Minister Rishworth interview on ABC North and West SA


NARELLE GRAHAM: First this hour, the cashless debit card - it's been hotly debated, it's an intervention, a form of compulsory income management that was introduced by the Abbott Government back in 2014 and, for many years, we have discussed it on this program. The ABC has spoken to a range of experts about whether or not the cashless debit card was achieving the results that it was supposed to achieve.

Well, when a Federal Labor Government was elected last month and Federal Labor MP Amanda Rishworth from South Australia was sworn in as the new Federal Minister for Social Services, the Minister said the card would be abolished and the Government would establish alternative solutions to tackling gambling and alcohol abuse.

The Minister has held meetings in Ceduna today. Let's see how they all went. Amanda Rishworth, good afternoon to you.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Good afternoon. Great to be with you.

NARELLE GRAHAM: Federal Minister for Social Services. So is the cashless debit card definitely being axed?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Look, Labor made a commitment at the last election to abolish the privatised cashless debit card. And what I've been talking with communities in Ceduna today, and indeed yesterday we've had a lot of good meetings, is what transition looks like. And what we've also said is: we want to see an option for voluntary income management. And so I've been talking with community leaders and people right around the community about what that might look like as well. I've had some really productive conversations and it's been a really productive two days.

NARELLE GRAHAM: Okay. So did you go into Ceduna, Minister, thinking well the card is definitely going to be axed and so therefore we need to establish some other alternatives.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Look, Labor made a commitment. So Labor made a commitment before the election and that we would abolish it. So I went in to Ceduna-

NARELLE GRAHAM: [Interrupts] But- Now, and please I don't want to be rude, but it sounds like you've seen to have changed your mind on that. We made a commitment, so we're sticking to the commitment. Are you happy with the commitment that was made? Or after these meetings, do you feel differently?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, no. Because what I was talking about with people was, we're not relitigating the merits or not. What we were talking is about how we would move forward. And there was a very positive conversation about how we'd move forward on a couple of fronts.

I think people underestimate, actually, the effort that community leaders have gone into developing programs, developing responses that actually are completely not connected with the cashless debit card, and a lot of positive results with some of the things I got to talk about, how those programmes actually had improved things for people that were community led. So that was part of the discussion. The other part of the discussion is where we go to and how we move forward in terms of transition.

So, it wasn't about actually relitigating the commitments. It was a focussed discussion on moving forward.

NARELLE GRAHAM: Yeah. So when will the card be axed? And I understand that there will be- people can still voluntarily have the cashless debit card. But when will the compulsory aspect of it be removed?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well what we've committed to in Ceduna is to have a community engagement program where we will be working with communities about how we support individuals exit the program. So there's not going to be one date or one moment that everyone exits. It will be a tailored individualised program where individuals are supported to exit the program - whether that be to a voluntary option, whether that be to a Centrepay options, or whether that be, perhaps, to financial counselling.

So we have committed as we move forward around that, to do that with open discussion with the community. And we will be working with them in coming weeks on a community engagement plan moving forward over the next number of months.

NARELLE GRAHAM: Okay, Minister. So there's no time frame.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Look, the legislation sunsets at the end of December. And so we are working towards that. But of course, as I said, not everyone's going to exit immediately. We're taking this transition in a very orderly way…


AMANDA RISHWORTH: … and a way to make sure people are looked after. So I think-

NARELLE GRAHAM: [Interrupts] But the compulsory aspect of it, that will end in December of this year, 2022?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: There will be some people that will exit before that - we are working with community around that process. I've been in the job three weeks and [indistinct]…

NARELLE GRAHAM: [Talks over] I know. I know.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I'm out communicating what I've committed to in community is an orderly transition, making sure that there is no shocks to the system in Ceduna and, indeed, right across the country.

NARELLE GRAHAM: And Minister, the feedback we've had today is that they've been very happy to see you in Ceduna and very pleased that you are doing these meetings yourself face to face in that community. My guest is the Federal Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth, who is of course from South Australia and a Labor MP.

So you want to find alternatives, and as you've painted – you’ve painted a picture beautifully about how people are going to have to transition. You can't just one day come in and go: Right. Okay, you're not on the cashless debit card anymore. Off you go. Have fun. Now manage your own finances. You want to find alternatives. What did you hear today about what is required? What those alternatives might be?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, what I think I've heard today is not only there’d be alternatives for individuals - that, of course, is going to be transition really important. But what I've also heard is some of the community programs that have developed- the cooperation, actually, that's developed between service providers; the cooperation that's been developed between communities is really critical in community based services succeeding. So the benefits around collaboration that actually came out of the cashless debit card, I don't want to see the loss of that collaboration and that goodwill of working together.

So when it comes to community based programs, there's a lot of programs that I spoke about today which are very much partnership programs - whether that be support for children, whether that be support for families, not just for people on the cashless debit card, but positive community based programmes. And that is what I'm looking at. What are those programs that people are really keen on on going forward into the future? And, what are some of the gaps as well that might need to be addressed?

And one of the really big issues which goes across many different state and federal departments is about getting to the root of alcohol misuse. And so really tackling that as a key issue…


AMANDA RISHWORTH: … across the community.

NARELLE GRAHAM: Please, Minister, I know that your time is very short. I’d like you to hang in there if you can, because I know that one of the groups that you met with was the Ceduna District Council.

Well, Geoff Moffat is the Chief Executive Officer of the Ceduna Council. Hello, Geoff.

GEOFF MOFFAT: Hello Narelle. How are you going?

NARELLE GRAHAM: Yeah, good, thank you. You have some- well, you and the council have some concerns if- when the cashless debit card is removed.

