Interview with Leon Byner, 5AA Mornings Adelaide
Subject: Parenting payments, National Disability Insurance Scheme, state governments taking allowances from pensioners.
LEON BYNER: When decisions are made and we understand that whether it’s a state or federal situation, budgets are tight, we understand that. But, we have a concern that has been sent to us by a lot of people, and that is that single parents believe that being put on Newstart, rather than a parenting payment, is going to set them back. Now, I have an article in front of me which suggests that an education and a car, two things that most people would say are important when looking for a good job. For mother of one, Nancy Sarpi, these are two things at risk under a Government plan to get welfare recipients into work. Now, the full-time student and mother of eleven-year-old Michael says, it will cost her about a hundred a week and make her question a plan to specialise in Medication Management. The significant drop in income, would most likely mean that she would have to give up her car, a necessity of course to get to a job, from her home in an outer-suburban suburb. Now, Jenny Macklin is with us, welcome Jenny.
JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you Leon.
LEON BYNER: Now, a lot of people are going to be affected by this, and I know you want to get them into work, but do you acknowledge; this is going to impede their ability to do what they do best, and that’s look after their kids and be useful in the community.
JENNY MACKLIN: Well the evidence from the changes that were made back in 2006 when this first started, this change first started back then, is that in fact more people have gone off unemployment benefits and into work, so around 70 per cent of people have really seen a benefit and I do think that when we think about what the main purpose of these changes is, it is to encourage people to do everything they possibly can to both get an education, and then get a job, and the evidence certainly is that that’s happened. I think one of the things I just really need to clarify here, Leon, is this change was first made in 2006, it affects around 320,000 people, but around 120,000 of those people were, what we call ‘grandfathered’, so they weren’t affected back in 2006. So we have had two sets of rules for the same type of family, and we didn’t think that was fair, so we’ve basically said we should have the same rules for people whose children – whose youngest child is now eight, by this stage we want to encourage people back into the workforce.
LEON BYNER: It does appear that two separate Parliamentary Committees have urged the Government to delay the changes until a separate inquiry on the adequacy of Newstart concludes.
JENNY MACKLIN: I think that’s a separate question, and yes, you’re right, these issues have been raised. The issue of the adequacy of Newstart is a question a lot of people are talking about, and one that I think there’s a lot of people in the community would like to see thought about. But, there’s a separate question in relation to single parents, and of course, they aren’t reliant entirely on unemployment benefits, they also receive Family Tax Benefits, if their children are in childcare they get very extensive support for childcare fees –
LEON BYNER: So for those people who say, ‘Ms Macklin, I might lose my vehicle over this’, your response is ‘well that’s a price you’ll have to be prepared to pay’.
JENNY MACKLIN: Well, I wouldn’t put it like that –
LEON BYNER: How would you put it?
JENNY MACKLIN: I’m really saying to people, you’re always better off working, and one of the changes we’ve made to make sure that’s the case, is that we are going to make sure that people can keep more of what they earn, so people will be able to keep up to $400 extra a fortnight if they do get into work.
LEON BYNER: Dennis, good morning, you’re talking with Jenny Macklin.
DENNIS: Jenny, I’m speaking on behalf of individuals with disabilities who live in community housing. The Government, your Government, is giving them an allowance of up to $121 a fortnight, what the state is doing is starting to take that money back for themselves and within two years, the supplement will be back to nought.
LEON BYNER: Okay, Jenny, you’ve got a response to that, I know.
JENNY MACKLIN: Yes Leon, and thank you for that question, Leon and I have talked about this issue a number of times –
LEON BYNER: But is the government of the state, taking money intended for a purpose, for which they’re putting the hand in the pocket?
JENNY MACKLIN: Yes, there’s two separate parts to this, one is a change that we made to pensions some time ago, so we increased the pension back in 2009 and we did say to all of the states back then, ‘this money is for pensioners, it’s not for state housing authorities’, and that’s still my view, I’ve made it very clear to all state governments that that’s the case.
LEON BYNER: So who’s playing ball and who’s not? Are we playing ball, we’re not?
JENNY MACKLIN: No.
LEON BYNER: We’re not playing ball?
JENNY MACKLIN: No, not on the original pension increase, but on the most recent increase that people would have received as a part of the introduction of the Carbon Price, the South Australian Government is doing the right thing, and is not counting that increase to the supplement in public housing rents.
LEON BYNER: Okay, so you’ve still got them in the gun for the first take –
JENNY MACKLIN: For the first one, that’s exactly right –
LEON BYNER: As the Federal Government, do you have no leverage to encourage them?
JENNY MACKLIN: All we’ve been able to do is encourage them. I did make sure that we put the increase for the compensation for the Carbon Price into the pension supplement to make sure that state governments didn’t take it, and as I say, the South Australian Government has done the right thing on this occasion.
LEON BYNER: So, are you still going to – (inaudible), (laughs)
JENNY MACKLIN: I keep pressing them on the point, I can’t do much more than that.
LEON BYNER: Okay, on the National Disability Scheme, you still haven’t worked out how you’re going to pay for it, have you?
JENNY MACKLIN: We have started, so in this year’s budget we have at the Commonwealth’s level allocated an additional $1 billion for the first stage of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The Productivity Commission, in its big report to us, did recommend that we would need to launch the scheme in a number of places, that we wouldn’t be able to do it right across the country all at once – we just don’t have the workforce, for starters, so here in South Australia, as you’d be aware, the State Government is also putting some additional money in, on top of the extra that the Commonwealth’s providing.
