Interview with Vanessa Mills on Breakfast, ABC Kimberley


VANESSA MILLS: The Federal Social Services Minister is in Kununurra today and tomorrow to begin the process of changing the cashless welfare card from a compulsory part of people's lives to an optional one. The card has been a compulsory feature of income management for anyone who lives in the Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley since April 2016, when it was introduced as a trial and continually renewed. Only 20 per cent of a person's welfare payments can be withdrawn as cash and the card cannot be used at certain retailers. It's come under sustained criticism for not making the long term difference to social dysfunction that was hoped, and for how its success was evaluated. Labor went to the election with the promise they would not continue with the card in that format and the new Social Services Minister, Amanda Rishworth, says it won't be compulsory by December. She's meeting with service providers and community leaders today and tomorrow to discuss what happens.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I think I need to be clear that we're not making a decision about whether or not to keep the compulsory privatised card. That is not what we're discussing. What I want to discuss with people is what is the way forward in terms of transitioning from a compulsory program to a voluntary income management program, but also what is the type of support individuals might need through that transition? But also what are the ongoing communities supports that are required and needed? I know that in many communities a lot of hard work has gone in to getting community supports alongside this program, and I really want to talk about what is needed going forward.

VANESSA MILLS: So if somebody is on the card at the moment, and they don't want to be, how easy will it be for them in the future to get off the card?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, we're working about how to transition people off the card. But if- there will come a point, if they don't want to be on the card, they don't have to be on the card. Of course, we are, though, also talking with communities about what voluntary looks like, and there may be a circumstance in which a community decides about how they make it voluntary for individuals. So in Cape York, there's a model, The Family Responsibilities Commission, I'm not suggesting that be imposed anywhere else in the country, but communities can also start to have a think about what voluntary in their community may look like as well, and it may be something that is decided on a community level. And so they're the kinds of discussions, the initial discussions, I'm keen to chat with people about today.

VANESSA MILLS: And what time frame are you putting on this process for somebody who is on the card who can then make their own decision?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Look, we are working as quickly as possible. I've only been sworn in for four weeks, so I need to make sure that this is an orderly transition. So we're looking at how we do this as swiftly as possible. The legislation does sunset for the cashless debit card in December. So, you know, it will be before then as we work towards ending the cashless debit card.

VANESSA MILLS: And with that legislation going into sunset mode, as you describe, I'm curious to know about the merchant, Indue, which clearly the government has had money, contracts, dealings with, and I'm wondering about the future of that contract and what government money is tied to it?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, we're working through all of those details, but what I need to be very clear is that we did not support the fact that there was a- that Indue held money for people. We did not like the privatised nature of that as well as the compulsory nature of that. So I'm working through all of those details, but we've made a clear commitment. And today in the Kimberley, I want to talk to people about how we deliver that commitment in the most orderly way, but also make sure that the services and the wraparound programs that are there that really talk to people about what they feel is working, and how we can work together to deliver those outcomes into the future.

VANESSA MILLS: So will services that were implemented because of the card remain in a place like Kununurra?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, we absolutely want to speak with communities about that. Certainly, in other communities, I've been talking with people about how important those services are, particularly there's some that are very important. So that's what I want to have a conversation about, to say, what are the services, the wraparound programs, that are really working and is there a desire from the community to keep them going?

VANESSA MILLS: And Minister, there has already been in place for many years, something called the Basics card. The Northern Territory has had it for a long time and it was in the Kimberley on a voluntary basis prior to the Indue card rollout. Is this something that you will be encouraging people to take up? Is it a program that's now defunct? Are you looking to, kind of, amalgamate all these sorts of duplicated things together to streamline the whole process of welfare delivery?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Look, absolutely. What we want to look at is how would voluntary income management work? Keeping in mind that we want to get good technology and good usability of that technology that makes sure that Services Australia- that it's not a privatised system, that we do see services free. So we'll be working through all those technical details. There's a lot of technical detail to work through, but we have been clear that if people would like to go on voluntary income management, that's certainly an option we want to provide. But we're working through all that, and we want to talk with communities about what elements they do like as well. If we move to a voluntary model, what is the parts that they do like and what could work for them? So I don't want to just come and impose on people. I want to actually have a conversation about what could work for them and what a voluntary model actually looks like.

VANESSA MILLS: Social Services Minister within the Federal Government, Amanda Rishworth, who's visiting Kununurra today and tomorrow to talk about what happens next, and how the transition happens of the cashless welfare card moving from a compulsory part of people's lives to an optional one.