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Subject: Disability Support Pension
CHRIS SMITH: Jenny Macklin is the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and she joins me on the program. Minister thankyou very much for your time.
JENNY MACKLIN: My pleasure.
CHRIS SMITH: Nearly 800,000 people drawing a disability pension. Am I inaccurate in saying that not all of those people are legitimately disabled?
JENNY MACKLIN: I think it's important to recognise that we have some people with very severe disabilities and that's why we do need a safety net, do need the disability support pension…
CHRIS SMITH: Of course.
JENNY MACKLIN: To be available for them so that they can look after their basic needs. But it is the case that we do want people who have some capacity to work, they may not be able to work full-time, but if they have some capacity to work it's much better that they get that work than have a lifetime spent on income support.
CHRIS SMITH: But surely you have to admit given those massive figures that the system is being rorted?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well that's really why we are introducing a number of changes. In fact just today I've introduced some new legislation into the Parliament that will require people who apply for the Disability Support Pension to demonstrate that they have tried to find work, through either the open employment service or through vocational rehabilitation. And those new rules will start in September, assuming we get the legislation through the Parliament. We do think that it is important that people demonstrate what their abilities are and try to get work before they're assessed for the disability support pension so it will be a very important change.
CHRIS SMITH: Okay so in terms of timing this would occur before they applied for it?
JENNY MACKLIN: That's exactly right. Well they can apply, but before it's granted they will have to in fact go through a period 12 to 18 months of support, try and get work, demonstrate to the Government that they've tried to get work and demonstrate how much work that they can in fact carry. I do want to say that those claims from very severely disabled applicants will be fast tracked, because of course we do want to make sure we continue to support those people.
CHRIS SMITH: As I understand it this is a point system, and correct me if I'm wrong, you accrue twenty points from a list a specialist has for determining disability and then bingo you get the pension?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well I don't know about the bingo part.
CHRIS SMITH: But I just get the feeling there's obviously some lazy culture out there where doctors are quite happy to tick boxes. Don't we need it to be a little bit tougher in terms of that area of submitting for a Disability Support Pension?
JENNY MACKLIN: We have also recognised the need to tighten the assessment process, so now they are being done by what we call Senior Job Capacity Assessors with clearer guidelines. We're developing updated impairment tables, so this is the way in which doctors and other health professionals measure whether or not you have a disability that would get you the Disability Support Pension. So those new impairment tables are being rewritten, they haven't been redone for around twenty years, so it's high time they were updated and they will come into operation on the 1st of January next year.
CHRIS SMITH: Why haven't we had a review since 1993?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well I ….
CHRIS SMITH: Is it because politically it's not an area you like to touch?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well from our point of view we have wanted to get stuck in to making sure that we support people who have some disability but also some capacity to work. We really do want to support them into the workforce so we've made a number of changes already since we've come into Government. These new assessment processes, we've got a new Health Professional Advice Unit within Centrelink that's also been operating. So we have seen a decline in the grant rate for the disability support pension. That certainly has started to come down, but we do realise that we've got more to do.
One of the initiatives that we've just announced in the Budget in May is for the first time we're saying to people who are under the age of 35 who are on the disability support pension, if you're capable of working at least a day a week you will be required to come into Centrelink and work through what you're capable of doing. So we do want to say to people if you're capable of some work, let's sit down together and work out what support you need to get you back into the workforce.
CHRIS SMITH: And we'll police this properly so if people don't toe the line, do as Centrelink requires them to do, they won't get their Disability Support Pension?
JENNY MACKLIN: That's right. They are now, well once we get the legislation through, they will be required to come into Centrelink and if people don't turn up to their interviews, then they can have their pensions suspended.
CHRIS SMITH: Have you worked out at all, or has your Department worked out at all what percentage of those who receive this pension, are actually rorting the system? Have you worked that out? It's hard to ascertain I guess?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well of course the people who are on the pension have been through the process that existed at the time, so many people have been on the Disability Support Pension for many years and of course I think what's important is to help people to get work where they're capable of it. So that's the approach we're taking. We are going to require people, younger people under the age of 35, to now face these new participation requirements because we want to give them support to get some work at least.
CHRIS SMITH: Now I do want to also ask you a question about the water in your office because …
JENNY MACKLIN: Water in my office?
CHRIS SMITH: Yes, I'm of the understanding that there's somewhat of a baby boom going on at the moment and you've got staff off on leave left, right and centre?
JENNY MACKLIN: (laughing) I do have a couple of staff who've had babies that is true.
CHRIS SMITH: Well you're the Families Minister so you know, you're sticking by your portfolio. I think that's quite admirable.
JENNY MACKLIN: We're very supportive of mothers and fathers who decide that they want to extend their families.
CHRIS SMITH: It's a pity you're the only one left in the office though isn't it eh? Thank you very much for your time this afternoon.
JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you.
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