Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Pension increases, unemployed, entitlements – Doorstop, Brisbane

*** E & OE – Proof only ***

JENNY MACKLIN: To everyone from Cerebral Palsy Queensland and this wonderful organisation here, thanks so much for having us here and we look forward to being shown around and visiting the other people who come here on a regular basis. It’s nice to be able to meet some of the carers who are here as well, parents who also will benefit of course from the changes that start today.

It is very pleasing to be able to let people know that this major change to the pension, a much deserved change, is going to apply to people with disabilities and to carers who are on the carer payment. We understand that people with disabilities who are on the disability support pension, carers on the carer payment, just like our age pensioners, needed an increase to their pension. And from today, pensioners will start to see this major pension rise flowing into their bank accounts. So if you’re a single pensioner on the disability support pension, if you’re a single pensioner on the maximum rate, then your pension will go up by just over $70 a fortnight. So we hope that this pension rise, the biggest change to the pension for 100 years will really make a difference to the lives of people with a disability, their carers, and of course, to age pensioners and our veterans on income support.

JOURNALIST: $70 a fortnight, when you’re considering the price of petrol, the price of food all going up, is $70 enough?

JENNY MACKLIN: One of the things that we’ve really heard from pensioners is that they not only wanted an increase which we are delivering, they also want to make sure that the value of their pension keeps pace with the increase in the cost of living. And so we’ve developed, or the Australian Bureau of Statistics has developed, a new pensioner living cost index and this time, since yesterday, for the first time, we’re indexing the pension by this new pensioner living cost index. That way we make sure that the pension keeps up with the pensioners living costs as well as of course making sure that it keeps benchmark to wages as well.

JOURNALIST: Minister, how much might this cost the Government?

JENNY MACKLIN: The four year cost of the whole package of changes is $16 billion, so it’s a very significant cost but we have to remember that it’s going to 3.3 million pensioners, age pensioners, of course our disability support pensioners, those on the carer payment, wife and widow pensioners, and our veterans on income support. A very large number of people who have been waiting a very long time for this pension rise.

JOURNALIST: A lot of the pensioners, or quite a few pensioners were going to have increased reporting conditions as part of these changes, what’s being done to ensure that there’s enough staff and resources at Centrelink to cope with what’s expectedly quite a massive influx particular in the next couple of weeks?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, we’ve got some extra people on the phones at Centrelink. We’ve made sure that letters have gone out to all existing pensioners, so that they can know what to expect in their bank accounts over the coming fortnight. So I’d encourage all Centrelink pensioners to read the letter that they received, make sure that it’s right from their point of view, and if they’ve got any questions, to give Centrelink a call. Centrelink has got more people on the phones, and they’re also conducting seminars in places around Australia to make sure that people do know the full ramifications of these changes. These are the most significant changes for 100 years. Big reforms. Yes, an increase that people have waited for, for a very long time. But we’ve introduced of course some very significant changes as well. We’ve introduced a new pension supplement which is going to bring together all of the existing allowances. So we’re bringing together the utilities allowance, the telephone allowance at the higher internet rate, the GST supplement and the pharmaceutical allowance. The full value of all those supplements are being brought together and we’re adding a little bit on top for both singles and couples combined, and that will now be paid fortnightly with your normal base pension. So people will see quite a change in their arrangements over the next few weeks.

JOURNALIST: The Australian Institute today is advocating an increase in unemployment benefits saying that that would be a good way to create stimulus in the economy because more money would go into areas where there’s unemployment at the moment. Is that something that you’d support?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, in fact we did pay as part of our stimulus arrangements in, it was announced in February and it was paid in March, a payment was made, a training and learning bonus payment was made to people who are on unemployment benefits. That was $950 that went to people who are on unemployment benefits who were willing to undertake some training. We do understand how important it is to help people who are unemployed get back into the labour market. So in addition to that training and learning bonus that was paid earlier this year as part of our stimulus payments, we also increased the amount paid to those on unemployment benefits, just over $40 a fortnight for them as an additional training allowance. So, we’ve certainly recognised a need to support those who are unemployed to get back into the workforce.

JOURNALIST: But they’re not getting anywhere as much as disabled or age pensioners (inaudible)?

JENNY MACKIN: Well, I’ve just outlined the additional payments that we have made to people who are unemployed, the training and learning bonus paid, $950 paid in March this year, to people who are on unemployment benefits who are willing to undertake training, and also a training bonus of just over $40 a fortnight.

JOURNALIST: So the unemployment benefit is sufficient at present?

JENNY MACKLIN: We have put in place additional payments for people who are on unemployment benefits. We’re also making sure that people who are retrenched are able to quickly access the Jobs Services Australia intensive job support agencies. We want to do everything we possibly can to help people who are unemployed get back to work.

JOURNALIST: And what sort of pressure will the ageing population have on the Government in the next ten years?

JENNY MACKLIN: There’s no question that the impact of the ageing of the population is going to have a continuing impact on the Federal Budget and that’s why one of the most difficult decisions that we made when we decided to increase the pension was to also increase the age pension age. We’re doing it gradually, it won’t start until 2017 and it will be fully implemented by 2023. But that’s just one way in which we’re recognising that we needed to manage the impact of the ageing of the population with the introduction of what was a very difficult decision.

JOURNALIST: Do you think there’s a difference between swearing and robust language?

JENNY MACKLIN: What I know, I obviously wasn’t present at that conversation, but what I do know is that the Prime Minister feels very very strongly about the whole issue of entitlements, that we all have as Members of Parliament. And as Members of Parliament we do have to be held accountable for the money that we spend, letting our constituents know about what goes on in our Electorates. The Prime Minister wants to make sure that each and every one of us uses those entitlements carefully and he also wanted to indicate to all of us that he thought that the printing entitlements for example should be brought down. So I understand some robust language was used but I think the Prime Minister has indicated that that’s because he felt very strongly about it.

JOURNALIST: But is that acceptable?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, I wasn’t there; I don’t know what was said.

JOURNALIST: Have you ever sworn?

JENNY MACKLIN: I’m not perfect. Ask my children.