if that is the case we will consider rolling it out further afield.

We simply have not made that decision yet. We want to take it progressively one step at a time.

JOHN MCGLUE: How will this trial apply to aged pensioners in the Kimberley?

ALAN TUDGE: If you are an aged pensioner you won’t be included in the trial, but you will be able to opt into it should you choose to do so.

I actually believe that many pensioners will choose to opt into the card to avoid being humbugged as such, which is a term referring to being hit up for cash if you are the only one who has cash in that community.

JOHN MCGLUE: But there are so many aspects to this. You’ve got the issue of the violence which you mentioned. Violence is certainly a question in my mind as to how much pressure older people could come under when they are getting the full cash payments and their relatives, perhaps drug or alcohol dependant, coming around demanding access to it.

ALAN TUDGE: Exactly, all of this has been co-designed with the community leadership in Kununurra and Wyndham. The agreements which we collectively settled on is that all working age people would be covered, but aged pensioners would be able to opt in on a voluntarily basis if they chose to do so.

As I said, they will get notified in advance of this. They can just tick a form to say they would like to be part of it, and that way they will be protected.

JOHN MCGLUE: How will you measure success with this?

ALAN TUDGE: We are going to be looking at all the social harm indicators. One of the most important ones is the hospitalisation rate from assault, most of which is alcohol related. In a town like Kununurra it is in the vicinity of fifty to one hundred times the national average.

We are hoping this will have a demonstrable impact on that hospitalisation rate from assaults in that town. We will also be looking at the other social indicators such as domestic violence rates, the number of kids who are at school, some of the work rates etc.

I should point out that this trial is not just the card and is not just the additional drug and alcohol services. It is also important investments to try to get more people into work and off welfare so that there are opportunities for people to do so.

In a place like Kununurra, it actually has a very strong economic base. There are a lot of opportunities coming into the future as well, including with a very significant sea farm in the next year or two which will create 500 jobs in the local area.

There are opportunities. We want to encourage people to get off welfare into work and to get off their dependence in the process.

JOHN MCGLUE: Nice to chat with you this morning. Thank you for your time.

ALAN TUDGE: Thanks so much John.