Doorstop interview, Introduction of Legislation – No Jab, No Pay; Child support reforms; housing reforms; energy
Thank you for being here this morning. The Government’s making a number of announcements around further reforms to the welfare system and as a basic [inaudible]. We are a government who is moving away from the old-fashioned style of welfare where large amounts of taxpayer money were being pushed out the door without anywhere near enough reasonable expectations that people receiving the money would do the right thing in a whole range of areas, to a system where there are stronger mutual obligations in accord with community expectations that people who are receiving
taxpayer funds endeavour to the right thing in a whole range of areas.
Vaccinating children is one of those areas. Obviously welfare reform that’s before the house- or has been through the house this week is another area. Turning up to job interviews is obviously a fundamental mutual obligation. But today, we’re announcing significant reforms to the No Jab, No Pay policy and those reforms are designed to improve upon what have been very good results so far
in lifting up rates of childhood vaccination.
So the previous system was such that the no pay part of the No Jab, No Play policy occurred at the end of the year and related to a potential loss of supplements. We’re flipping that system to make it more immediate and more regular. So the system will now be that if a family has failed to vaccinate their children in accordance with the medical schedule that is designed for vaccination, that they will stand to lose $28 a fortnight from their Family Tax Benefit each fortnight until that situation is remedied, which means that a family could stand to lose around about $760 a year if they continually fail to have their child vaccinated.
Now, the thinking behind this is that if the no pay part of the No Jab, No Pay policy is more immediate and more regular, that we will have an even greater incentive for families to do the right thing. And even under the first version of No Jab, No Pay we’ve seen 210,000 Australia families who were previously not having their children vaccinated get out and get their children vaccinated. What that has meant is that in the three critical age group categories we are pushing up very close to the critical percentage of population that we need to have vaccinated – which is 95 per cent – to create what doctors rather unglamorously call herd immunity, but which is the level of immunity that’s going to stop what we’ve seen in recent past, which is the resurgence of diseases that we thought had been eradicated, like polio and whooping cough.
So this is a very firm response but a very fair response in line with community expectations, and it builds on a policy setting that has been enormously successful. Notwithstanding, I might add, that the original No Jab, No Pay policy was not supported – in fact, it was vigorously opposed – by a whole range of stakeholder groups, it has been very, very successful.
I might just touch on two other matters. The same legislation is also going to deal with three reforms to the child support system which, based on a recommendation of a parliamentary standing committee, $12 million was set aside in the recent Budget to effect these reforms. And they’re reforms designed to ensure that when families have gone through court processes and courts have devised child support arrangements and care arrangements, that the system works better, more seamlessly, and with less red tape for those families. So that’s also a matter that’s being addressed in legislation today.
And a further welfare reform that’s being addressed in legislation today is the announcement of a scheme called ARDS, which is the Automatic Rent Deduction Scheme, which is open for the opt-in of all states and territories, but is a scheme which will compulsorily deduct rent from welfare payments for public housing. And Alan Tudge will have more to say on this later today, but all but two jurisdictions around Australia have agreed to opt-in to this scheme. So for the first time, there’ll be a compulsory legislated scheme that will ensure that welfare payments can be automatically deducted in every state and territory to pay the rent on public housing. And the reason that we’re doing that is that in New South Wales alone, in excess of 8000 people are in significant arrears of three weeks or more on their public housing rent, and in that state alone in excess of 2000 families each year end up being evicted from public housing because they’ve failed to pay rent. And rent should be the first thing that comes out of a welfare payment, not the last. It has to be the first thing.
And we are devising, through legislation, an automatic deduction scheme to ensure that that will occur and the end result of that will be more rent being paid by families who receive welfare, less people evicted, and less pressure in terms of the numbers becoming homeless because of eviction and, of course, less pressure on homelessness services.
So three significant reforms and all of them reforms designed to move us away from an old-fashioned welfare system of low expectations, where taxpayer money was pushed out the door without there being reasonable expectations that people would engage in behaviours which improve their own situation.
Do you have any evidence that this immediate financial [indistinct] for the No Jab, No Pay scheme will be more effective or is this a theory that you’re now testing with this?
Well, it is a theory, but it’s a theory based on basically economic and behavioural science, and economic and behavioural sciences are, in effect, theories that you go and test. But what we have seen – if I might give you the exact figures – is that in each of the critical age groups – so 12 to 15 months – the increase in vaccinations has been 1.51 per cent; 24 to 27 months, 1.55 per cent; and five years age group, the increase in vaccination levels has been 0.96 per cent – so close to a per cent. Now, in the scheme of vaccination levels they are really critical and substantial increases. So in each of those age groups, we’re now reaching 93.79 per cent vaccination rate, 90.86 per cent vaccination, and for the five-year-olds, 93.55 per cent. So the end of year supplement being potentially lost has caused those very significant increases. The behavioural economic theory behind this is making the potential loss even more immediate to the failure – the failure to vaccinate your child – will lift those percentages up even further. And of course, what we’re trying to hit at is that 95 per cent. So we’ll have to wait and see whether that theory is proved correct, but I might say that there were many people who said that the theory of linking Family Tax Benefits to vaccinations would not work and they have all been proved spectacularly wrong.
