Title Community Affairs Legislation Committee
Database Senate Committees
Date 11-09-2015
Source Senate
Parl No. 44
Committee Name Community Affairs Legislation Committee
Page 50
Questioner CHAIR
Siewert, Sen Rachel
Responder Mrs Pucci
Mr Paul
System Id committees/commsen/a51e63ad-9731-41e8-9812-25cb10b1b9c6/0009

Community Affairs Legislation Committee - 11/09/2015

PAUL, Mr Wayne, Board Member, East Kimberley Chamber of Commerce and Industry

PUCCI, Mrs Michele, Board Member, East Kimberley Chamber of Commerce and Industry


Evidence was taken via teleconference—

CHAIR: Has information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence been provided to you?

Mrs Pucci : Yes, it has.

CHAIR: I invite you now, Mrs Pucci, if you would like, to make a brief opening statement, and then we will move to questions.

Mrs Pucci : I make this statement on behalf of the East Kimberley Chamber of Commerce. Essentially, the Chamber of Commerce, on behalf of its 200 small business members in the community, supports the cashless debit card trial. However, we do make the comment that we want to ensure that there has been effective consultation around the use of the card. We would also like to have acknowledged that for any changes to customer services procedures there needs to be consideration around whether that might incur a cost for the small business owner. We also acknowledge that there could be a spike in antisocial behaviour because of the introduction of the card. We hope that there would be some strategies around how that might be managed. The Chamber of Commerce is happy to provide its support to both our members and to government in the rollout of the card in the Kununurra East Kimberley area.

CHAIR: You said you support it and you talked about some potential issues in implementation. Are you able to tell us, though, why you have formed the judgment that you support it? What is it that you see that it can do for your community?

Mrs Pucci : I think there is a general feeling and acceptance in the East Kimberley that there needs to be something done around addressing some of the antisocial behaviour. There is a belief that the card will in some way limit that as it limits people's access to alcohol and drugs.

CHAIR: So you see that having that debit card could potentially assist with dealing with the drug and alcohol issues in your community; is that right?

Mrs Pucci : That is right.

CHAIR: How does that antisocial behaviour that is there at the moment affect the businesses that you represent?

Mrs Pucci : I might get Wayne to comment on that. He is a small business owner, and he will be able to comment pretty well on that point.

Mr Paul : At the moment there is a lot of alcohol in the community, even though it is restricted. You have people hanging around the shops, humbugging tourists. It is difficult. I suppose you become numb to it. It drives tourists away, so, if we could decrease that attitude, it would be good for the community.

CHAIR: It is a little bit hard to hear you. So, basically, there is some antisocial behaviour and you think that this card could potentially assist with some of that. Was that broadly what you were saying?

Mr Paul : Yes. We have to reduce people's access to alcohol, because, even though we have restrictions in town now, they are quite good at getting around systems and there is still a lot of alcohol and alcoholics in the community. They hang around the shopping centre humbugging tourists, humbugging people, shoplifting and whatnot. It is a bit high risk because there is a lot of noise and drunk people screaming, humbugging tourists. Tourists are shy of that. They are not accustomed to it, so they tend to stay away. Generally, if we could cut through that antisocial behaviour and get that undesirable behaviour out, it would be better for the shopping precinct.

CHAIR: What about, I guess, more broadly for the economy? I imagine that, if there are significant numbers of people who have drug and alcohol problems, obviously they are less likely to be able to find work and the like. Do you see benefits there? How do you go with getting workers for the various businesses in the region at the moment?

Mr Paul : It is difficult because obviously, if you have got the antisocial behaviour, some of your staff struggle with it. Some of them just cannot handle it, and they leave. Then you have your Aboriginal people, and the problem is that the staff get money and spend it on alcohol. The attendance rates drop. If you look at the Aboriginal people in work, there is a greater access to alcohol.

CHAIR: So potentially you would see a benefit there. If this is a way of assisting or encouraging people to get off drugs and alcohol, obviously there might be some flow-on benefits there in terms of employment and the broader economy?

Mrs Pucci : Yes, I think that is correct. I also believe there is an opportunity. People may be able, through this card, to better manage their spending, and I think that there are some services that then will be able to get in behind those families. But the government might need to consider whether there is a need to implement further financial counselling and support services into the area.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Senator SIEWERT: Can I start where you just left off, in terms of the further support for drug and alcohol services. What services are available at the moment?

Mrs Pucci : To my knowledge, locally in Kununurra there is the Ord Valley health service, which obviously can provide some level of counselling for people that are affected by drugs and alcohol.

Senator SIEWERT: Are you talking about the health service, the Ord Valley—

Mrs Pucci : The Ord Valley Aboriginal Health Service.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes.

Mrs Pucci : Certainly there is a mainstream state government funded alcohol service. We have one alcohol rehab centre in the East Kimberley, and that is located in Wyndham. That is the only one we have in the area.

