Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

$1.9 billion disability funding, FuelWatch, public servants


MACKLIN: Thank you very much and thanks for being here. First of all, if I could thank Kristina Keneally from the New South Wales Government for being a wonderful host to us all today, and to Katy Gallagher from the ACT for chairing the meeting. This is a wonderful achievement from the Disability Ministers right around Australia.

Today we’re very pleased to announce that $1.9 billion is about to be allocated to improve the services for people with a disability, for their families, and for carers. We’ve agreed today that this will deliver 24,500 places for people, whether it’s in supported accommodation, whether it’s in improved respite services, whether it’s to provide the sort of relief that many, many carers and families need. Just speaking with some of the carers outside from this meeting, one of the women said to me that she’s been caring for her child for 31 years. She wants to be able to have a retirement.

What we’re delivering here today is a very significant increase in the number of supported accommodation places, and I hope that she’ll be able to get a retirement as a result of this agreement today. I want to particularly thank my colleague Bill Shorten, the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities, who’s done an enormous amount of work to help deliver this agreement today. But, really, the credit goes to the very cooperative way in which all the states and territories have worked with the Commonwealth to deliver this historic agreement. It really does demonstrate what the Prime Minister has been calling for; an end to the blame game, and all of us together taking responsibility to make sure that people with a disability, their families and carers get the sort of support that they need.

We know that there is a very serious level of unmet need in our community for these people with disabilities. What we’ve done today will certainly help. But we know our job doesn’t end there. We have a lot to do to meet that unmet need, and together we intend to do our very best to help those people with disabilities, their families and carers.

JOURNALIST: What period of time – this money that you’re committing, what period of time does that cover? Is it just for the next year or is it…

MACKLIN: Over four years. It’s – all of this money will be committed over four years to deliver this very substantial increase in the number of places – supported accommodation places, in-home support, respite services to improve, really, the support that people with disabilities, their families and carers need.

JOURNALIST: Has the CSTDA been signed?

MACKLIN: No. The Commonwealth State Territory Disability Agreement will come up at the end of this calendar year. You’d be aware that we have agreed – that’s the Commonwealth and all the states and territories – through the Council of Australian Governments, we’ve agreed that these major agreements will all come together at the end of this calendar year.

We, as ministers responsible in this area, did not want to wait. We know that this is a very, very serious issue facing many, many people in need in our community. So that’s why we’ve moved ahead and come to this agreement today. Around $1.9 billion for people with a disability, their carers, and their families.

JOURNALIST: Disability support groups have called this level of funding an insult in previous media reports based on the level of unmet need in Australia. What’s your response?

MACKLIN: I think it’s a very substantial improvement; $1.9 billion will certainly help many, many people who have been struggling to find supported accommodation, struggling to find a respite service, struggling to find in-home care. Twenty-four and a half thousand additional places will be created as a result of this agreement today, and I think it will give some relief to carers and to families, and provide the sort of support that people with a disability need.

JOURNALIST: How quickly will it help those people?

MACKLIN: We hope that it will start to be rolled out very quickly. This is an issue that we talked about in our meeting today. We know that the level of need is very significant and so we have agreed that it will be done as quickly as humanly possible. The money will certainly flow from the Commonwealth to the states and territories immediately.

JOURNALIST: About 600,000 Australians suffer from a severe or profound intellectual disability. How does the funding stack up against those numbers?

MACKLIN: The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has done some analysis of unmet need in this area. They estimate that – and I’ve got the figure here – around 24,000, just under 24,000 people with a disability need the sort of support that we’ve allocated today. They’re figures from 2005. We do recognise that the demand is likely to be bigger than that which has been identified by past surveys done by the Institute of Health and Welfare. But I think the fact that we are allocating money, $1.9 billion for twenty-four and a half thousand additional support services will certainly go some way to addressing what has been a very serious level of unmet need.

JOURNALIST: For the first time in history, people born with an intellectual disability will actually reach old age. That has serious ramifications for what the Government can supply; what plans do the Government have for that kind of inevitability?

MACKLIN: Well, we’ve just announced a major plan. We’ve just announced $1.9 billion, twenty-four and a half thousand additional support services, and also, together, we’re recognising that this is only a start; that we have a lot more to do, that there is a very significant level of unmet need. But I do think this additional funding will certainly help people with a disability, help their families, and certainly help their carers.

JOURNALIST: Minister, if I could just ask about FuelWatch: four different departments have said that it’s not a good idea. In your capacity as Minister for Families, how can you defend that?

MACKLIN: I think what’s important is, to look at all the advice that’s available to us in any area of public policy. In this area, we took this advice of the consumer regulator. The Federal Government is firmly on the side of consumers, especially when it comes to the cost of petrol. We understand that families and other people on fixed incomes, like pensioners and carers, are really doing it tough. That’s why we took the advice of the consumer regulator, the ACCC. They have advised us that FuelWatch will help. We think it is a good idea to make sure that we have transparency when it comes to petrol prices, and that’s why we’re introducing FuelWatch.

JOURNALLIST: Minister, in your experience – in your experience, is the Federal public service working hard enough?

MACKLIN: There’s no question that the Federal public service is working hard enough. But what I’d also add is that this is a new government, with a very, very significant agenda to improve the delivery of services to the Australian people. And if I can specifically say, a very big thank you to the officers from my department. And I think I can say, on behalf of all the states and territories, we do thank our officials for doing the hard work that’s led to this agreement today. It will lead to improvements for people with a disability. For families with children and older – older children with a disability, for carers, it will provide the sort of additional support they need. A lot of the behind the scenes work is done by public servants and we thank them.