Sky News - Beattie and Reith - Interview with Peter Beattie and Peter Reith


Topics: Integrity in the welfare system, cashless welfare card trial, review into illegal offshore wagering



Let’s move to Minister Alan Tudge.  He has, as I said before, a third of the budget with his responsibility, he’s one of the up-and-coming stars in the Liberal Party and I’ll let you introduce him – Alan good to see you.


Well we’re absolutely delighted to have Alan here.  He’s on the up, there’s no doubt about that, as you said.  He’s like a football player you know, plays a really good game and crikey you get to the end of the year and people say I haven’t heard much of him and then for heaven’s sakes he wins the Brownlow Medal.  I tell you what, I’m giving him a big wrap but he’s doing…


He sounds like he’s chairman of your fan club Alan!


I’m very appreciative Peter, I’m very appreciative! And now you’ve set the expectations very high in terms of how I’ll go in this interview.


Well I like people to have high expectations. But look, I’ve got a simple question for you and that is we’ve had a lot of prosperity in Australia in the last 20 odd years thanks to the Howard Government and yet the number of people who are looking to the Government for pensions and everything else seems to be as many as ever.  Now why is that and do we really have a sustainable welfare system in this country?


I think the short answer to the last question is no, that the system presently isn’t sustainable.  And the reason I say that is because it’s a third of the budget and the growth rate of the welfare expenditure is still in excess of the overall GDP growth.

Now what that means is that if we continue on that trajectory we are going to be in serious trouble.  So one of our core objectives is to ensure that the welfare system is targeted and is sustainable, but of course is there for those who absolutely need it.  And that’s what myself and Christian Porter are working on very hard.


Alan, what about this issue about welfare cheats.  The Government in the budget last year, in 2015, had a particular targeted strategy and I noticed that the fraud squad is in fact using social media and doing all that sort of stuff.  So how successful have you been in cracking down on welfare cheats, because no one wants to see that.  It doesn’t matter what side of politics they are, people want to see welfare go to people who deserve it. 


Yeah, that’s exactly right Peter.  So in last year’s budget we announced that we would try to recover $1.9 billion of welfare fraud or welfare overpayments.  Already one year in we are above our target towards achieving our goal. 

Now what this is using is a lot of different tools in order to do this.  In some instances we’re getting tip offs from some people and then we might use social media to discover, for example, that someone is married rather than single and by being single you might be claiming a higher payment rate than what you are entitled to. 

In other cases we’re using data matching from the ATO to match it with your Centrelink data to determine whether or not your income which you declared on your Centrelink application form was accurate. In some cases people have either deliberately or inadvertently put the wrong information down. 

So we’re absolutely determined to recover that money and I think that the Australian taxpayer is quite happy to support those people who need welfare payments, but they want to ensure that there’s integrity in the system and that’s what we’re about. 


What about these cashless cards that you’ve had – I mean are they working? I know you’ve got some trials.  And people actually I think will respond to that.  I know some of the welfare groups don’t like it, but 80 per cent going, so it can’t be used on grog, can’t be used on gambling and drugs and all that sort of stuff.  I think that’s actually a good outcome. So I just wonder how are your trials going? 


We’ve got two trials underway now Peter and I’ve been overseeing this for the last 12-18 months. 

The first trial site is in Ceduna in South Australia and the second trial site is up in the East Kimberley.  We’ve got a third trial site which we’ll hopefully announce shortly as well. 

Now the concept is very simple with this.  That is, instead of providing all of people’s welfare payments into an ordinary savings account which they can access as cash, we’ll be putting 80 per cent of their welfare payments into an account which is only accessible via an ordinary Visa debit card. And that card will work anywhere to purchase anything but it won’t work at the bottle shop, it won’t work at the gambling houses and you won’t be able to get cash from it, consequently you can’t purchase illicit substances with it. 

It’s very early days in terms of this trial, it’s been going for a month or so in Ceduna, but we’re already getting some anecdotal feedback from the community leaders.  In fact just today one of the community leaders said that they’re already seeing some positive results and people have reported to him that it’s helping them to manage their alcohol consumption and there’s been other bits of anecdotal evidence that there’s been more food being purchased at the supermarket. 

So those couple of things are music to my ears because that’s what the overall trial was about – to try and reduce the alcohol expenditure, reduce the associated harm which goes with that and ensure there’s more food on the table for kids.


Yeah, good on you for doing that.  Now I want to ask you about gambling, I think it’s online gambling.  I might be a bit past it I spose on some of these issues but when I go to the footy or watch the footy and then I get gambling go across my TV or it might be on the radio or whatever, young kids they don’t go to the footy to be introduced to gambling, they go because they love their footy. 

(To Peter Beattie) You probably don’t know what AFL means I spose, do you? 


