ABC 24, Capital Hill
Well, six weeks of consultation have now begun. The Social Services Minister is obviously attracted to many of the interim recommendations. He joined me a short time ago.
Kevin Andrews, thanks for joining us. In recent days you’ve talked a lot about simplifying the welfare system, but isn’t the bottom line here that if these changes are implemented, thousands of people who are currently receiving a disabled pension, or a disability pension will no longer receive that pension?
No, Mark, this is about the future. It’s about sustaining the welfare system in the future and it’s about addressing the challenge we’ve got of an ageing population. So what we’re looking for is how do we meet that great challenge of the ageing population in the future and ensure that the welfare system is sustainable, and this is about the medium to long term.
Is sustainability, though, another word for saving money?
If you look at the Commission of Audit report, it said that in a whole range of government expenditure there’s going to be huge increases over the next 10 years, so what we need to do is to make sure that we can have an affordable, sustainable, adequate safety net for Australians who are vulnerable and who need it, and that’s what this is all about. At the same time, we need to ensure that where people are capable of working, then we can encourage them to work.
So if you look at the last time the Coalition Government did welfare reform, when I was the Employment Minister, we actually made a very significant investment at that stage to try and ensure that as many people capable of working were able to get into work.
But if it is about getting people into work, though, Minister, where is that work? If those jobs were there, wouldn’t the people be in them already?
Two things, Mark. Firstly, for people with disability, if you look at the under-35s, there is a requirement to have an activity, a participation plan, but there’s been no requirement to actually follow that through. So in those circumstances we haven’t even been testing the ability of people to actually get out and get into a job. But secondly, part of this great demographic shift is a contraction or shrinkage in the net growth of the working population over the next 10-15 years, and indeed if you look at the stark numbers, net growth is going to fall from about 175,000 a decade ago to about 125,000 for the entire 10 years from 2020 to 2030. So increasingly, employers will be looking to see where they can find workers, and they will be have to be looking at a range of workers which they may not be doing so at the present time.
But would you personally be willing to employ someone who perhaps suffers from some sort of episodic mental illness, because that’s the sort of person who under these recommendations may not be getting the disability support pension any longer?
That’s true, and that’s a failure on our part, our part as a nation at the present time. The increasing number of people going onto the DSP, the largest portion now are people with psychologically related illnesses, and we know that for many of those people, those illnesses are episodic, so that means that there are stages in their life, there are times in their life when they’ve got the ability to work and times when frankly they can’t. Now, if we are going to be compassionate about this, if we are going to be fair dinkum about wanting people to work, to enjoy a good life which includes being a contributor in the community, then we need to find ways in which we can help those people to be able to participate to the extent of their capacity, rather than as we do now, we just put them on the scrap heap. We say, you’re on the DSP, we are going to forget about you.