GEOFF MOFFAT: Yeah. Look, council, I guess, tried to convey those to the Minister yesterday and I will say the Minister gets absolutely full marks for coming to Ceduna and talking to us in her first three weeks. I don't think she's worked out where the toilets are yet in Parliament House but she came to Ceduna, so I'll give an absolute credit for that. And the Minister clearly was interested in what the councillors had to say. But I guess in short version, the councillors all know what it was like in Ceduna and surrounding area only a few years ago when people had almost unlimited access to alcohol, because that's what drove a lot of the anti-social and social behavioural issues, which includes not looking after kids and all that sort of stuff. And they're really concerned that we'll just go back to what that was. And took a lot of notes of the Minister, and I'm listening to you talk to the Minister a minute ago, that she really wants to make sure that we can manage the transition. But nonetheless, the concerns expressed by the councillors were that there is a significant risk of going back to what we had, and I think it's that compulsory or voluntary aspect that concerns the elected members as well.

NARELLE GRAHAM: Okay. So do you feel confident that there will be enough structures, enough sort of scaffolding around Ceduna, that if this cashless card is removed, that- are you confident that you won't go back to the way things were?

GEOFF MOFFAT: Look, I don't know. Confident is a strong sort of view, but certainly the Minister's quite correct that during the period since the card was introduced- in fact slightly before that, even the council was involved with a lot of the service providers to try and build some on the ground support for people who were at social disadvantage, particularly in relation to alcohol, and a lot of those programs, that's built really well. The question is, are they able to continue to sustain their momentum and have the effect that they've been able to have when alcohol gets turned on again?

Now, we'd like to think that there are some people that have got a better handle on their life and their families life, and that won't be an issue. And we all hope that's the case. We don't know.


GEOFF MOFFAT: I think probably it'd be fair to say the only way we're going to know is when the card is removed, whether we have the same problems we had before or not.

NARELLE GRAHAM: Yeah. Okay. So, Geoff Moffatt, thank you.

If we go back to the Federal Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth, what if it doesn't work? What if things do go back in Ceduna to the way they were before the Cashless Debit Card, is there- what do you do then?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, look, I'm working with communities for community solutions. And I think ignoring not just the supports but other changes that have happened around liquor licencing, there's been a whole lot of changes that I've heard about that has driven positive change in this community. And I think focusing on just this one element is ignoring the really good, really hard work that has been done by so many people. So my focus is about how we support people, how we innovate, how we get and drive better outcomes for people. That's my focus. And I think a lot of credit needs to be given across the board. And by sort of attributing everything to this one card is ignoring some of the really positive work that's been done in policing, done in health care, as well as the support services.

NARELLE GRAHAM: Minister, how much does the card cost the Australian public?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, up until now, it's cost well over $120 million.

NARELLE GRAHAM: Since 2014 to keep it running.


NARELLE GRAHAM: And who got that money?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, a range of people got that money. But particularly what we've been concerned about is that Indue, a privatised company, as well as another financial institution, has been the recipient of government contracts. And so, we have- and we heard this in the community in Ceduna today, also concerns about the fact that a lot of money is spent on this privatised Cashless Debit Card.

NARELLE GRAHAM: Okay. There's a couple of texts coming through. One's a comment. I'll go there first. Maz (*) says: the card should only be issued to families who request it, where a family member has alcohol and gambling addiction, but for a happy, functioning family, no way. And another text is saying: what about students attending uni that no longer live in Ceduna being able to exit the card? How long when people have applied to exit? Are you able to answer that one, Minister?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: So the card- and we heard from one student today, the card does follow you. So we heard one student who once she gave her address was in Ceduna, she then was put on the card. She would like to move back to Adelaide for university or TAFE I think it was. And she will have to stay on the card. And she can provide information to access it, but she felt that was very intrusive. You've got to provide a whole lot of information about your transaction history. So there were concerns raised about that.

We also heard that other people were able to circumvent it by just cancelling their payment and then going on a government payment when they move out into a place that doesn't have the Cashless Debit Card. So it seems to me, and that's the evidence I heard on the ground, that there is ways but they are administrative difficult and potentially miss out on some of your JobSeeker or your Austudy or your Youth Allowance.

NARELLE GRAHAM: So how long before- if people have applied to exit, how long before they can exit?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Look, I don't know the details, but of course, that is an assessment that's done. There was complaints that-

NARELLE GRAHAM: [Interrupts] But you're working on that. Sorry, Minister. I have another question here, and I know that you've got to go off to other meetings as well. Another question is: raise JobSeeker. Dare the Minister to live on it for 12 months. Now, we're not going to ask you to do that, Minister Amanda Rishworth, but where is the Labor Government on raising JobSeeker

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, look, we've said there is a lot of competing priorities in terms of things we've got to fix. And so, JobSeeker, along with other budgetary measures, will be considered through every budget process. But there is a lot of things we've got to fix and a lot of pressures on the budget. So of course, in every budget cycle, we'll be looking at all of these issues, but there is no specific commitment on the table at the moment.

NARELLE GRAHAM: When is your first budget?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Our first budget is in October…


AMANDA RISHWORTH: …We will be having a budget, and then another budget in May. So, there’ll be another two budget cycles.

NARELLE GRAHAM: All right. Frosty, I'm sorry, I don't have any good news for you at the moment on raising JobSeeker, but Budget in October. Who knows what could happen between now and then? Amanda Rishworth, Federal Minister for Social Services, thank you.


NARELLE GRAHAM: And we're so pleased that you made the trip to Ceduna, really. That's awesome. So Amanda is the Federal Minister for Social Services and the Labor Member for Kingston in South Australia.