Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Productivity Commission Draft Report into long term disability care support – Doorstop, Canberra

Joint Doorstop with

Bill Shorten MP, Assistant Treasurer

*** E & OE – Proof only ***

JENNY MACKLIN: I would like to thank everyone for joining us here today. Our Parliamentary colleague, Senator McLucas would have liked to have been with us today but unfortunately she’s not well, so she sends her apologies. I am very pleased to be here with my Ministerial colleague, Bill Shorten, the Assistant Treasurer.

Today we’re very pleased to be welcoming the Productivity Commission Report on Disability Insurance and Catastrophic Insurance Schemes. It is the case the Government asked the Productivity Commission to do this major piece of work because we knew that a major rethink was necessary in this area. We do understand that there are many, many Australians with disability and their carers who are doing it very tough, many people who are very disadvantaged. So we thank the Productivity Commission for their draft report and of course, look forward to the consultations and discussions that will happen over the next few months and to the receipt of the final report in July. When the Government receives that final report we will of course respond and consider it very carefully.

We do understand that a big reform like this will take time and in fact the Productivity Commission’s draft report recognises that the current system that we have in Australia is very complicated. So bringing about change will take time. We also understand how important it is for people with disability and their carers that we get any change right. We want to make sure that people with disability and their carers get the support that they need, that of course, it’s economically sustainable, that it encourages early intervention, and that it also supports people with disability and their carers participating in the workforce and in our community to the extent that they are able. So we welcome the report and we look forward to a very productive discussion around Australia over the next few months on these very significant recommendations.

JOURNALIST: During the election campaign Julia Gillard said that the status quo is not acceptable, is that still your position?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well that’s why we asked the Productivity Commission to do this major piece of work. We understood that we needed a major rethink in the area of disability support, that’s why we’re getting them to do this work. So we appreciate the work that’s been done so far. This is of course a draft today but we look forward to everybody looking at the recommendations seriously and we’ll look forward to the final report in July.

JOURNALIST: The Commission say that the whole system faces a death spiral and wants it dealt with starting from 2014, what chances are there of a $6.3 billion scheme starting from the next three or four years?

JENNY MACKLIN: This is a very significant amount of money, we understand that. But we also understand how important it is to get this right. That’s why, I’ll say again, that’s why we asked the Productivity Commission to do this piece of work. Since we’ve been in Government we have put disability policy on the national agenda. We, in our first term, significantly increased the funding to the States and Territories for disability support services. Of course, we’ve delivered a major improvement to the disability support pension and to carer payments, we’ve delivered a carer supplement. And in our election commitments we’ve indicated that we’ll expand the number of supported accommodation places and additional early intervention measures for children with disabilities. So we know that there’s a lot to be done. We’ve been delivering significant reform but we do appreciate the work the Productivity Commission’s done for us in this very important area.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you were the one who was pushing for a long time, how, are you happy with the format that they’re suggesting, and how do you feel about having to nominate areas for possibly funding cuts to fund it?

BILL SHORTEN: First of all I’d like to put on record my appreciation for the work of the Productivity Commission who report to me. The work of Patricia Scott, Ralph Latimore and John Walsh, I think is ground breaking work. It’s the first time we’ve seen this sort of serious economic research done. Having said that I think when we look at the report it’s a draft report, the final report’s not due till July. Having worked extensively with Senior Minister Macklin in the first term on disability, I’d make a couple of basic points about this whole disability debate.

First of all the Productivity Commission’s draft report doesn’t propose a full scheme until 2018, of course, it suggesting that you get a lot of the ground work first. So when people use large numbers let’s not see politics replace people in this debate. The Government needs to make sure that whatever is proposed has to be sustainable, it has to be feasible. But it was our Prime Minister before the election who said that the status quo isn’t working, that something needs to be done. So before we get into a debate about the dollars and the cents, I think that there’s two significant steps that have to be gone through first, and that’s without the step of waiting till July to see what happens. But the first thing is, what would a system look like? The Productivity Commission’s put some ideas up there but we have to make sure this system, if it was introduced, can serve the needs of people with disabilities.

I think the other thing to have a look at here is that there’s still a fair amount of work to be done about if we do nothing, what are the options? What’s the likely increase in expenditure under the current crazy quilt work patchwork system we have. I think this is a debate where Labor is moving in a timely fashion but not too quick. Disability and people with disabilities and their carers, there’s over a million people with severe or profound disability, there’s half a million full time carers, they know that’s it’s been this Government in the first term who’s increased the disability support pension $115 per fortnight. They know that carers payments have gone up $115 per fortnight. In addition, they know that we’ve increased the money that we provide to the States.

This report is significant, it’s ground breaking, but we have to make sure that we do it right in terms of improving the lot for people with disability and their carers so they can get an equal deal. So discussions about numbers to some extent is putting the cart before the horse. We’ve go to make sure the system works. We want to hear the voices of people with disability and carers. We want to see what they’re saying. We think there’s a huge productivity dividend. We think there are people falling through the cracks. This is, I believe, a proposition which, we owe it to people with disability to do it right and that means making sure we do it steadily.

JOURNALIST: How concerned are you that this will become another debate about a great big new tax to fund it?

BILL SHORTEN: Well in terms of this I, first of all, the Shadow Opposition seem to be making bipartisan noises. They recognise that Senator Fifield’s been out saying, oh well, we’ll have to have a look at the detail. So that’s a decent start, but beyond that, I think here it’s about making sure we get the system right and which would focus on people. The report, and I haven’t had a chance to study it’s 800 pages in depth, talks about models of individualised funding. It talks about what we’re doing in early intervention. It talks about the need to encourage participation. I think we’re a long way off having some sort of dog whistle debate about dollars and cents, and I think people with disability and carers want to see their Members of Parliament do this right and not do it wrong.

JOURNALIST: Does it make it easier politically that they haven’t suggested a levy?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think if you look at the recommendations in this draft report they look at a range of options for financing. Of course, they now will be the subject of considerable debate and discussion over the next few months, and we’ll look at their final recommendations when we get them in July.