6PR Adam Shand
ADAM SHAND: Minister Morrison welcome to the studio, Scott.
MINISTER MORRISON: G’day Adam it is great to be here and great to be in Perth.
SHAND: Indeed welcome again and tell me how often do you get to Perth?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well it has been a while since I have been here to be honest and in the last job when I was Immigration and Border Protection Minister I was pretty busy stopping boats and didn’t get the opportunity to move around the country much but now in Social Services this is my first trip over here this year to Perth and I hope to do it a lot more regularly. I have been up today with Ken Wyatt – up in the hills and as well as Steve Irons who is doing a great job here and yesterday was with Luke Simpkins up in Kingsway.
SHAND: Very good, now if you have a question for the Minister please give us a call on 9222 1882. We will be taking some questions after the next break. But tell us what you are doing in town?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well this morning we were making an announcement about the funding under the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness. Western Australia was the first state to sign up to the new agreement which we were really thrilled about – that means almost $60 million of funding, from both the federal and the state governments, will go into homelessness services here in Western Australia. I was at one of those services this morning which was the Foyer Project – Foyer Oxford Project in town. This is an extraordinary initiative bringing together the Foundation House with Anglicare and the tech college out there and this is getting around 100 young people off the streets into transitional accommodation, into education, into jobs – it is just a stellar programme and they are the programmes that together with the state government we are supporting.
SHAND: But gee the challenge is big isn’t it? We have I think something like 10,000 people in Western Australia, across the state, who are sleeping rough each night. It is a blight on our country given – and the state which has produced so much wealth over the past 20 years, that we still have this problem ongoing. When can we have a day when we can actually say that there is the bare minimum of people on the streets?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well I would like that to be soon but the truth is there has been about 100,000 technically, or just over that actually, classed as homeless at any point in time and that has been the case for many many years now. Homelessness is caused by many issues and there are mental health issues, there are alcohol and drug dependency issues, there are domestic violence issues, there are a range of social problems which contribute to this and sadly many of those issues will remain with us. But then there are economic causes of homelessness as well and that is where you can make a bit more of a dent in these things. I mean one thing the state government has done very well here is it has hit its affordable housing targets. I mean over 20,000 affordable housing dwellings coming in well in advance of their expectations so WA is doing very well in this area but the issue remains. I think that is a source of concern for everyone but particularly with young people this agreement we wanted to focus on two areas that previously didn’t have a focus. I said I want the funding to go particularly to areas and people affected by family domestic violence and for young people who are affected by homelessness. Because in those two cases we really have got to try and help get people back on their feet and when you do that they have a realm of choices that they previously would have been denied. Having stable housing is really important to be able to get a job, to get your kids in school, to get some normality in your life and to be able to deal with a lot of those other issues that you are dealing with.
SHAND: It has been said that one of the issues around housing affordability and availability is negative gearing and we have seen the Reserve Bank come out today and suggest that we overhaul that. Do you think that has a role to play? I can see you scowling here it would be a very difficult political package to sell particularly to the Liberal constituents, but do you think it is part of the bigger picture?
MINISTER MORRISON: No, I don’t agree with them and I don’t agree with them for this reason. Around 80 per cent of the people who were actually engaged in negative gearing have a taxable income of about $80, 000. They are teachers, they are nurses, they are people who are saving for their own retirement through property and I know the ABC and others carry on about this and they…
SHAND: Don’t bash the ABC on our network.
MINISTER MORRISON: They say ‘oh but the value of all the tax deductions are going to the top 10 per cent.’ Well that is the nature of tax deductions; if you have got a higher income the value of the tax collection will be greater if you are on a higher income. But if you look at the actual numbers of people that are accessing negative gearing then 80 per cent of them are actually on middle incomes. You know these people who are saving hard, they are not millionaire property tycoons or anything like this – the majority of them only have one property and this is their retirement nest egg. They are working hard, saving, providing for their future and somehow they are the problem? No they are not, they are the answer.
SHAND: Ok, now meanwhile back in Canberra we have a political storm there over the Speaker Bronwyn Bishop’s very expensive chartered helicopter flight between Melbourne and Geelong which was not on Party business – oh sorry it was on Party business it wasn’t government business. She has paid the money back, should that be the end of the matter 5,000 bucks?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well I think it should be I mean all members are responsible for acting within the entitlements but also acting within the pub test rule which is you know what is a fair dinkum thing and what is a real thing and Bronwyn has made her decision today. That is up for every member to be accountable for their own entitlements they are not government matters. I mean we are all Members of Parliament and Senators and we have to pass the public test on what is appropriate not just what the technical requirements of the entitlements are.
