Minister Rishworth interviewed on Sky News Newsday


Topic: Alice Springs, cashless debit card and Government’s Early Years Summit. 

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Well, after resisting calls to reimpose alcohol bans in central Australia, the Northern Territory Government has agreed to reinstate restrictions. The return has been backed by a federal funding pledge an extra $250 million for a better, safer future. Joining me now for more on this, Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth. Thanks so much for your time. The bans are back. Was it a mistake in hindsight to have the previous laws lapse all the way back in July? No alternative at all in place?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: Well, of course, the reason for that lapse was, of course, the previous government's inaction. The previous government knew that these alcohol bans were going to lapse. They sun-setted. They had ten years to prepare for the end. Nothing was done. So we've now had a situation in which the new government worked very closely with the NT Government, and I think we've got a really good package that deals with what is a very complex issue and I think it would be naive of anyone to think this isn't a very complex issue, it's generational. So I think the agreement and discussions and the partnership that's been struck is really important.

TOM CONNELL: It is tricky and it involves rights. I understand that. And I think, look, it's a fair point to make around the Government exit in May, this was coming up in July, but at the same time, you could have acted earlier, July and now something's happening.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, it required parliamentary intervention. The previous government could have done something about it…

TOM CONNELL: [Interrupts] They could have, but you could have acted earlier.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, what we've now got is something really important. We have worked with the Northern Territory Government and I have to say Anthony Albanese as our Prime Minister went and listened to people on the ground. He listened not just about what was important around harm minimisation when it comes to alcohol, but the intergenerational trauma that has happened within these communities. And so it's important that we just don't say alcohol bans are back and not address some of the underlying causes…

TOM CONNELL: Which we've spoken to a lot of people about on Sky News around opportunities, around housing, around the fact that Alice is a bit of a hub. So people come there. If they don't have the facilities, then that's what leads to this. So that $250 million, I'm sure will be welcomed. Do you have any concern at all watching what's happened in Alice Springs and whether we could see similar increases in violence in communities that previously had compulsory cashless welfare cards?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, look, what we know from the cashless debit card situation was that there was no evidence that it was actually making a difference because, of course, when I went out to communities, there were plenty of workarounds and plenty of ways in which people were getting around and accessing alcohol. And so that was an intervention that didn't work and it had a lot of perverse outcomes. And so our focus once again in those communities is actually funding services that the community want and that actually work.

TOM CONNELL: But in Alice Springs you've got the dual focus on helping people out, services, funding really needed, but also restrictions where they're needed. Why not look at restrictions as well? If you say they weren't working…

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, you're talking about a restriction of alcohol compared to a cashless debit card. They're completely two different interventions.

TOM CONNELL: Well the cashless debit card can't be used for alcohol.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: They completely different interventions. We know people were giving their card, getting money and going and buying alcohol. So they're not the two same interventions. And quite frankly, there has been politics played with this, people suggesting that somehow income management has changed in the Northern Territory. It hasn't. We are out consulting on that about the future of that. But when it came to the cashless debit card, there was no evidence that it actually made a difference.

TOM CONNELL: When you say no evidence, there were various surveys done that suggested limited, but it wasn't nothing. So on the flipside, when that compulsory card is removed with it, being removed, are you monitoring any uptick in violence? Are you going to see whether removing it, does have a negative impact? 

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Of course we're continuing to monitor the situations in all the areas that we provide services, interventions.  We work with state governments all the time on these issues and work with them. There is from time to time across our communities and uptake uptick in antisocial behaviour from time to time.  As people move around, move into communities and out of communities. But my focus is on interventions that work and that is economic and social interventions, and that's what my focus has been.  

TOM CONNELL: So it's separate to that card. But you had a visit to Alice Springs last year. My understanding in particular is there were women there that told you they did like some of those elements around quarantining of welfare. Did you have feedback along those lines?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: There were people across the board that said that, for example, they didn't like the technology in the cashless debit card. They preferred the technology of the BasicsCard, but there were varied views on that.

TOM CONNELL: In terms of, I guess, how would you describe the overall feedback? 

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, I had a lot of people, a lot of people, who said they wanted to get rid of it – that they didn't think it was making a difference. It made it hard because there's only certain places you can shop. And those places were jacking up prices. So I heard a range of different feedback. What I heard…

TOM CONNELL: [Interrupts] were there more women in particular saying they preferred it? 

AMANDA RISHWORTH: It was a varied views across women's perspectives, varied views across women's perspectives, varied views, again, across a whole range of places. But the important message here is we will continue to consult on the future of income management in the Northern Territory. But as now, the rules have not changed in the Northern Territory.     

TOM CONNELL: Just finally, the Early Years Summit you've announced over the weekend - this is looking at all elements of early education basically. I know we're not meant to say, just childcare anymore, I think. What are you hoping to address here?  

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, this is going to be much broader than just childcare, early education. This is about looking at how from pregnancy all the way to five years of age, we can give children the best start in life. That's health, that's education, that's family supports, that's community support. So we're bringing together a range of experts from non-government organisations, from businesses, from service deliveries on the ground to talk about how we get the Commonwealth services as integrated as possible to deliver that.  

TOM CONNELL: Cheaper? Cheaper is the word a lot of parents might want to hear… 

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, of course we're already making early childhood cheaper. We're doing that, but it is looking at what else we can do to support families. 

TOM CONNELL: Minister I'm sure you'll have a lot of parents watching on in earnest and they're allowed to contribute to it?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Absolutely. We'd encourage them to visit the DSS website and have their say.

TOM CONNELL: Amanda Rishworth, thank you.