Sky News – ‘Richo’
Subjects: Social Services portfolio, National Disability Insurance Scheme, welfare payments, Medicare, Expenditure Review Committee.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: In our Canberra studio is Scott Morrison the man who stopped the boats and who is now going to stop who knows what, we will find out. G’day Scott how are you?
MINISTER MORRISON: G’day Graham. Good to see you back on board and mate all the best for your health this year and everything else.
RICHARDSON: Thank you very much. There are some dramas there but we will get there. I am impossible to kill you know that. Now you have a job that I had right and I think when I had it which is 1990 because you are a much younger man, in 1990 I was Minister for Social Security, I think I had about $40 billion which I think at the time was a more than a quarter of the budget. Where is it now? How much does your Department spend?
MINISTER MORRISON: $150 billion roughly which is over a third of the budget and that is growing and it continues to grow right across the board in all areas and one of the new areas that has been brought into the portfolio which I suspect was not part of it last time when you were there is the whole child care issue as well. That has been brought in and was previously in education until now. That is of course one of the big issues that is confronting families and issues of labour force participation and getting people into work whenever and wherever you can. So this whole issue of participation is one that is going to dominate my thinking. Obviously economic participation for those who are currently on benefits or those we want to get back into the workforce but also social participation; you don’t want people isolated, disconnected socially out there because that only contributes to the many other problems they have and we want to address that as well.
RICHARDSON: Well you have a lot to address. Now you stopped the boats. You are regarded as the Government’s tough guy. You wouldn’t describe yourself as that because I know you are a very gentle soul.
MINISTER MORRISON: A pussy cat mate.
RICHARDSON: You were not put in there to be a pussycat. You are in there to do some hard things. You would not have been put there otherwise. All the predictions were you were going to defence. I wouldn’t have put you in defence if I was the boss, I think he has been sensible doing this and I think this or health would have been where I had shoved you because you have got to go where there are jobs to be done and messages to be sold. Who are you going to crackdown on because a bloke like you is not going to sit there and do nothing. Does that mean that anyone on the dole has got to look out?
MINISTER MORRISON: Anyone who is trying to rip it off does. Anyone who is trying to rip off the welfare system because every benefit paid is paid for by another taxpayer. On average an Australian who works is working a whole month to pay for someone else’s benefits. There are a broad range of people that need and deserve our support whether those on the aged pension who have worked hard all their life and had a clear deal as they went through life that if they worked hard there would be an age pension at the other end. Now I think retirement incomes have changed a lot since then for people like me when I come to retire and my generation but that said all the way to those who have real disabilities, those who are looking after people as carers and I think Australians generally are quite happy to have a system that helps people who are genuinely in need and deserve our support. But what they won’t cop just like they won’t cop people coming on boats, they are not going to cop people who are going to rort that system. So there does need to be a strong welfare cop on the beat and I will certainly be looking to do that but I will be doing that because I want to make sure this system helps the people who most need it.
RICHARSON: One of the things you will have to address and it wouldn’t have mattered who got the job, it needed to be addressed eventually, in the out years of the budget, not tomorrow afternoon but the out years, you have the new Disability Insurance Scheme. That was a massive cost to the budget that Labor dropped on you at the last minute and that you’ve got to deal with. Now what are you going to do about that? There are two prongs here – a very worthy scheme and one I thought its time had come because I think the disabled and their carers in particular have never been treated properly by any government. I am not making a political statement about Liberal or Labor it doesn’t matter if it was John Howard or Bob Hawke we had never done the right thing. Yet we choose to introduce such a scheme at a time when money is to say the least scares. What are you going to do about that?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well I think they are all points well made. I can’t recall an initiative that in the welfare space which has had such strong support in the community. To be true it is actually an insurance scheme not a welfare scheme but putting that technicality to one side at full operations the Medicare levy is only going to cover around about 40% of what this is going to cost. There are still billions that need to be found to make sure this programme actually runs. I see achieving the NDIS as one of the worthy goals of going through the hard tasks of reforming the welfare system to ensure we can accommodate this because this is the sort of thing that in social services you want to be able to deliver. Now we supported it in opposition I think there is very strong bipartisan support for it that continues and we want to manage that and protect that. But to deliver it you have got to do more than announce it. That is the task that has fallen to our government and to Mitch Fifield in particular who is doing a great job and I will be supporting him as my junior Minister. But you have to find the savings, you have to find the reforms that ensures you can accommodate a programme that is going to cost more than around $12 billion at the Commonwealth level alone to ensure it can run. I think that is a worthy goal and that is why it is worth getting the reforms right so we can achieve it.
RICHARDSON: One of the things that has been pretty obvious, we always hear stories about dole bludgers and I often reject them because when I was Minister and it will be the same for you, you meet people who are trying very hard to get a job and it is not easy, the economy is not. You might argue the economy is not in terrific shape, the next couple of years don’t look fabulous. So it is hard to get a job but by the same token I look at Brothers for Life and a whole range of ne’er-do-wells, people fighting in Syria…
MINISTER MORRISON: Khaled Sharrouf.
RICHARDSON: And I look at them and they are on benefits. How does that work? They look pretty healthy to me when they are hefting a gun up to shoot and kill someone.