SHAND: Yet curiously she said that she doesn’t think she did anything wrong, so why pay back the money you would have to ask?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well people can act legitimately within the entitlements and that – so there would be no technical breach through anything like this no one has done anything illegal. But the fact that she has made the decision to pay this money back I think indicates that she regrets doing that and is prepared to make the payment. I mean you have Bill Shorten who didn’t declare the fact that $40,000 in campaign support and eight years later he decides to declare it. I think Bronwyn moved a little quicker than Bill Shorten did on that occasion.
SHAND: That’s true, good point there. But I guess if it doesn’t pass the smell test and she doesn’t believe she has done anything wrong is there a case to say that all these entitlements should be tightened? There is a message here from the public that they don’t like these – this largesse if you like, people taking first class flights all that kind of stuff. There is too much of it going on it seems.
MINISTER MORRISON: Well I don’t think I have ever taken a first class flight.
SHAND: We will be checking now Scott.
MINISTER MORRISON: Well not to my memory to be honest and certainly it is not our policy as a government I mean Minister’s don’t.
SHAND: But I will tell you in general there is a perception that there is too much expensive travel going on that may or may not be related to things that the public believe are satisfactory.
MINISTER MORRISON: And that’s why Members have to be accountable and when things like this are raised and if they don’t pass the smell test as you say then you know clearly Members pay a price for that in the court of public opinion and that is why you have to be careful about these things. But look I don’t go around making judgements on my colleagues, Labor or Liberal or otherwise, on this sort of thing because we are all accountable for them we all have to make our own explanations of them. Where people make mistakes – sometimes with their entitlements people will make a mistake and then they will tidy that up when it is brought to their attention, and that really should be the end of the matter. But the entitlements issue more generally I mean there has been a series of tightening up of these entitlements now over many years and I know the Minister who is responsible in this area, Senator Ronaldson, would continue to try and make sure that is as tight as it can be.
SHAND: Might see it go another notch or two possibly after this public reaction. But we have the court of public opinion on the line. Michael of Mandurah is there and wants to talk about welfare. Hi Michael?
CALLER: Good afternoon gents, good afternoon Scott.
MINISTER MORRISON: G’day Michael.
CALLER: Scott, you mentioned about how you and your government stopped the boats and I applaud you for that and the previous buffoons that were in wouldn’t have had a hope in hell of doing it. But having said that while the buffoons were in power lots and lots of illegal people flooded into our country and most of them are still on welfare. Are you going to be able to scrutinize whether they are all legitimate or if they are just living off the fat of the land where they don’t belong?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well that is the process we are going through right now. You are right over 50,000 people turned up on over 800 boats under the previous government and they didn’t process also some 30,000 of them why they were in government and that’s what we inherited. Now they can now get work rights while they are in the community and the Department is now working through the process of assessing the genuineness of their refugee claims. If they are found not to be refugees well they go home as they should. If they are refugees well the best they will be offered is a Temporary Protection Visa – when I was Minister that legislation passed the Parliament and they are the rules. But you are right a large number of them, the majority – overwhelming majority, would be on benefits. They are not on the same benefits I should stress though that Australian’s are on, they only get 89 per cent of the relevant benefit that might apply to a person in their situation, so that would be NewStart or something like that. So they are not on the same benefits as pensioners or other Australian recipients of welfare payments. They are on a lesser payment.
SHAND: Ok, thanks for your call Michael. We are talking to the Social Services Minister Scott Morrison. If you have a question for Scott please give us a call 9222 1882. Its 23 minutes to five.
SHAND: Now Scott when I was doing all my crime reporting in Melbourne I met a number of pretty well off drug dealers who were on Disability Support Pensions which bothered me and I thought how easy is it to get on these things? I’m sure there are many many deserving candidates for this pension, but you are in the midst of a crackdown on it. What sort of things are you discovering and how much money are you saving?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well hundreds of millions is what we are saving but for the first time now we are – the number of people on the Disability Support Pension is falling and we have introduced a range of measures, some of which take effect in full this year which means you have to go to a government doctor, you just can’t go to some mate who might tick it off and put you on there. We have made some changes to the portability arrangements so you can’t get on the DSP then go and live off overseas if you are overseas – if you leave the country after four weeks – for more than four weeks then the DSP cuts off. If you get back within 13 it will start again otherwise when you come back you will actually have to reapply. So there are a lot of integrity measures being put in place and making sure that people are legitimate. Because exactly the reason you said the DSP, the Disability Support Pension, is there to help people who need it not for those who want it because they don’t want to be on NewStart because that is a lesser payment. We are trying to get people into work. I was over at Visibility today and that is a great organisation as you know here in Western Australia in Perth who do guide dogs but the other thing they do is they help people who are vision impaired get into work. When I meet disabled people all around the country they want to participate, they want to be involved, they want to be involved socially, they want to be involved economically and they are incredibly motivated workers. So I say to business people listening, give them a go.
