PRESENTER: As promised we’ve got the Minister for Social Services Kevin Andrews on the line, good morning to you Kevin. How are you this morning?
MINISTER ANDREWS: I’m well thanks Michael it’s a lovely late autumn morning in Canberra.
PRESENTER: What temperature you got there this morning?
MINISTER ANDREWS: Well when I went for a bike ride an hour and half ago it was about nine degrees.
PRESENTER: Gee, we woke up to 21 going for a high of 28 how does that make you feel?
MINISTER ANDREWS: Well nine is warm for this time of the year in Canberra, so different climate.
PRESENTER: Mate it looks like Tony Abbott and the crew they just can’t get the message through there are some good things happening in the budget, or is it just all bad?
MINISTER ANDREWS: No there are a lot of good things. This is a Budget, in fact it’s very much about building infrastructure for Australia, so there’s about $50 billion worth of expenditure over the coming years in major infrastructure projects to make sure the economy continues to prosper, particularly as the mining boom changes from the construction phase to the production phase as you would know in Queensland.
PRESENTER: Yes absolutely. Now how sad should seniors be feeling at the moment going through the budget, it has been released for a week, some people are still scratching their heads.
MINISTER ANDREWS: Well most of the changes in relation to seniors are relatively in the long-term. The major one I suppose is increasing the retirement or the pension age to 70. That won’t take effect until 2035 and what we’re doing is just continuing the trajectory that the Labor Party put in. A few years ago when the female pension age was 60 it was decided to take it up to 65 and that increased by six months every two years.
It’s going up to 67 and then from 2023-2035 it will gradually go up to 70, so that’s something in the long-term but it reflects the changing demographic in Australia. When the pension age was first set in 1907, life expectancy was less than 60, today it’s over 80.
PRESENTER: Can you guarantee that we’re going to live that long?
MINISTER ANDREWS: Well obviously it varies from individual to individual Michael but on average now people are living well into their eighties. When I was a kid you’d think of somebody around about their mid-sixties as getting into old age but these days most people, there’s always exceptions, but most people in their seventies live quite independent and active lives.
PRESENTER: I’m talking with the Minister for Social Services, Kevin Andrews. Look at the end of the day what I’m reading between the lines here is that if you’re young now’s the time to start thinking for the future because the pensions it seems aren’t going to be around forever. Now why is it that young people don’t want to actually start planning, is it because they don’t think they’re going to live to that age. You know what stops them from actually taking action now for the future?
MINISTER ANDREWS: I just think it’s human nature Michael. When you’re young you don’t think about twenty, thirty years down the track. You’re just enjoying life and getting on with what you’re doing then people have a family and they concentrate on building that and getting their home established and all of those things. You know we’ve had a superannuation scheme in Australia now for at least a couple of decades and that was based on the premise that if people put money away over their working life then that would contribute substantially to their retirement income. The reality is that about 80 per cent of people in Australia who retire get at least a part-pension, and with the great baby boom generation becoming the retirement generation and then the old age generation, then obviously we’ve got to make some changes along the way to ensure that the pension and the welfare system remain sustainable.
PRESENTER: It must scare you when there’s what 1,100 people a week going on (inaudible) benefits, that must scare the Government for long-term planning?
MINISTER ANDREWS: Well as you say there’s over 1,000 people a week going onto the Disability Support Pension, about 2,500 a week apply for it and more than 1,000 go onto it. It’s currently about 830,000 Australians are on the Disability Support Pension, which is a very significant number considering the size of the working age population.
PRESENTER: Are there people on the Disability Support Pension who shouldn’t be? I mean you know let’s just cut through it. I know because there’s many people who go to see their doctor and gee they’re good actors, some of these people, and they get onto it, are you finding that out?
MINISTER ANDREWS: The problem with the DSP Michael has been that it’s traditionally been a set and forget payment, that is once people are on it we’ve basically forgotten about them. Whereas there are a lot of people, particularly those under say 35, who might have some chronic episodic illness, whether it’s a physical condition or a mental condition, who are capable of working some of the time and I think what we’ve got to do is change our attitude to say if a person is capable of working some of the time we need to encourage them to work at least some of the time…
PRESENTER: Some hours a week would be a big benfit for their mental health wouldn’t it?
MINISTER ANDREWS: That’s right. For them personally, for their families and the community.
PRESENTER; It’s going to be hard to turn it around though isn’t it because I know once you hit that 45, 50 mark try getting a job in the real world Kevin Andrews, it’s very very tough.
MINISTER ANDREWS: And it is, there is still, I think it’s fair to say age discrimination in relation to employment and we’ve got to try and educate businesses and employers to take on older workers. They’re going to be forced to to some extent because one of the consequences of the ageing of the population is a shrinkage in the growth of the workforce. And so in another five years, or so, a lot of businesses will be looking around to find workers in the future. So that hopefully will help to change the attitudes.
PRESENTER: How are we going to get people to move to find jobs? I don’t know about you Kevin, but when I was a whipper snipper when the work dried up I just went to another town, another location, new job until I found something I was happy with.
MINISTER ANDREWS: That’s true.
PRESENTER: Some people just don’t want to jump on a bus and travel 45 minutes because it’s too far. I mean the classic example, and correct me if I’m wrong, I know that New Zealand is desperate for dairy workers. They are so desperate, it’s unbelievable. They sent out an SOS to Tasmania, who’s got the highest unemployment, and of course there are dairy workers down there and they’ve gone it’s too far and they don’t want to uproot and go over there. I mean how do you change that attitude?
MINISTER ANDREWS: Well you’re right, I was in New Zealand about three weeks ago and many of the dairy workers in New Zealand are now from the Philippines.
PRESENTER: Yes I know, it’s crazy isn’t it?
MINISTER ANDREWS: And you talked about Tasmania. In Northern Tasmania the horticultural industry is crying out for workers and yet Tasmania has got one of the highest youth unemployment levels in Australia. So there’s a total disconnect when you’ve got people who are unemployed, young, able to work and businesses like the horticultural industry crying out to get workers.
PRESENTER: You know when I was a kid, and I’m sure most people can relate to this, I used to love that sort of work. You know we’d jump in our cars and pick fruit up in the north or go down to Brisbane and become a (inaudible), anything to get money in the back pocket. These days the youth are just going (inaudible) they just don’t want to move, they don’t want to work.
MINISTER ANDREWS: There’s a lot that do. I’m a bit like you, I moved from rural Victoria to Melbourne in order to get training and get a job and it was much more common those days and a lot of young people still do it but we’ve got to encourage others to have that attitude that there is work around but you may have to be prepared to travel.
PRESENTER: Yeah I think the biggest problem was when the mining boom came was everybody wouldn’t get out of their chairs unless it was at least $110,000-$120,000 a year. That stuck into a lot of peoples’ minds which was absolutely crazy. Look none of these proposed ideas might get off the ground, is that correct?
MINISTER ANDREWS: Well we’re putting the budget to the Parliament. Obviously it will get through the House of Representatives, we will then send it to the Senate and we’ll be saying to the Senators, from whatever party they come from, Australia’s got a problem, we can’t continue on the trajectory of a $670 billion national debt, that’s $25,000 for every man, woman and child in Australia. We’ve got to turn that around, we can’t do it over night but this is a plan to do that and we would expect, we hope, that all Senators would support it.
PRESENTER: Well Kevin Andrews I’m right behind you because it’s true you can’t spend money you haven’t got, I’ve been screaming about this for the last ten years, it just drives me insane. Thank you very much we’ll keep tabs and see what happenes in the next few weeks.
MINISTER ANDREWS: Pleasure to talk to you Michael, have a good day.