Interview with Andrew O'Keefe and Monique Wright - Weekend Sunrise






25 JUNE 2016



ANDREW O’KEEFE: Back in April, the South Australian town of Ceduna became the first of three trial sites of the cashless welfare card, where 80 per cent of benefits are paid directly to the card, which can't be used for things like alcohol or pokie machines.


MONIQUE WRIGHT: Now, it's an issue that we have been following here, on Weekend Sunrise. Take a look at this.


ALLAN SUTER, CEDUNA MAYOR: A big beneficiary will actually be children because some children suffer due to lack of money to buy the necessities of life because of these addictions, which are really a disease.


ANDREW O’KEEFE: The card has been divisive, with critics saying that it breaches the human rights and won't fix problems in the community.


RACHEL SIEWERT: Controlling people's spending does not address the very serious issues of addition. We need a very different approach.


CHRIS SMITH: Surely, the taxpayer...


RACHEL SIEWERT: No, I'm sorry, that's not the way...


CHRIS SMITH: ...and, implicitly, the Government has a right to work out how that money is used.


RACHEL SIEWERT: No, that is just simply not right – we're not living in a dictatorship; we have a social security system that supports the most vulnerable people in our community; it does not justify the Government in telling people how to spend their money.


ANDREW O’KEEFE: We're now three months into the trial and the community is seeing some positive results, so here, with an update, we are joined by South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon and Human Services Minister Alan Tudge, as well as Radio Macquarie's Chris Smith, in on the original discussion. Good morning to you all. Now, Alan, you've been overseeing the rollout – can you talk us through the positive side of the ledger? What effects are you seeing?

ALAN TUDGE: Yeah, good morning. This trial has gone better than we could have expected and, so far, we've already seen the poker machine revenue for the region down 30 per cent; we've seen a much calmer community; we've seen sales of food double in some locations and we've seen at least one drug lord who's been kicked out of town because no longer do they have a business model there.


So it's early days but we're very, very positive about how this is going, so far, and I think the real heroes, in this, actually are the community leaders who have worked very closely with me, in terms of designing the trial and overseeing the implementation.


MONIQUE WRIGHT: Okay, well, Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, who couldn't join us this morning, issued this statement questioning the legitimacy of the three-month trial: she said 'limiting cash will not stop alcohol or substance abuse; people will find other ways to access alcohol; this treats everyone on income support as if they're abusing alcohol or substances and are incapable of managing their money.' Alan, does she have a valid point?


ALAN TUDGE: I think this says more about the Greens than anything else. This is a trial which has been co-designed with community leaders on the ground and, clearly, we are getting the results there.


Now, the mayor of the town, himself, has said that this is the best-behaved town, at the moment, that he has ever seen – I mean, that's the type of results that we're getting; we're getting kids, now, who are getting food in their belly; we're getting people who are getting better clothes; we're seeing far less money going into the poker machines.


MONIQUE WRIGHT: Alan, couldn't people just move from there? Is it not teaching, you know, how to get away from those addictions.


ALAN TUDGE: No, they can't. Well, they can't, so a couple of things. Firstly, the card goes with you, so, even if you move out of the town, 80 per cent of your welfare payments will still be placed onto your card


The second thing I'd say, though, is that it's not just the card but we've put in place particular services to help people get off their addictions – additional drug and alcohol services, 24-7 outreach, better budgeting services – and all of those are a key component to the trial, as well.


ANDREW O’KEEFE: Alright; now, we did discuss all those elements, when you were rolling it out, and you assured us that that would happen. Nick, you've had some reservations, particularly about this being rolled out to other areas which are also heavily dependent on welfare.


NICK XENOPHON: Look, I actually supported this trial. I went to Ceduna, on two occasion, met with the mayor. On one occasion, I went with Alan and, look, I know it's not the done thing to do, during an election campaign, but Alan's done a really good job, here... to praise your opponents, in an election campaign... but he actually has done a good job.


There is no perfect system but this has led to significant improvements – the fact that the amount lost on poker machines, on gambling, from people addicted to gambling, has dropped significantly is a good thing.


