Topics: Disability Support Pension, NDIS, budget, polling, Senate voting reform.
DAVID LIPSON: [introduction]
DAVID LIPSON: Are too many people on disability support payments at the moment?
MATT THISTLETHWAITE: When we were in government, we undertook a review of the disability support pension and ensured it was meeting its objectives. Labor always believes in the empowerment of work for people with disabilities and we put in place a number of programs to ensure that those people in the Australian economy that could work with disability had the opportunity to. That’s done through intensive support programs, through employment service providers, it’s done by ensuring that the necessary payments are there to support people not only find work, but to have modifications to jobs and businesses to ensure that work is sustainable into the future.
DAVID LIPSON: Do you agree though with Tony Abbott that more people, particularly young people under 35 that this audit will focus on, can be, in his words, encouraged back into the workforce?
MATT THISTLETHWAITE: We’ll wait and see the details of what is being proposed. As I said, when Labor was in government we took a number of reforms that saw many more people living with disabilities in our community get into employment. What I’m really concerned about with this budget however David, is the recommendations that we’ve seen from the Commission of Audit about the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The approach to disability that Labor took was a whole of government approach, ensuring there was the necessary support there for people who wanted to work through intensive employment programs, but also that there was the necessary home support through NDIS packages being delivered to people with disabilities. The Commission of Audit recommendations are to slow down the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. If that’s the approach that the Abbott government is going to take, that is not the way that we should be supporting people with a disability, particularly encouraging them into work.
DAVID LIPSON: We’re going to bring in Alan Tudge in just a moment, but I just want to move on before we do to corporate welfare because reports in today’s papers that $10 billion worth of welfare for business will also face the chop under Joe Hockey’s budget. Is that something that Labor will support, scaling back some of the money the government hands out to businesses around Australia? Matt Thistlethwaite.
MATT THISTLETHWAITE: We need to see the details. If you’re talking about reforming some of the support and incentives that are there for business, they are big changes and we’d need to see the details. Again, no mention of this prior to the election. The government campaigned and Tony Abbott made it a focal point of his campaign to beat up the notion of a budget emergency in Australia, but at the same time said there would be no changes to the pension, no changes to education, to the ABC, and no tax increases. Yet, that is exactly what we’re facing the prospect of on Tuesday night. We’ll hold this government to account to the obligations that they put forward to the Australian public prior to the election. That means they should hold their commitments to no tax increases.
DAVID LIPSON: Let’s bring in Alan Tudge now, who joins us in our Melbourne studio. We’ve just been talking about welfare for business and also disability support, an audit in today’s papers that may be conducted. Alan Tudge, firstly on disability support. Do you think too many people are on disability welfare payments?
ALAN TUDGE: Good morning David, great to be on your program. The issue with the Disability Support Pension is that it is growing very rapidly. There are more than 800,000 people on it presently and that’s growing by the tens of thousands each year. The essential problem with the DSP is that it doesn’t recognise people’s overall capacity or their capabilities. What we would like to do is ensure that those who are able to work are encouraged to do so. At the moment the system tends to put a person on the disability support pension and then, if you like, set and forget and leave them for a very long time even though there might be a willingness or desire and a capacity to at least make some sort of contribution.
DAVID LIPSON: Why is there just a focus, according to these reports today, on people under 35. What about the rest of the Australians that are on these payments?
ALAN TUDGE: I don’t want to speculate in terms of what is going to be announced in the budget, David, but clearly with younger people we want to ensure that every young person as much as possible is earning or learning to their maximum extent. Those who are on welfare of any description for any length of time, to get back onto employment subsequent to that is very, very difficult. Our aim is to try and ensure that young people are never on
welfare, that they are indeed earning or learning from day one so that they can have a rich and enlivened life and contribute to the community just like anybody else.
DAVID LIPSON: Let’s take a look at the Fairfax ReachTel polls that are out today in the papers. The 2PP aren’t good news for the government, but that’s to be expected. Also to be expected is that the majority of Australians don’t want to work until they are 70, surprise surprise. 68% of people do not support lifting the pension age to 70. Only 21% do support it, but I thought this one was more interesting. The debt tax, 54% of those polled by ReachTel now support it. Only 32% are opposed now. Matt Thistlethwaite, has the government succeeded in selling its message here?
MATT THISTLETHWAITE: The government has succeeded in breaking a promise, David. Again, before the election, Tony Abbott was very clear. So was Joe Hockey. No increases to taxes, and that’s exactly what this deficit levy is. It is an increase in taxation. It is not supported by Labor. It has the potential to halve domestic demand in our economy. If you look at the elements of domestic demand which has been quite volatile in our economy at the moment, some of the stronger performing areas of our economy are areas such as sales of new cars, construction, particularly home construction. A deficit levy like this could put a dampener on the sale of a new car, on the renovation of a family home and that will affect demand and affect jobs and that’s why it’s not supported by Labor.
DAVID LIPSON: Alan Tudge, has the government notched up a win already?
ALAN TUDGE: I don’t want to speculate on the polls nor do I want to speculate on the precise details of what will be in the budget. As you know, we do have a plan to increase the pension age out to 70. Bear in mind, it’s already locked in to increase to the age of 67 by 2023, and our proposal would be to increase it to the age of 70 by 2035. By that time, by 2035, almost any person who is eligible for the pension would have been working for a long time and would have been receiving superannuation for almost their entire lives. By that stage, most people will indeed have a nest-egg of superannuation which they will be able to rely upon and that was the overall agenda of superannuation going back many decades now.
DAVID LIPSON: Just very briefly, Alan Tudge, on the debt tax, specifically on this poll today?
