ABC AM–Interview with Minister for Social Services Kevin Andrews
CHRIS UHLMANN: Kevin Andrews is the Minister for Social Services. Welcome to AM.
MINISTER: Thank you Chris.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Kevin Andrews, some research out today shows that half of Australian families receive more in welfare than they pay in income tax and it’s your intention to change that isn’t it?
MINISTER: Well, that will continue to be largely the case. That research shows that when you take into account the tax that people pay and the benefits they receive in a variety of ways then many people actually receive more in benefits.
Now whatever changes are made in the budget, that situation is fundamentally one which will continue for most people.
CHRIS UHLMANN: But this will be the beginning of the change not the end of it in the budget in your view?
MINISTER: We’ve got a very big task ahead of us. As everybody knows we face a very significant economic challenge with galloping deficits and Commonwealth debt running out in the years ahead, so we have to repair some of these budget problems if we’re going to hand on to the next generation the standard of living which this generation has.
So the budget will be the start of this process but it certainly won’t be the end of it.
CHRIS UHLMANN: And some of the family tax benefits that you will be cutting are the same as ones that you supported when you were a member of the Howard government?
MINISTER: Well, what we’ve got to do is to make sure as I said that we repair the budget and we’ve got to do that in a way which is as fair as possible to all Australians and we’ve been working on this for months now.
The measures won’t be singling out any one particular part of the community. The measures when you look at the budget in totality on Tuesday night will be one which will be as best we can across the board.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Are you personally comfortable with the proposal to axe Family Tax Benefit Part B?
MINISTER: Look, I’m comfortable with the proposals we have here. It’s a start as I said of a process of reform.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Now I know at this stage it’s futile asking you what will be in the budget but will the effect of what you do next Tuesday drive up the cost of living for Australian families?
MINISTER: We are very mindful about the cost of living for Australians families and will remain so. As I said, these measures are important because we’ve got to look at not just next week or next month but we’ve got to look at the next year, the next 10 years, the impact of things.
If you don’t change the budget, as the Commission of Audit reported, you’ve got the pension rising from about $40 billion to over $70 billion in 10 years’ time; you’ve got the DSP (Disability Support Pension) rising from $16 billion to over $25 billion; you’ve got the aged care costs rising from $13 billion to $26 billion. It goes on and on through all the payments which the Commonwealth make.
At the moment we’re spending something like 35 per cent of the Commonwealth budget on social security, welfare and related spending. Now that’s a huge amount of money and we have to be able to afford what we spend in the future otherwise we won’t have the same standard of living.
CHRIS UHLMANN: But if you cut benefits and increase fuel excise then that will hit some families pretty hard, won’t it?
MINISTER: Look, this will be as I said a budget in which we try to be fair across the board but we’re not pretending that there isn’t a big task ahead of us.
CHRIS UHLMANN: And I guess all that is understood and it may well be that in and of itself this budget stands as a very good document, but how will it stand against the things that were said in the past? Because on May 27 last year Tony Abbott said, “If there is a change of government, Australian families will be better off. Their weekly and fortnightly budgets will be under less pressure because the carbon tax will go and no-one’s personal tax will go up and no-one’s fortnightly pension or benefit will go down”. Now there are large chunks of that which will be difficult to adhere to after this budget, won’t there?
MINISTER: Well, we believe we’ll be keeping our promises Chris and we believe that if we start to take some pressure off the Commonwealth budget, which is what we’re trying to do, then that will have an impact; not overnight, not just in a year, but as a start of a process in terms of getting the Commonwealth budget back under control. And that in itself will have a major impact for families, for all Australians, coming into the future.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Is the unemployment benefit high enough? Could you live on just $250 a fortnight?
MINISTER: I’ve said many times Chris that that’s a very difficult, small payment for people to live on. And that’s part of the reason why I want the McClure process to have a look at the whole structural formation, the whole structural situation of welfare in Australia. We’ve got, I think, something like 55 payment supplements and allowances. If you look at it in a diagram, it just looks like a total mess and we want to try and simplify that because it’s been built ad hoc upon ad hoc decision over years and decades.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Will there be a six month delay between leaving school and being able to claim benefits?
MINISTER: Look, the actual details of the budget as you said yourself will be announced on Tuesday night.
CHRIS UHLMANN: You would be disappointed if I didn’t ask.
MINISTER: Oh look, I expect these questions Chris but the answer will be the same.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Is the Disability Support Pension (DSP) being rorted in your view?
MINISTER: Look, most people on the Disability Support Pension, let’s remember there’s over 800,000 on the DSP, have got onto that because they’ve made a claim and they’ve been assessed and they’re on that pension.
The problem with the Disability Support Pension is that, two things, one is that for pretty much forever it’s been one which hasn’t recognised people’s ability or capacity. It’s just said, well, if you qualify we put you on a payment. It’s a kind of set and forget for the rest of your life more or less or until you qualify for some other pension such as an aged pension.
There are a lot of people who are disabled who have capacity, who have ability and with the right sort of approach we could actually encourage them to be in the workforce and that’s what we’re trying to do.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Kevin Andrews, I hope we will continue this conversation when we have a bit more detail to talk about but thank you.
MINISTER: I’m sure we will, thanks Chris.
CHRIS UHLMANN: And Kevin Andrews is the Minister for Social Services.