Minister Ruston Transcript - Cashless Debit Card - Steve Price Show 2GB

E&OE…


STEVE PRICE:
Senator Ruston joins me on the line. Senator, thanks for your time.

MINISTER RUSTON:
My pleasure.

STEVE PRICE:
Obviously, Labor are no fans.

MINISTER RUSTON:
Well, no. And what I'd say that we just need to look at the data, and you know, Linda made the comment that you know doesn't create a single job. What it is, is trying to make sure that people have got the resilience and the wherewithal to be able to manage their lives, manage their budget, so they're in a better position to be able to go out and get a job. It isn't a job creating tool, it's actually a personal development, financial resilience, capability, and literacy tool. So I think we need to have a look at the results. Certainly the results up here in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay where I am at the moment are showing very, very positive signs early on. So I think we probably should wait until we see the full results before we go out and say it's not working.

STEVE PRICE:
A number of people on welfare in Bundaberg dropped by 9 per cent, and I think that equates to about 502 people. My only question about that, Senator, would be do we know whether people simply moved out of Bundaberg and Hervey Bay because they didn't want to live under this system with that card?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Look, one of the things that people need to realise is that you can't just move out of the area and get off the card. If you're on the card, you're on the card. And I've just been speaking to some really lovely young people who are on the card here in Hervey Bay. Many of them said that they weren't particularly keen about going onto the card, but they're actually very positive about the results and the benefits that it's been providing for them and their families since they've gone on there. So I think as time goes by and people realise that this is not a punitive measure, the way the Shadow Minister was suggesting it is. It's actually a tool, it's a benefit tool. And as people start getting into it and realise the benefits, they're actually out there, the ones singing the praises. So firstly, people can't leave the region and get off it. If people chose to leave the region because they didn't want to go on it, well that's entirely up to them. But certainly we will- we're very positive about the result so far, and we're really looking forward to working with the communities to see if we can improve what we've got on the ground so that it actually ends up being the benefit that we think it really can be.

STEVE PRICE:
So in that region, it's not an opt in. You are automatically if you receive Newstart, you automatically fall under this cashless welfare card system. Is that right?

MINISTER RUSTON:
If you're under the age of 35. So we trialled it for the younger cohort, so that in the Hervey Bay, Bundaberg region, if you're under 35 and on a working age payment, you are on the cashless debit card.

STEVE PRICE:
And you stay on that for the entire time you're on Newstart payments. And then obviously, clearly, when you get a job, you just go to a normal salary.

MINISTER RUSTON:
Absolutely. So the plan is that you'll stay on it. But at this stage, it's capped age, capped at 35. So if you're over 35, you aren't on it. But in other areas around the country, we have people who are older than that. So we've trialled it across four trial areas and we're planning on, subject to legislation, rolling out the card for all people on the basic card in the Northern Territory, and the Cape, sometime next year.

STEVE PRICE:
So when you say all the people of the Northern Territory and the Cape, is that aimed at our Indigenous population?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Not at all. It's just people that are currently on the basics card. So those people that have for the last, I think it's up to 10 years, been on the basics card, we'll be transitioning them over to the cashless debit card because it's more user-friendly. And the fact there's so many more outlets that are able to- people are able to access through using the cashless debit card than they were on the on the basics card. So we think it's just going to be a greater benefit. And as technology is improving, and we've been working with the banks, and with the retailers, and with EFTPOS to make sure that it's a seamless process. So it's no different than you and I going into any shop that has this facility and using our debit card.

STEVE PRICE:
So there are ways to rort this, I presume? If you really wanted to.

MINISTER RUSTON:
Look, there will always be people that work out how to do a work around so that they don't have to do this.

STEVE PRICE:
I mean if you can go into a supermarket shop, for example, Senator, and then sell those grocery items to someone who's not on the card, get the cash, and then go and buy alcohol.

MINISTER RUSTON:
Yeah, well you know, obviously, that's very inventive. Maybe most people should be applying the same sort of ingenuity into doing things that are going to be more productive for their lives. But there will always be workarounds. There always has been since time began. But what we're saying is we're trying to convince people, and many of them we have convinced, that this is actually really useful, really valuable, making a difference to their life, and they're not seeking to make workarounds. And I'd encourage those people that are trying to come up with workarounds, have a think about the benefit this card can actually provide you.

STEVE PRICE:
So the numbers that you mentioned that we need to deal with, in Bundaberg people on welfare payments dropped by 8.7 per cent or 502 people, to 5277 in a year. While in Hervey Bay, 10 per cent drop to 3482. Do we know of any of those people that have actually gone and got work?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Well we know that many of them have. In fact, I was talking to one of the services providers this morning and they're going to provide me with the details. But we're very encouraged by the number of people that have had been going to employment and have come off the card. And I'm really looking forward to seeing that the breakdown of the statistics because obviously, that information is being collected because it's really important for us to know that in making any future decisions.

STEVE PRICE:
The youth unemployment numbers are even better. Dropped from 19.8 per cent to 18.5, still too- far too high.

MINISTER RUSTON:        
Oh it's terribly, terribly much too high. We have seen over the 12 month period an even more significant drop, in that at one stage, the unemployment figures in the Wide Bay area were roughly around the 28 per cent mark. So that is a significant drop on that. But yes, it is too high, but the trajectory is downward, and is absolutely our intention to keep working with, not just with the CDC, the cashless debit card, but with a whole heap of other programs to target those people that need the assistance so they can get off unemployment and get into the job and be able to live the full life that we all want to be able to live.

STEVE PRICE:
Yeah, it's very strange, because every time we talk about the rate of unemployment on this program, we get calls from employers who can't find people to come and do the jobs they need, particularly in regional Australia. There's just a shortage of skilled workers that people need to actually keep their businesses running.

MINISTER RUSTON:        
Yeah, well I come from a regional community in South Australia, and certainly, seasonal work is a real challenge for us to get people to work. But one idea… I met with a working group this morning and talked to them about what are the additional things that we need to be providing as a Government to make sure that not only do we have the jobs, which you say we've got them, but create the pathways for people to get into the jobs, work out what are the barriers that are stopping people from getting those jobs, and making sure that we do everything we can to do that. Because, equally, we have a responsibility of government to employers to make sure that they've got the people that can actually run their businesses. So it's a big task, but we will certainly be throwing everything we can at making sure we get that unemployment number down, because that means more people in work and more of your businesses and people working in them.

STEVE PRICE:
Senator, thank you very much for your time.

MINISTER RUSTON:
My pleasure.

STEVE PRICE:
That's Senator Anne Ruston.