Interview with Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth.


EMMA PEDLER: Firstly, though, this morning to the West Coast. Back in 2016 South Australia's Ceduna region was one of the first to have the cashless debit card introduced, along with Western Australia's East Kimberley. They then extended that trial to the Goldfields, the Northern Territory, Queensland, up around Hervey Bay, Bundaberg. Around 16,000 welfare recipients in those areas were forced to use a card that's operated by the private company Indue. That limited the amount of how much cash they could access. Then we heard, when Labor got in, that they were going to axe the card. They said that they would abolish it if they got voted in and the Auditor-General found the program's monitoring and evaluation were inadequate.

Today, we hear that Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth, is on her way to Ceduna to speak to locals about the axing of the card and what it might mean. Our reporter, Dylan Smith, spoke with her earlier and asked who she's meeting with up there.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I'm going up to Ceduna as the Government has announced we want to abolish the compulsory cashless debit card. But I want to make sure I'm consulting with communities that are affected by this about what the transition looks like? What are the extra supports the community will feel they need in place? And actually, also talking about what voluntary income management could look like? Because that's where the Government wants to move to, is voluntary income management.

So that's what I'll be talking with community leaders, with people affected on the card, with service organisations and, of course, state government authorities like the police and the ambulance and the hospitals. So really talking with them about what are the problems and how can we address these?

DYLAN SMITH: And how long are you up there for to meet with people?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Look, I'll be spending two days on the ground talking with people because, of course, the ANAO report clearly indicated that the Government has not been measuring this card, that there's no evidence this card actually does its job. So if there are problems when it comes to anti-social behaviour or other issues in communities. I want to work with communities to make sure that we're getting the proper services and investment in place.

DYLAN SMITH: Our local Federal Member, Rowan Ramsey, has said, you know, during previous visits that Linda Burney, who is now the Minister for Indigenous Australians, didn't meet with anyone who supported the card. Have you spoken with Mr Ramsey about who he thinks you should also meet with while you're up there?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I have. I've taken advice from many different people about who to meet with, and I see my priority as meeting with a wide range of people. I will also be meeting with the local member, the Mayor, as well as community leaders, as well as services. So I'll be meeting with people right across the board. But to be clear, the Government wants to talk about the transition and the pathway forward because we have said that we're getting rid of this privatised card, that it- the compulsory nature of it as well. So we want to work with communities about what is the way forward and how we can best meet their needs.

DYLAN SMITH: How will the transition away, you know, from the card be managed? Will people who actually have felt the card has helped them be given support to manage their income?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Look, there will be a voluntary option for people. We are very committed to still having a voluntary option to income management. So if people still like that type of support, there will be that option. In addition, there'll be other discussions today about what individualised support those on the card might need, but also what does the community need, and what investment in the community can make a difference. So that might not be directly connected with the card. So I'm really interested in listening with people, talking with people, and actually together working on a way forward.

DYLAN SMITH: While there's been very vocal people wanting to get rid of the card, you know, there are Government supported jobs that have been created as a result of it being in place in things like financial education and the like. Do you know how many people might find themselves out of a job when the card gets axed?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, I'm looking at what the wraparound supports can still be delivered. That's the conversation I'm having today. What the Government has, I guess, committed to is actually getting rid of the compulsory nature of the card and the privatised element of the card. Not a lot of people know that this card and where the money sits is actually with a private company. A lot of people are scratching their heads when they find that out.

So look, I am up for a conversation about what type of financial counselling, financial support is required in the community. What does a voluntary system look going forward? And of course, how do we transition those that might want to stay on the card, but also how do we transition those that do not want to stay on the card and what supports are in place. So they will be a lot of really important conversations that I have over today and tomorrow as well.

DYLAN SMITH: Yeah. So you're saying it's a voluntary choice, is that correct? So some people may still be able to stay on the card if wanted to, or not?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We are moving to a voluntary income management.


AMANDA RISHWORTH: So we're getting rid of the privatisation element of it and we are looking - and this is in discussion today because I do want to co-design it with community - but we want to maintain a voluntary element for people that want it. Where it's a problem is where people are not having a choice and the negative consequences that come as a result - not being able to buy second hand goods in some instances, not being able to actually access cash when they need it.

So look, I am absolutely up for exploring all those issues in terms of what the voluntary nature looks like. And we're also talking with communities right around Australia about what a community buy-in might look like, a voluntary community opt-in. But it is- The principle is that it is voluntary. So we'll be working through that about what that looks like, and I really want to have that discussion with communities as we move forward.

DYLAN SMITH: When will the card, you know, actually be phased out as such? When's the Government looking to do that?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well that is up for consultation with communities about what are the supports needed and how quickly we can get those in place. We're not expanding- expecting that to take years, but we do want to talk with communities about that transition We want to make sure that that transition and election commitment is delivered. But in addition, we will be wanting to do it in an orderly way and not a rushed way either.

DYLAN SMITH: And just finally, Minister, how do you determine that the visit was a success, if you like? You know, what are you hoping to take back to Canberra?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, what I'm hoping is concrete ideas, suggestions, and ask the community itself to prioritise what are the community supports that they would like to see, to get people starting to think about the transition and how they would like to see that placed. So I see this as a really- If I can have a good conversation with people and generate ideas and actually be able to take those issues back and work through them with my Department, that will be a sign of success, that we're actually making progress and moving the conversation forward.

EMMA PEDLER: Amanda Rishworth, the Minister for Social Services, speaking with our reporter, Dylan Smith.