ABC 774–Interview with Minister for Social Services Kevin Andrews
JON FAINE: Kevin Andrews is the Minister in charge of social security, the Social Services Minister in the Abbott Federal Government. Tomorrow night’s budget from Joe Hockey will announce a substantial change to the Disability Support Pension. Mr Andrews, good morning to you.
MINISTER: Good morning Jon.
JON FAINE: What will the new guidelines be?
MINISTER: Well, without going into all the detail which the Treasurer will announce tomorrow night, essentially there are two components relating to the DSP. The first is that for certain recipients who are under 35 years of age who were granted the DSP under less rigorous impairment tables between 2008 and 2011, there will be a reassessment and if they’re found capable of working then we will be requiring a program of support from them.
The second relates to compulsory participation activities for DSP recipients under the age of 35, where they’ve got eight hours or more work capacity a week and that can include things like work experience, education and training, even Work for the Dole.
JON FAINE: Implicit then in that review Minister is your view that presumably, that it’s too easy to get the pension and people who are on it, some of them ought not be on it.
MINISTER: Look, there’s about 830,000 people on the DSP currently Jon, the numbers are increasing by over 1,000 a week. Obviously, a lot of people on the DSP are genuine people who should be on the DSP, but the previous Government changed the impairment tables a couple of years ago, a few years ago, and what we’re looking at is a younger cohort where we think that with some support they may be able to actually participate in the workforce rather than being left on what’s, for a long time, been a set and forget payment, namely, the DSP.
JON FAINE: Well the fact that there’s been an explosion in the number of people on, for instance, the Disability Pension, because of mental health issues is hardly surprising because it seems in our community we have an epidemic of mental illness, so, I mean to say that there’s been so many extra people on it, there must be something wrong is to me, it’s almost back to front, Minister?
MINISTER: Well, people come onto the DSP for a variety of reasons. It’s true, as you allude to Jon, that the largest cohort in recent years has been people who have mental or psychological illness related problems but there’s still a very large number who come on for other reasons as well, but regardless of what the reason is that people come on, our attitude is that we want, where possible, for young people in particular, to be able to participate in the workforce, rather than you know, at the age of 30, put on the DSP, forgotten until they’re 65 or so, and just left there, I think that’s a counsel of despair which we should be able to do better about.
JON FAINE: When you say just forgotten about, I agree they need assistance and treatment, but whether that means they should have their income support taken away from them and forced into the very competitive world of trying to find paid employment through New Start is another thing entirely.
MINISTER: Well the activities include education and training, or work experience, so we’re not just saying somebody might end up on New Start, we’re saying, let’s look at the various ways we can help people in these circumstances, after they’ve been assessed by a panel of allied health professionals and with the aim of looking at what’s their capacity or their ability, rather than this negative concentration we’ve had for really decades, on disability and incapacity.
JON FAINE: Minister, you and I both know that sometimes even the stress of having to go through the bureaucratic, the red tape, the medical assessments, the rigours of having to prove that you’re disabled, can itself be a deterrent and surely there will be people who simply because you’re changing the guidelines, they will just run away from the whole system and fall back on either charity, family or homelessness?
MINISTER: Jon, I don’t underestimate the difficulty for people, particularly those who have got real illness or real incapacity, and want to be able to help them and at the end of this process, there are still going to be well over 800,000 people on the DSP in Australia so in a sense, this is just the start, we’ve got a larger welfare review looking at the whole structural issue of welfare in the country underway at the present time, of which Patrick McClure, the former head of Mission Australia is working on, with some others, that will report back to me, in fact, we’ll have their initial discussion paper out some time in the next couple of weeks I hope. There will be a period of consultation and a report back to me in about August of this year, looking at the larger structural issues.
JON FAINE: You’re going to take around about 100,000 people who are going to be, let’s say they’re borderline, ok, they’re borderline DSP, maybe they should be, maybe they shouldn’t be, it’s arguable. But if you take them off the DSP, then you put them sort of at the end of the queue of people who might get a job, in which case you’re reducing their income and leaving them vulnerable and given that there is fairly significant entrenched long term unemployment already in the community, around 6 per cent, these are the people who will first of all push the unemployment rate up, but they’ll be the last ones to likely get a job, in other words, they’re condemned to long term unemployment on a lower level of government support?
MINISTER: If the only option was unemployment Jon, well then you might have a case as you put it, but…
JON FAINE: Well where are the jobs for them?
MINISTER: We’re not looking only at unemployment benefits, we’re looking at work experience and education and training, as I said…
JON FAINE: Education and training costs money now, work experience is short term, so where are the jobs for people who are borderline Disability Support Pension candidates who get pushed off the DSP, where are these 100,000 jobs going to come from?
MINISTER: Well Jon, there are many jobs out there. If you go to areas like the aged care sector, or the disability sector, they’re crying out for workers at the present time. There are jobs out there and people who’ve got a vocational specific…
JON FAINE: Those are jobs that require significant skills and training Minister.
MINISTER: People who have got vocational certificates of levels 2, 3, 4 are people that can easily get jobs today and that’s been shown time and time again, but there are jobs out there and our aim is, if people are capable of working, let’s encourage them to work, rather than just saying, well you can sit on welfare for the rest of your life, as I said, I think that’s a counsel of despair.
JON FAINE: Well, I can tell you what the text messages are saying, another Coalition politician rubbing his hands together as he kicks the most vulnerable in the head says Phil from Geelong. You’re accused of having no clue whatsoever about what goes on the real world by several texters Minister.
MINISTER: Jon, if we were doing this because it was a popularity contest, then obviously we wouldn’t be doing this. We’re doing this because we’ve got real issues to face as a country and we’re endeavouring as a Government to face up to them.
JON FAINE: Thank you for your explanations this morning. We’ll see what the talkback callers make of it.
MINISTER: Thank you Jon.
JON FAINE: Kevin Andrews, Minister for Social Sec…, Social Services, as it’s now called, in the Abbott Government