SHAND: Yeah. There has also been a concern about the so called ‘welfare jihadis.’ People who are going off to join Daesh, the Islamic State, whatever you want to call it and still being on their disability support or other welfare payments. Have you stopped all that do you think?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well there are over 100 payments that have been cancelled in that area but most of it gets cancelled as a result of the portability arrangements I mentioned before – you are gone for four weeks we switch it off. We also introduced legislation where the Attorney General can write to me and request that I cancel a person’s payment based on intelligence advice that he may have received and so that is a matter for the Attorney General and we basically just implement that decision. So you know we don’t want people doing that we are seeking to prevent them where we can but certainly once they go over then the money tap turns off.
SHAND: Good, it would be certainly galling to hear that we would be funding their adventures in the Middle East. Got a few calls now Tony’s in Balcatta has been very patient, thank you Tony.
MINISTER MORRISON: G’day Tony.
CALLER: G’day guys how you going? Good evening Minister. I am just one of these people you have just talked about who has saving for his future I hope you keep doing the good work because I am trying to save for my future to.
MINISTER MORRISON: Well good on you and there are so many others who are doing that, they will go and buy an apartment and that is part of their retirement savings and people on very modest incomes sometimes, middle incomes, and it is just you know people taking care of themselves which is a fair go for those who have a go. We are not going to change those arrangements on negative gearing. Chris Bowen from the Labor Party is talking about changing them well that is a matter for the Labor Party but we won’t be doing it.
SHAND: Indeed, thanks for that Tony. Let’s go to Terry in Bunbury about older people working. Hi Terry?
CALLER: Good afternoon. Look I was just – the question I had was what incentives do you have for people to continue working after 65?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well particularly for people who are trying to get back into the workforce when they are older we have employment subsidy payments similar to what is given to young people and we have been basically getting those on the same wicket so people get the same levels of support. We have also got to do a lot more work with employers. I mean people who are older who are wanting to either work longer or get into work at that age, particularly if they have had a change in the nature of their work I mean incredible workers a lot of experience, a lot of reliability, I mean one of the things people say about older workers is ‘oh well you know they might only be here for five years.’ Well if you can keep a young person in a job for five years you have done really well. So the reliability I think of older workers and the experience is fabulous and again out to those employers, I know you have your own challenges but I mean older Australians are very great workers.
SHAND: Thanks for your call Terry. Al is in Woodvale, hi Al?
CALLER: G’day Adam how are you? I’ve got a couple of questions for Scott?
MINISTER MORRISON: Sure Al.
CALLER: The first one, you mentioned about Bronwyn paying the money back and then brought up Bill Shorten took eight years to pay – declare the money. Was the money that Bill Shorten declared was that public money, was that taxpayer’s money?
MINISTER MORRISON: No, it was a donation that he received, some $40,000, which he – all candidates are required to disclose the donations they receive and as I understand the evidence put to the Royal Commission this was from a company that at the same time prior he had been involved in negotiating an enterprise bargaining agreement with them. I thought he was supposed to be looking after the workers not his election.
CALLER: Yeah, but it wasn’t actually tax payer’s money?
MINISTER MORRISON: No it wasn’t.
CALLER: Ok, the other question I got if I have been on the pension for five years and I suddenly discovered that I’d forgotten that there was something I shouldn’t be on the pension for and I said ok I am going to pay the money back, would that be the end of it for me?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well, it depends. I mean it depends if you defrauded, if you engaged in a fraud and there are issues that relate to that but already if people have received over payments in the past there is a requirement to pay them back under a debt management plan and that is something the Department of Human Services is commonly involved in. I mean the money has to get paid back it all depends about your intent. I mean if you are seeking to do a fraud and engaged in something criminal well that would be different. I don’t think there is any suggestion of that here.
SHAND: Ok, thanks for those questions Al. We are talking to the Social Services Minister Scott Morrison in the studio. If you have a couple of questions – do you have some more time to ask…?
MINISTER MORRISON: Yeah sure, happy to – good to be here.
SHAND: Terrific, it’s 12 minutes to five o’clock. Please give us a call with your questions 9222 1882.
SHAND: We have the Social Services Minister Scott Morrison in the studio taking your questions until five o’clock. So please give us a quick call 9222 1882. Barry is in Mullaloo and wants to ask about older people working. Hello Barry?
MINISTER MORRISON: Hey Barry.
