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JENNY MACKLIN: Thanks everyone for being here today. The Government has just released the new Impairment Tables that will be used to assess people's eligibility for the Disability Support Pension. These tables have not been updated since 1993, so it's long overdue that we have Impairment Tables that reflect today's medical and rehabilitation practice. The Government has been able to have a number of significant medical and rehabilitation experts, disability service providers, disability advocates working on these Impairment Tables over the last two years, so I'd like to take this opportunity to thank members of the advisory committee for their work. The tables will now be discussed more broadly around Australia. They will also go to a Senate inquiry that is investigating these issues and will start to be used for assessment of the Disability Support Pension on the 1st of January next year. The Government's main objective is to make sure that we have up-to-date Impairment Tables that reflect today's medical and rehabilitation practice. Our other objective is to make sure that those people who have a disability and who are able to work and want to work are in fact supported to do so. We've significantly expanded the Disability Employment Service. We want to make sure that those people who can work are able to work and get the support to do so.
JOURNALIST: Ms Macklin, how does the disability pension scheme (inaudible)?
JENNY MACKLIN: There are around 800,000 Australians on the Disability Support Pension, so there are a significant number of people on the pension. We of course know how important it is to have a Disability Support Pension for those people who are unable to work. But for those people who are able to work and who, with support, can work, we certainly want to encourage them to do so.
JOURNALIST: How do those numbers compare to people on the dole?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well there are more people on the Disability Support Pension. Of course that's happened over a long period of time. It is important that they way in which we put people onto the Disability Support Pension reflects…
JOURNALIST: What are those numbers, it's a lot more isn't it … (inaudible).
JENNY MACKLIN: Well as I say there's a lot more people on the Disability Support Pension, there's even more on the Age Pension. But the critical point is that the disability pension should be there for people when they need it. But if people are able to work and with support can work, we certainly want to see them working.
JENNY MACKLIN: There is certainly an increasing number of people going onto the Disability Support Pension with mental health problems. We know that there are many people who are able to combine their difficulties with mental illness with work and we want to support them to do so wherever possible. The objective of the Impairment Tables that have just been presented to us is to assess people's ability to work and to demonstrate what they can do, not what they can't do.
JOURNALIST: Why haven't the tables been updated for such a long time?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well that's a very good question, it certainly demonstrates that we need to change the way we reassess the tables, so I've recently introduced legislation into the Parliament to make sure that in the future the Impairment Tables are updated on a more regular basis.
JENNY MACKLIN: Well we have also introduced more stringent assessment processes over the last 12 months or so. So we do want to make sure that the Disability Support Pension is there for people who need it. Obviously those who are able to work should work.
JENNY MACKLIN: Well if people have any evidence of fraud they should report that to Centrelink and it certainly will be investigated.
JOURNALIST: Minister, the 'sin tax' is coming into effect on Monday. Some Australian smokers will face rises of up to 34 cents a packet of cigarettes. Is that a bit of a hit to the pocket of people who are smokers or drinkers?
JENNY MACKLIN: As I understand it, this is just part of the regular excise increases that happen every six months so it's a normal pattern that people are used to.
JOURNALIST: Are you sending the message to smokers or drinkers to give up the habit perhaps?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well as I say it's just part of the regular excise increases that happen every six months.
JENNY MACKLIN: Mr Abbott and the Liberal Party had 10 years, 11 years in government to update the Impairment Tables – they didn't do it. Unfortunately, Mr Abbott is all about finding opportunities to say 'no' to anything. What Mr Abbott is demonstrating that in government the Liberal Party did not update these Impairment Tables. That job has been left to the Labor Government. We've done that work, we've done it with very significant input from medical and rehabilitation experts, disability advocates, because we want to support people with disability to get into work.
JENNY MACKLIN: The estimate is around $35 million a year from next year.
JOURNALIST: And where will that money be put towards?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well it will go to the general Budget but in the most recent Budget we did announce additional funding to support people with disability into work. We've significantly expanded the Disability Employment Network or Service. We've taken the cap off the Disability Network to make sure that people with disabilities can get access to disability employment support. When Mr Abbott was in Government there was a cap on the number of places in the Disability Employment Network and that meant people had to wait months and months and months to get support to get a job.
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