Interview with Chris Kenny
1 June 2023
Subjects: Cashless Debit Card, public servants salaries, Covid censorship, Labor’s health broken promises
CHRIS KENNY: Let's catch up with Liberal Senator Anne Ruston, who oversaw this in government and warned against meddling with the Cashless Card Scheme. She joins me now. Thanks for joining us, Anne. Why - You say that Labor's really kept your card, kept the Coalition's card, and basically rebadged it - So why are so many people falling off it? Is it simply because they have made it voluntary for anyone who's on it?
SENATOR ANNE RUSTON: Yeah, well, that's exactly what they did in the trial sites, the four trial sites around Australia. They made it voluntary and, you know, surprise, surprise. Most of the people that were compulsorily on the Card chose not to be on the Card. And so now we've got this ridiculous situation where the Government has invested this $217 million to rename a card. They've spent countless others of tens of millions of dollars on putting in new infrastructure at Services Australia, whilst keeping the same contract with Indue for the delivery of the card. So, in effect, this government has basically spent probably in excess of $300 million so far to rebrand a card, make it voluntary, and it cannot possibly be cost effective. I mean, we knew we'd got the Card down to about an $800 a year cost, when you were talking about numbers of 7000 versus 22. You've got 22 people on this card. I can't even imagine how much it's costing per participant. Yesterday when we asked the Department, they wouldn't answer the question.
KENNY: That's just crazy. And of course, the big worry is those 7000 people who have dropped of - presumably a lot of them were getting some benefit out of this. It was working for them. So the people's lives are going to be undermined.
RUSTON: Well, the thing that we saw with the secret report that we eventually got out through FOI, is that the government has actually been receiving weekly advice from the four trial sites advising them of the increase in alcohol-fuelled violence, the increase in domestic violence, the increase in police interactions and all of the things that we warned them would happen if they took the Card out of these communities. All of it's happening. I mean, in some places we're seeing over a doubling of the incidents in the same period. So we warned about this. So they've spent an absolute fortune, they've got a much, much worse outcome, and they've created an absolute terrible situation in these communities, all because of an ideology. Because they went to an election with an election promise and hell bent they were going to deliver it no matter what the cost on the ground to the people who are impacted by it.
KENNY: Talking about money, I've got to show you an excerpt from Senate Estimates - which would have been keeping you busy all week - but from a hearing on Monday, where a very senior public servant, Natalie James is her name, she heads up Employment and Education, didn't seem to know how much money she was being paid. Have a look.
[Estimates excerpt plays]
KENNY: Yeah, amazing stuff. Anne Ruston, do you think when people don't know what they're getting paid and it turns out to be $845,000, and that's $300,000 more than the Prime Minister gets, do you think some of our Canberra public servants are overpaid?
RUSTON: Well, it certainly shows that they're certainly out of touch. You know, right now we know so many Australians are doing it tough and they would be counting the last dollar that they earn every week. And to have a public servant who is earning that sort of money just sort of flippantly not know how much they're being paid, I think probably would have been quite a kick to Australians who are doing it really tough at the moment with cost of living pressures. And there wasn't much in the Budget to help hardworking Australians in terms of their cost of living and we see, you know, inflation skyrocketing and then you sort of see a public servant who's in charge of a department, you know, presiding over HECs fees that have just gone up by 7% not knowing, it really does just flag how out of touch the bureaucracy is in some instances and how out of touch the Government is about the real impact on the ground of the inflation and the cost of living pressures that people are facing.
KENNY: Sure does. Just amazing stuff. Now I showed a bit of Estimates on health earlier in the program where we're trying to get some information about the Covid censorship that's ongoing. That happened under the Coalition Government and is still happening under Labor. Hopefully, we will get some more information about what's been censored in the past. I'd love your thoughts on that and also what else transpired in Health Estimates today.
RUSTON: Well, I think the most disappointing thing about the issue that you've just raised is, you know, we're talking about freedom of speech and the like. And yet today, when some really quite serious questions were asked by Senator Antic about this particular issue, the Department and the Minister just dismissed him. And so I think it was a really poor showing that these really serious questions were not given the serious responses that they deserve. But in Health Estimates today, it was quite extraordinary. We saw the Rural Health Commissioner admit that she had not been consulted about the 60 day dispensing changes, despite her saying that she had spoken to many rural and regional and remote pharmacies who were very concerned about the impact that it was likely to have on them. We then heard from the Minister and the Department about the 50 Urgent Care Clinics that were promised during the election campaign, to find out that none of them have actually really been delivered, apart from the eight that were previously announced by Dan Andrew - and he got all the credit for the announcement and then he handed them over to Albo, so he could re-announce them to get them. And I mean, another really tragic one. I mean, during the election campaign, the Prime Minister stood up with a little tiny newborn baby and said that he was going to change bloodspot screening testing for newborns for 80 conditions, 80 serious condition.
KENNY: And that hasn't happened yet?
RUSTON: Today, they admitted that they've got no idea how they're ever going to be able to deliver this 80. They had 25. They think they might now have 27, and they have no idea how they're going to get to the 80. I mean, it's just broken promise after broken promise after broken promise.
KENNY: We are just about out of time. That's a very important issue. We will follow that up with you another time, Anne. I appreciate your time.