Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Disability Support Pension reforms, solar panels – Leon Byner on 5AA

Program: Leon Byner on 5AA

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LEON BYNER: Well, let’s talk to a lady who is responsible for what will be a major review of disability pensions. It’s Jenny Macklin. Jenny thanks for your time.

JENNY MACKLIN: My pleasure.

LEON BYNER: Now there are going to be in your complete revamp of DSPs, Disability Pensions, what you’re going to do in effect there’ll be 1500 people who didn’t get the pension but will, but there’ll be 3500 who are getting it who won’t, why?

JENNY MACKLIN: Yes. What we’re doing Leon is making the disability support pension fairer. So for those people who are quite clearly disabled and unable to work, we want to make it easier for them to actually get on to the disability support pension rather than having to go through all the hoops they have to go through when it’s patently obvious how disabled they are. But as you would be aware at the other end of the spectrum it’s often not so clear and so we want to make sure that we improve the out of date impairment tables and really measure accurately how a person’s impairment affects their ability to work.

LEON BYNER: Isn’t part of the problem Jenny, and I’m sure you’d acknowledge this, that both sides of the political fence have tended to put people on these pensions when really they probably shouldn’t have gone on them in the first place?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think it is the case that we’re dealing with a very very out of date system. The impairment tables that we’re using haven’t been comprehensively reviewed since 1993 and as you can imagine there’s been a lot of medical and rehabilitation changes since then. So we certainly need to make sure that they’re up to date, that’s the job that we’ve begun. But we do have to make sure that the disability support pension is there for people who need it but of course we want to encourage people who are able to work to in fact get and hold a job that’s appropriate for them because of course they’ll be better off if that happens.

LEON BYNER: Can we get rid of the practice of Centrelink having to go to people who have shown that there is a profound problem where they’ll always have a disability, and yet they’re asked to pretend, well let’s say we didn’t know any of this and go through the whole process again? For me, I think that would be very demeaning to any person who is very disabled.

JENNY MACKLIN: I get that complaint so regularly particularly from parents of children who are very very severely disabled and whose disability unfortunately is just not going to improve. And you might be aware that Chris Bowen, who’s the Minister for Human Services, is looking at a whole range of ways to improve the delivery of service to people who are long term recipients of support from the Government. So I hope this is one of the areas that we can improve because like you I get a lot of complaints from people about it.

LEON BYNER: Jenny, when will we notice any difference?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ll notice a difference in the measures that I’m talking to you about from 2012-13. As you can imagine there’s quite a bit of work to be done. We’ve got a group of doctors working on the medical issues, getting independent advice about making sure that we get these impairment claims right. So that work has to happen within Centrelink so that we can then implement it and we expect it to be in place by 2012-13.

LEON BYNER: On the matter of people being deemed to have an income if they’re feeding excess power via solar panels to the grid, I don’t have a problem with the Government doing that. The problem I’ve got is, you never told anybody.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well in fact as you would know it’s been a very long standing rule that if you have income then, and you’re on a pension, you have to declare it, and…

LEON BYNER: Yes but hang on, giving power to the grid, is absolutely…..

JENNY MACKLIN: This is not a new rule……

LEON BYNER: Well, no, no but Jenny that’s not the point. The Federal Government went out there and sold a concept. This was never, even with the Greenhouse Office, who give three or four thousand dollars, this is never, and has been never up until now, part of the calculation process. Now we’re told, oh but this has always been the case. Well it hasn’t been because it has not been calculated, promoted or mentioned?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well whenever people apply for a pension it’s made very clear to them that they have to report their income and if ……

LEON BYNER: Yes but Jenny, people who lost …

JENNY MACKLIN: I understand the point you’re making…

LEON BYNER: People who lost you know rebatable power is not income.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well if they’re getting income back from the power company…

LEON BYNER: Okay, then why didn’t you tell people? Why didn’t you instruct the Greenhouse Office? Why didn’t you instruct, because out there in the market place where people are being encouraged to use solar panels, none of this is in the calculation, none of it?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, that’s because it is a long standing rule and just as with other income, we think it’s only fair that if you get income from rent, or if you get income from selling power back to a power company, it should be treated in a similar way.

LEON BYNER: Okay that’s fine, but it’s not, but Jenny the whole issue here is it was never talked about. It was just, you’re saying we should have just assumed it. And yet, were the kinds of encouragements out there in a prospectus ASIC would have the Government’s tail on this because it wasn’t mentioned. When you go out there and say invest $11,000, or $15 or $20,000 it is not fair to say, well you need to assume this, because most people trickling power into the grid wouldn’t see it normally as income. They would see it rebatable to get their power bills down. That’s the way it was promoted.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well and in fact the solar rebates themselves, the rebates are not counted as income for social security purposes, so that’s quite clear.

LEON BYNER: Well which is precisely the point that people will necessarily assume that if the rebate isn’t counted, then the trickling of power to save the money to amortise the cost over years isn’t either?

JENNY MACKKLIN: And I think the important thing to remember is how much money people are likely to earn. As you may know single pensioners are able to earn up to $142 a fortnight without affecting the amount of pension they receive. And they can still receive a part pension when they earn up to $1544 a fortnight. So I think we have to keep all of this in perspective.

LEON BYNER: Jenny thank you for your time.