Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Public housing rents and pension increase – ABC AM

Program: ABC AM

TONY EASTLEY: The Federal Government is upset over the levels of some executive salaries but a new dispute over payments has been opened up after some state governments announced they have plans to raise the rent on public housing, effectively stripping pensioners of recent hard-won increases.

The Federal Government says the rent hikes are unacceptable. The pension raise in the last Federal Budget came into effect last week with single pensioners $30 a week better off.

The states had proposed waiting 12 months before factoring that pension rise into public housing rents, a move that could see some pensioners lose up to $7.50 a week. But the Federal Government says that wait isn’t long enough and 12 months should be extended.

The Families, Housing and Community Services Minister, Jenny Macklin spoke to chief political correspondent, Lyndal Curtis, a short time ago.

JENNY MACKLIN: The Australian Government’s view is that pensioners in public housing should be getting the full value of this pension rise. They have waited a long time for this pension rise. It is very much deserved and we want it going into their purses and wallets, not gobbled up by rent.

LYNDAL CURTIS: But isn’t the case that the states have a percentage of pension income that they have for rent and that as pensions go up, this means that more money has to come out?

JENNY MACKLIN: The states had already agreed that for the first 12 months there wouldn’t be a rent rise as a result of this pension increase. Just last week as acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard wrote to the Queensland premier Anna Bligh as the head of the Council of the Australian Federation making it clear that the Australian Government does not believe that a 12 month wait is long enough.

We want to make sure that pensioners in public housing get the full value of this pension rise and from my point of view, it is totally unacceptable that the states are only allowing the full value of the pension rise to go for a year.

LYNDAL CURTIS: When did the states say that it would only be a year? Was that recently or was that something that had been agreed to by the Commonwealth before?

JENNY MACKLIN: No, the Commonwealth wrote to the Queensland Premier last week indicating that we do not believe that 12 months is long enough and I expressed my concern at the Housing Ministers’ meeting here in Melbourne on Friday that 12 months is not long enough and that discussions needed to continue.

We will continue to press the states to give pensioners in public housing more time to benefit from this value of the pension rise.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Do you have an idea how long you would like the states to hold off?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, I’d like it to be as long as possible. We want to make sure that pensioners in public housing get the value of this pension rise. I do not want to see it taken up by rent.

LYNDAL CURTIS: One of the states, in particular New South Wales, says that the money raised by the increase in the rent would go to funding housing for the homeless. Is the Commonwealth willing to make up some of that shortfall to give the states some extra money to cover more public housing if they need it?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, the Australian Government has just provided around $6 billion in additional funding to enable the states to build around 19,000 new units of public housing so they are getting a very big increase in funding from the Commonwealth for public housing.

This increase in pensions is for pensioners and should be allowed to flow through to pensioners, not be taken up by rent.

TONY EASTLEY: The Families, Housing and Community Services Minister, Jenny Macklin speaking there with Lyndal Curtis.