Interview on ABC Far North, Drive with Adam Stephen


ADAM STEPHEN: The Future of Welfare Management on Cape York, it's been in focus this week. Controversial cashless debit cards that were being trialled around Australia are being abolished by the new Federal Government. These cards allowed up to 80 per cent of a person's welfare income to be quarantined, so it couldn't be spent on things like alcohol or gambling. On Cape York, the cards were applied slightly differently and the Federal Government is open to a different style of income management on Cape York. Amanda Rishworth is the new Social Services Minister with the Federal Government and she was in far north Queensland today. I got her to explain what the cashless debit cards were all about, and how the Cape York example didn't necessarily translate to what was happening in other parts of the country.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: In the broader CDC trials it didn't matter if you had an alcohol problem. It didn't matter if you had issues managing your finances. If you were on a government payment, a working age government payment, in some places, you were automatically put on income management. Whereas in Cape York there's a much more finessed process, in which those that might be struggling with income may have a conference with local community commissioners. In which income management might be an option put forward along with other support services. Also, in cases of child protection issues, then the commissioners and the Commission could also refer individuals to income management. This is a very different process and takes individual circumstances into account, but also ensures there's other preferred services and it is self-determined by the local community. So, this is very different from other places where people were automatically put on, no matter what their circumstances.

ADAM STEPHEN: And do we know roughly how many people would be on income management in Cape York at the moment?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: It does fluctuate, but the most recent figures are about 108 people are currently on income management in Cape York.

ADAM STEPHEN: You've been speaking with community leaders. Are you getting the sense that some people feel like this has been working very well for their communities, and they'd be quite reticent to see something like this disappear?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: What we've been talking about is the process. Because, as I said, having the offer of income management as a tool is something that we will continue to make available for Cape York. This is an important part of the discussion. Now, what that looks like and what that product is, is something that we're discussing through the pros and cons of different types of income management. That's the cashless debit card versus the BasicsCard. So, I'm consulting with commissioners and other locals and community members about that. But also making sure that the Family Responsibility Commission can continue to do its job, post the cashless debit card, is also something that I'm consulting with people about

ADAM STEPHEN: So, what is the difference between the cashless debit card, and you mentioned the BasicsCard there before?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: The cashless debit card effectively quarantines 80 per cent of your income. The BasicsCard traditionally has been less of the income. And what it does is that, for the cashless debit card, it is more your tap and go where the BasicsCard currently as it is, is a stripe card. So, you know, you have to swipe it. So, there is technological differences. But also the other concerning difference, that was concerning to the government, was that the cashless debit card is connected to a private company as opposed to Services Australia. And of course Services Australia is who administers Centrelink and other payments. So, I was concerned that effectively, welfare was being privatised with the cashless debit card as opposed to being managed by Services Australia

ADAM STEPHEN: The Family Responsibilities Commission has been operating in four Cape York communities since 2008. We’ve got a new Federal Government, you're the new Social Services Minister. Have you got a view about the Commission and how it operates and whether that would be something that you think needs to be reviewed or looked at?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I've had great conversations today about some of the work done by the Cape York Family Responsibilities Commission. I want to work with them. What we've been really clear in is models that have the principle of self-determination. And making sure that they do enable our First Nations communities to be able to make decisions for themselves is critically important. So, going forward, I've been talking with other communities about what models might work for them. Everywhere is different though, and so, I will continue to listen and communicate. But I've had some great discussions with the Family Responsibilities Commission about the work they do, which is much more than just income management. It is about the wraparound services, it is about the referral to the right services and the support. And so, you know, I will continue to engage with the Cape York community as well as other communities.

ADAM STEPHEN: Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth has been in far north Queensland this week talking income management. Where to from here? You've held these discussions and you say you are open to further consultation before making a final decision on what will happen with Cape York. But have you got a timeframe in mind?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, Cape York is carved out. So the focus is more on the technology and what type of income management tool is offered. Not whether or not Cape York will be able to continue to use income management as part of their many referral processes. So, look, the legislation has passed the House of Representatives. There's currently a Senate inquiry to look at; do we need to strengthen that legislation? If that legislation passes the Senate, then we will have the ability over a six-month period, or a date prescribed by myself, to exit people off the card in other places other than Cape York. And in Cape York, it's really a process of transferring them onto other income management tools if they are currently on income management.

ADAM STEPHEN: So, that was the new Social Services Minister in the Federal Government, Amanda Rishworth, who was in far north Queensland this week.