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Tuesday, 14 October 2008
Page: 21


Senator McEWEN (2:56 PM) —My question is also to the Minister for Human Services, Senator Ludwig. I understand the Rudd Labor government has been rolling out an improved system of income management in the Northern Territory. Can the minister update the Senate on this improved system and its rollout?


Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) —I thank Senator McEwen. I know she has an interest in the Northern Territory. The Rudd Labor government is delivering a better system of income management for families in the Northern Territory. Of course, welfare must be about welfare. Kids need food and clothing. The Rudd government is determined to play its part in helping families put food on the table. That is why we supported income management. But let me go through the litany of problems that the Liberals had in respect of that. High on red tape, low on flexibility, they failed to provide adequate security for customers, and the system was difficult to administer to everyone involved. The Rudd government has been busy rolling out a better system of income management, based on the use of a PIN protected card when purchasing priority goods and services. For most customers the basics card will replace the existing income management system using store cards and direct deduction accounts. Unlike what the Liberals put forward, customers can choose to have their basics card topped up with their income management funds on a regular basis or immediately for emergency services. The basics card is easy to use and provides greater flexibility and more choice for customers on income management.

The green card, as it has quickly become known as, makes it easier for customers on income management to put food on the table for their children. It reduces red tape for small business, unlike the system introduced by the Liberals. Small businesses had asked to be relieved of the burden of dealing with the income management system that the previous government had rolled out. It created significant delays and restricted access for small business to be a part of the system. The basics card cannot be used to purchase alcohol, pornography, tobacco or gambling products. Customers cannot obtain cash with the basics card, via EFTPOS or an ATM. Any business now can be connected to the EFTPOS network in Australia and can apply to become an approved merchant, subject to accepting the merchant’s terms and conditions and obtaining approval from Centrelink.

The good news about this is that the basics card has been available to Centrelink customers in Katherine since 8 September 2008. In addition, the basics card was issued in Alice Springs on 25 September and in the Beswick community on 29 September, as well as in Palmerston and a range of other places within the Northern Territory. It will also be available to customers in Western Australia as part of the child protection initiative and to customers involved in the Cape York welfare reform trial. As of 9 October, 2,531 basics cards have been issued and activated for customers to use. Some 199 merchants across the Northern Territory, WA and Queensland have been approved to accept the basics card, and about 133 have activated their EFTPOS system ready to process payments through the basics card. When the Liberals had the income management system rolled out they had stored value cards that created red tape and that had a range of problems associated with them. This government has in a very short space of time—within six weeks—rolled out a solution that has already seen small business adopt it. The Liberals did not provide for small business. They did not roll out a system that allowed small business to operate within it. (Time expired)


Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.