Senator SIEWERT: So they are fairly limited services, and I know Ord Valley's services are fairly stretched.

Mrs Pucci : I do not know if I am the right person to confirm that. Only they could confirm that for themselves, so that is something that could be followed up. But, yes, they are the only Aboriginal health service in town. There is also a mainstream state government funded health service that can cater for drug and alcohol problems. But, with respect to rehabilitation, there is only one, and that is located in Wyndham. That covers the Kimberley, Halls Creek, Kununurra and outlying communities.

Senator SIEWERT: You made the point, when you were first commenting on the issue, about effective consultation. Can you just expand a little bit on that in terms of what you mean by 'effective' and how you see the consultation has gone to date?

Mrs Pucci : Yes. I am aware that the consultation to date has been fairly high level, and I have been involved in that through my professional role working with Aboriginal organisations. So I am very well aware that high-level conversations have occurred with key Aboriginal organisations. Through that, my understanding is that this card has been very well received by Aboriginal leadership. I think there have been some high-level media releases. But I do not know whether there has been some system communication, I suppose, with the stakeholders, or the people, who are actually on this card—or will be on this card. They need to ensure that there is effective communication with them around what this is, what it looks like and how it works to reduce any anxiety.

Senator SIEWERT: So you think that there needs to be a bit more on the ground—

Mrs Pucci : Yes, I think on the ground. From what I have seen—and I am speaking from my personal perspective—I have observed, obviously, the formal high-level consultation with Aboriginal key communities. I have observed media releases. But I have not observed, or heard about, communication with the stakeholders that will be directly affected by the card—meaning the people on welfare.

Mr Paul : And also the business community. My wife runs our business. We would be actually authorised for BasicsCard. How will that work? Will it work similar to BasicsCard? I think for business owners there used to be a register for BasicsCard. But, as far as I know, they have not been approached about how this system works. For those who are registered now for BasicsCard, will they be able to go straight over to the new cashless debit card? How will that system work? I think the businesses would like to know that.

Senator SIEWERT: Is my understanding of what you have just said correct in that there has not been any consultation with businesses about the technical aspects of how it would operate?

Mr Paul : Correct.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to go back to the comment around the spike in antisocial behaviour and the want to ensure that that is managed. Could you just explain that a little bit more? I know you touched on it a little bit earlier with Senator Seselja. It seemed to me that that focussed a bit more on some of the antisocial behaviour that is occurring now. Having spent time on and off in Kununurra, I do understand that issue. When you say that you are thinking about a spike, could you expand on that a little bit more?

Mrs Pucci : Yes, I am happy to. There is a concern that once it is implemented and once people are unable to access alcohol that mass result in a spike in antisocial behaviour will, for example, increase burglary, increase theft—and that kind of thing. That is because people will not be able to access alcohol from that card. For those people who need alcohol, there could be some issues around that.

Senator SIEWERT: Is that more a case of there being, at the moment, and as you were just saying, a lack of rehab services?

Mrs Pucci : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: And leading to a behaviour response because they are at detox without support, and they are trying to access alcohol?

Mrs Pucci : Yes. It is a conflict of those. It could be that some people who are on welfare are addicted to alcohol. They will certainly require some support in terms of not being able to access alcohol so readily. We do not know what the future holds; we are looking into a bit of a crystal ball here. But that is something we need to be conscious of. There may not be a spike; it may be the same. But I think it is worth noting that it is something we should be aware of.

The other thing that is worth noting in this forum, and I have it raised before, is the lack of knowledge of the number of people that are currently not on welfare that are using alcohol. I am not quite sure how that might interface with the cashless debit card. It is worth noting that you could make an assumption. A number of people who are chronic alcoholics, who create some of the antisocial behaviour, may not be on welfare. I am not sure we fully understand those numbers. It probably would take a little bit of work to look at those who are not on welfare that could be using alcohol.

Senator SIEWERT: In other words, one should not assume that, by requiring people to have the debit card, it is going to address the antisocial behaviour problem, because, potentially, there are other people who may be causing the problem.

Mrs Pucci : It is an assumption that we need to be mindful of. It depends what the focus of the welfare card is. If the welfare card is for helping people on welfare to better manage their money, then that is a pretty positive thing. If the welfare card is particularly directed at antisocial behaviour and those consuming copious amounts of alcohol that can be dysfunctional for an individual and others, then I am not quite sure.

Mr Paul : The other way that you could get antisocial behaviour is that the ones who want alcohol will go to their relatives and friends. There will be pressure to use their card. I can see that a bit of antisocial behaviour may creep in from that. They will try and get them to supply the alcohol from their card.

Mrs Pucci : The cashless debit card is for all people on welfare.

CHAIR: That is the end of our questioning. Thank you very much for taking the time to be with us today. Thank you for your evidence.