LEON BYNER: So who listening today, who has, or is looking after somebody with a disability, will be able to get something from this scheme, that they can’t currently get in any other way? Who’s eligible, and when?
JENNY MACKLIN: It will start here in South Australia from July next year, in the first round it will start with little children, so children aged nought to four. In the following year it will include children up to the age of thirteen and then the year after that, it will include the next age group, the fourteen-year-olds. So that’s how it will start here in South Australia.
LEON BYNER: Alright, Lorraine’s got a question, Lorraine you’re talking with Jenny Macklin.
LORRAINE: I don’t have a question, I’d like to tell the Minister something.
LEON BYNER: Sure.
LORRAINE: We started off with they didn’t start – the housing trust didn’t start taking money off us pensioners until 2011, I think the first rise your Government, it’s obvious that the cost of living has got higher because we’ve had higher rises in the money that you’ve been giving us, only problem is – we’re not seeing it. We had $13 I think and ten cents in March of 2011, they took $20 off of me and I presume everybody else as well. In September, I think it was $19.50, they took $20, they took nothing in March this year, because it was a smaller amount –
JENNY MACKLIN: That’s right.
LORRAINE: – I think it was around $6 or $7, they took nothing. Before the rise even came on the first of September we didn’t receive our full payment until last pension, last Thursday, and the housing trust had already taken another $20, so since the beginning of 2011, as a single pensioner now because I have a husband in a nursing home, who I have to go and visit, I have to keep the car on the road myself to take him to medical appointments and everything else. I’m also a disabled person myself and they’ve actually taken $60 off of me since they started taking it, they were allowing me, because my husband was in a nursing home, they were allowing me a gap of $12. But they decided to scrap that.
LEON BYNER: Jenny, what do you say about that?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well, that’s exactly why we wanted the increase that you would have received from 2009 to go to you, not to increase public housing rents, and you’re right, it didn’t start straight away, the State Government here did do the right thing for a little while but then changed their minds. I’ll continue to put the pressure on –
LEON BYNER: So there’s nothing you can do? Nothing.
JENNY MACKLIN: It’s really not within my power, the state governments’ set public housing rents so we have asked them, I have asked them repeatedly-
LEON BYNER: Yes, but – they do, but you pay for a particular intended purpose.
JENNY MACKLIN: That’s right…
LEON BYNER: If they then assume the purpose to be different to your intention, surely that’s a matter for you.
JENNY MACKLIN: Well, all I can do is provide the additional pension, which we have done and we continue to do, and your listeners would have seen in September another increase to the pension.
LEON BYNER: Do you trust the South Australian Government?
JENNY MACKLIN: I do –
LEON BYNER: You do?
JENNY MACKLIN: – I do
LEON BYNER: After they have done this?
JENNY MACKLIN: I do in the main, and we were talking a few minutes ago about the Disability Insurance Scheme and we’re working very closely with the South Australian Government –
LEON BYNER: Yeah, but on this other matter though, where money is taken where it shouldn’t be?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well obviously I’ve been, as you know very well –
LEON BYNER: Isn’t that a breach of trust?
JENNY MACKLIN: As you know, I’ve been very cross about it –
LEON BYNER: But isn’t that a breach of trust?
JENNY MACKLIN: It’s certainly a breach of the agreement that we’ve had, and they know how I feel about it.
LEON BYNER: Alright, Julie McDonald has called in, good morning.
JULIE MCDONALD: Yes good morning Leon –
LEON BYNER: Julie is from the Tenant’s Association of South Australia.
JULIE MCDONALD: I’m from the Housing Trust Tenant’s Association, that gentleman that called in first, I assume he’s talking about the rent release that you pay him, is that right?
JENNY MACKLIN: It’s quite possible –
JULIE MCDONALD: Yeah, that’s what he’s talking about, and what’s going on in this state is; out government are tipping over some 15,000 of our public houses to these community groups,
JENNY MACKLIN: Right.
JULIE MCDONALD: Who are then forcing tenants to apply for rent releases for leased-out public housing and this is what’s going on. The state government are actually going to shed public housing so that you have to subsidise it, and not them anymore, and that’s what he’s talking about – those community housing tenants have been keeping that rent release and now community housing are now taking it, which is fair really, because public housing tenants don’t get it but they’re subsidised by the state. Are you aware that that is what’s going on, that they are actually shedding their responsibility of public housing, and forcing the Federal Government to now subsidise our state housing?
JENNY MACKLIN: There’s certainly, right across Australia, this is not just happening in South Australia as I’m sure you’re aware –
JULIE MCDONALD: Yes.
JENNY MACKLIN: There is an increase in the number of people who are going into community housing and in some cases, it’s the state governments that are transferring some of their stock into community housing. In some instances, that’s not a bad thing, because people in some circumstances prefer that. So I’m sure you’re aware that there are different situations for different people.
LEON BYNER: Jenny, thanks for coming in, time is against us, what are you doing – you’ve got to meet with the Government today?
JENNY MACKLIN: No, I’m actually going out to Novita to talk with them about the services that they provide and how they’re getting ready for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
LEON BYNER: So you’re not going to talk to the state government at all?
JENNY MACKLIN: Not today.
LEON BYNER: You’re not snubbing them are you? (laughs)
JENNY MACKLIN: (laughs), I’m not, no I’m not.
LEON BYNER: Jenny, good to see you and hope to see you before Christmas.
JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you.