SKY News, PVO News Hour, Interview with Peter Van Onselen

Release Date: 
19 August 2015

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Let me just ask you first up. Yesterday the Prime Minister said that he had read the riot act to the Cabinet and that everyone was to stay on script. What is the script? Is the script a plebiscite or a referendum on same-sex marriage?
ALAN TUDGE: In relation to same-sex marriage we have made the decision that we will give the people an opportunity to have their say on this important question. We’ve got a very distinct position now between the Coalition and the Labor Party. The Labor Party want the politicians to decide, we want the people to decide.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: I think that’s a mistake by them. I think they should argue for a plebiscite now if they want to take on the idea of a plebiscite after the next election. But by definition then if there’s no script between plebiscite versus referendum, ministers aren’t going off script if they continue to argue their case publicly for one versus the other?
ALAN TUDGE: Peter, we’ve made the decision that the people will have their say in the next parliament. We’ve got to work out exactly when that will be and what form that will take. We can work that out over the next few weeks and then inform the Australian people.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: In your view, do you think that Eric Abetz is off script when he starts accusing other cabinet ministers of being gutless? He did that on ABC radio this morning.
ALAN TUDGE: I did hear that, Peter. Listen, you never want to have leaks from the cabinet. You never want to have leaks from the party room. I don’t like it whenever that occurs, but almost every single cabinet I think that’s ever existed since federation has leaked in one way or another and there’s always been leaks out of the party room. I wish it didn’t occur. I hope it doesn’t occur in the future.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: But it’s better just to say it the way you just said it surely rather than to actually start calling colleagues gutless in that broad sense. It’s escalating the tension, I suppose is my point. That’s what the leader in the Senate has done.
ALAN TUDGE: At the end of the day we are focused absolutely on the core things which matter to the Australian people. We don’t want to talk about our internal machinations in terms of the cabinet process or the party room process. We want to talk about the issues that matter to the Australian people – their jobs, cost of living pressures, national security, the broader economy – they are the things that matter to everyday Australians. That is what we are firmly focused on, not these internal discussions.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Let me ask you, you’ve written today in The Australian newspaper about this, the solution to grog on the cards, ‘a restricted cashless welfare card would ensure money was spent on necessities.’ You also discussed some of this last night on Sky News. Just take us through the details of what this is. I suspect for a lot of people they are not even aware of it.
ALAN TUDGE: Sure. I introduced some legislation this morning which will authorise the trial of a cashless debit card. The concept is relatively simple Peter. That is, instead of providing welfare payments in cash into somebody’s account every fortnight, we will provide most of the welfare payments into an account which is only accessible via a VISA or EFTPOS debit card. That card will work anywhere, you can purchase whatever you like but it will block the purchase of alcohol and it will block purchases at gambling stores and you also wouldn’t be able to get cash off the card.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Just a quick question on that, how does it technically, I don’t doubt what you say by the way I’m just curious, how does it technically do that? How do you have a card that in a sense looks like any other debit card but is able to actually block particular items? Does it block certain stores for example or is it somehow the actual item itself within the stores?
ALAN TUDGE: It blocks certain stores. Whenever a retailer signs up to receive VISA payments for example, they have to tell VISA what type of retailer they are. They will say ‘we’re a liquor store’ and consequently they get the liquor store merchant category code. We will switch off that code so no liquor store in the country will work with this card.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Alright so under those circumstances, you’ve got this legislation before the House, did you say? Not the Senate yet?
ALAN TUDGE: So it’s just been introduced into the House today. What it will do is authorise a trial of this Centrelink Cashless Debit Card. That trial will occur in up to three locations to cover at most 10,000 people. What will happen is anybody in the trial location who is on an income support payment will be captured under the trial and be issued with the card.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Do we know what Labor’s reaction is to this yet? It sounds like a pretty reasonable idea to me. It sounds much more if you like friendly to the way that a person would function than food stamps or something like that which might be considered to be demeaning or difficult for them when accessing good. This doesn’t sound like it falls into that category but it still has the very positive effect, as you mentioned, of being able to limit purchases.
ALAN TUDGE: That’s the exact idea. The concept which we have built here is a mechanism which gives as much freedom as possible for individuals to spend their welfare dollars as they see fit, but just to exclude those certain products. The overall objective of course of these trials and of this card is to reduce the significant welfare fuelled alcohol, drug and gambling abuse which unfortunately occurs in some communities. For example in the first community in which we will trial it in the Ceduna region in South Australia, the hospitalisation rate from assaults is 68 times the national average most of which is due to alcohol consumption, most of which is paid for by the welfare dollar. So we hope that this card will have a dramatic impact on statistics like that and provide for a much safer community and also so there’s more food on the table for children.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Just quickly, Labor, do you know if they are supporting it or not?
ALAN TUDGE: I’ve had good constructive conversations with the Labor Party and the crossbenchers over the last few months as we’ve been working out the details of this trial. I hope they will listen to the arguments which I have been making but equally importantly I hope that they listen to the community leaders in Ceduna and in the other likely trial areas who are now publicly calling for the legislation to be passed so that they can have this card introduced into their region.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Alan Tudge, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, thanks very much for joining us on Newsday. Thanks for your time.
ALAN TUDGE: Thanks so much Peter.