Media Release by Senator the Hon Amanda Vanstone

The Need for Disability Reform

Reform of the Disability Support Pension is long overdue. Just about everybody recognises the importance of a sustainable and fair income support system for people who cannot work because of their disabilities.

Labor and the Democrats, however, want to run away from the hard decisions. They are not interested in reform that is in Australia’s long-term interests and will benefit people with disabilities.

This Government is determined to make them face up to their responsibility to seriously consider reform.

Committed to Reform

The Government remains determined to explore every avenue in seeking reform to the DSP and to seeing the Commonwealth and States put more money into caring for the most severely and profoundly disabled.

The Government has put forward practical and fair options to look after existing DSP clients in any transition. We have been willing to negotiate as part of a reform process.

Labor has refused to even negotiate. While the Democrats have at least gone through the motions of listening, they have made it clear that they will not consider any offer.

We are now determined to put Labor and the Democrats to the real test.

We will not let them conspire to vote our reforms down at the Second Reading stage and thereby prevent the fair, sensible and practical changes being put to the vote.

Protecting Existing DSP Recipients

We will put before the Senate a new Bill incorporating the most reasonable offer put to the Democrats, namely, grandfathering all existing DSP recipients, as at July 2003, from the effects of these reforms.

Still Offer Up To 73,000 Additional Places

Grandfathering existing recipients means that no existing DSP recipients will be shifted on to other payments like Newstart, nonetheless we will still offer up to 73,000 extra places for disability support services. They will be progressively made available as required, for example, by existing DSP recipients wanting to improve their job opportunities and to people who, whilst they would not get DSP under the new rules, may nonetheless still need assistance.

If Labor and the Democrats reject the Bill, they will be refusing to make a sensible change in Australia’s long-term interest.

They will be refusing to realign Australia’s concept of disability to cater for those with the highest support needs.

They will be refusing to look at the 30-hour work test as McClure suggested.

They will be refusing to shift to a disability entry test that New Zealand has had for 4 years.

The DSP reforms are in the long-term interests of Australia.

Focus On People With High Support Needs

We want a greater focus on those who have the highest support needs and we want the States and the Commonwealth to put more money into specialist services for people with high support needs.

Protecting Unmet Need Money

It is clear that faced with the opportunity of protecting unmet need money to the States and Territories and reforming the DSP, the Democrats and Labor simply say, “We are not interested”.

To that end, our offer to the States and Territories which is and remains conditional on their meeting better accountability and transparency for their spending, and to matching the Commonwealth’s spending growth under the CSTDA on employment services, will not be tied to passage of the DSP reform legislation.

This will do two things.

It will provide greater certainty in the disability sector.

Importantly, it also removes any possible obstacle to Labor and the Democrats sensibly considering the essential DSP reform on its merits.

The simple facts are we are committed to DSP reform. We will fully protect existing DSP recipients. We will still offer up to 73,000 additional places. And we will protect the unmet need money to the States.

The Crucial Question

The crucial question now for the Democrats and the ALP is: should Australia continue to offer the same benefits to someone who is severely disabled as we do to someone who is able to work reasonable hours at award wages?

Should Australia continue to expect the same from people who are severely disabled as they do from people who can work reasonable hours at award rates?