Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Disability Support Pension, Impairment Tables – Interview with Nick Grimm, ABC News 24

Program: ABC News 24

*** E & OE – Proof only ***

NICK GRIMM: Thanks for joining us today Minister.

JENNY MACKLIN: Good morning Nick.

NICK GRIMM: As we heard, according to Centrelink, as many as 40 per cent of recipients could lose their disability support pensions under the changes that you’re announcing today. Now, do you believe that’s a realistic outcome?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well this is being done on the basis of advice that we’ve received from an independent group that we established, made up of medical experts, people who understand rehabilitation, disability advocates. They’ve made the recommendations to us to redesign the Impairment Tables that are used to assess people and their eligibility for the Disability Support Pension. So the new Impairment Tables are now public. People can look at them before we implement them on the 1st of January next year.

NICK GRIMM: Okay, but 40 per cent, four out of every 10 recipients of the Disability Support Pension will lose that pension. Do you agree that that’s what’s likely to happen?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I can only base my understanding on the evidence that has come from the independent advisory committee, and of course Centrelink have done an assessment based on their advice. What we’ll do now is make these Impairment Tables public. People can have a look at them. They will go the Senate inquiry that’s looking at this issue as well. So people have a little bit of time to assess the changes before we implement them on the 1st of January.

NICK GRIMM: Minister, 40 per cent, that’s almost one in two disability pensions, pensioners, will essentially be found capable of working. Now, in your view have those pensioners, have they been rorting the system, or at the very least, exploiting flaws in the system by claiming a disability pension?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well there are two things that need to be clear Nick. One is that this will start on the 1st of January for people who are eligible from the 1st of January. So not people who are currently on the Disability Support Pension, that’s a very important point to make first of all. And the second is of course we do need to make sure that the Impairment Tables keep up with medical and rehabilitation practice. The problem has been they haven’t been reassessed since 1993, these tables. And of course a lot of things have improved in that time. What we are going to do in future is make sure that the tables are regularly updated so we don’t have this long period of time when they’re not keeping up.

NICK GRIMM: But let’s be clear here the government is saying today that almost one in two disability pensioners aren’t…shouldn’t qualify for those pensions.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well people have been assessed under the existing Impairment Tables and of course they’ve gone through the proper process. What we’ve done over the last two years is get new medical and rehabilitation advice. Advocacy people have been involved from the disability sector. They are now advising us to change the Impairment Tables to better reflect what people can do. Like most people with disability, we want to support people who want to work and who can work. And we want to provide them with the support that they need to get work.

NICK GRIMM: Okay, what will the Government do to help with the transition for these people who will be losing their disability pensions?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well that’s the point that I’m making to you. This is about people in the future. So it’s people who will apply for the Disability Support Pension from the 1st of January next year. So for people who do have some capacity to work, we’ve significantly expanded the Disability Employment Service. We know how important it is to provide support to people with disabilities who want to work, and there are many, many people with disability who want the chance to work. We’ll give them the support to get that employment.

NICK GRIMM: Okay, can I also ask you about reports today that cigarette and alcohol prices are on their way up again. Are the price hikes that we are seeing at the moment, are they excessive given that they’re coming on top of other tax increases that are in the offing?

JENNY MACKLIN: I haven’t seen that report Nick, so you’ll have to ask the Health Minister about those issues.

NICK GRIMM: Okay this is the report in the Herald Sun today, that the price, the half-yearly tax price increases on cigarettes and alcohol – the so-called ‘sin taxes’ – are going up again at the moment. Now can I just ask you this, did Cabinet give any consideration to whether those price rises should have been put on hold, given the cost of living pressures that are on Australians at present?

JENNY MACKLIN: As I say, I haven’t seen that report, and of course I don’t talk about Cabinet discussions, but if you’d like further information about it I’m sure the Health Minister will give it to you.

NICK GRIMM: Okay, Jenny Macklin, in Melbourne, thank you very much for talking to us today.