So the current policy is working; how many people are you trying to sweep up really with what you’re trying to do now?
So, there were 210,000 families who changed their behaviour under version one of No Jab, No Pay and went from non-vaccination to vaccinating their children. But there are 137,000 people who did not go through that change in behaviour. And the theory is that because the failures were distant in time to the potential consequence – which was being a loss of an end of year supplement – there wasn’t that immediate incentive to do the right thing and have the child vaccinated. So, yes we’re trying a different approach. You might argue a firmer and more stringent approach but we’re very confident that having the potential loss more immediate in time – so it would be felt on a fortnightly cycle – is actually going to target those 137,000 odd families who so far haven’t changed their behaviour and start changing their behaviour there. Now, we’re realistic we’re not going to change every single family’s behaviour. And there are some families who are – for what I might say are very silly reasons – objectors to vaccination on sort of philosophical grounds. And many of those have actually taken themselves off the conscientious objector register and have changed their behaviour. Not all of them, of course, will. We hope that more and more do. But what we have seen is that we can reach that magic 95 per cent rate if we continually refine and redesign and restructure our policies.
With all of what you’ve just announced, responsibility is being taken away from the individual. What do you think it says about society, though?
Well, there are two groups of people who are not vaccinating their children. One was people who had philosophical or wrong-headed reasons for not doing it that they thought through. And then there were just a lot of families who became too busy and because we had had success in eradicating diseases like polio and whooping cough, didn’t see that this was a priority. And that was just a fact of life that we were dealing with. I don’t make any moral judgement about that. But when you’re faced with that kind of fact in your community, as a government, you either do something about it or you do nothing. And we had a whole lot of people say to us, when we introduced No Jab, No Pay; you are better off doing nothing. They were wrong. So, when you are confronted with reality you try and devise policies that are going to improve the situation. And the improvement here, right, has been really quite fundamental. So, a very good example of that is with Indigenous children who are five years old. Their rates of immunisation have now gone over that magical 95 per cent marker and they are higher for five year old Indigenous kids than what they are for five year old non-Indigenous kids. And that’s a spectacular result. And no one in this country wants to see a resurgence of diseases like polio and whooping cough, if we can have sensible mutual obligation based policies that have been proven to change people’s behaviour,
Minister, just on another welfare matter, a number of Nationals MPs want to see the cashless welfare card roll out to unemployed people in regional areas. Is that something the Government would consider?
Well, there’s no plan for that, at the moment. And what we are doing is awaiting what will be results from two further trial sites. So we’ve had two trial sites, as you’re aware, in Ceduna and east Kimberley. Another trial site in the Kalgoorlie area, in my home state of West Australia, has been announced. And a fourth trial site will be announced shortly. The evidence from the first two trial sites has been overwhelmingly positive. I mean, the card works. And as a community we have been spending literally billions of dollars over decades in communities that have problems with drug and alcohol consumption. The card is actually working. It is not a panacea, it is not a silver bullet but it is actually giving the taxpayer value for welfare money that is put into communities.
So, it doesn’t surprise me that the Nationals are very enthusiastic about the card – because it’s been shown to work – but we are cautiously evaluating all of the data that’s at our fingertips now based on the first two trials. We’ll do that again with the further two trials and we’ll make further decisions at a later point. But I must stress, I understand why the Nationals are enthusiastic because here we are as a community presented with a policy which is actually working and provably so.
Minister, how significant is this victory for the Government on media reforms?
Look, very significant. There were a whole range of people before the last election who said that the Parliament wasn’t working or workable. And we have passed very difficult legislation through this Parliament and this Senate. And there’s probably no better example than that than media reforms, which have been talked about for decades. And we have media laws that really date back to the 1980s before the age of the internet or the mobile phone or streaming or online services. And there are obviously a wide variety of views about what is the most desirable regulatory framework. The Minister Mitch Fifield, has done a heroic job in terms of getting what is basically overwhelming support and consensus amongst the media outlets themselves but also in shepherding the legislation through the Senate. This is something which Labor governments kicked into the long grass and refused to deal with. You probably don’t get tougher things to move through the Parliament and the Senate, than this and it proves that the Government is working.
Just one last question. Your WA Liberal colleague, Michaelia Cash, is coming under significant criticism from the Labor Party over what she knew and when about the chief of the Australian Building and Construction Commission breaching the Fair Work Act. Do you think that she needs to properly explain her actions, here? Given that Mr Hadgkiss resigned yesterday but she was aware of this breach as far back as October last year.
Well, I understand that Mr Hadgkiss received advice in a procedurally sound way from the people who should be giving advice to him in what are largely matters about law and technicality and the way in which information was provided or not provided according to the rules that were in place. As far as I can see, that was all done in an orderly and fair way. It doesn’t surprise me that there is criticism by Labor, of Michaelia Cash, because she is doing things that the Labor absolutely hate, like passing corrupting benefits legislation through the Senate, which requires minimum standards of disclosure on unions and other bodies. And that seems to be something which communities feel is absolutely fair and reasonable but which the Labor Party considers shouldn’t occur. So, I’m sure that the Labor Party will take any opportunity to unfairly criticise Michaelia Cash, but I don’t think there’s anything here that suggests that she’s done anything other than exercise her responsibilities with diligence.