Minister Ruston Transcript - Cashless Debit Card - Doorstop Interview

ANNE RUSTON:

Well since the last eight months since becoming the Minister responsible for the Cashless Debit Card, and as a Senator for South Australia where one of the trial sites for the Cashless Debit Card is located, I've had a very strong interest in the card over many years and one of the things that has become very evident to me was, travelling around the sites and speaking to the participants and speaking to people who are in these communities, is that firstly, there is a lot of misinformation out there and it's very important that we continue to consult and speak to people about what this card is able to do. But also, when you speak to the people on the ground, the people who are actually participating in the trial, the participants themselves or people that are involved whether it be first responders like the police or health services, the community service providers, there are a lot of really, really positive stories that are coming out of these communities. One example, and I'm sure she won't mind me telling her story - Nicole, who I met when I was in Kalgoorlie. Nicole was the loudest person on Facebook against the Cashless Debit Card when it was rolled out in Kalgoorlie a few years ago. She's now loud and proud about how fantastic it is because it has allowed her to budget so that she can buy a car, something that she never expected that she was going to be able to do. But right now the most important thing that we've got in front of us is, at the moment there's about seven different types of income management across Australia. One of those platforms is the Cashless Debit Card but one of the very other large platforms is the Basics Card. And what we're seeking to do with legislation that we're hoping to introduce into the Parliament over the coming weeks is to transfer people who are currently on the Basics Card across to the Cashless Debit Card. And the reason that we want to do this is because this Cashless Debit Card has so much more functionality than the Basics Card. As an example, at the moment, somebody on the Basics Card has got access to about 16,000 retail outlets to use their card and they have to actually go through a Basics Card terminal aisle. Whereas, with the Cashless Debit Card, nearly a million places will be available to the participants but all around Australia but also online, and also they'll be able to use it just in a normal Eftpos machine, so there's some really, really obvious and positive benefits. And last week when I was in the Northern Territory and speaking to people in the Territory, both in the cities and in community, when we explained to them what the value of this card was, the extra functionality and the extra things they could do, people were actually very keen to be able to move over to the card. So, that's our number one priority. But our second priority obviously is to see whether this card that is actually now, because of technology, able to provide broad financial and budgeting tool and assistance to people, whether there is a conversation that the Australian public would like to have about the broadening of the use of the card.

QUESTION:

Well given that success, does the Government intend to roll this out nationally and make it compulsory for all welfare recipients?

ANNE RUSTON:

Well I think the conversation that we need to have is about the value of the card, the advantages of the card. The new technology has been a real game changer in the ability for the card to actually provide additional value to participants. I think initially there was a very strong view that the card was around dealing with gambling, alcohol and drug-related social harm in community. But what we've seen with the change in technology is it actually has become a financial budgeting tool so that people on low incomes can manage their budget by making sure, like as in the case of Nicole, her payments for her car come out of her payment in her Cashless Debit Card every fortnight. So, what we're seeking to do is to say to the people whilst there is the benefit of social harm reduction that we're hoping will continue there is a broader application for the whole community and something that we would like to have a conversation with them about.

QUESTION:

So do you plan to make it compulsory at some point?

ANNE RUSTON:

Well, I'm not going to pre-empt that. I think this is the start of a consultation. I mean, we've run a number of trial sites. We're seeking, as I said, to put all income management onto the universal platform which is the Cashless Debit Card, and I think then the conversation needs to be had about what are the advantages of this card. And it's up to us, as a government, to go and sell those advantages in the hope that the Australian community will see the value of it.

QUESTION:

And what sort of a role would the big four banks and Woolworths play in the Cashless Debit Card?

ANNE RUSTON:

Well already the major retailers like Woolworths and Coles and Aldi and a number of other big retailers have the technology embedded in their point of sale that enables them actually to use the card at its maximum functionality already. What we're seeking with the banks and with EFTPOS and a number of other technology providers is to make sure that the interface between the retail outlet, the EFTPOS machine and the bank is completely seamless so that when somebody goes in and uses their card, it would be just the same as using any other credit card or debit card that anybody would have in their wallet. And one of the things that came out of the consultation so far has been that people didn't like the stigmatisation of people behind the counter, knowing that they were on income management. The new card does not identify as an income management card and the only time it would identify is if somebody tried to use it to buy a product that was blocked. So if you're trying to buy alcohol or gambling products the card would actually come up and say block product within this basket of goods. But if you just went in and bought your groceries and did your weekly shopping and there was nothing in there that was banned, it would go through like any other card.

QUESTION:

What about privacy concerns? Would the Government be tracking what items people were buying using the card?

ANNE RUSTON:

No, not at all. The point is that we actually block items, we don't worry about the items that are available. So what we would seek to do through technology is you go into people's point of sale systems, or you seek for them to do so, and ask them to block a range of products, and they are in a sense, essentially alcohol gambling products, some things like gift cards that you can put cash on. And also, you can't actually use it to withdraw cash. But outside of that, the person is quite entitled to use the card for any other purchase.

QUESTION:

What do you say to those that still do though have some criticism toward the cashless card?

ANNE RUSTON:

Well as I said, one of the big criticisms was the stigmatisation of the card and I think that we're addressing that. One of the other things was the universal functionality of the card and I think technology is allowing us to deal with that. So, what I would seek to do over the coming weeks and months is to talk to people about what their concerns are because I think many of them are going to be able to be addressed, and that's the point of a trial and getting out and consulting, getting your results back in, and then responding to them.

QUESTION:

Some are saying that the trials across the country weren't as successful as the Government was spruiking. I mean, what do you have to say?

ANNE RUSTON:

Look, certainly the evidence that I have received myself shows some very positive signs. The difficulty of collating information often makes it difficult to get sort of a like for like analysis in terms of geographical area. We lead information from states, from the local governments, from the local businesses - it's not always that easy to get together. But what we have got so far, I think, is showing very encouraging signs. But I think what we want to do is to go back with that information, talk to the communities, talk to the Australian public more broadly and actually have a sensible conversation about concerns and see if we can actually deal with them.

QUESTION:

Do you have enough support, I guess, in the Senate to get this through when it comes to it?

ANNE RUSTON:

Well the legislation, as I said, that's before, we're hoping to get before the Senate in coming weeks is in relation to transferring over people on the Basics Card to the Cashless Debit Card. And really what- all we're really seeking to do there is that they've currently got a product that is very basic and the Cashless Debit Card is a much better product. So they get everything that they currently have on the Basics Card, but in addition to that, they have a whole heap more functionality. I'm hopeful, in my discussions with the Crossbench, that they will see the merit in this. But obviously, my discussions are ongoing.

QUESTION:

There are some groups who say it's discriminatory and inhumane and are questioning why it's been rolled out nationally. What's your response?

ANNE RUSTON:

Well, we haven't said that we're rolling it out nationally. We want a conversation. I would say that we just need to speak to the people who are actually on the card and find out what their experience is. And, as I said, when you actually get out there and speak to people who are on the card, their experience are largely positive. I mean sure, there are still those that make negative comments about it, but what I'd say is: tell me what your concerns are and let's see if we can address them. Because if we can give people on low incomes a budget management tool that enables them to better budgets so that they can look after themselves, their families and be better members of the community and just generally make their life and their well-being better, then I think we should be investing in that.