Pensioners, Carer Payment (Child) and Disability funding
E & O E – PROOF ONLY
NEIL MITCHELL: Now under the previous government, the Howard Government, we made quite some noise about the carer payments, the carer payment system. The new government under Kevin Rudd has reviewed that as in fact the previous government had agreed to do. On the line is the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin. Good morning.
JENNY MACKLIN: Good to be with you.
NEIL MITCHELL: Minister if you don’t mind first we’ve been taking – looking at the pensioners’ issue today you’d be aware Shirley Grant raised this at the protest down on the steps of Flinders Street Station a couple of weeks ago.
JENNY MACKLIN: Yes.
NEIL MITCHELL: We found at the Carlton Senior Citizens Centre where they lock up the bread because the pensioners are stealing it because they’re hungry, the toilet paper is being stolen because they can’t afford toilet paper and we’ve had a security worker tell us that there’s been something like a 60 per cent increase in pensioners stealing from supermarkets.
What’s going on?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think it does demonstrate the financial pressure that pensioners are under. I don’t think anyone in Australia thinks otherwise and that’s why we did make some very early changes.
I think it was the first bill I introduced into the Parliament was to increase the utilities allowance from $107 a year to $500 a year and we’ve already paid the first payment of that in March and the second one will be by the end of June.
NEIL MITCHELL: So was that $250 that went in March.
JENNY MACKLIN: $125…
NEIL MITCHELL: $125.
JENNY MACKLIN:…so paid quarterly…
NEIL MITCHELL: Quarterly, I’m sorry.
JENNY MACKLIN: …and then of course we’re paying the bonus for pensioners which will be paid before the end of June so in a few weeks’ time. That’s $500. So in total, pensioners will be receiving about $900 extra this year.
Now I’m not for a minute saying that’s going to fix all of their financial pressures. I know they’re difficult but we do think that it will help a bit with their family budgets.
The other thing I’d say though is that we do recognise that fixing this issue is necessary, that pensioners shouldn’t have to rely on wondering each year whether or not they’re going to get a bonus. And that’s why as part of the major tax enquiry that we’ve embarked upon we really are going to look at the adequacy of the pension.
NEIL MITCHELL: Okay. That tax enquiry is going to be busy. Are you getting these sort of stories though of elderly citizens clubs locking up the bread?
JENNY MACKLIN: I haven’t had that particular thing put to me, Neil, but unfortunately it is the case that many people are under a lot of pressure.
I know a lot of families do help out as well; we know that’s the case. But we’ll be doing – we know we have to do more in this area but I think it’s important to recognise that some help has been provided.
NEIL MITCHELL: What are you likely to be arguing for at that enquiry for pensioners? What would you go into bat for them?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well it’s not something that we’d want to talk about on the radio. The main thing is that we are going to look at this sensibly and we’re going to have a proper reference group as well so that people from the different seniors’ organisations will be able to report directly to us and we’ll be able to have conversations with them about the sorts of changes that will work.
A lot of people have a range of views and so it’s important for them to have a place for us to have that conversation.
NEIL MITCHELL: I understand that this is anecdotal – a lot of people are putting their names to it but it is anecdotal – but if this is true of people, aged pensioners having to steal food, I mean that’s just horrendous isn’t it? It’s unacceptable.
JENNY MACKLIN: It is unacceptable that people feel they’re under that – well people are under that sort of pressure and I’m certainly getting reports that agencies that deliver emergency relief are finding similar sorts of pressure.
So I’d like – you know I’d like to be able to do more but of course we’ve got – we’ve also got to be careful with the public’s money.
So we’ve put an extra $900 into pensioners’ pockets this year and you’d also know that we’ve reintroduced, after a long gap, the Commonwealth dental program which will help with one of the really big bills that pensioners in particular have, those dental bills that they find very hard to pay.
NEIL MITCHELL: Now carers’ payments, what’s happened?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well the really good news I think in the Budget – not massive by the scale of what we actually did for pensioners – the pensioners’ measures in total cost over $5 billion.
But a smaller measure for a smaller number of people but really, really significant. As you know this has been a big issue. You’ve really campaigned very hard on it for people who’ve been receiving or should be receiving carer payment child.
We know that there’s been – there’s incredibly stringent guidelines in the past that have prevented people caring for profoundly disabled children and what we’ve done is change the way in which parents and their children are assessed for eligibility for carer payment child.
And it will now depend on the level of care required rather than trying to assess particular levels of disability and it will make it easier for parents who qualify for carer payment child. There’ll be similar assessments needed for the child as they grow up and we expect around 19,000 parents now will qualify for carer payment child.
NEIL MITCHELL: So how many extra is that or is that 19,000 extra?
JENNY MACKLIN: No, well we only had about 3500…
NEIL MITCHELL: Gee.
JENNY MACKLIN:…receiving the payment before so you can imagine – well obviously there were thousands of parents…
NEIL MITCHELL: Fifteen and a half thousand families.
JENNY MACKLIN: Yeah.
NEIL MITCHELL: Gee, that’s great.