ALAN TUDGE: Again, I don’t want to comment on the specifics of the poll or what might or might not be in the budget. Most of the media speculation today is referring to the absolute upper income band which constitutes two or three percent of the population. That’s what we’re talking about here in terms of what the media is at least speculating, so let’s just put that into some perspective.
DAVID LIPSON: I want to look now at the proposed changes to the way Senate elections happen in this country. The changes from a tri-partisan joint committee that would see, if implemented as expected, an end to the giant ballot papers for a start, and also the run of
success from the so called ‘micro parties.’ Optional preferential voting above and below the line would be part of these changes and also a tripling of the number of members to achieve party status. I want to bring in the so called ‘preference whisperer’ Glenn Druery to the conversation now.
Glen Druery thanks for joining us on Saturday Agenda. These reforms are really aimed at putting you out of a job, aren’t they?
GLENN DRUERY: These reforms are really aimed at disenfranchising five million Australians that voted for parties other than the majors.
DAVID LIPSON: But you are one of the only people who understands the way that votes actually go in Senate elections. That’s why people pay you to look at these sorts of things. For example, Ricky Muir from the Motoring Enthusiasts Party, who was elected with 0.0354 per cent of the vote. It’s for many people just blind faith voting in these Senate elections, isn’t it?
GLENN DRUERY: 0.051 per cent, actually for Ricky Muir. We have a political system at the moment in this country that does allow ordinary people to enter the political process. You don’t necessarily have to be a party hack or a factional warrior or a branch-stacker. Ordinary people like Ricky Muir who knows what it means to work, who knows what it means to be unemployed, and to pay his rent, can enter the political process and I think that’s a good thing. Diversity is a good thing. To stop that would be a very bad thing.
DAVID LIPSON: Wouldn’t this reform, though, see some of those minor parties have to band together and form actual platforms that people can more easily understand and vote for in a democratic way?
GLENN DRUERY: That is one possibility. These reforms are a little bit like the major parties, and I include the Greens in that, the Greens, Coalition and Labor that were on this Joint Standing Committee, it’s really like saying ‘I’m in the lifeboat. To hell with you,’ and push you back into the sea. It’s just not fair. We are a country that’s built on a fair go and a country that’s built on helping the little guy get up in the world. If you look back in history, the Greens were first elected on two to three per cent, Xenophon on less than three per cent. Now they’re there. They are in the lifeboat and nobody else gets there.
DAVID LIPSON: Let’s hear what some of the representatives from a couple of those major parties think. First to you, Alan Tudge, what is your response to that? That ordinary Australians are being locked out by these main parties that are banding together in order to preserve their dominance in the political spectrum?
ALAN TUDGE: I don’t think that’s the case, David. Ordinary parties, any party, will still be able to run for the Senate. There will be a new rule that requires a party to have at least 1,500 members as part of their party rather than the current rule which is 500. That is the
only thing that would change and be different for, say, Ricky Muir’s party. But otherwise, they can contest. What the overall objectives of these reforms are, is to give the individual greater control over their vote so that they have the capacity to see exactly where their vote goes for a first preference and for subsequent preferences. At the moment, the system says that you can put a ‘1’ above the line, but you may not know exactly where your preference ends up going. I’ll give you one clear example of this, where some perverse outcomes may result. In the last election, there was a ‘No Carbon Tax’ party. People who voted ‘1’ above the line for that party would probably think it was going to support that party and policies to support the abolition of the carbon tax. Indeed in many states, that preference would have gone to Labor before it would have gone to the Coalition. I don’t think that necessarily would have been the intent of every single person who voted for that single issue of no carbon tax.
DAVID LIPSON: Matt Thistlethwaite, would you be happy to see the back of backroom preference deals in the Senate?
MATT THISTLETHWAITE: David, we support and welcome the recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. I think they will improve democracy and importantly, improve Australian’s expectations and understanding of the way the Senate voting procedure should work. You mentioned a party, or a representative of a party, with .018 percent of the vote being elected. I don’t think that Australian’s expect someone with such a small vote being elected compared to someone with say ten per cent of the vote and not being elected. They were some of the outcomes that we’ve seen in recent Senate elections. The other point to make is that most people when they go in to vote for the Senate, they go into the polling booth and have very little understanding of how the process actually works. If they actually ask the polling officials for the distribution of preferences, they are not available in the polling booths. I think any process that simplifies the Senate election process, provides a greater understanding of how it works, and produces much more democratic outcomes ought to be supported.
DAVID LIPSON: Glenn Druery, a response to that? Really this should be about the Australians who actually cast their votes. It will simplify the system, wont it? It will make it easier for people to understand where their votes are actually going?
GLENN DRUERY: What this is really about is benefiting the Greens. I think that something your two guests have failed to understand or failed to talk about is if this goes through, as the committee has suggested, then it is very, very likely that the Greens will win one Senator in every state at every election, and that will come at the expense of Labor. It is also very likely that if the Palmer United Party’s vote keeps going the way it is, they will win one Senator at every election at the expense of the Coalition and given the way the Coalition put the Nats on their ticket, they will probably come at the expense of the Nats. If we were to go through this a couple of electoral cycles from now, the big winner will be the Greens, possibly Palmer. The big losers will be the ALP, the Coalition, but the big losers will be the
minor parties. Yes, theoretically under these reforms a minor party can still exist, theoretically but in all probability and all reality it’s a little bit like a running race where the major parties get out there in all their high tech running gear and the minor parties have got to wear lead weights. They simply will not be competitive and ordinary Australians, unless you join a major party and play the whole big major party game, simply won’t get a jersey.
DAVID LIPSON: We’ll have to leave our discussion there. We are out of time. Glenn Druery, Matt Thistlethwaite and Alan Tudge, thank you very much for your time.
ALAN TUDGE: Thanks David.