I do, we’ve got the Lions, we’ve got the Suns.  We won three premierships in a row, the Lions! 


That’s another issue. Seriously, on the question of young people and gambling what’s happening there?  Because if you asked me about it I’d say we seem to be having a hell of a lot more gambling. I’ve got a 14 year old in my place and he was telling me about betting.  God, I didn’t know about betting until I was in my 20s.


Listen I think you’re right Peter, and that’s an issue which gets raised with me all the time.  I’ve got responsibility for overseeing the Barry O’Farrell Review which is looking at online gambling which you’re alluding to.  It’s the fastest growing gambling segment, growing by 15 per cent per annum.  This is gambling which most people are now doing on their mobile phones. 

Now we’ve got some concerns in relation to the growth rate in this in part because the incidence of problem gambling on the online environment is about three times higher than what you see in the in-venue environment with the pokies or at the race course or the like.  

We’ll be making some announcements very soon to address some of these issues, to put in place some stronger consumer protections and as well as to crack down on some of the illegal overseas gambling providers. 

But the broader issue raised… 


They’re online are they Alan? 


Yeah, they’re nearly all online and so we estimate that between $65 and $400 million at the moment is being spent on illegal offshore gambling providers.  And this presents a problem obviously because you don’t have the same sort of consumer protections if you’re gambling in an overseas unlicensed illegal provider and of course we’re not getting the money if it’s going offshore to the Philippines or Gibraltar.


And of course they don’t pay tax either. 


They’re not paying tax on it, they’re not supporting the sporting codes and the like. 


But have we got some means of really preventing young people getting into this and being introduced into gambling though?  Because that’s what I’d like to see.  Is that reasonable or is that going too far? 


That’s a good question.  As you know Peter, Australians love to gamble.  Most people do so very responsibly but we want to make sure there are good consumer protections in place and that’s what we’re going to be announcing very shortly… 


But what’s the cut off for people? If a 15 year old gets on the phone does the person at the other end say, well prove you’re 18?  What is the age before you can gamble these days? 


The age is 18, but you’ve actually raised an interesting issue.  At the moment there’s a 90 day period for an online gambling provider to verify your age and your details and we think that’s probably too long.  So we’re going to be taking a look at that. 

The other issue though I’d say Peter, is the sporting codes themselves have to take some responsibility for this.  I was disappointed for example that the Australian tennis Open decided to get William Hill, one of the big gambling providers, to be their sponsor this year.  I believe the first Grand Slam tennis tournament to accept a gambling company to be their sponsor. 

I think we enjoy watching the Australian Open, it’s one of the great national events in Australia, held right here in Melbourne, but we want to ensure that people are going there to watch the tennis, rather than being bombarded with ads and changing the game to be more about gambling than the sport. 


Alan just one question before we wrap this up, and we appreciate your time.  You made a comment about unemployment where you said long-term unemployment was one of those things that basically destroys the soul. Your words were similar to that. 

I have a bit of experience in this area from something I was doing last year.  When you go to a lot of the facilities where people are looking for jobs you find that a number of the people are obviously affected by alcohol, drugs.  I mean, a lot of this is not just people looking for work.  A lot of this is they are disadvantaged.  Now I know you spent some time with Noel Pearson and you had an appreciation of what was happening in Indigenous communities.  

What are we actually doing to help those people in greatest need?  If someone wants a job and they can get one, they’re the easier ones in a sense.  Whatever the argument about unemployment is, hopefully they’ll get jobs.  How do we deal with the harder cases, if I can put it in those terms, to get them a job?  Because that has a social benefit as well. 


Absolutely, and you’re right Peter that basically long-term welfare dependency, in my view, is a poison in terms of it saps the motivation and life out of individuals. 

And you see this particularly acutely in some remote communities, but it’s apparent across Australian society. 

Of course the first thing we’ve got to do is ensure we’ve got a very healthy growing economy so that there’s jobs available for people to be able to take advantage of.  The second thing though I think is everything to do with the welfare system has to be geared towards people taking responsibility and participating where they’ve got the capacity to do so. 

So a lot of our new reforms which we’re putting in place are geared towards doing exactly that.  So where you’ve got the capacity to work then you need to be encouraged at every single step to take that job even if it’s a very basic entry level job. 

You do a basic entry level job, it might be fruit picking for six months, and you’ll be better able to get a better job down the track. 

So everything has to be geared towards that and that’s very much the focus of what we’re trying to do. 


Well Alan good luck with it because as I said in the introduction you’ve actually got responsibility for a third of the budget and everyone will be talking about budget outcomes next week.  But in fact you’ll at the end of the day end up having to administer a third of it.  So I think all Australians regardless of their politics wish you well, and good luck with the card.


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