Assistant Minister Elliot on ABC Radio Perth with Nadia Mitsopoulos


NADIA MITSOPOULOS: Well, after a last minute cancellation yesterday, I did manage to catch up with Assistant Minister for Social Services, Justine Elliot, to first of all talk about what the plans are in regards to transitioning out of this scheme, but also what she makes of the Police Commissioner's comments. Have a listen to her and then you tell me what you think.


JUSTINE ELLIOT: Well, Nadia, on our first day in Parliament of an Albanese Labor government, we introduced a whole series of legislation. And one of those pieces of legislation was to abolish the cashless debit card. And you'll remember this was a commitment we made during the election. We said if we won, we would abolish this card. We know how destructive it's been right throughout the country. I've spoken with many people whose lives have been destroyed by being forced onto the cashless debit card. And so we made that commitment that we would abolish it. And on day one, we've introduced that legislation and we will be getting rid of the cashless debit card.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: What do those people tell you about how their lives have been destroyed by this card?

JUSTINE ELLIOT: Well, I'd heard from so many people across the country in all those trial sites, and of course we do have many people in Western Australia that are on the card, and what so many of them have said to me is that it was just so difficult to access many of the necessities of life and it really was making their life incredibly difficult. It was very destructive. It was removing people's dignity. They weren't able to cope. Many people couldn't even pay their rent. They couldn't pay for their car repayments. They were really struggling. So we'd made the commitment to abolish it. And since of course getting into government, we have been out and about in all of those communities discussing with people the transition off the card, because we have, of course, over 17,000 people across the country that are on it. We want to make sure that they transition off and that they have the resources that they need as they do that. So we've got the legislation in place, and once hopefully that's all passed very soon, that we will be able to work individually with people to opt out of the card and that's what we're aiming to do.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: So how will that work then? Just explain what the plan is regarding the transition and how people will be able to opt out.

JUSTINE ELLIOT: So pending the passing of the legislation, and we're hoping that happens in the next couple of weeks, people that are currently on the card will then have the option to opt out. That's all they have to do, is to say they want to opt out. And then we'd also like to make sure that they have everything in place. They may need to have some other arrangements, for example, to get specific payments made. They may be seeking financial counselling. They may be looking for other forms of support. Now, not everybody needs to have that one on one assistance, but we want to make sure it's there. I mean, let's remember, thousands of people were placed onto this card with no consultation at all. We want to make sure that we're doing as much as we can to support them going off it. So hopefully, once all that legislation passes, then we'll have that in place that people can opt out.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: If they do opt out, though, will they have to accept some form of support or assistance in managing their welfare payments?

JUSTINE ELLIOT: Well, only if they may want to have that. I mean, that's what we're going to be putting to people when they opt out. Do they require some sort of assistance? We want to make sure the supports are there. Some people will require that and some won't. And also remember, too, we said this during the election campaign, and we've said this now in consulting with all the communities, there may be some people that do voluntarily want to have some form of income support. And so part of that will be they can pursue that if they want to. It's about them being able to choose if they want to, not being forced onto it as we had under the previous government, creating this terrible situation where many people's lives were destroyed because they were compulsorily put on to the cashless debit card.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: On ABC Radio Perth in Western Australia. I'm talking to Justine Elliot, who is the Assistant Minister for Social Services. So if there are people who decide to stay on this debit card, will it- will the same rules apply?

JUSTINE ELLIOT: Well, we'll obviously work with them and see exactly what they're seeking in terms of that. We want to make sure we get that right in terms of what individuals or what other communities may want. And that's what we have been doing and will continue to do, and that's speak to people in all of those individual areas. And I will be coming to Western Australia to speak with people in the East Kimberley region and the Goldfields region as well. Those people that are on the card and speak to the community, and also to community leaders and hear from them about how the transition will work, and how we can assist them in their communities.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: So Minister, does that mean for those who decide to stay on it, it would be a more individualised approach?

