NACCHO Healthy Welfare Card debate : Government’s Healthy Welfare Card no solution to alcohol abuse


“Our people do not need a compulsory blanket approach to tackling these issues. We want to work with government to develop long-term, effective solutions to the challenges we face.

I agree with Mr Tudge when he says, “collectively we have to get control of the alcohol abuse that destroys communities and threatens the next generation”, but I disagree that the card is “the solution”. Serious addiction requires thoughtful treatment options rather than punitive measures and silver bullets.”

Mick Gooda the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner responding to Alan Tudge is the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Assistant Minister for Social Services

Read here or below Alan Tudge article

Photo: Empty beer cans in Binjari make up the shapes of bodies for 10 people who died from alcohol-related causes. (Clare Rawlinson: ABC)

In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across the country, old wounds are being reopened. Many of our people are being forced to revisit the past trauma of income management and stolen wages.

The federal government’s Healthy Welfare Card has created great concern and contention, as the measure will disproport­ionately affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and claw back our hard-won rights and freedoms.

The government, with the support of the opposition, has passed legislation, without any amendments and with very little consultation, to control the finances of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in three trial sites, beginning with the South Aust­ralian town of Ceduna next month. The third proposed site, of Halls Creek in the Kimberley, rejected the idea out of hand, with the shire president Malcolm Edwards saying it had adopted the position of its Aboriginal advisory committee to reject the plan.

“At the last meeting, they voted against having the card. They thought it was a bit unfair because it targeted everyone,” Mr Edwards said.

All welfare recipients in the trial areas will have 80 per cent of their welfare quarantined to a bank card. Only 20 per cent of their welfare payment would be available in cash, which the Assistant Minister for Social Services, Alan Tudge, has himself admitted could leave some welfare recipients with as little as $60 in their pocket each week.

It is deeply troubling that the government is “contemplating how to proceed should the trials prove successful” before any trials have even begun.

It begs the question — have the trials been structured in such a way the results have already been predetermined?

What is most perplexing is the government’s apparent fascination with controlling the finances of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Our mob are once again the guinea pigs in a trial program lacking any evidence base.

As I outlined in my 2015 Social Justice and Native Title Report, where people have experienced benefits as a result of income management, the results have been modest when compared to their stated objectives. For many, income management results in few or no benefits, and a “sense of loss of control, shame and unfairness”.

Any possible benefit of the card must be weighed against the sense of disempowerment our people ­already face. It must be weighed against the stigma our people continue to face, and the restrictions placed on our basic rights and freedoms we fought so hard for.

We are told by the government that the measure will tackle the ­serious issue of alcohol and drug abuse within our communities.

There is no doubt that alcohol and drug abuse are contributing factors to creating dangerous and disruptive communities; and all children have the right to grow up in safe, nurturing environments — Aboriginal and Torres Strait ­Islander children are no exception.

We have no evidence to support the prediction that a restriction on cash payments will curb an individual’s addiction or their ability to provide a safe environment for their children.

According to Mr Tudge, restricting supply is an effective measure to address these problems. But in the same way that people with serious addiction can circumvent restrictions on supply, they will undoubtedly find innovative ways to circumvent limits on their capacity to purchase.

The role of government is to provide effective policy, based on the best available evidence. In the case of the Healthy Welfare Card, there is no conclusive evidence that it will effectively address issues of alcohol and drug abuse, and encourage good parenting.

Our people do not need a compulsory blanket approach to tackling these issues. We want to work with government to develop long-term, effective solutions to the challenges we face.

I agree with Mr Tudge when he says, “collectively we have to get control of the alcohol abuse that destroys communities and threatens the next generation”, but I disagree that the card is “the solution”. Serious addiction requires thoughtful treatment options rather than punitive measures and silver bullets.

The hardest part of this proposal to accept is that yet again the treatment of our people will be ­different to mainstream Australia, and it is this differentiation of treatment that we have fought so hard to bring into the open.

Mick Gooda is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner.

Alan Tudge Article

Having agreed with East Kimberley leaders to implement the cashless welfare debit card, the government is now receiving ­requests across Western Australia for its introduction. In most cases the requests are from council or community leaders who are desperate about the situation of their community and hope the card will provide a breakthrough. In Leonora in the Goldfields, for example, a further tragic suicide, this time of a 15-year-old girl, ­was the catalyst for the call out.”

Alan Tudge is the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Assistant Minister for Social Services.