CALLER: How are you? I don’t know whether it is your government’s policy or Labor’s policy doesn’t really matter. Do you expect older people to work over the age of 65? Some people are self-employed, after 65 you can’t get insurance – what do you expect them to do?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well I think whether it is that or whether it is the ability to make contributions to superannuation as well I think these are a number of the issues that have come up as well have you know had the conversation about people working older – I should stress that the government – currently the retirement age, the pension age, is set to move to 67 and our proposal is to take it to 70 in 2035. I think there is some concern out in the community that people think we are trying to make the pension age 70 like tomorrow afternoon and that is not the proposal. I mean it will apply to people who are frankly my age at the moment and they are in their mid to late 40s it will affect them so there is a lot of time to prepare and plan for that period of time but look I think you raise a good point Barry and as we are going to try and encourage people to work longer for their own interest to be able to earn more, continue to build up their savings pool, have more options as they grow older because the good news is this, we are living older but we are living older healthier. That means we can continue to do things that maybe previously we wouldn’t be able to do but where there are issues like that I think you raise a good point.
SHAND: And the ageing population really drives this argument as well that you know how can we afford our health costs, our education costs and so forth with this ageing population and a shrinking tax base.
MINISTER MORRISON: Well that is right I mean when the age pension was set it was actually higher than life expectancy at 65. Things have changed a bit since then and when you look – I mean Joe Hockey has gone through this when life expectancy also massively increased when seat belts became compulsory and things like that. So we have had a lot of changes in our society we are living longer, we are living healthier, that means we all need to plan for it as well and so you know if you are in your 40s or your 50s at the moment we should be planning to work longer and to think about what we need to do today which it helps us to do that. Because some people have quiet physically demanding jobs and obviously they won’t be able to be working in those types of jobs when they are 65 but there is a time now to plan for a change in career as many of us now do as you move through life.
SHAND: Thanks for that call Barry. Now just one political question last year there was – you had a very, very tough Budget you brought down. It wasn’t received well it was difficult to get through this hostile Senate. There has been a significant change in your government’s approach and have you given up the reformist zeal in favour of re-election?
MINISTER MORRISON: Absolutely not. I mean in this latest Budget we have had reforms to the structure of the pension, a more fair and more sustainable pension. We have got a Jobs for Families package which is going to deliver $3.5 billion extra support to child care, reducing the number of subsidies from three down to one and rationalising that, the trade agreements are happening, the major structural changes, we have got a tax white paper which is under way. So we remain committed to all these reforms but as the Prime Minister says you have to have a go at the reforms that you can implement and we have to work with the Senate we have – we are not making any excuses for that but there is no good beating your chest on things that end up not getting passed. You have got to govern and that is what we are doing. There is over $14 billion in measures that got passed through at the end of June and particularly in my own portfolio we were four times ahead of where we were the previous year in getting measures through the Senate. So you know the government has listened to what happened in the first Budget, learned a lot of things as well, we have applied those things this year and we have got a much better result and I think we have got a much fairer result.
SHAND: Was one of those lessons that Australian’s have become very used to governments giving them handouts, tax breaks and other incentives and now really as Joe Hockey says the age of entitlement is over. But people are still thinking that that is the way that government works, that is our relationship with governments. So how tough is it to sell those sort of measures as you found?
MINISTER MORRISON: Look it is very difficult but it gets back to this fundamental point when it comes to welfare. Welfare is a safety net it is there for people who need it not for people who want it. It is not for something that people think is an entitlement but what is if they really need it and that is what we are trying to do with the welfare system and that is important right across the board. So we are encouraging people to conceive of the welfare system because look Greece is not going to happen in Australia but in the early 1980s Greece had half the level of debt to GDP that we have today and in one generation they blew the lot. In one generation we now have pensioners crying on the streets of Greece because of what they thought they would be getting and now they won’t be because of fiscal irresponsibility over a long period of time and people think the gravy train just could never end. Now we are not going to make that mistake and you got to reform from a strong position and we are in a strong position with our welfare system now. I want to keep it that way.
SHAND: But Australia has been through the greatest period of wealth creation in its history since the Second World War and yet the gap between the wealthy and poor is widening – ever widening. Is that not a failure of all governments, of politics, to actually have distribution of wealth in an equitable way so we can maintain the things that we thought were important it the 1970s like free education and free health care and so forth. We are having to dial those back now…
MINISTER MORRISON: It wasn’t free. Someone paid for it – the taxpayer.
SHAND: Well indeed, the taxpayer. But you know nominally free and you and I went through university under that free system – supposed and you are right within inverted commas. Is it a failure of politics on all sides that we haven’t managed to really consolidate those gains and keep that welfare net you know spread thinly as it was?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well look I disagree – I have seen some figures recently which demonstrates that that gap is not widening in Australia and particularly on wage issues and things like that but look more broadly if people are successful in this country and they are doing well and they are earning well, well good for them. But we do need to ensure the safety net remains tight because it needs to be there for those who need it most and that is what we are focused on doing.
SHAND: We will have to go thanks for your time Social Services Minister Scott Morrison.
MINISTER MORRISON: Thanks Adam, great to be here.