936 ABC Hobart – Statewide Mornings with Leon Compton
E & OE
COMPTON: I’m joined by the Assistant Minister for Social Services in the Federal Government, and he’s been in Tasmania for the last few days. There’s been a lot of Federal Ministers or Assistant Ministers in town in the last few days. Very interesting to see them all circulating through the state and trying to well, learn more about regional Tasmania no doubt, and also shore up support and promote their local members. Three of whom were just elected in the last election in different parts of Tasmania. Mitch Fifield good morning to you, thanks for being part of mornings this morning. What were you doing in Tasmania in the early part of this week?
FIFIELD: I spent two days in the north in Launceston, Devonport and Burnie, meeting with a number of disability and carer organisations. Catching up obviously with Andrew Nikolic and Brett Whiteley, but really important as the Minister for Ageing and Disabilities to be on the ground and to meet with organisations that are providing support at the coal face to people who need it.
COMPTON: How are you thinking about ageing in the context of Tasmania? Demographically we get there first, we’re going to have the big retirement generation come through a bit earlier than the mainland and in larger numbers proportionately. What are you doing as a government to make that a great experience for the ageing and for the broader community?
FIFIELD: It’s a fantastic thing that we have an ageing community. One of the statistics that hit me in the face when I became the Minister for Ageing was that there are about 3,000 centenarians in Australia at the moment, by 2050 there’ll be about 50,000 centenarians. So we’re an ageing population and we’re living longer and better and that’s a great thing and it’s a great national asset. But what we do as a Federal Government at the moment is we put about $15 billion a year into supporting ageing Australians in residential care settings and also in their homes. One of the changing trends is that increasingly people are wanting to live at home for longer. Once upon a time people would look to move into aged care facilities in their sixties or seventies, they’re now doing that in their eighties. So we’ve got to make sure that we can provide good support to people at home.
COMPTON: In a moment or two we’re going to catch up with Professor Ian Harper, the chair of the competition policy review panel, that handed down their report yesterday. It was almost 600 pages I think. What was fascinating Minister was how much of what he talked about was expressed through the prism of an ageing population. How do we need to change competition policy to help people that are ageing?
FIFIELD: I think the purpose of the Harper review was to really lift the speed limits on our economy so that we can grow faster and part of lifting the speed limits is making sure we can access the full talent pool that we have and that includes older Australians.
COMPTON: And so to the National Disability Insurance Scheme and we have of course a younger sample of Australians that are part of the Scheme here. What did you learn about how it’s tracking?
FIFIELD: Well I caught up with some of the staff and some of the participants yesterday at the NDIS office in Devonport with Brett Whiteley. At the moment, state wide in Tasmania the Scheme is covering people in the ages of 15 to 24. What I discovered is that for those people who have become participants, they have much greater choice then they did before, and it’s making a practical difference in all sorts of what you and I might think are little ways. I spoke to one participant who previously was told, you’ll never be able to drive. They’ve been given some good support to help them drive, if you can drive you’ve got a lot of independence. I spoke to someone else who is a young participant who’s been given daily living skills. That person is looking like they’ll be in a position in the future, where they’ll be able to live independently. They might seem small things for you and I but they make a big difference in the lives of individuals.
COMPTON: Minister can you confirm that the Government have walked away from, or are sticking with, their plan to deny unemployment benefits to people under 30 who lose their jobs?
FIFIELD: Look that policy which was announced in the last Budget is still on the table, it’s not something that has been legislated but my portfolio colleague Scott Morrison has made clear that if there are others in the community or in the Parliament to think there are other ways that we can achieve the same objective, which is to encourage and support younger people into work, then we’re very open to discussing that.
COMPTON: It must have been interesting for you talking with the federal representative for the area with the highest youth unemployment in the country and possibly visiting that electorate, but think about what that would mean removing the unemployment benefits for people under 30 if they lost their jobs or didn’t have one, what would that mean for that part of Tasmania?
FIFIELD: We as a Government are not looking in any way to be punitive, we’re looking to do what we can to encourage people into work. We’re very open to alternative ideas as to how we might go about that and look, a really important piece of the puzzle in terms of helping younger people back into work and supporting people into work is actually the NDIS. If you’re a person with a disability, if you get the daily living supports that you need, then you’re going to be in a much better position to consider going into the workforce. So although the NDIS is not an employment scheme as such, if you get the things that you need in your daily life as a person with disability, you’re going to be in a better position to consider work and maintain work.
COMPTON: If you were in Tasmania today you would’ve seen a Mercury opinion piece by Linda O’Neil who is the head of Uniting Care in Tasmania. She talks about a funding cut for her organisation of 30 per cent in the next couple of years. 30 per cent in the money that they use for emergency relief funding for people who are in desperate need of help. Why has your Government cut that funding? And to such an extent to the most vulnerable in the community?
FIFIELD: In terms of emergency relief funding, what the Government did was put up for a competitive process to provide the opportunity for organisations to put in bids, to provide those particular services. It’s the first time that they have been opened up to new organisations, really I think probably since emergency relief funding commenced. So there are some organisations who previously received funding who were successful in getting that. There were some organisations who previously received funding who weren’t. But we want to make sure that we have full coverage and if anyone has any concerns that there could be service gaps in an area than we certainly want to hear from…
COMPTON: That’s how you’ve handled it Minister, have you also cut the funding by 30 per cent in the next couple of years?
FIFIELD: We’re still making sure that there is adequate funding. There were a number of grant programmes which came together from different portfolios to create the new Department of Social Services. There was a reduction in funding across the top of those grant programmes, but we’re still confident that we have good funding for emergency relief.
COMPTON: Of all the things going on the Australian economy and that places we need to save money, why did you look at the most vulnerable and funding programmes for the most vulnerable in our community as a place to save cash?
FIFIELD: As I say, there is still good funding for emergency relief organisations. We’re confident that those who need the support will get the support.
COMPTON: Good to talk to you this morning, thanks for coming in.
FIFIELD: Terrific, thanks.