Alcohol is always the target. It is the poison that destroys lives and makes many of our remote communities unsafe. In the Northern Territory, for example, two-thirds of the catastrophic rates of violence are related to ­alcohol, according to the territory’s children’s commissioner. Parties at night keep children awake and make homes unsafe. Extraordinary rates of child ­neglect occur.

When a community is drowning in grog, other initiatives ­become so much harder to ­implement. Restricting the supply of ­alcohol has been the most effective measure to date. In ­places like Groote Eylandt and Bickerton ­Island, alcohol manage­ment plans have led to a 67 per cent ­reduction in aggravated assaults. But restricting supply is difficult in larger mainstream towns. Further, residents can travel outside the restricted area and grog-runners have been innovative in ­finding ways to bring in the prohibited products.

The welfare debit card has the same objective as a supply restriction but tackles the problem from the demand side: the welfare cash that pays for the grog and funds the destruction. Without the cash, systemic abuse becomes more difficult.

The card itself has been ­designed to look and operate like an ordinary debit card, but it has been programmed to restrict cash withdrawals and be inoperable at every bottle shop and gambling house in the country.

Ceduna in South Australia and the East Kimberley will be the first two trial locations for the card. Every working age income support recipient will have 80 per cent of their payments placed onto it while the remaining 20 per cent will continue to go into their savings account.

Whenever the card is used for purchases above $10, a text mes­sage will be sent to the recipient’s phone informing them of their new account balance. If a person leaves the community, the card will travel with them.

Of course, you cannot simply stop a person’s addiction overnight. In each location, extra drug and alcohol services are being added to help people reduce their dependencies. Other com­plementary reform initiatives have also been negotiated. In the East Kimberley, for example, there is a strong employment focus to leverage the existing economic base. This includes training into guaranteed jobs, fulltime work for the dole and employment brokers. These initiatives are nothing short of a full-scale ­assault on alcohol abuse.

While the design of the card and the content of the reform plan is critical, equally important is the manner in which they have been developed in partnership with local community leaders at the trial locations.

The initiatives have not been foisted upon the communities but have been co-designed with the most important indigenous and non-indigenous leaders in the ­region, along with the respective state governments.

They have set the priorities, determined the settings of the card and consulted with the broader community. The imple­mentation of the card and its complementary reforms will continue in a similar manner.

This approach to reform will not guarantee the success of the trials but will significantly boost its chances. It is also aligned with the core philosophy advocated by Noel Pearson, Sean Gordon and other senior indigenous ­leaders in their Empowered Communities ­report.

However, working in this way is not straightforward. Many elements have to come together: ­devolved authority within the public service; a single senior public servant on the ground who can earn the trust of local residents and be a problem solver; a reform-minded local leadership group; and political backing, knowing the approach carries risk. These require cultural as much as structural change.

So where to from here? The trials in Ceduna and East Kimberley will begin in the next few months. We have legislative authority for a third trial site and consultations have commenced in a couple of locations.

Naturally we are starting to contemplate how to proceed should the trials prove successful. Offering the card to other regions would be a logical next step, ­beginning with those West ­Australian locations that have ­already shown initial support. Others have suggested that the card could have wider application.

It is early days, but one thing is clear: collectively we have to get control of the alcohol abuse that destroys communities and threatens the next generation with up to a quarter of babies being born brain damaged from foetal alcohol spectrum disorder in some places.

The cashless welfare debit card may be the solution.

Alan Tudge is the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Assistant Minister for Social Services.

NACCHO Aboriginal Health News : Is the solution to grog on the cards


“What responsibility should we have over how welfare is delivered to those in need? Since the introduction of federal unemployment benefits in 1944, the government has provided welfare in cash. The reason is expedience: dropping cash into an account is simpler and cheaper than the traditional church welfare of providing clothes, food or vouchers.

But what happens if the cash is wasted on drugs, alcohol and gambling, leading to catastrophic social consequences?

Our view is the debit card could reduce the social harm welfare-fuelled abuse can cause, while still providing as much individual freedom as possible to welfare recipients.

The government believes this concept is worth trialling and today I will be introducing legislation to implement the idea in two or three regions.”

