Welfare reform, Tony Abbott – 6PR Mornings with Simon Beaumont
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SIMON BEAUMONT: Well we’ve heard from a couple of our listeners, our friends from within the welfare system that there are some changes afoot on 1 July to the BasicsCard which is an identification card, a card used by Centrelink to quarantine welfare payments in certain situations. Jenny Macklin is the Minister for Community Services and joins me on the program now. Minister, thank you for your time this morning.
JENNY MACKLIN: No problem.
SIMON BEAUMONT: Now we’ve known for a period of time that there were some changes coming 1 July 2010. Can you tell us how the BasicsCard will work after that time?
JENNY MACKLIN: Sure. First of all, this legislation has to get through the Senate so we expect it to be debated in June and hopefully it will go through and be available to start on 1 July in the Northern Territory. So I think that’s the first thing to say to your listeners, is it has got to get through the Senate and then in the first instance, this will only apply in the Northern Territory to particular groups of people. I’ll go through that with you in a minute. But it won’t apply to other parts of Australia until we assess after the end of 2011 how it’s gone in the Northern Territory. So it’s not going to apply in Western Australia for a little while yet.
SIMON BEAUMONT: So it’s a trial first up Jenny. And it will be I guess we’ve talked about this system whereby Centrelink makes a ruling on the people who have their welfare payments quarantined. So they have this card, they can only apply for basic provisions. They can’t buy alcohol or tobacco or any you know any other dodgy stuff. But this may be extended such that people can opt in, is that right?
JENNY MACKLIN: The way, maybe if I describe the way it works in Western Australia right now. We’ve got an agreement with the Western Australian Government that if the Western Australian Child Protection Authorities recommend to Centrelink that it would be in the interests of a child that a parent on welfare have their welfare payments income quarantined or income managed, then the Child Protection Authorities can recommend that to Centrelink. But that applies at the moment in some parts of Western Australia, most of metropolitan Perth and the Kimberley. There is also a system as you were just referring then where people can volunteer and there certainly are people in WA who have volunteered and I’ve met some of them. They’ve been very happy with the system, it’s helped them learn to budget, help them manage to get their credit card payments and rent under control, those sorts of things. So there is a voluntary system in some parts of WA already.
SIMON BEAUMONT: Are people signing up for that Minister, are people opting in?
JENNY MACKLIN: Yes, there are.
SIMON BEAUMONT: Do you know how many?
JENNY MACKLIN: The last lot of numbers I saw were a couple of hundred. But the good thing is that people see it as a useful tool. And as I say, I’ve met quite a range of different people who’ve certainly found it helpful. But the people for whom it’s compulsory in Western Australia at the moment are only those people who have responsibility for children and who are recommended by the Child Protection Authorities where they think it would be in the interests of the child.
SIMON BEAUMONT: Okay. If, and I understand it’s a trial over the next financial year in the Northern Territory as you said. If this goes ahead this could include student allowances, and could include age pension and disability pension payments, is that right?
JENNY MACKLIN: No. No, that’s not right. The important thing is that it is aimed particularly at two groups and it doesn’t include age pensioners or those on the disability support pension, or those on student allowances. It’s really about saying to parents, so people who are on parenting payment for example, we want to make sure that your welfare payments are being spent in the best interests of your children, not on alcohol or gambling, those sort of things. And so it will apply to people who’ve been on benefits on either parenting payment or unemployment benefits for quite a period of time. But it won’t apply to those on the age pension or the disability support pension. If parents do the right thing, which they’re supposed to be doing anyway, get their children to school on a regular basis, then they’ll be able to apply to opt out of income management. We really do want to use this as a tool to support those parents who need to get their budgets in order, make sure they’re getting food on the table, make sure they are sending their children to school.
SIMON BEAUMONT: And just to clarify, because I’m basing that last question on some information sent to me by your office this morning, it quite clearly says in a press release from 2009 that pension payments, disability, parenting, mature age allowance, Austudy, all those things, could be triggers and could be income managed. It quite clearly says that.
JENNY MACKLIN: Only in the instance where that parent for example, where the grandparent who might be on a pension is looking after a child and therefore is recommended by the Child Protection Authorities that it would be in the interests of the child for that to happen. But it won’t systematically apply to the age pensioner or the disability support pension. If there was a case where a pensioner was particularly vulnerable Centrelink might step in but it won’t as a general rule apply to age pensioners or disability support pensioners.
SIMON BEAUMONT: Unless there’s a caring situation with a child in that situation.
JENNY MACKLIN: Or the age pensioner is particularly vulnerable.
SIMON BEAUMONT: Understood. Jenny thanks for that, appreciate you talking to us.
JENNY MACKLIN: No problem.
SIMON BEAUMONT: And just finally, I have to ask you as a senior Minister. Tony Abbott, did you see him on 7.30 Report last night?
JENNY MACKLIN: I did see him on the 7.30 Report last night and I’ve also just been sent a transcript of him on the radio today up in Cairns where he seems to have broken another one of his statements. He’s been asked this morning whether or not he would get rid of the means test on the baby bonus and he says, this is what he said today, that that’s not a commitment that he, Tony Abbott, can make. Well, yet another commitment that he’s made previously that he now thinks that he can just throw out the window. It does seem that Tony Abbott just can’t be believed at all.
SIMON BEAUMONT: All right, thanks. We’ll see what our listeners think. Thank you for talking to us today.
JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you.