Govt ‘confident’ cashless welfare system trial will pass Parliament

Date: 10 October 2015
Author: Dan Conifer

ELIZABETH JACKSON: The Federal Government says it wants to begin a new welfare quarantining trial, involving the use of a new cashless welfare debit card.

The income management system would limit the types of goods and services that Government welfare payments could purchase.

The pilot program would be rolled out at Ceduna in South Australia and would mostly affect the region’s Aboriginal population. Another trial site in Western Australia could be announced within weeks.

Ahead of that report the Assistant Social Services Minister, Alan Tudge, has announced $1 million dollars in extra funding for alcohol and drug support services at the first trial site.

The Assistant Minister is speaking here with our reporter, Dan Conifer.

ALAN TUDGE: We’ve announced a $1 million package which predominantly consists of additional drug and alcohol services, plus some financial management support. Now, that package will complement the operation of our cashless debit card in order to do as much as humanly possible to reduce the welfare-fuelled alcohol abuse in that community.

DAN CONIFER: Obviously it’s an approach that isn’t just about the debit card, the welfare card. Is $1 million enough, though, to give people the help that they need?

ALAN TUDGE: It’s actually quite comprehensive because it builds on existing services in the community.

For example, we’re just about to open a $2.4 million residential rehabilitation service just up the road from Ceduna. What this will do is add to those services with additional drug and alcohol counselling located in the communities.

And it will also provide some intense financial management support to individuals so that they can hopefully better budget their money and better ensure that they can make ends meet across the welfare fortnight.

DAN CONIFER: How long will that extra funding last?

ALAN TUDGE: So it will be for the duration of the trial, which will be for 12 months.

DAN CONIFER: There have obviously been a number of critics of this approach of the cashless debit card trial. One is the National Welfare Rights Network, who are estimating that 72 per cent on the trial in Ceduna will be Indigenous. Is that fair?

ALAN TUDGE: About two thirds of the people on the trial will be Indigenous and a third non-Indigenous.

But we’ve co-designed this trial with the local Indigenous and non-Indigenous leadership. There’s incredibly strong support from those community leaders, even to the extent that we’ve signed a memorandum of understanding together outlining precisely how the trial will work.

So we’re doing this hand-in-glove with the community leaders. They want to see less welfare-fuelled alcohol abuse in their community.

DAN CONIFER: Another question that was raised by the Welfare Rights Network was what financial institution or financial organisation would be delivering the debit card trial and whether there would be fees associated for participants. Can you clear those matters up at this stage?

ALAN TUDGE: Yes. So we’re working with the small Nimble financial services institution, who will be providing what will essentially be an ordinary Visa or EFTPOS debit card.

Now, this debit card will work at every single store. You can purchase whatever you like but with two exceptions: it won’t work at the bottle shop and it won’t work at the gambling houses. And because your cash is limited, of course, you won’t be able to purchase illicit drugs as well.

Now, we think this can have a demonstrable impact on some of the alcohol and gambling issues which are prevalent in this community.

DAN CONIFER: Obviously that financial provider will be providing that service at a cost. Will that be borne by the Government or come out of the welfare payments of these people?

ALAN TUDGE: No, that will be borne by the Government.

DAN CONIFER: And how confident are you that this legislation will pass the Senate?

ALAN TUDGE: I’m quite confident. We’ve had very good discussions with the Labor Party and the crossbenchers. In those discussions I’ve emphasised to them that they should please, at the very least, listen to the community leaders on the ground who have co-designed this trial with me and who want to see this trial go ahead.

And I hope that they’ll back what those community leaders want to see happen.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: That’s the Assistant Social Services Minister, Alan Tudge, speaking there with Dan Conifer in Canberra.


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