Federal Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister The Hon. Alan Tudge MP (above right)

Wednesday, 19 August 2015 Opinion

DOWNLOAD and read full transcript of Alan Tudge Interview in Ceduna

Interview Alan Tudge

SEE ALSO PREVIOUS NACCHO REPORT : More communities support Healthy Welfare Card

This is the question the Abbott government has been grappling with following the recommendation in Andrew Forrest’s Creating Parity report to introduce a cashless debit card for welfare recipients in vulnerable areas.

The logic is inescapable. We have places where welfare is a major part of the local economy and the welfare dollar is fuelling gambling, alcohol and drug abuse.

It’s not just that individuals are wasting welfare payments but welfare abuse is destroying the lives of women and children.

In a place such as Kununurra, the hospitalisation rate from assaults is 68 times the national average. Across the Northern Territory, indigenous women are being bashed every year at a rate of 11 assaults per 100 women. These are just the reported cases. Two-thirds are related to alcohol, nearly all of which is paid for by welfare cash. It is not uncommon for kids to go hungry because there is no food on the table. Not because of poverty — an unemployed couple with three young children could have $800 in welfare cash a week after housing costs — but because the money is wasted in the first few days after “payday”. The National Crime Commission says towns of high welfare dependence are being targeted by criminals selling ice.

Most of the measures taken in the face of such evidence have been on the supply side, tough rules about what can be sold at pubs and what can be imported into a community. Such restrictions typically have halved the rate of violence in those places. But even in remote communities it’s hard to sustain initial gains and stop the grog runners and drug dealers. In urban areas, restricting supply (other than through hours of sale) is nearly impossible.

Forrest’s proposal is to work on the demand side. He argues that in certain areas, all welfare payments — except old age and veterans’ pensions — be placed on an ordinary bank debit card that could be used anywhere to purchase anything, but simply cannot be used at liquor stores or gambling venues. Because cash would be limited, illicit drugs could not be bought.

The government believes this concept is worth trialling and today I will be introducing legislation to implement the idea in two or three regions. These regions will be chosen on the basis of (a) high welfare dependence and social harm caused by welfare-fuelled alcohol and drug abuse, and (b) willingness of community leaders to participate in the trial. The Ceduna region will be the first trial site and we are in discussions with East Kimberley leaders about that region being the second. Our view is the debit card could reduce the social harm welfare-fuelled abuse can cause, while still providing as much individual freedom as possible to welfare recipients.

We have been negotiating with banks and community leaders over how the card could be designed and implemented. How a card would be issued, how online transactions would occur, how people could get account balances and how fees would be structured to minimise or eliminate costs to the user are issues being worked through. The intent is for the card to look as much as possible like the ordinary debit card most people carry in their pocket daily. Eighty per cent of payments will be placed on the card, with the other 20 per cent continuing to go into the recipient’s bank account.

Where there is a desire to do so, we will implement a local board that will have control over the settings of the card. This board would have power to lift the amount of welfare placed into an individual’s cash account. Key additional services such as alcohol counselling and financial management assistance may need to be introduced.

This proposal is not income management. There will be no compulsion for anyone to spend their payments in a particular way, although of course people will be encouraged to establish a budget. There will be complete freedom, with the exception of two restricted products.

I acknowledge that for some people, using a card rather than cash to pay for everyday items will be an initial inconvenience. The potential upside, however, is a transformed community where women are safer and more money is available for children’s needs. If successful, this will represent a radical new positive approach to the distribution of welfare.



NACCHO Aboriginal Health : More communities now support cashless ” Healthy Welfare Basics Card ‘


It is our view that continuing to deliver the same programs we have delivered for the past 40 years will do nothing for our ­people and, besides wasting more time and money, will condemn our children and future generations to a life of poverty and ­despair,

Our children will continue to be removed from their families because their families are not safe, many of our children will be born with FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder) and never be able to receive a good education, and a large percentage of our people will go to prison and, in some cases, commit suicide. We believe that this trial could be the catalyst for breaking the cycle of poverty and despair in the East Kimberley.”

Wunan Foundation’s Ian Trust, MG Corporation’s Desmond Hill and Gelganyem Trust chairman Ted Hall,

Aboriginal leaders of the East Kimberley have urged MPs from all sides of politics to support a new cashless welfare card, saying refusal to back the trial will condem­n future generations in the region to a “life of poverty and despair”.

Legislation to enable the proposed healthy welfare card will be introduced to parliament this week but requires the support of Labor or at least six crossbench senators to pass into law.

