Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Productivity Commission Issues Paper on Disability Care and Support, income management – Sky PM Agenda

*** E & OE – Proof only ***

KIERAN GILBERT: The Government has received the Productivity Commission report issues paper into the idea of a National Disability Insurance Scheme.

The Community Services Minister, Jenny Macklin, is responsible for that area, and I spoke to her a little earlier in the day about that issue, the polls, and the other matters of the day.

Jenny Macklin, thank you very much for joining us on PM Agenda. Before we get into the issue of the disability issues paper from the Productivity Commission, I want to ask you about your sense at the moment of the politics. What’s your – what’s the mood like, what’s the sense towards the prime minister as you get out and about around Australia?

JENNY MACKLIN: The most important thing right now is that the public understand that we’ve brought down a budget that is going to deliver the budget back to surplus within three years. Three years earlier than was expected.

And I think the other thing as I go around, particularly as we’re seeing the opening of new school buildings, is people really understand how much we’ve done to really protect Australia from the global financial crisis.

And especially this week’s Family’s Week, what’s the best thing I think we have done for families, it’s that we’ve really made sure we do everything possible to protect people’s jobs.

So, I think people do understand that. They do also recognise that we have had to make some tough decisions on quite a few issues. That’s what governments have to do. And I think when you get down to it, these fundamental economic issues are understood by people.

KIERAN GILBERT: But what about the sense towards the prime minister though? You travel a lot in your job as a Cabinet minister, have you noticed any mood change? It’s certainly showing up in the polls that people have gone off the PM.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think you’d recognise that as we get closer and closer to an election it does always get – my long experience in politics – it always gets closer, so I don’t think that what we’re seeing now is all that unusual. I think it always gets very competitive when you can feel the election coming down.

KIERAN GILBERT: But you’re also seeing some numbers improve for Julia Gillard. People are taking a real – an incredible look at her. Is it now…

JENNY MACKLIN: I think you guys are really stirring the pot on this one, if you don’t mind me saying. I think that the public really like the fact that we’ve got a really great leadership team. We’ve got two people get on very very well together.

We don’t have the John Howard, Peter Costello problem. We’ve got Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. They like each other, they get on well together, and they’re the team that I have absolutely no doubt will take us to the election.

KIERAN GILBERT: We’ve got a lot of important other issues I want to get to, but just finally, is it now certain though that Julia Gillard is next in line?

JENNY MACKLIN: Look, I’m not going to get into any of that sort of speculation, because it’s all in the collective media head, but I don’t think it’s where the public’s at, and it’s certainly not where we’re at. What we’re on about is addressing the biggest issues that the economy has faced since the Great Depression.

It’s been a very tough couple of years, particularly for the economics ministers, but there are many, many other issues that the Government’s focused on, like the Disability Insurance Scheme that we’ll talk about in a minute.

KIERAN GILBERT: Yeah, well I want – let’s move onto that now, because a lot of our viewers are very interested in this report. Many people, you know, hanging for the outcome of this report – carers, families with disabled children, and so on.

Give us the crux of this Productivity Commission report. Is it – does it endorse a National Disability Insurance Scheme?

JENNY MACKLIN: The first issues paper from the Productivity Commission – we asked the Productivity Commission to do this major inquiry into the feasibility of a Disability Insurance Scheme. The first time any government has looked at such a major change to the way we fund our disability system.

So this is the first step. The Productivity Commission will now hold public hearings. There will be the opportunity for people to put submissions. We expect to get the final reporting from the inquiry next year, so in 2011.

But it is a really important step forward, because people who have a disability themselves, or their families, their carers, really have been wanting a major rethink about how we fund and deliver services and support to people with disabilities.

When we first came into government a couple of years ago, we signed a new disability agreement with the states and territories, and we significantly expanded funding. You know, we increased the Disability Support Pension last year.

But we’re the first to acknowledge that there’s a lot more to be done and we really do need a major rethink in how disability services are both funded and delivered.

KIERAN GILBERT: The report doesn’t sound all that optimistic in parts. I want to read a little bit of it to you – page 12 of this issues paper. It says: it may be difficult to fully meet all the communities’ objectives of a new scheme, reflecting the need for any scheme to be financially sustainable and practical.

Does that mean that it’s unlikely that there will be a National Disability Insurance Scheme given the sentiment, as I say, isn’t that all optimistic from the Commission?

JENNY MACKLIN: No, I don’t think you can jump to that conclusion at all. What I think they’re saying is that this is a huge issue for our country. Anyone who has a disability, any carer, any parent, anyone who’s close to this issue, really does understand the huge task that the Productivity Commission has been asked to do, the huge unmet need that many, many parents, carers, people with disability face.

