Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Major welfare reforms – ABC Darwin with Julia Christensen

Program: Breakfast with Julia Christensen, ABC Darwin

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JULIA CHRISTENSEN: You might have woken up this morning and heard that welfare quarantining will be rolled out across the Northern Territory. Jenny Macklin is the Federal Minister for Family and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin good morning.

JENNY MACKLIN: Good morning Julia.

JULIA CHRISTENSEN: Who will be affected now, I mean obviously we’re accustomed to welfare quarantining in indigenous communities, prescribed communities, now who will be covered?

JENNY MACKLIN: The legislation that I’m introducing into the Federal Parliament this morning will introduce major reforms to the welfare system to enable a new approach to income management. And to pick up Ruth’s point, the person you’ve just had on the radio, it will enable us to introduce this into disadvantaged regions and for particular groups of welfare recipients right across Australia. So I think her point is a valid one, there are families and children who need this support in many parts of Australia. The approach will be a non-discriminatory approach and in the first instance it will be rolled out across the Northern Territory because the Northern Territory has such a concentration of very disadvantaged communities.

JULIA CHRISTENSEN: So can you explain who will be affected by this?

JENNY MACKLIN: Sure, it will apply to different groups of people. So if you’re under the age of 25 and you’ve been on either Newstart or Parenting Payment for example for more than three months then you’ll have 50 per cent of your welfare payments income managed. If you’re over 25 on the same payments but for longer than a year then the same income management arrangements will apply. Income management will apply to people who’ve been referred by child protection authorities to Centrelink where there’s evidence that income management would be in the interests of the children. And you may be aware that we’ve already implemented this approach across all of Perth and in the Kimberley in Western Australia. There’ll also be a final group who are assessed by Centrelink as needing the support of income management due to vulnerability that might have come about because of financial crisis, domestic violence or other forms of economic abuse.

JULIA CHRISTENSEN: So people on aged pensions it won’t apply to them, what about people with disability allowances?

JENNY MACKLIN: No it won’t apply to people on the aged pension or the disability support pension, except where Centrelink social workers, for example, recommend that these people are particularly vulnerable, if there’s evidence of economic abuse for example. We are also introducing a system of voluntary income management. This has also been introduced in the parts of Western Australia I previously mentioned. So people will be able to opt into income management and that’s certainly been very popular in parts of Western Australia where we’ve introduced it and there’ll be incentives for people once they’ve decided to come in to stay in the income management system.

JULIA CHRISTENSEN: So you’ve now decided that not just prescribed Aboriginal communities in the Territory but the whole of the Territory is disadvantaged. What evidence is there that people on welfare in the Territory, in Darwin city, in Katherine, in Palmerston, Nhulunbuy need their incomes managed, that they’re not managing their lives themselves?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think as Ruth just said to you on the radio before, there is evidence in many disadvantaged parts of Australia not just aboriginal communities, not just aboriginal people, where income management is a useful tool. It is a way in which we can see from the evidence we can make sure that more of people’s welfare money is spent on food, on clothes, making sure rent is paid, less money spent on gambling, less money spent buying alcohol. And all the evidence that we’ve collected from the Northern Territory but also from the start of the trials in Cape York and also in Western Australia is demonstrating to us that income management is a useful tool.

JULIA CHRISTENSEN: But that’s a pretty broad brush isn’t it to apply that to the whole of the community who might be on welfare payments for whatever reason, suggesting they’re not looking after their children well enough. Isn’t this surely about avoiding the difficulties that you face with the Racial Discrimination Act?

JENNY MACKLIN: No it’s not about that, and I should also mention that there are a whole range of objective evidence based exemptions that will apply. So take a family on Parenting Payment for example, if they are sending their children to school on a regular basis, no more than 5 unexplained absences then we’ll make sure that they can apply to be exempt from income management. So there’s a range of exemptions, we’ve listened very carefully to peoples views about income management and have responded to both the ideas and also the concerns that people have.

JULIA CHRISTENSEN: Pete wants to know what about the people on a Carers Pension will they have their income quarantined?

JENNY MACKLIN: No they won’t unless there’s evidence of particular vulnerability that might be as a result of domestic violence or economic abuse.

JULIA CHRISTENSEN: Mark has texted in to say this whole intervention is only happening in the NT because the states have the power to stop it, the NT does not. Chief Minister Paul Henderson says he supports your move, but do you think you’ll get the same support from other premiers?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we’ll be introducing this as part of federal legislation; it will go into the parliament this morning. These are changes to the welfare system, so they’re changes that the federal government will introduce to make sure that we can strengthen the welfare system, make sure more of the money that’s provided to people for the care of their children is actually spent in the interests of their children.

JULIA CHRISTENSEN: But do you have the power to do that in other states to make it a blanket situation?

JENNY MACKLIN: These are social security payments under federal legislation.

JULIA CHRISTENSEN: What about the impact on Territory businesses, I mean just about every business now would probably have to register with Centrelink in order to accept the Basics Card. We know that there was a lot of problems for some stores when it was introduced. How do you see it impacting on local businesses?

JENNY MACKLIN: It is true that when it was first introduced there were difficulties, it was a whole new way of doing things, I acknowledge that, but there’s been a lot of work done with businesses both in Darwin and in the regional cities as well. We now have hundreds of businesses, I think it’s around five or six hundred businesses in both the north, 500 businesses in the Territory, around 600 other businesses in other states of Australia that are using the Basics Card. We have a lot more experience in this area, of course it will mean that we’ll need to work with more businesses, but I think we’ve got some more experience under our belt in this regard now.

JULIA CHRISTENSEN: I guess at the end of the day the question is how will welfare quarantining, the income of someone on a Newstart allowance let’s say after six months, how will that help them get a job and get off welfare?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well it’s really about in some circumstances helping people manage their money, helping people make sure that they pay their rent so that they don’t get evicted from their house for example or their flat, how we make sure that they enrol in financial management and get the support they need to get their bills paid. So there’s a whole range of practical evidence of the benefits of income management.