JUSTINE ELLIOT: Well, we're still talking to communities about that, because there are variations across the country as to what might be the wish of different communities and how they would like to see voluntary income management work. So that's part of what we're doing, and that's part of the consultation and why we're out and about throughout the country to talk to people about what forms of income management would work for their communities. And I certainly want to hear feedback from people in Western Australia when I'm there about what they feel may work for those that want to do that. But for those that want to opt out, that option will be coming soon.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: Not everybody is happy with this legislation. For instance, our Police Commissioner, Col Blanch, yesterday said to me that he would like to see the cashless debit card program continue in remote and regional communities He said that regional police officers have seen the benefits that the program has been bringing to Aboriginal communities in Western Australia. In particular, he said, it has reduced instances of alcohol abuse and violence, and he would very much like to see this card continue. How do you respond to that? And those comments are directly from our Police Commissioner.

JUSTINE ELLIOT: Well, look, as we've said, we were going to abolish the card before the election. What we've been discussing now is the transition off the card. And one of the reasons we made the commitment to abolish the card was firstly hearing first hand from people that were on the card. And I mean hundreds and sometimes thousands of people contacting us, telling us about the impact upon their lives. Plus, also many, many independent inquiries found that the card was not successful. And we recently saw the audit report as well that said the cashless debit card was not a successful way to go forward. So we have consistently seen over and over again that having this form of privatised welfare does not help people. And I understand, and many people have raised a whole series of concerns with me, but you can look at many reports that say it does not work when you look at a long term strategy for trying to provide support for people. The fact is, privatised welfare through a system like the cashless debit card has failed, and that's why the Labor Government is getting rid of the cashless debit card.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: And yet police are telling their commissioner that they've seen benefits to it. I just wonder how you directly respond to that?

JUSTINE ELLIOT: Well, exactly in that way, in that sense that we've seen consistently, almost every report has said that it is not successful at all. And I've had individuals say to me that in some cases this might have been the case with this individual and this card. But we are talking about public policy across the country, and what we have seen consistently is this does not work. Having more than 17,000 people on this card has destroyed so many lives. Of course, we acknowledge there obviously has to be support services for vulnerable people, and I particularly believe in that. I was a former police officer. I know how important it is that communities do receive support and having that access to a broad range of counselling or support services. But the fact is the cashless debit card does not work.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: Justine Elliot is my guest. She's the Assistant Minister for Social Services. Have a listen to what she's saying and then tell me how you respond on 1300-222-720. Do you agree with her? You mentioned, Minister, that you're heading to Kalgoorlie to the Goldfields, and I spoke to the Mayor of Kalgoorlie-Boulder yesterday as well. He also said he felt that this scheme had a positive impact on some of the antisocial behaviour that he'd been seeing in his region. And he will- and his suggestion is maybe take people who are on disability pensions off this card, but leave those, in his words, that are on the dole on it.

JUSTINE ELLIOT: Well, look, I'm more than happy to catch up with the mayor when I'm there and fully talk through with him our policies and hear his concerns. I mean, I think the proposition he's put forward is still a case of privatised welfare. When we look, for example, at the region in the federal electorate of Hinkler, where we saw thousands of people on JobSeeker, everyone under 35 who was on JobSeeker was forced onto the cashless debit card, And I can tell you, many lives were destroyed. And I'll give you an example. A single mother, the number of children who was on the cashless debit card, was unable sometimes to pay rent, was unable to buy second hand school uniforms. It was really destructive. We heard so many stories like that. So it doesn't work. Privatised welfare has been proven to not work, and I'm more than happy to sit down with the mayor and anyone else in the community to explain what we're doing as a government and to hear their concerns as well.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: And Minister, finally, do you concede that maybe for some families it may have helped them manage their welfare payments better?

JUSTINE ELLIOT: Well, look, obviously, I wouldn't talk about- there's sort of individual cases that people may put forward. But the fact is, as a public policy, it does not work. We've found that time and time again, and that is why we are getting rid of the cashless debit card.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: How much money will it save you abolishing this scheme?

JUSTINE ELLIOT: Well, we know the previous government had spent over like $170 million on this card. It was a huge expense in terms of the running of it, in terms of the privatised welfare that was in place. But most importantly, it was the very destructive nature of the card and why the fact that people had their lives destroyed by being forced onto it.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: Alright, I'll leave it there, Minister, and I do appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

JUSTINE ELLIOT: Thanks so much. Nadia. Speak to you soon.

[End of excerpt]

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: That was the Assistant Minister for Social Services, Justine Elliot.