Joint Doorstop with Rick Wilson MP Leonora, Western Australia

Release Date: 
22 December 2015
Transcript
E&OE

Topics: Welfare debit card

JOURNALIST:

Mr Tudge, can you just tell us what you are doing here in Leonora today?

ALAN TUDGE:

I came here at the invitation of Rick, to speak with some of the community leaders here from Leonora and Laverton about a potential reform which we might introduce. That is, the introduction of what would be a visa debit card which would apply to welfare recipients.

The visa debit card would work like any other card; it would work anywhere, to purchase anything. But it simply wouldn’t work at bottle shops, wouldn’t work at gambling houses and you wouldn’t be able to get cash from it.

The idea of it is to try to reduce the very significant welfare fuelled, alcohol, drug and gambling abuse which unfortunately is present in many communities.

We are just initiating the discussion as to whether there is any interest in pursuing further discussions subsequent to this meeting.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Wilson, what was the catalyst for inviting the Minister here today?

RICK WILSON:

The catalyst was a meeting that I had with some local elders a week or so ago, in the wake of a couple of tragic youth suicides. The elders were absolutely in despair; at the end of their tether and I guess discussion was around what we can do and the healthy welfare card is a concept that is being introduced by the Government in other parts of Australia.

I broached the subject, would they consider a healthy welfare card trial in this area, and certainly amongst the group that were there, there was positive feedback.

So I took the steps of inviting the Minister here today and it is great to have him here within a week of that conversation taking place.

We have had some really constructive dialogue today with not only the Leonora Shire councillors but also the Indigenous leaders from those communities. Now it is up to them to decide whether to progress to the consultation stage.

JOURNALIST:

Was this information session an open meeting?

RICK WILSON:

The Leonora and Laverton Shires were given the opportunity to invite people along who they saw as being relevant and having leadership roles in the community.

I guess it was an invitation only meeting on behalf of the shires, but from our perspective, we were looking for as many people to come along as possible – particularly leaders from the Indigenous community.

JOURNALIST:

So who actually attended today’s meeting?

RICK WILSON:

There was about 20 people there. Both the Shires of Leonora and Laverton were represented by shire councillors but also Indigenous leaders from both communities. I am not going to name those people; they will be out in a minute and you can talk to them if you like.

There was certainly what we were aiming for and I think we got a good balance of shire councillors but also Indigenous leaders.

JOURNALIST:

Would there be a follow up meeting that is open and advertised for the whole community to come along to?

ALAN TUDGE:

This is just stage one of the process and if there is a broad agreement from the community leadership group that we spoke with today, then we will have a very detailed consultation process over the next few months before making any final decision about whether we would proceed with this or not.

Let me be very clear, we are only going to proceed in these communities if there is a broad consensus among the community leadership that this would be a good idea to do so.

JOURNALIST:

If it does proceed, what services would supplement the implementation of a healthy welfare card?

ALAN TUDGE:

That would be determined in part from the community leaders themselves to inform us as to what the service gaps are and what would be needed to complement the introduction of the card.

The effect of the card would be to reduce a lot of the cash supply out of the community, which could purchase alcohol. But at the same time alongside that, you need to ensure that there are sufficient services to help people get off their dependencies.

That might include additional drug and alcohol services, additional mental health services and financial counselling services. But other things may also arise throughout the consultation process.

JOURNALIST:

And if the trial does go ahead and it is a year long trial; what are you looking at after a year? Do crimes reduce, alcohol related crime? What determines that, yes, it has been successful?

ALAN TUDGE:

The key objective is to try to reduce some of the significant harm that is caused by welfare fuelled alcohol and drug abuse.

That includes the domestic violence rates, some of the hospitalisation rates from assaults, but also some of the crime which we know is caused by excessive alcohol consumption; often fuelled by the welfare dollar.

We would like to see those things come down as a result of the introduction of this card and that is what we will be testing.

JOURNALIST:

So obviously people can’t buy alcohol, can’t buy drugs if they don’t have cash. What about cigarettes, solvents?

ALAN TUDGE:

The card would work like an ordinary visa debit card, i.e. it would work at every single store in the country; you could purchase whatever you like. There are only two things which are restricted and that is alcohol and gambling products.

Because your cash is limited, of course you can’t buy illicit substances either.

JOURNALIST:

So do you then have any concerns that people might start buying things like paint and solvent and turn to other ways of [inaudible].

ALAN TUDGE:

We will be monitoring that very closely. The experience of other places where they have restricted the supply of one product is – yes, sometimes people will take up another product, but typically it is at a much smaller rate and we expect that there will be a similar outcome here.

JOURNALIST:

How will you prevent retailers from pushing up the prices of food and essentials once the card is introduced?

ALAN TUDGE:

Why would they do that?

JOURNALIST:

Well I think it has happened out in these sorts of communities before because people can only buy food and you can put a loaf of bread up because you know they have to buy it.

ALAN TUDGE:

You will be able to purchase whatever you like with this card. Anywhere where a visa is accepted, which is pretty much every store in the country these days, you will be able to use that card. But it just won’t work at the bottle shop. You won’t be able to use it at the casino and you won’t be able to get cash from it which means you can’t purchase illicit drugs.

JOURNALIST:

Are you concerned people might start trading food for alcohol?

ALAN TUDGE:

We would be monitoring that and inevitably some people will try to get around it. The best analogy that I have in terms of this card is in places where there have been significant alcohol restrictions introduced. You still get some grog runners who will try to introduce alcohol into those communities, but at the same time, the effect on the violence rates is astronomical. You will typically halve the amount of assaults almost overnight when those alcohol restrictions are introduced.

I think the same might occur here, yes there will be some people who will try to get around the system, but at the same time, I think the impact on domestic violence and assaults and other crime would be quite dramatic.

JOURNALIST:

Finally, what happens next? You have said this is stage one. Do the people that attended this meeting have a deadline when they need to give you an answer? How does it work from here?

ALAN TUDGE:

We will probably get some feedback today as to whether or not they would like to proceed with further discussions. That would involve a detailed consultation plan over the next two or three months and talking with other community leaders to assess whether or not this is something that this community might like to [inaudible].

JOURNALIST:

I did ask you about other services being provided to supplement…

ALAN TUDGE:

So we have already announced that we are going to trial this in two other locations; one being in East Kimberley and the other being in Ceduna in South Australia.

In both of those locations, the card comes with a package of services, particularly services to help people reduce their dependencies. Such as, drug and alcohol services, some mental health services and financial management support.

JOURNALIST:

So if this comes as a package and all of these services are implemented, and then after a year the community is in a much better shape, how can you determine that was the healthy welfare card rather than, we have implemented services which are very helpful?

ALAN TUDGE:

We are going to have a full, independent evaluation of the trails, so that will inform our decisions.

RICK WILSON:

Can I just say, while the nay sayers will find any number of reasons not to progress; I think the people who live in these communities have reached the stage where they really want to try something and you know, a cultural change, I guess.

The healthy welfare card, I think, has the ability to provide a catalyst where it is not just about the welfare card, it is about a lot of the services around service provision.

Also Indigenous leadership, where people are coming together and today we saw that – people coming together from different communities and discussing some ways to solve some of the problems that we are seeing out here.

As the member representing the people of Leonora and Laverton, I am absolutely supportive of the concept of this healthy welfare card trial.