Doorstop Parliament House, Canberra

Release Date: 
15 October 2015

ALAN TUDGE:   Last night, the Senate passed the Welfare Debit Card trial legislation.

It was passed with seven of the eight crossbenchers as well as the Labor Party. I’d like to thank those Senators for their support and in particular the Labor Party for making this a bipartisan initiative.

This will be a watershed moment in the way we deliver welfare. The legislation enables us to deliver a relatively simple concept. That is, instead of placing all welfare dollars into an individual’s cash account, we will deliver 20 per cent into a cash account and a further eighty per cent into an account which is only accessible via a VISA debit card.

This VISA debit card is an ordinary VISA debit card in every sense of the word. It will be able to be used anywhere to purchase anything, but simply will not work at the bottle shop or the gambling houses and you won’t be able to get cash from it.

It will be one of the most innovative cards on the market because not only will it have those restrictions, but it will also be connected to your mobile phone so that when you make a purchase, you will get a text message informing you of that purchase and informing you of your account balance.

You will also get a text message informing you when you have had payments placed or when your account balance is below a certain level. In this way, we hope that feature will help people manage their welfare payments across the fortnightly cycle.

As you know, the welfare card is just one feature of our trial. The second feature is a significant support package to help people reduce if not eliminate their dependence on alcohol, drugs and gambling.

We’ve already announced that support package for the Ceduna region and it represents a full-scale assault against alcoholism in that community.

We’ve been designing this trial every step of the way with the local community leaders in Ceduna. They have been a partner with us in designing this trial.

We believe that the combination of this card in concert with the support package could have a very significant impact on the welfare fuelled alcohol, drug and gambling abuse in that community.

JOURNALIST:   How broadly would this roll out if it was successful [inaudible]?

ALAN TUDGE:   We’ve just passed the legislation and that legislation enables us to trial it in up to three communities. We’ll trial it, we’ll assess it, we’ll evaluate it and then make decisions from there.

JOURNALIST:   The Greens have suggested it is a bit premature to pass this through parliament as you haven’t quite worked out the logistics of exactly how the card would function. Is that a reasonable criticism?

ALAN TUDGE:   As you know, we have been discussing this for over 12 months now. It was a recommendation of Andrew Forrest in his report. We announced in March that we wanted to trial the concept.

The legislation has been on the table now for 2 months. There has been a Senate inquiry.

There has been ongoing discussion with each of the crossbenchers and the Labor Party for several months now.

We have released a great deal of detail as to exactly how this card will work at every step of the way. Even just last Sunday, I presented and made public a 26 page response to some of the issues which the Labor Party had.

It has been a very thorough process. Of course there is more work to do between now and early next year when we initiate the trial, but I think we’ve been very transparent to date.

JOURNALIST:   [inaudible] community itself? Are they accepting of this? Have they raised any concerns?

ALAN TUDGE:   We’ve had very deep consultations with the community of Ceduna. In fact, I would say it has been more than consultations; it has been a co-design process with those community leaders.

There are five communities in the Ceduna region. At each of those five communities, the representative board has passed a resolution supporting the introduction of this trial. The Ceduna Municipal Council has also passed a resolution supporting this trial.

I think you would struggle to find any other significant social reforms which have had so much consultation and so much buy-in before the introduction of it.

JOURNALIST:   Do you agree with the Treasurer that Westpac is gauging home loan customers by increasing interest rates?

ALAN TUDGE:   The Treasurer has made comments in relation to this. Obviously Westpac’s decision to raise interest rates is a commercial decision. They are responding to the regulations of APRA.

We do believe though, as the Treasurer has said, that they are increasing their rates in excess of what the cost of those APRA measures will be.

JOURNALIST:   Do you expect other banks to follow suit and will that continue?

ALAN TUDGE:   I’ll leave those comments to the Treasurer.

JOURNALIST:   Just on terrorism, there are reports of a 12 year old boy being monitored by security agencies. Is it concerning that someone of that age is being monitored for suspicion of terrorism activities?

ALAN TUDGE:   I think it is deeply concerning that effectively teenagers and young people are being radicalised in this country. That’s the greatest concern.

As you know, we are absolutely determined to keep Australians safe. We’ve unfortunately had a number of terror incidents in this country and the most recent one committed by a 15 year old boy.

We’re doing everything we possibly can to keep the community safe and to reduce radicalisation of young people.

JOURNALIST:   What do you hope comes out of this summit today?

ALAN TUDGE:   This is another summit which continues our efforts to build on the successful work which we have already put in place. This will be another step on the way to keeping our community safe.

Thanks everybody.