June 30, 2014

SUBJECT/S: McClure Welfare Review, Disability Support Pension, NDIS

ALISON CARABINE: Jenny Macklin welcome to Breakfast.


ALISON CARABINE: Jenny Macklin, Kevin Andrews says the aim of this review is not to make people worse off you had his job for six years in the Labor Government, is there scope for reforming the system without hurting some people in the process.

JENNY MACKLIN: The problem is Alison, the Abbott Government just last week pushed through cuts to the Age Pension, the Disability Pension, the Carer Payment, family payments these were pushed through the House of Representatives late on Tuesday night.

So all the experience that people on different forms of income support have with the Abbott Government is that this Government wants to cut their payments. That’s why we are so concerned about what this review really means.

ALISON CARABINE: But shouldn’t those Budget measures be separated from any reform process that any reform process the Government might adopt. The current architecture is complex, 20 payments, 55 supplements; would the system work more effectively if all of these benefits were streamlined into just four main categories?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well there is no question, of course we would support simplification if and only if it is really is about making it easier for people to understand and not if its cover for further cuts to people on Disability Support Pension or the Carer Payment for example.

We’ve seen the Abbott Government over the last six months demonise people with disability to the extent that I now get email after email from people who have disabilities who are so frightened because of the way the Abbott Government describes people.

It’s a complete disgrace to say to people with a disability that for some reason they choose to be on a disability support payment. It is not easy living on $20,000 a year and people with disability deserve our support not our demonisation, which is what they’re getting from Tony Abbott.

ALISON CARABINE: But the Disability Support Pension is certainly in the frame when it comes to the McClure Welfare Review, is there a case for the DSP being reserved only for those who are permanently disabled.

JENNY MACKLIN:  I just want to remind your listeners how difficult it is already to get on the DSP you have to be assessed to be unable to work for 15 hours a week or more and you also have to have done what is called a program of support and that means is that you have to have tried to find work for 18 months before you can get on the Disability Support Pension.

The rate at which people are granted the DSP has come down dramatically over the last few years, it isn’t easy to get on and it’s certainly not easy to survive on the Disability Support Pension and yet this report is proposing what they call a tiered payment system. In plane language that means some people will be taken off the DSP and Carers Payment it seems and put on a lower payment that means less money to live on for people that have a disability.

ALISON CARABINE: And you were the Minister who tightened eligibility for the DSP but the Minister says that the real problem is that it’s become a set and forget once people are on the DSP there is no incentive for them to ever get off it. Doesn’t the community expect any person who is work capable should go out get a job if indeed the right support structure is in place?

JENNY MACKLIN: And of course everybody wants that and most importantly people with disability wants support to get work where they can.

If there were all these jobs available for people with disability, do you think people with disability would stay living on $20,000 a year if they had an option? So many of them would love to work and what we’d like to see is more support going to people with disability to help them get work.

Labor had to remove the cap that the previous Liberal Government had put on the Disability Employment Program; there was a long queue of people waiting to get support to get back to work when we came into Government.

Now of course there is more that can be done to help people get into to work we want to do that, but we’re not going to bludgeon people let alone demonise people with disability who want help to get back to work.

ALISON CARABINE: We heard from Patrick McClure earlier on the program he says about 30 per cent of people on the DSP suffer mental health conditions, those illnesses can be episodic meaning that a person may be able to work.

Was it your experience when you were the Minister that there are not too many employers who are willing to take on people in these situations?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well nowhere near enough employers will take on people in those situations. And of course we do want to see as much effort as possible go into working with employers to encourage them to take people on and to recognise that some disabilities are as you describe episodic that does mean that we do need to provide extra help to the person with mental illness and also to those employers who may be willing to take people on. It’s a difficult area and one that really does require new approaches.

ALISON CARABINE: Jenny Macklin the McClure Review is also proposing income management for certain groups of welfare recipients maybe young job seekers, young single parents for example. When in Government you trialled income management in a number of disadvantaged areas, you said it was delivering key benefits. Is that still your view?

JENNY MACKLIN: Yes it is, there is certainly some evidence that income management can help some very vulnerable groups and it’s certainly been my experience that many people want the opportunity to volunteer for income management it can help people manage their finances, make sure that their rent is paid for example. So as long as there is plenty of support around people when income management is made available it certainly can be helpful.

ALISON CARABINE: ACOSS is of the view that income management is social engineering also that it’s expensive. If the Coalition tried to roll out welfare quarantines across the country from what you’ve told me the Labor Party would support that measure.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I doubt the Government would roll it out across the country its right that is very expensive but of course it’s also very expensive where you’ve got groups of young children for example who are not attending school regularly so we have to get the balance right of making sure it’s made available where it can really help families, where we can make sure children do get to school on a regular basis. So I think it’s a matter of making sure that it’s put in place in those areas and for those people where it will have the most benefit.

ALISON CARABINE: Jenny Macklin just finally you’ve mentioned that the Government is guilty of demonising disabled people, if we could go back to the DSP. Some media has depicted disability pensioners as slackers, rorters and even jihadists. Do you think that we are seeing the deliberate demonisation or demonising of people with disability in this country also by the media?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I certainly think there is plenty of evidence of that demonisation. But can I just end on a very positive note Alison, tomorrow is the first birthday of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, I think this demonstrates that there is a very strong desire in the Australian community to make sure that people with disability their carers and families get the care and support that they need. And I just want to say to everyone involved in making this first year a success my huge congratulations.

ALISON CARABINE: Jenny Macklin, enjoy the birthday cake, thanks very much for your time.