I understand Rachel Siewert's point, from the Greens, that there needs to be programs to deal with addiction in the first place, but, if this reduces levels of addiction, that's a good thing, as well.


MONIQUE WRIGHT: Chris Smith, we saw you, as part of that initial conversation that was had. I'm assuming that you would like to see this rolled out further?


CHRIS SMITH: I think we should be interviewing the unemployed drug lord, who probably tells us more about the results of this trial than anything else. If we're able to take someone like that out of the community of Ceduna, that's got to be a great thing.


And, yes, I would love to see this… I'd love someone with the courage of Andrew Forrest, for instance, who flagged all of this, years ago, for use in communities where there's a great deal of substance abuse... I'd love to see this rolled out because, at the end of the day, welfare is not... and I'm hearing the Senator say ‘oh, liberties and human rights’ – that's all good but welfare is a privilege; it's not necessarily a right.


Despite the fact that we have a very generous welfare system in the country – given that, why can't we say to someone who is in that dangerous category or that abusive category or the category where they've had their kids taken away from them for a while because of abuse... why can't we say to that ‘a third of your money will come in a card and a third of your money will be spent on education and will be spent on food at the supermarket’ – why couldn't we do that for those in that category of welfare recipient?


MONIQUE WRIGHT: I guess it comes down to... about that education, that we just talked about, and there has to be programs there to help them... you know, you can't just take it away and expect that that's going to take away the problem.


CHRIS SMITH: No, no, without doubt but this is what's happening in Ceduna – it's done in a... you know, a parallel way and I think this is the first sign, in this country, that we could turn... we could save generations of children, here, from abuse and the rolling generational unemployed and the drug abuse that follows, generation after generation.


ALAN TUDGE: And Chris, that's certainly our ambition, with this trial, and we've spent a lot of time on this trial and it's not just the design of the card.


As I said, it's got very tailored services which have been put in place but, in some respects, the most important element has been the co-design and co-implementation with the community leaders on the ground.


They have been in lockstep with us and, in terms of implementing this trial site, the Mayor, the Indigenous leaders, other leaders – and that's actually been a critical element to this, as well.


ANDREW O’KEEFE: So, Alan, I mean, Chris says that, you know, welfare is a privilege, not a right – many people would dispute that, would say that, in fact, it's an essential part of the social contract. Where else do you intend to roll the welfare card out?


ALAN TUDGE: Yeah, we've got another trial going on in the East Kimberly, at the moment, and it's early days, there, as well, but we're getting very good feedback out of there, as well.


We'll probably roll it out in one further trial site, which we haven't announced yet, and should these results continue then, of course, we'll be looking at rolling it out further or at least offering it to other regions, should they choose to want to implement it as well.


ANDREW O’KEEFE: Okay, so it will be a matter of negotiation with those regions, will it?


ALAN TUDGE: Oh, that's exactly the basis upon which these trials have been implemented. We've done it with the consultation, with the agreement, of the community leaders and that's the best way of ensuring that you have a successful outcome.


MONIQUE WRIGHT: Nick, we, of course, know that you've been passionately calling for poker machine reform. Is there anything from this, you think, that could be implemented in other areas, even if they're not taking on the welfare card idea, given that there's been a 30-per cent reduction in pokie use?


NICK XENOPHON: Ah, look, two things. It's about making the poker machines safer, in terms of $1 bets, $120 maximum hourly losses, but can I just pick up on what Chris Smith said? I want to make this clear: in terms of civil liberties, I will always stand for the civil liberties of the child, who deserve to be fed, to be educated and to be in a safe home and if that makes it safer for those kids, for those kids to have a meal, then they're the civil liberties I'm worried about first and foremost.


ALAN TUDGE: That's exactly right – a hundred per cent agree with Nick Xenophon, on this. I mean, I hear the Greens and I hear some of the welfare lobby criticise us, day in, day out, and the real human rights that we're worried about are the human rights of the children to be safe, to be fed, the human rights of women to be safe and not be bashed at night.


ANDREW O’KEEFE: Well, listen, Chris, Nick, Alan, thank you so much for joining us, this morning, for the update and we'll be interested to see the next moves; thanks.




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