Transcript - ABC Melbourne interview with Jon Faine

Release Date: 
15 October 2015

JON FAINE: Mr Tudge good morning to you.

ALAN TUDGE: Good morning Jon.

JON FAINE: What’s the decision that the Government has taken on this long discussed policy?

ALAN TUDGE: So the Senate passed legislation last night and, in essence, the legislation authorises us to trial a relatively simple concept and that is instead of providing all welfare payments into an individual’s cash account, instead we would put 20 per cent of it into that cash account but 80 per cent of it would only be accessible via a Visa debit card.

This Visa debit card will work and operate like any other Visa debit card but it simply won’t be operable at the bottle shops and it won’t work at the gambling houses and you won’t be able to get cash from it.
We want to trial this concept…


ALAN TUDGE: …in a small handful of communities in order to reduce the significant welfare fuelled alcohol, drug and gambling abuse which is prevalent in some places.

JON FAINE: Ok, it’s worth trialling anything to see if it works or not. Ceduna I think in South Australia is one place?

ALAN TUDGE: Yes that’s eactly right.

That’s the first trial site which we’ve already announced. I’ve been working closely with the Ceduna leadership over the last six months in co-designing this trial. It consists of not only the distribution of this card for welfare recipients but also a significant package of additional supports to particularly assist people to get off their alcohol dependence or gambling dependence.

JON FAINE: So where else other than Ceduna?

ALAN TUDGE: We’re also in advanced discussions with the East Kimberley leaders, we haven’t formally announced it yet but we’d like to do so in the very near future.

JON FAINE: So which towns?

ALAN TUDGE: Around Kununurra and Wyndham particularly where the leaders have been working with me closely over the last few months.

JON FAINE: How do you make sure you don’t just end up with a secondary market in Visa cards?

ALAN TUDGE: In some respects people will always try to get around any system which you put in place. The very nature of this is that all welfare recipients will be issued with this card, which means you’re reducing a lot of the cash in the system overall.

We’ll also have a lot of monitoring as well in the community.

Are we going to stop every single problem? No. But overall I think we will have a very significant impact on some of the significant harm which is caused by alcohol and by gambling paid for by the welfare dollar.

JON FAINE: You’re acknowledging there could end up being a secondary market in cards.

ALAN TUDGE: I’m acknowledging Jon, that inevitably some people will try to get around the system.

JON FAINE: So whatever system you set up people will start to swap cards, trade cards for grog and so on and you end up with the same problem in a different way- a substitute currency.

ALAN TUDGE: No I disagree with that. I do think that inevitably some people will try to get around the system.

Perhaps the best analogy Jon is when in some discrete communities, alcohol restrictions have been introduced. Inevitably you still get some grog runners which will make their way into some communities but at the same time you typically halve the amount of violence and assaults almost overnight as a result of those restrictions. I’m hoping that this will have a similar effect.

JON FAINE: So you’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for the drinkers to keep drinking, rather than just to expect them to suddenly stop?

ALAN TUDGE: 80 per cent of their welfare payments will be placed onto the card which will not work at the bottle shops and they won’t be able to get cash out from it.

On top of that there is also going to be significant services to help people reduce their dependence on alcohol.

In the case of Ceduna that’s a very significant package. Residential rehab, 24/7 outreach, drug and alcohol counsellors in each community, there’s a drying out centre…

JON FAINE: So you’ll actually do something to deal with people’s addiction rather than just trying to stop them getting hold of the grog.

But isn’t there a risk Mr Tudge…

ALAN TUDGE: It’s a combination Jon of reducing the cash supply for the grog as well as having those services to…

JON FAINE: Disrupt the supply chains and deal with the treatment side as well.

ALAN TUDGE: Correct, this is a full frontal assault on alcoholism in that community.

JON FAINE: Understood and it’s worth a trial and anything is worth a trial and if it works then bingo it maybe can be applied elsewhere.

But just finally, aren’t you worried and we need to be worried about the displacement effect which is what we’ve seen for instance with the heroin trade in suburban Melbourne. If you clamp down on Smith Street, it moves to Victoria Street. If you clamp down on Victoria Street, it moves to Puckle Street. If you clamp down on Puckle Street it moves onto somewhere else and on it goes.

If you clamp down in Ceduna then the drinkers will just leave Ceduna and they’ll go to Port Augusta.

ALAN TUDGE: That won’t happen because the nature of the card is that it will travel with you.

That happens when you restrict the supply of alcohol. Some people will leave that community and go elsewhere.

In this instance the card will travel with you. If you leave the township of Ceduna and go into Adelaide, you will still have the card and that card won’t work in any bottle shop in Adelaide.

JON FAINE: I’ve got lots of text messages raising the point I think I made with you once before, why make this racially-based if indeed there are…

ALAN TUDGE: It’s not racially-based.

JON FAINE: We know there are communities which are not indigenous communities but also have massive drinking and substance abuse problems. Will you consider rolling it out there as well?

ALAN TUDGE: It’s not racially-based Jon. In Ceduna about two-thirds of the people affected are aboriginal, one-third are non-aboriginal.

I’ve been working completely hand in glove with the leadership- indigenous and non-indigenous in this community. They were in Parliament House earlier in the week with me, trying to convince the crossbenchers that they want this trial to go ahead.

JON FAINE: So that’s the community’s request and the Government’s response. It’s been talked about for so long and the issues have seemed intractable for so long. It’s about time to trial different things because what we’ve been doing in the past hasn’t worked. Let’s keep a close eye on it and monitor it.

Thank you for your time here this morning.

ALAN TUDGE: Thanks so much Jon.