ABC South East NSW
PRESENTER: With us this morning is the Federal Minister for Social Services, Kevin Andrews. Kevin Andrews good morning and welcome.
MINISTER: Good morning Tim.
PRESENTER: It will be good to hear you thoughts this morning. Parliament is sitting today, what are you expecting? It’s likely to be a fairly feisty day isn’t it?
MINISTER: Oh look there’s all the theatre of Parliament which goes on most of the time but what we’re concentrating on is the substance of the repair job ahead of us. Making sure we don’t end up with a $670 billion debt, getting that under control and ensuring prosperity for future generations.
PRESENTER: On that issue, as you say, of getting the budget under control. There are some sweeping changes; some would say radical changes in the social services area, to youth entitlements, youth benefits, pensioner benefits. The description of those is they’ve been far too harsh, that they’re targeting people in very difficult circumstances, how do you respond to that?
MINISTER: Well if you look at what we’re trying to do in relation to youth is to ensure they have the best future they can have for themselves. So for young people under 30 we’ve taken an earn or learn approach, that is if they’re not in a job we want them to be getting in training, getting the skills so they can get a job in the future and there are various assistance packages to do that ranging from the Youth Allowance for students through to Austudy and Abstudy. So there is considerable support for young people but we just want to make sure that they’re taking that up, making use of it, because that’s the best thing for their own future.
PRESENTER: You say support for young people; you want to see them in employment. Yet one of the programs that has been cut by the Federal Government in this budget is the transition to employment services. In the south east a program called Youth Connections, the funding for that is gone. These are programs that have been helping youth at risk from school into study or further study into work training and employment, they’ve had a very high success rate and you’ve cut the funding from it.
MINISTER: Well there’s a whole range of other programs that are available as I said, young people can be eligible for Youth Allowance or Austudy payments, we’ve increased funding for young people who want to go into an apprenticeship by giving them a $20,000 loan, of which if they finish the apprenticeship they will only have to repay $16,000. So there’s a range of other programs along with all the job network support which is there at the moment and which we are trying to revitalise so it does get the best outcomes for young people.
PRESENTER: But why cut a program that is supporting people, young people, that are in education helping them to stay in education at school and then transitioning them into employment that has had a high success rate, why cut the funding to that?
MINISTER: Because of changes being made to the job network overall by my colleague Luke Hartsuyker in which we believe that we’ll be able to get similar outcomes for young people, indeed we hope better outcomes for young people, but the mechanism by which we are doing that is slightly different.
PRESENTER: Are you able to describe that mechanism for us?
MINISTER: Yes the mechanism is to try and put much more emphasis on young people, particularly to ensure that they don’t come out of school and go straight on the dole, to ensure that they get into skilled training and we’re doing that by providing more funds for their training, by opening up the range of courses for which you can now get HELP assistance, rather than the narrow range that was there before. So the combination of these measures, we think, provides a range or a suite of packages or programs which young people can take up which will give them skills.
PRESENTER: Youth unemployment rates are far higher than the national average across the board, in fact in some regional areas, parts of Wollongong, parts of the Illawarra, parts of the south east this morning as well are in the situation where unemployment for youth can be up as high as 20 per cent, if we’re talking for indigenous youth it’s far higher again. If they’re in a situation where they’re not able to access youth allowance for six months, they haven’t got the support of a family, where does that leave them?
MINISTER: Well for young people like that we want them in training. Now there’s a whole range of exemptions, if they’re not capable of working 30 hours a week, if they’re the parent of a child or a principle carer, if they’re somebody in the disability employment service or they are a job seeker with high needs then they’re not in this new provision for earn or learn, but the main thing we can do for young people is get them into training.
PRESENTER: Okay let’s talk about some other issues and those are pensioner benefits, and this is an area where there was some $1.3 billion going to states around the country to help pensioners with issues such as electricity rebates, their council rates rebates and also the transport rebate they get, well the transport concessions they get as well, why cut those areas?
MINISTER: Well firstly all the Commonwealth concessions continue, so lower pharmaceutical benefits, general practitioner costs, lower out of hospital medical expenses, those things that the Commonwealth pays for are all being maintained.
Now the states, and it varies from state to state around Australia, have a range of other benefits which they’ve provided, the Commonwealth has provided about ten per cent of the cost of those but as part of our overall belt tightening exercise where we have to find some savings we decided not to continue subsidising about ten per cent to the states for their own concessions.
PRESENTER: So that just puts the pressure back on the states to find the funding for it?
MINISTER: These are things which the states provide concessions for, they are state responsibilities and we’ve simply said look given things are tight, things are tough, we’d prefer it not to be that way but we’ve got to take some measures for savings and one of these is to say look the states will just have to pay for that themselves.
PRESENTER: You talk about the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme however there’s now an increased co-payment for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, isn’t the cost of that going up?
MINISTER: What we’ve said in relation to both pharmaceutical products and in relation to GP appointments that there will be a co-payment. That’s again looking at the total cost, it’s a huge cost to provide medicine (inaudible), we probably have the best pharmaceutical scheme in Australia where unlike countries, like America, where you can get some drugs as they call them very cheap but if it’s anything else you pay a huge and exorbitant amount. We’ve managed to balance that out for what about six decades in Australia but it’s a rising cost with an ageing population and we’re looking at a small co-payment.
PRESENTER: As you meet today for the first time as we say it is likely to and I’m sure you’d agree, it’s likely to be a fairly feisty or theatrical first day of sitting in Parliament. What are you hoping to get through because there is a great deal in this budget that is going to be opposed isn’t there? I think the higher earning and those earning over $180,000 that tax levy, the ALP and the Greens said they will let that go through they’ll pass that, but they will oppose a great deal of these other measures, including the co-payment.
MINISTER: Tim we will put the budget proposals and the budget legislation to the Parliament, obviously it will go through the House of Representatives because we are the Government and we’ll then put it to the Senate and we’ll be calling on the Senate to look at the national interest in this regard. There are no other proposals on the table, we’re the only party that’s got a plan as to how we deal with this burgeoning deficit and debt and we think our plan is a reasonable way to get us back in the black after a few years. There are no other proposals around so we’ll be saying to the Senate, look you should pass this we were elected to get the budget back in the black and that’s what we’re trying to do.
PRESENTER: And if it doesn’t pass the Senate, what then?
MINISTER: That’s a hypothetical Tim we’ll deal with whatever eventuates in the future.
PRESENTER: Kevin Andrews, appreciate your time this morning.
MINISTER: My pleasure.