Sky News PM Agenda Interview with David Speers

Release Date: 
12 October 2015
Transcript
E&OE

Topics: Welfare Debit Card trial

DAVID SPEERS:
Let's talk about the plan first before we get to where the legislation is going to go tonight. So eighty per cent of your welfare money goes onto this card. What shops can you actually use the card in? Is it all shops or only those who have agreed [inaudible]?

ALAN TUDGE:
The concept is remarkably simple. Instead of just putting all of the welfare payments into an ordinary cash account, we will direct eighty per cent of them into an account which can only be accessed via a VISA debit card.

Now, that card will work just like any other debit card in every single store in the country to purchase whatever you like. But it won't work at the bottle shops and it won't work at the gambling houses and you won't be able to take cash out which means you can't purchase illicit drugs.

DAVID SPEERS:
And you can't drive a couple of hundred kilometres to the next town and use it on a bottle shop there?

ALAN TUDGE:
No. Every single bottle shop in the country will be switched off, if you like, from the operation of this card. The same with the gambling houses. It will be quite an advanced card from a technological perspective.

It'll also have that your account balances will be connected to your mobile phone so whenever you use the card, you'll get sent a text message to your mobile phone which will tell you what your account balance still is in that account.

DAVID SPEERS:
And just a technical question, if you want to have lunch at the pub for example, will you be able to do that if you're not buying alcohol at that particular location?

ALAN TUDGE:
The main venue where that comes across in the Ceduna area is what's called the Foreshore Hotel. That happens to have different terminals for where you go and buy your meal versus where you can buy your drink.

The terminal where you buy your meal will be switched on, the terminal for alcohol will be switched off.

DAVID SPEERS:
You have been quite specific by the sounds of it.

ALAN TUDGE:
Absolutely.

DAVID SPEERS:
So Ceduna in South Australia is the first you're trying to get up here. How many people would be affected by this?

ALAN TUDGE:
There it will be about 1,000 people who would be placed onto the card. That's all income support recipients of working age, so aged pensioners would be excluded but they could opt in should they choose to do so.

DAVID SPEERS:
So where this has happened in the Northern Territory it's only been for Newstart recipients. You would also have it apply to those on family payments as well?

ALAN TUDGE:
Yes that's exactly right. So if you are captured by being an income support recipient, all of your welfare payments will be captured and eighty per cent of the entire bundle will be placed onto this debit card.

DAVID SPEERS:
What's been the findings in the Northern Territory where is has only applied to the
Newstart allowance? Has it actually worked in helping families tackling the abuse problems?

ALAN TUDGE:
These have been some mixed evaluations on that. Certainly there have been some very positive responses to it and indeed most people who come off the card on a compulsory basis choose to voluntary stay on it.

What it hasn't done is have much of an impact on the alcohol consumption and in part because only fifty per cent is applied to the card. We're suggesting here that eighty per cent of all welfare payments be put on the card and therefore you can't use that for alcohol.

The other twenty per cent will continue to go into your normal savings account which you can spend on whatever you like.

DAVID SPEERS:
Okay, but answer me this. If you go to a town like Ceduna and you say you can no longer purchase alcohol, presumably a lot of those or some of those you are targeting here would be alcoholics. What do you think they are going to do?

ALAN TUDGE:
Alongside the card we are putting in place significant investments to deal with and support people to get off their dependence on alcohol.

DAVID SPEERS:
What does that mean though? What does 'significant investments' mean?

ALAN TUDGE:
For example, we're just about to open up a new residential rehabilitation centre which is a
$2.4 million investment there. There's already a drying-up centre in Ceduna. We're putting in place more drug and alcohol counselling and having counsellors based in every single one of the communities affected.

DAVID SPEERS:
Which is terrific if they take that up but…

ALAN TUDGE:
This is a full scale assault against the tremendous alcohol abuse which occurs in that community.

DAVID SPEERS:
Sure but do you acknowledge that some will actually try and get their hands on alcohol? It's an addiction for them.

ALAN TUDGE:
Inevitably. In some respects they will still have twenty per cent of their welfare payments which they will probably spend on alcohol but that is better than spending eighty per cent or one hundred per cent of their welfare payments on alcohol.

DAVID SPEERS:
Do you think that some will break the law?

ALAN TUDGE:
We hope that they won't. We've got to monitor this. We're working very closely with the South Australian government and the South Australian government have said if they need additional police resources, they will be available.

DAVID SPEERS:
What do you say to critics who say this is too heavy handed; this is too much government controlling how people spend their money?