So we don’t underestimate the task we’ve taken on, but we can’t just sit by any longer and think that we can just keep putting money into a system that really isn’t effectively delivering for people with disability.

KIERAN GILBERT: You say that people with disability, the carers, such a large section of the community have waited so long, but they’re going to have to wait a bit longer now, aren’t they, because this final report won’t be back to government until July 2011?

That’s well beyond the next election and that doesn’t even factor in the Government’s response. That’s just when this report’s going to be finalised.

JENNY MACKLIN: I think people do understand that this is a very, very big idea and does need to be carefully worked through. So those who have been campaigning for a disability insurance scheme understand it has to be done properly but, of course, we haven’t sat around and done nothing in the meantime.

We have significantly expanded the amount of money going into disability services. We’ve changed the indexation of the disability agreement. It’s now around six per cent. Much, much better than it was under the previous government.

And of course, if you’re a single person on the disability support pension, relying on that pension for your standard of living, since September last year and the increases as a result of indexation this year, people are getting just over $100 extra a fortnight in their pocket.

So we have certainly made some improvements but, as I said, we’re – we acknowledge that we really do need to do the hard policy thinking now, with the support of the Productivity Commission, to really rethink how we deliver to people with a disability and their carers.

KIERAN GILBERT: What about the prospect of an increase in the Medicare levy? Is that a way – a viable way according to the Commission, to fund such a scheme?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well that’s an issue that they’ve raised in the issues paper today. Of course there are many other options that they also pursue in the issues paper. As to which one they’ll finally recommend we’ll have to wait and see.

KIERAN GILBERT: Just one final question. For the community that you have a lot of dealings with, the carers, the disabled, how should they feel today? Are we a step closer to an insurance – a national, no fault, social insurance approach to disability?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I’ve just been down at Yooralla to talk with people who are delivering very important services to people with disability. They run an employment service, a training service. There were people there, some older people with disabilities who are very excited about the prospects of change.

There was a lady there who wanted me to recognise that there are people with disabilities who are getting older themselves and who want to maintain their independence. There were little children there with their parents who are so frustrated at the moment with the system.

So all of them are very pleased to see this first step in the Productivity Commission inquiry process. The release of this issues paper really sets out the huge range of matters that the Productivity Commission has in front of them, but also opens the way for people to put their point of view to the Productivity Commission over the next little while.

KIERAN GILBERT: But still no guarantees from the Government?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well of course we’ve asked them to do this very important piece of work. No one else has ever opened this topic before.

We very much look forward to receiving the Productivity Commission’s report when they finish it next year.

KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, just a final issue. The government is playing the roll out income management across the Northern Territory’s Indigenous communities but a report from…

JENNY MACKLIN: Not just, not just indigenous communities.

KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, right across the NT, but a report at the moment, Darwin-based Menzies School of Health Research says that it’s not working in the indigenous communities where you have introduced it already, that there’s been no change in consumption of – in consumption trends of tobacco, unhealthy foods and so on.

JENNY MACKLIN: This is a study that was done in 10 communities in the Northern Territory, 10 communities that, as I understand it, were already dry so didn’t have alcohol sold in those communities.

What we’ve done in addition to that is publish an inquiry or an analysis of work that was done in 66 different stores across the Northern Territory and in the majority of those stores, just under 70 per cent of those store owners, said that they had seen an improvement in the amount of fruit and veggies being bought, dairy products, meat products being bought by Aboriginal people after the introduction of income management.

We’ve also done a very extensive level of consultation with thousands of people across 70 communities in the Northern Territory. Once again, not everybody agrees with income management but the majority of Aboriginal people that we spoke with in those consultations do want to see income management continued, but they don’t want it to be discriminatory.

Their point is we find it useful for us to help us with managing our welfare payments, we find it helps us put more food on the table for our children. So we do intend to continue to roll out income management in a non-discriminatory way so it applies right across the Northern Territory.

KIERAN GILBERT: It’s obviously not working everywhere if this Menzies School of Health Research data is accurate.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think you’ve got to look at all the different pieces of information that we have available to us. We have a very extensive consultation that we undertook. We’ve got other surveys of stores that were – that we’ve looked at.

So we’ve taken all this information into account. We recognise how important it is to support people who are on welfare payments to manage their money to make sure that the fundamental purpose of these welfare payments is met. That is that food is put on the table for their children, that their rent is paid, that their children go to school.

That’s the clear focus we have in delivering income management across the Northern Territory.

KIERAN GILBERT: Jenny Macklin, as always thanks for your time.