Transcript - ACB Capital Hill interview with Greg Jennet

Release Date: 
12 October 2015

Topics: Welfare Debit Card trial, Indigenous Advancement Council, Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians

GREG JENNET: Alan Tudge your Healthy Welfare Card trial legislation is due to be debated by the Senate today. What’s your expectation? Will it get through and will it pass today?

ALAN TUDGE: I’m certainly hopeful that it will get through; it’s likely to be voted on later today. I’ve had very good constructive conversations with both the Labor Party and the crossbenchers. Indeed there are community leaders here from the Ceduna region, where the trial would occur, who are here in Parliament House calling on the crossbenchers and the Labor Party to support the Bill.

GREG JENNET: Is this urgent?

ALAN TUDGE: It is urgent because we’re aiming to begin the trial from February of next year. We need to get the legislation passed and the contracts signed and the services put in place so we can achieve that objective of starting it early next year.

GREG JENNET: But Labor seems to think you’re rushing this process. Could you not wait a few more days, even weeks, and still have the legislation passed this year?

ALAN TUDGE: This has been a six to twelve month process already. We’ve had very deep consultation with the communities affected on the ground. I’ve given many briefings to the Labor Party over the last few months as well as to the crossbenchers. There has been a Senate inquiry who will be reporting today.
There has been plenty of time for scrutiny, plenty of time for questions. It’s now time to actually make a decision and pass the Bill.

GREG JENNET: In the end, is it Labor who holds the key to this for you because the Greens have said they are steadfastly opposed and it would be difficult, I imagine, to get crossbench unity?

ALAN TUDGE: Let me say something firstly about the Greens. We have community leaders from Ceduna who are in Parliament House today who can’t even get a meeting with the Greens to express their desire for this trial to go ahead. I just find that outrageous and frankly the Greens should be ashamed of themselves that they won’t even face up to the community leaders who want this trial to proceed.

Of course we want the Labor Party’s support. Ideally this wouldn’t be a political football but would have bipartisan support and that’s certainly what we’re aiming to achieve.

GREG JENNET: Even if you might have to retreat and come back another day? Is that a possible option today?

ALAN TUDGE: Jenny Macklin said in her speech to the House of Representatives a couple of weeks ago now, that she would not turn her back on the legitimate desires of the community leaders to have this trial go ahead. I want her to honour that commitment and I want the Labor Party to support this Bill.

GREG JENNET: We talked about the politics, but just in a nutshell, how will it operate? Just how restrictive is this card and the regime that goes with it?

ALAN TUDGE: In some respects it’s a very simple concept. Instead of giving all welfare payments into a cash account, eighty per cent of welfare payments will be placed into an account which is only accessible by an ordinary VISA or EFTPOS debit card.

That debit card, just like any other debit card, will work anywhere, you can purchase whatever you like but it simply won't work at the bottleshops or the gambling houses and you won't be able to get cash from it.

The overall objective of course is to reduce the very significant harm which welfare fuelled alcohol, drug and gambling abuse can cause in these communities.

GREG JENNET: It gets up and if the trial proves successful in Ceduna, where do you see this ending?

ALAN TUDGE: We'd like to trial it in at least one other location and we're in advanced discussions with some of the leaders in the East Kimberley but we haven't announced our intent there yet. Having trialled it, we'll assess it, we'll evaluate it, work out what are the lessons are and make decisions from there.

GREG JENNET: Elsewhere in your portfolio area the Indigenous Advisory Council is going to have its first meeting with the new Prime Minister this week. What are you discerning about Malcolm Turnbull's different emphasis in Indigenous affairs issues?

ALAN TUDGE: We've already had some good constructive conversations with Malcolm Turnbull and the Indigenous Advisory Council tomorrow will be informing him about what they think we should be doing in the months and years ahead.

I think that based on my conversations with him he's absolutely committed like former Prime Minister Abbott to advancing the cause of Aboriginal people, to advancing the cause of the recognition referendum and most importantly and most practically on the ground to ensuring that the kids are at school, that adults are working and that communities are safe.

GREG JENNET: On the referendum, are you any clearer in your mind about the timeline that he's working to as against the one that was espoused by Mr Abbott?

ALAN TUDGE: The aim is still to initiate our constitutional conferences this year, get them going quite soon, and have a six or more month process whereby people around the country can engage in the questions which are being asked, to get that feedback and then to decide from there.

GREG JENNET: And you think that that's something that he'll persist with?

ALAN TUDGE: I do. I think there is a broad support for participating in this process. There's good Indigenous leadership support for that and it is a mechanism where the broader population as well as the Indigenous population can engage in this question, understand it, talk through what their preferred model would be.

GREG JENNET: And then finally when a model is adopted, put to the people roughly when?

ALAN TUDGE: That's still to be determined. It won't be this term, it would be in the next term and basically we're governed by the timing of when it's ready (if you like) rather than setting a strict deadline.

GREG JENNET: Alan Tudge, plenty to get on with there, thank you for your thoughts.

ALAN TUDGE: Thanks so much Greg.