STEVE PRICE: Evening to you Minister.
ALAN TUDGE: G’day Steve.
ANDREW BOLT: Alan, this is a really interesting proposal. You get your welfare card if you’re on benefits. You’re not going to get your benefits paid out in cash, it’s got to be on a card and we can programme that card so you can’t go and blow it on smokes and booze when you’ve got a crying child hungry in the cot.
ALAN TUDGE: Correct.
ANDREW BOLT: Can you tell me who this would apply to now?
ALAN TUDGE: What we’ve passed so far is legislation to enable a trial to occur in three locations around Australia. So far we’ve only announced one trial site and that is in Ceduna which is in South Australia. It’s a community of 4,500 people.
STEVE PRICE: Middle of the Nullarbor Plain.
ANDREW BOLT: And mostly aboriginal.
ALAN TUDGE: About two-thirds aboriginal, a third non-aboriginal. Basically anybody who is on an income support payment will be issued with this Visa debit card. It will look and work like any other Visa debit card but it simply won’t work at the bottle shops, won’t work at the gambling houses, and you won’t be able to get cash from it.
We’re hoping that in this process it will reduce some of the very significant welfare fuelled alcohol abuse in that town.
ANDREW BOLT: This originally was started with the intervention in the Northern Territory and it was meant to apply to aboriginal communities. You’re now bringing it into non-aboriginal communities as well aren’t you?
ALAN TUDGE: Yes that’s exactly right, this is not an indigenous specific measure. In the first trial site about two-thirds of people covered would be aboriginal but a third won’t be, they’ll be non-aboriginal people. It is all people on welfare payments who will be issued with this card.
ANDREW BOLT: All or just people you think they’re having trouble managing?
ALAN TUDGE: No all people of working age income support payments will be issued with this card.
STEVE PRICE: Are you worried that people are just going to jump in their utes and leave Ceduna?
ALAN TUDGE: Well you can’t because the card would go with you. Your payments will continue to be made, 20 per cent into your cash account, 80 per cent onto this debit card account.
STEVE PRICE: But how can you treat someone different in Ceduna than you do in Port Lincoln?
ANDREW BOLT: It’s a trial.
ALAN TUDGE: It’s a trial. That’s the nature of it.
STEVE PRICE: Have they put their hand up and said they want to do it?
ALAN TUDGE: Yes basically.
STEVE PRICE: Really?
ANDREW BOLT: Really?
ALAN TUDGE: I’ve been working with the community leaders over the last six months in Ceduna and we’ve co-designed this trial together.
ANDREW BOLT: Now it’s a trial obviously Alan because you want to see if it works. One of the things I guess you’ll be looking at is the obvious thing where someone who has got a drinking problem will say to someone who is going into the shops, ‘listen I’ll pay for your groceries with this card because that’s all it’s good for and I’ll sell those groceries to you at a discount’. So essentially they get the cash, less value obviously because the person who brought the groceries from needs their cut.
Is that going to be a problem do you think?
ALAN TUDGE: Inevitably some people will try to get around the system. Inevitably that will occur. We’ll be monitoring that. Even if they do that Andrew as you point out, they’re going to pay a very significant penalty for doing that. They’ll lose half their money for example from that process.
The idea I suppose with all working aged income support recipients receiving this card is to significantly reduce the amount of cash in the community overall. So it prevents that type of thing, or at least minimises that type of thing happening.
STEVE PRICE: Gee it’s a fair incentive to get a job.
ALAN TUDGE: Absolutely and that’s the incentive also to get a job and there are some jobs available in the community there as well as some jobs further afield.
STEVE PRICE: How have you not got the civil libertarian lawyers jumping down your throat Alan?
ANDREW BOLT: Shhh, shhh, shhh!
STEVE PRICE: Why are they not lined up outside the High Court saying you can’t do this?
ALAN TUDGE: Some of them have been but we’ve deliberately designed this and we’re going to trial this in communities where the leadership are stepping up and saying we need to get on top of this alcohol and gambling problem in our town. That’s certainly been the case in Ceduna and I actually take my hat off to the community leadership there. (inaudible)
STEVE PRICE: I take my hat off to you to have the guts to do it. I think it’s great.
ALAN TUDGE: You go to these places, Ceduna, they’ve got a sobering up centre there. Last year they had 4600 admissions at that sobering up centre…
ANDREW BOLT: Oh my god!
ALAN TUDGE: …from a community of 4,400 people.
ANDREW BOLT: That’s ridiculous.
ALAN TUDGE: It is ridiculous. Nearly all of the alcohol is bought by the welfare dollar. We know what’s occurring and we’re handing over $20 bills every couple of hours for people to continue to drink.
That’s why I’m so determined to make this work. (inaudible)
ANDREW BOLT: What was the experience in the Northern Territory though because this was tried in the Northern Territory or maybe still is I think. What’s been the experience there?
ALAN TUDGE: There’s been a mixed reaction. It’s what’s called the Basics Card there. Fifty per cent of your income support payments were placed upon it, only though if you’re on unemployment benefits. What that meant was there was still a fair bit of cash floating around the community to be able to purchase alcohol so the effect was very minimal on alcohol consumption.
It was good on other things and by and large people supported it. In fact two-thirds of people who came off the card on a compulsory basis chose to stay on it on a voluntary basis, which gives you the type of support at the individual level for being on this card as a useful tool for themselves.
STEVE PRICE: We’ll watch it with great interest. Thanks for ringing and telling us that went through the Senate, Minister, really appreciate it.
ALAN TUDGE: Absolute pleasure, thanks.