Minister Rishworth interview on ABC Radio National Drive.


SARAH DINGLE, HOST: The Senate will be sitting late tonight to repeal the cashless debit card legislation. The card was introduced by the former Coalition government in 2016 and quarantines 80 per cent of welfare payments for 17,000 participants. The card can't be used for alcohol, gambling or to withdraw cash. Repealing the scheme was an Albanese Government election commitment and since August no new recipients have been placed on the card. The Bill passed the Lower House last month and time is running out for it to pass the Senate to allow for clients to transition off on the fourth of October. Amanda Rishworth is the Social Services Minister and she joins me now. Amanda Rishworth, welcome.


SARAH DINGLE: The Government has accused the opposition of prolonging debate in an attempt to delay a vote to the next sitting week. Why is it critical for the Bill to pass the Senate tonight?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well firstly this was an election commitment and we've got many participants out there that have been waiting some time to come off this card. There's been a lot of people that have said that this has affected their lives. This is not just anecdotal but as turned up in research. So we need to get on with the job, firstly of getting people off the card. But secondly, actually having a staged transition. We know for some people they'll come off the card immediately, for others, they will have individual interviews with the people from Services Australia to make sure all their arrangements are in place, their financial arrangements are in place. That takes time and so therefore, we want to get on with that job. Finally, I would say that the existing legislation actually was due to sunset in December. There was nothing to actually replace it, no transition from the former government. So we need to get some certainty, put the legislation in place and start that transition process.

SARAH DINGLE: And we'll get to the mechanics of that transition in a second. But I just want to ask you about the politics. The Government requires the support of the Greens and at least one Independent to pass the Upper House are you confident the Government has the numbers?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well that will be a matter for the Senate. The Government have put forward a compelling argument that there just hasn't been the evidence that has suggested that this card actually did anything that it intended to. Not just from me, not just from the Government, but from the ANAO, and University reports. So there is a compelling argument, but when I speak with communities as well, what they say is they have appreciated the services not the card itself, that have gone along with it. And our Government has made a commitment to keep funding those important services. That money was due to finish and our Government has been very clear that into the forward estimates we will fund those services.

SARAH DINGLE: But in order to get it passed the Senate tonight amendments are a certainty, especially from the Greens. What concessions are you open to in order to secure their support?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We will approach all the amendments of whether they fit in with our commitment that we took to the election. During the Senate inquiry there was some feedback from communities, particularly around Cape York, which has the Family Responsibilities Commission that refers people to income management through a self-determined process. So we're strengthening the ability of that body to do its work. So there are some Government amendments. In terms of the Greens, they've been very clear that they want to see services continue. We've always made that commitment from Government. So we'll keep working across the whole of the Senate to make sure that any concerns that have had are addressed. But I would say that a lot of people, a lot of Senators, will have been getting a lot of correspondence about this. The research shows that so many people's lives were adversely affected by this because they couldn't access enough cash in their in their community to be able to live their life. We heard stories about not being able to buy a second-hand fridge because you didn't have enough cash - on Facebook Marketplace for example. We heard an example where a gentleman couldn't take his five kids to the football because they only accepted cash at the gate. So this has had a really big impact on people's lives. I think there's a powerful argument in there that it hasn't worked and now it's time to give people their autonomy back.

SARAH DINGLE: You say you've been talking to Senators across the chamber, Northern Territory Senator Jacinta Price wants the card to stay. She says those wanting to abolish the card can't comprehend what it's like to constantly have your income demanded from you by addicted relatives. The ABC has heard this from people in WA and the NT. What if the moving this card exposes people to humbugging, to those real social pressures?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: What we're offering is still an option of voluntary for income management. And I've spoken in those communities for example, to particularly women who I asked would they take up a voluntary option and some said they would, some said they wouldn't. So by ensuring that there is a voluntary option for income management gives people choice and control. And that's really an important part of it. So there will still be an option for women that want to have - and men - that might want to have income management for a whole range of reasons, that option will still be available for them to take up.

SARAH DINGLE: Now, as I said, you do want to get this passed tonight. What if that doesn't happen? What would that mean for transitioning participants off the card if you can't get it through the Senate tonight?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, firstly, it would mean those that want to transition on the fourth of October won't be able to do that. They would have to wait until the Bill is passed because unless the Bill is passed then there is no option for transition. But secondly, there is no replacement legislation for post the 31st of December, which would be very dangerous. It could mean that cards just stop on the first of January. So there was no transition process, no proposals to extend the legislation from the former government. No contract in place to continue the card. So there is some real concern there around ensuring that the transition process where people get one on one support is actually delivered if the Bill does not pass.

SARAH DINGLE: Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth is talking about the progress of legislation to repeal the cashless debit card through the Senate. Minister the department has announced $65 million in additional support services for participants over the weekend. When will that actually be available?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: To be really clear, firstly, we have in addition to those services we have ensured ongoing funding for those existing services. But the additional services we want to make sure actually meet needs in communities. So we want to co-design with communities - whether it's the economic development money, whether it is the extra money for drug and alcohol services or whether it is indeed extra money for other support services in the community. We want to co-design that with community. We'll be getting on with the job with listening to communities and talking with communities about what they feel the real needs are and what actually will address some of the complex and difficult issues existing in these communities.

SARAH DINGLE: But if you want people to start transitioning off this card from October 4, like in a matter of days, you'd want to have those support services in place won't you because this is a huge shift?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: There already are a lot of services in place in communities. And we are also having transition services in addition, but that's supposing somehow that this card has done any use - and the evidence shows it did not actually lead to a reduction of alcohol and illicit drug use in communities. So what we are doing is there will be transition support on the ground, there will be Indigenous community engagement officers and other community engagement officers from Services Australia, social workers and other financial support on the ground during the transition. But extra support services that I'm talking about are ongoing support and programs that get to the root of some of the problems in communities, actual programs that actually work.

SARAH DINGLE: Minister we will have to leave it there. Thank you for your time.