Major welfare reforms – 5AA Mornings with Leon Byner
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JENNY MACKLIN: First of all, good morning Leon, and happy Christmas to you and all of your listeners as well. You’re right that we have introduced this approach in some parts of Australia. Maybe if I just use an example from Perth. We’ve put in place in Western Australia in the suburbs of Perth and in the Kimberley, two approaches. One is that parents can decide to voluntarily sign up for income management; or alternatively, if the child protection authorities in Western Australia decide that it would be good for the children that their parents’ welfare payments are income managed, then they can recommend that be done. But I’ve got this example of a mother in a Perth suburb where she decided to put her hand up because she just couldn’t manage her money, kept struggling to pay her bills on time, and would find herself at the end of the first pension week running out of money instead of getting through the two weeks. She found that with financial counselling and the help of income management, half of her money being kept aside by Centrelink for food and for school things like you said and for other things the children needed, then by the end of the fortnight she was no longer struggling to pay her bills. So that’s a practical application of income management. She says it has really turned her life around. And we’ve of course got the experience in the Northern Territory where we’ve now got around 15,000 people on income management. Plenty of people, especially mothers, saying it is helping them make sure that they can put food on the table.
LEON BYNER: What do you say to the Australian Council of Social Services’ comment, Clare Martin, who says the move to roll this out is unfair and un-Australian?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think it’s important to look at the evidence and to look at those families who really have benefited from income management. In the Northern Territory we’ve done a survey of the stores in remote communities where we know children were not eating enough. And more food is now being purchased, children are eating more, less money is being spent on alcohol and gambling. But this is according to the Aboriginal people that we’ve just done a huge consultation with, so it’s not me saying it, it’s them saying that it is benefiting their lives. And my view is, let’s look at the evidence, look at what people are saying, listen to how people who know they have been having trouble managing their money. Too many people have said to me they want this to happen for me to ignore them. And in the end the most significant responsibility I have is especially to the children in these families to make sure they’ve got the basics.
LEON BYNER: Jenny, a couple of people have rung and asked this question, and it’s a good one. Could anybody now, anywhere in Australia, as a result of these changes, could they opt in to this financial management scheme?
JENNY MACKLIN: They can go into a system called Centrepay now. So you can anywhere around Australia, say you’re a pensioner and you’d like some help paying bills, making sure that you’ve got the money there when you need the bills paid. Centrepay is a system that Centrelink already has but as a result of this legislation, we’ve just put this legislation into the Parliament so it’s got to get through early next year, but obviously I hope it will get the support of the Opposition. We’ll start in the Northern Territory because we’ve got so many disadvantaged communities in the Territory.
LEON BYNER: So let me get this clear, when you bring this in it will be up to you to declare a region or suburb as one of hardship?
JENNY MACKLIN: That’s right, or serious disadvantage.
LEON BYNER: Okay, and if you do that does that mean that all people that live in that suburb automatically get taken up by this? Or is it only those that you sight that have a problem?
JENNY MACKLIN: Only particular groups of people. So the groups that we’re saying in the Northern Territory will be in the system are those people who are long-term unemployed. So if you’re over the age of 25, if you’ve been out of the workforce for more than twelve months, if you’re a parent and you’ve been on parenting payment for more than a year, and you’re not doing the right thing by your children. We recognise that for many people on parenting payments, they are doing the right thing by their kids. They do get them to go to school. But where they’re not, when they’re not getting them to go to school, they will have 50 per cent of their welfare payments income managed. Now for younger ones, people under the age of 25, we are saying if you’ve been on unemployment benefits or parenting payment for more than three months, you’ll be income managed because we’re very concerned that for young people, disengagement starts very quickly, and we want to get in there and help people as soon as we can.
LEON BYNER: Jenny thanks for joining us.
JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you Leon.