ALAN TUDGE:
We're not because people will be issued with this card which will be like any other ordinary VISA debit card which you and I might have in our pocket right now. The card will work exactly like any other ordinary VISA debit card but simply will not work in two categories – in the bottle shops and at the gambling houses.

Otherwise you have complete freedom over your money. Yes for some people that will take a bit of getting used to that instead of reaching into your pocket for cash you have to reach into your pocket and swipe the card.

But the potential upside is a dramatically safer community where fewer women are getting bashed, where children are safer. I think when you weigh that up, it is worth trialling.

DAVID SPEERS:
For those families who don't have problems with domestic violence or with the sort of abuse problems you are talking about here, why should they be prevented from buying a bottle of wine on the weekend?

ALAN TUDGE:
They still will be able to buy a bottle of wine on the weekend because twenty per cent of their income support payments will still be available. In many cases if you're a couple with a

few kids, you'll still have a couple of hundred dollars per fortnight which you'll be able to spend on a bottle of wine should you choose.

DAVID SPEERS:
Now the legislation. It has gone through the House already. This is now in the Senate or at least it's going to be a little later this evening. Where do you think it is going to go?

ALAN TUDGE:
I've had good constructive conversations with each of the crossbenchers and indeed the Labor Party over the last few months. I'm hoping that we'll get bipartisan support.

Certainly Jenny Macklin indicated in the House of Representatives that she wouldn't turn her back on the community leaders who are calling out for this trial to occur. At the same time though, she's also sent me a letter documenting a whole series of concerns which she has. I would hope that she'd live up to what she said in the House of Representatives and back this legislation in the Senate but if they do not, we're hopeful that the crossbenchers will.

DAVID SPEERS:
But she sent you those concerns and you wrote back to her yesterday?

ALAN TUDGE:
I wrote back yesterday. It was only on Friday when she outlined a series of concerns, mainly due to her concern that we hadn't consulted enough which of course is incorrect. We've consulted an enormous amount and we have significant community leadership support for the trial to occur.

DAVID SPEERS:
Have you been to Ceduna and talked to those community leaders?

ALAN TUDGE:
I've been to Ceduna several times. I've been to every single one of the particular communities who will be impacted. Each of the communities at their board level have passed a resolution in favour of the trial occurring. The Ceduna community council overall, the municipal council, has also passed a resolution.

Indeed we have people here today, community leaders who are speaking with the crossbenchers, asking for them to support the trial legislation for that trial to occur in the Ceduna region.

DAVID SPEERS:
So the legislation then, it is being introduced in the Senate. Do you want a vote on this tonight? Why the rush?

ALAN TUDGE:
The Bill has been listed for debate today. There's another Bill being debated at the moment and it will come to an end at some stage this afternoon and then this Bill will be debated.
When that concludes, we'll have a vote on it.

DAVID SPEERS:
It doesn't have to be tonight. There is no rush in this.

ALAN TUDGE:
We announced the fact that we wanted to trial this back in March. The legislation has been in the public domain for two months. There's been a Senate inquiry. There have been an enormous number of public discussions in relation to this.

We want to have a proper debate in the Senate. We want to vote on it. We want to get on with it.

DAVID SPEERS:
If this goes through, the Ceduna trial then takes place. How long does the trial take and what is a success and what is a failure?

ALAN TUDGE:
We're envisaging the trial will be for twelve months in each of the trial sites. What we'd like to see is a considerably safer community as a result of that.

We'll have an independent evaluation and it will be tracking things like the hospitalisation rates, the assault rates, how much liquor is consumed and from that we'll be able to get a measure as to whether or not this initiative has been successful or not.

DAVID SPEERS:
We should point out that this legislation allows you to do the trial in Ceduna but then a number of other trials as well.

ALAN TUDGE:
Yes that's right. The legislation enables trials in a handful of locations covering at most 10,000 people so relatively small scale trials.

DAVID SPEERS:
Do they have to have community support before you can do them?

ALAN TUDGE:
I've always said right from the get-go that we would trial this in locations where two criteria are satisfied. One, where there is significant welfare fuelled alcohol or drug or gambling abuse, and second where there is an openness from the community leaders to participate in the trial.

We certainly satisfy those two criteria in Ceduna. I think we're getting very close to satisfying those two criteria in the East Kimberley and we're having discussions elsewhere in the country.

DAVID SPEERS:
We'll see how this legislation goes tonight or in the coming days. Alan Tudge, good to talk to you. Thank you very much for joining us.

ALAN TUDGE:
Thanks so much.

[ENDS]