KIERAN GILBERT: Minister, thanks for your time. With the scrapping of the Cashless Debit Card, will you be scrapping Income Management altogether as well?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: The first step that we are taking is to scrap the Cashless Debit Card, which was imposed in five communities around the country. That is our first step. That was privatised welfare - $170 million of taxpayer’s money was spent on this with no evidence that it would work. Our first step is to abolish the Cashless Debit Card and work with individuals to transfer them into options that they want to have and use and manage their income.
KIERAN GILBERT Are you worried, though, about the impact this might have in some communities in the Northern Territory? I know that in Cape York you're going to look to move to Income Management, but in other communities like in the top end, just as we see the alcohol bans lifted nine days ago, this coming at time as well. Are you worried about the impact here?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: At the moment predominantly, people in the Northern Territory are on Income Management and so we will be turning our attention to the future of Income Management after we've dealt with the Cashless Debit Card. In the first instance, we are dealing with the Cashless Debit Card in five communities around the country. Many of these communities didn't want this card. Many people in these communities are finding difficulties with this card, of accessing the necessities of everyday life and that is where we start.
KIERAN GILBERT Have you consulted on that because as you know better than anyone this is a very complex area and while people under pressure from others, maybe in their communities saying one thing but privately some women of the community might be of a very different view.
AMANDA RISHWORTH: I've spoken in Ceduna, in the East Kimberly - I’ve spoken to different groups including women's only groups where they've said that the Cashless Debit Card is not working for them. That for them, with the Cashless Debit Card there's too many workarounds and it is not delivering the outcomes. I've also heard stories of women and men embarrassed because they can't take their families to the football because it's cash only. They can't have second-hand goods because if you buy a second-hand fridge you need cash.
KIERAN GILBERT Will people go back on the BasicsCard?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: In the communities, in Ceduna, in the East Kimberly, we are moving them off CDC and they will be transitioning to other arrangements. In terms of the Northern Territory, we are working through those things right now.
KIERAN GILBERT But in the meantime, there is a gap there and as we've seen tragically in Alice Springs, nine days ago the Stronger Futures legislation hit its sunset, which basically means dry communities are no longer dry. That alcohol has been bought, my colleague Matt Cunningham reported that one bottle shop in Alice Springs had a 300 per cent increase in their sales on the day after those laws ended and there were 54 domestic violence cases on the weekend of those laws lifting in 48 hours. I ask again, are you worried about this gap with the CDC scrapped?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Let's be really clear. There is currently is no evidence both in the Northern Territory and across the country being presented that the CDC is doing anything to stop alcohol misuse and drug and other issues. So, it's not showing any evidence. There is currently CDC in place in the locations of those reports that show the increase in alcohol misuse. What we're hearing from communities is that there are plenty of workarounds when it comes to this card and there is no evidence that it has done anything to actually deal with alcohol misuse.
KIERAN GILBERT What about the University of Adelaide report on the CDC? I'm sure you saw it. It said 25 per cent of recipients reported drinking less.
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Let's be really clear, the ANAO report has said that there is no evidence to suggest that alcohol misuse, drug misuse has reduced as a result. Indeed, I heard stories from communities where what some people have to do to access cash is to trade their card for cash. That is what reportedly happens in many communities. I've been talking with communities, what they are asking for. What they have said to me is that they want the supports that work. They want drug and alcohol services, they want other supports in their communities that they together as a community work out what they need to support their community. That is what those communities are telling me, not a $170 million Income Management tool that has not worked.
KIERAN GILBERT What's the timeline you are looking at to scrapping it because you've said from September, people can start to opt out but it seems to be a bit more complex with more than 17,000 recipients?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: From the royal assent of the legislation, people will be able to opt out of the cards so they can ring Services Australia. For those who don't contact Services Australia, we want to have individual support for them. We will have an individual transition plan for each person on the card to make sure that the arrangements, the right arrangements are put in place for them. Whether there's any issues around deductions from that card, that they are properly dealt with. That any Centrepay arrangements to make sure rent is paid. That those arrangements are all set up so we want to have a transition. What the legislation does is give us a period of six months. We'd like to do it earlier than that really but a time of six months to transition people off the card. I must say that voluntary Income Management will be an option for people on this card. If they choose they still want to have arrangements where their income is managed then that will still be an option as well as other options like Centrepay.
KIERAN GILBERT I guess fundamentally, are you worried at a time when there are these other moves like the relaxing of the bans on alcohol bans, that you're empowering those who might not be spending the money as they should and disempowering those who need that protection? Like the kids, or the wives.
AMANDA RISHWORTH: What I have heard from people in communities is that this card is not stopping alcohol misuse. There are complex social issues in these communities and this card is not and has not been the panacea to the issues that these communities face. These are complex issues. They need complex solutions, not $170 million failed experiment.
KIERAN GILBERT You introduced as well as a priority along with this domestic violence leave. How soon will that be available?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: If the legislation goes through the Parliament, 11 million workers around the country will have access to domestic and family violence leave from February in larger businesses, and there is an extra six months allowed for small businesses to implement it. We want to ensure that workers around the country including casuals have access to family and domestic violence leave - 10 days of paid leave. It will take some time to implement it and that's what those timeframes are all about.
KIERAN GILBERT On the Seniors Health Card you've expanded the access accessibility in terms of who receives that. Can you talk us through how many more seniors will be able to use the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: About 44,000 seniors will benefit from the legislation I introduced today this year. This increases the income cap that self-funded retirees that may not be on a pension, but don't have a huge amount of income can actually access the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card. This allows them cheaper medicines, cheaper visits to the doctor as well as cheaper transport in some states and territories. About 44,000 extra seniors in the next financial year will benefit from this. This is a really important measure to help those self-funded retirees with the cost of living.
KIERAN GILBERT Speaking of cost of living, I think this is the first time we've spoken since the election and I know your electorate, like many around the country are feeling the pinch right now with the cost of living. We saw the inflation number today, the government is adamant it’s not going to move in extending that fuel excise cut.
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Cost of living is a really big issue facing Australia. Our government is absolutely focused on what we can do to tackle the cost of living, keeping in mind the huge amount of debt that we were left by the previous government. We've got to be responsible in making sure measures that we take actually build productive capacity in the economy, so not to add to inflationary pressures.
KIERAN GILBERT Amanda Rishworth, thank you very much for that, appreciate it and talk to you soon.