As reported by Sarah Martin in the Australian

In a letter to Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister Alan Tudge and Labor’s family and payments spokeswoman Jenny Macklin, three indigenous groups have pleaded for political support for the cashless card first proposed by mining chief ­Andrew Forrest last year.

Last month, the town of Ceduna on South Australia’s remote west coast became the first community to sign a memorandum of understanding with the government to implement the card.

In a trial to begin next year, 80 per cent of welfare payments will be allocated to a cashless card that cannot be used to buy alcohol or gambling products.

The East Kimberley communities of Halls Creek and Kununurra also have been slated as trial sites.

In a letter signed by the Wunan Foundation’s Ian Trust, MG Corporation’s Desmond Hill and Gelganyem Trust chairman Ted Hall, the East Kimberley leaders warn that without radical change, includin­g welfare reform, the circumstances of Aboriginal people in the region will continue to deteriorat­e at “a rapid pace”.

The letter urges politicians to take a nonpartisan approach to allow the trial to proceed, saying vulnerable children and old people­ would bear the heaviest burden if reform was blocked.

The three groups backed the concept of a local community panel that could vary the amount of welfare payments restricted based on individual behaviour. A similar model operates in Cape York.

Mr Tudge said the government would listen to the East Kimberley leadership. “But we haven’t made a decision yet and we still have more work to do,” he said.

Mr Forrest joined the call for support for the card, which was a cornerstone of the Creating Parity review. “There is no possibility you can justify continuation of the current system when it has failed vulnerable Australians so badly,” he said.

NACCHO Aboriginal Employment and Training news: Opportunity to report to the PM Tony Abbott on Aboriginal health employment and training needs

2013_CCHEP launch

Jobs are the key to improving opportunities for all Australians.

It would be a shame to miss this great opportunity to put the focus on Aboriginal community controlled health and away from the mining sector.

Here is your opportunity to tell the Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon Tony Abbott MP your needs in the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Sector.Picture above Congress Alice Springs


Or written submissions close 31 December  2013


The Commonwealth Government believes more needs to be done to boost Indigenous employment and support Indigenous Australians to get ahead.

All Australians yearn to see practical and genuine improvement in the lives of Indigenous people.

Too often, employment and training programmes provide ‘training for training’s sake’ without the practical skills that people need to fill the jobs that exist.

To address this, the Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, has asked Mr Andrew Forrest to lead a Review of Indigenous Training and Employment Programmes.

This Review will report to the Prime Minister in April 2014, providing practical recommendations to ensure Indigenous training and employment services are targeted and administered to connect unemployed Indigenous people with real and sustainable jobs.

It will consider ways to dramatically improve how services can better respond to employers who want to provide sustainable employment and end the cycle of Indigenous disadvantage. Innovative approaches that secure real jobs will be central to the Review, including practical life training and mentoring.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minster, the Hon Alan Tudge MP, will guide and shape the Review process with Mr Forrest.

Date for consultations

Perth Friday 15 November 2013 …9.45am – 11.15am Perth Convention Centre 21 Mounts Bay Rd, Perth

Adelaide Tuesday 19 November 2013…9.45am – 11.15am Adelaide Convention Centre North Terrace, Adelaide

 Alice Springs Tuesday 19 November 2013…3.45pm – 5.15pm Alice Springs Convention Centre 93 Barrett Dr, Alice Springs

Kununurra Wednesday 20 November 2013…9.45am – 11.15am Ord River Sports Club Chestnut Dr, Kununurra

 Darwin Wednesday 20 November 2013…5.30pm – 7.00pm Darwin Convention Centre Stokes Hill Rd, Darwin

Brisbane Thursday 21 November 2013…9.45am – 11.15am Brisbane City Hall 64 Adelaide St, Brisbane

 Sydney Thursday 21 November 2013…5.15pm – 6.45pm Masonic Conference Centre 66 Goulburn St, Sydney

Melbourne Friday 22 November 2013…9.45am – 11.15am Melbourne Town Hall Cnr Swanston and Collins Street, Melbourne

There is so much goodwill from employers.

The challenge, though, is to convert good intentions into practical change for the better.

As Chair of the Review, Mr Forrest is looking for breakthrough ideas to, once and for all, end the disparity in employment for Indigenous Australians. Your input is vital. In order to realise real change, new and sustainable solutions are needed.

To have your say, you may wish to participate in a meeting with Mr Forrest and the Review team, or lodge a concise written submission.

Further information is provided at How to get involved. This website will be updated regularly to include details of meetings and how to participate.

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