MINISTER MORRISON: Yeah look very good point and one of the piece of good news is the reforms we have been introducing is starting to reduce the flow of people into the Disability Support Pension because we have been cracking down on the eligibility for getting onto it but you still have to stop the people who are there. We are also increasing the medical tests for those under the age of 35 and so there are some reforms there and people can expect more to ensure the disability support pension in particular is there to support people with genuine disabilities. We also want to help people get off the DSP where they can work more and I know people who have disabilities want to do that because there is not only the economic benefit of work both to those families and to the economy but there is also the social benefits that come with that as well. To get people off welfare and into work you have also got to do the most important thing of all and that is to grow the economy. There has got to be jobs and that is why the government, our government is so focused on growing the economy as our first priority.
RICHARDSON: Well don’t worry, we will get to that I don’t think you are doing quite brilliantly on that. You are going well so far mate you just got the first question mark. I just want to take you back one second to what you were saying. I remember well my time as Minister, over 20 years ago nearly a quarter of a century but the memory goes back to you know general things, you don’t remember the specifics but you can remember general things. Now everyone tells you, you have got to tighten up on the disability pension, every – I think Social Security Minister for decades has been told that. But when I look at these people we just talked about, the Brothers for Life ones that I have seen, and some of these maniacs that are fighting in Syria or in Iraq, are we having a look at the doctors who signed the forms that said these people were in some way disabled?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well I don’t want to breach any sort of privacy or confidence about specific matters that might be under review Graham.
RICHARDSON: I’m not, I’m not. I am asking is there an examination into how those people actually ever got on that benefit?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well all I can say is I think people can be very confident about the thoroughness of investigations that would take place in reference to particular individuals. What I can also say is this it is now government policy, and this was introduced by our government, that you now have to go to a government approved doctor to get the DSP. You can’t go off to some mate or something like that, you have to go to a government approved doctor to get onto the DSP now and I think that has been a very important reform. We have also had other reforms which have said you can’t go away for over half the year, sit on the beach in Bali or overseas and claim the DSP, or the pension for that matter, for all of that period of time. It is important that there are integrity measures to protect the system, for one simple reason so that people who deserve it get it and that we can make the system sustainable.
RICHARDSON: I really wish you all the best and it was always a problem for me and I always worried about it but there aren’t as you know in government once you get there not every problem is easy to solve. Having covered that, I want to take you more into general politics because I always like to do that with you because as I said you are the tough guy, but you also know which way is up, I think you know the electorate pretty well. I don’t think you live in some on high castle I think you have been pretty good at what you do. Now, are you on this economic review committee, this small sub-committee of cabinet? You are more than a third of the budget, are you on it?
MINISTER MORRISON: Yes I have joined the ERC, that’s right the Expenditure Review Committee. I was previously on the National Security Committee in my previous portfolio and obviously Peter Dutton has taken that on he has done a great job particularly over this last week also dealing with the issues on Manus, but I have taken his place on the ERC and he has taken mine on the NSC.
RICHARDSON: I was on the ERC for a year or two and I remember asking to get off because it takes up an enormous amount of time and if you are a busy Minister it is an enormous position and you know I guess when a third of the budget is yours you have to be there. Now what about these leaks from it, I can recall leaks from our Cabinet back in the Hawke/Keating days but not from the Expenditure Review Committee that is a new thing, you must be pretty disturbed by that.
MINISTER MORRISON: Well look I have only seen the press reports about this Graham and it is important the government remains focussed on the job within ERC and that is to get the budget under control and make sure we have got an economic programme that grows the economy. That is what I am focussed on, I believe that is what the team is focussed on and we will be meeting again soon and we will just get on with the job of preparing for the next budget. We have got matters outstanding from the last budget that are held up in the Senate, that is frustrating. We are going to have to take a good look at quite a number of those measures both in the context of what is currently before the Senate as well as what we seek to recast for the budget that is coming forward particularly in my own area of responsibility. A big area there is going to be child care.
RICHARDSON: I have got to go they are giving my wind up signals. Look, you and Julie Bishop have been the stand out successes of a government that hasn’t gone all that well in its first 15 months, 16 months. Whether you want to admit that or not everyone knows it. I won’t ask you to concede that but that is a fact. Now how could there have been such a cock up over Medicare and whether its co-payments or $20 for the doctors, how could it have gotten to such a ridiculous stage over so many months. Why couldn’t someone have sorted this out so much earlier?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well Graham I think it would be a mistake to think that these types of reforms are simple and easy, they are difficult reforms, very difficult.
RICHARDSON: I am not saying that, but this is a cock up of massive proportion.
MINISTER MORRISON: The problem with hard things Graham is they are quite hard and I think to work through this with the sort of determination the government has is important and we are going to continue to pursue things that we believe will make Medicare sustainable. I will concede as the Prime Minister has and others this has been difficult and on occasion it has been ragged. But the goal of the sustainability of Medicare matters and at least we have got a plan and are trying to pursue a plan. I have got no idea what’s Bill Shorten’s plan. I will tell you what I’d say for this year is, if you want to be part of the national debate come up with a proposal, if you just want to have a whinge from the opposition then you are not paying the price for a credible debate. We will be in it, the question is will Labor?
RICHARDSON: Mate, you are always good at putting a weak case, that’s what I used to do at ALP conferences, you do it very well. Congratulations and I hope to see plenty of you during the course of the year. Thanks very much for your time.
MINISTER MORRISON: You will Graham, all the best.