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Transcript of interview with Leon Byner: 5AA: 15 April 2004: pensions; new Family Support Program; Family Tax Benefit; carbon price
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Pensions, new Family Support Program, Family Tax Benefit, carbon price - 5AA, Leon Byner

Date:

15/04/2011

*** E & OE - Proof only ***

Subject: Pensions, new Family Support Program, Family Tax Benefit, carbon price.

LEON BYNER: Well, one of my hobby horses, and deservedly so, was the issue where the Kevin Rudd thirty dollars for pensioners to get them up to at least CPI - and this is going back a couple of years - has been very greedily taken by the State Government and included in Housing SA rent.

Now this is something that I think is wrong but at this stage the Premier and our local minister are just saying, I'm sorry, look at the big picture. Michael Atkinson was defending the decision on this program a couple of weeks ago saying, Leon, people are getting cheap rents so look at the big picture.

Well, Jenny Macklin what is - and thank you for joining us...

JENNY MACKLIN: My pleasure.

LEON BYNER: what's your big picture on this?

JENNY MACKLIN: Thanks very much Leon, and it is good to be with you again because you and I agree on this issue. When you think about the picture, the big picture for me is that the Federal Government decided to give a long awaited increase to pensioners and if you actually look at what's happened since September 2009 when we made this pension increase, there's actually been an increase for single pensioners on the maximum rate of one-hundred-

and-twenty-eight dollars a fortnight when you take into account all the indexation improvements.

So what we said then and what we say now is that we want that money to stay in the purses and wallets of pensioners. That's why we made the increase. We said to state governments - all state governments at the time - that we wanted to make sure that this was excluded from public housing rents and the South Australian Government at the time agreed to that.

So I would say to all state governments including the South Australian Government, we want to make sure that that agreement that they made back then sticks, that the money we made available to pensioners stays with pensioners.

LEON BYNER: Well the State Government have basically told you to mind your own business.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well and we haven't given up. We're off...

LEON BYNER: What can you do? Can you force the issue here?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well it's very difficult in one sense. The South Australian Government, like the other state governments, set public housing rents and so they've got the authority to do that. I can obviously make plain on your program how disappointed we are and I think pensioners are also letting state governments know that they're not happy.

LEON BYNER: Mmm, well you see the response from this State Government is that if Ms Macklin and her federal colleagues really wanted that money to be separate they would have paid it another way. What do you say to that?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we wanted it to go to pensioners and that's why we paid it that way. That's why we increased the maximum rate for pensioners, for singles and couples. That's why we introduced an improved system of indexation to make sure that the way the pension is calculated actually keeps up with the cost of living for pensioners.

So that was a really major change that we delivered.

LEON BYNER: So as far as you're concerned, the State Government's broken their word to you?

JENNY MACKLIN: That's right. They didn't just break their word to me, they've broken their word to pensioners and that's why pensioners are understandably very annoyed.

LEON BYNER: Alright, now I want to dovetail this with an announcement that you're making today which is a touch under half a billion dollars that the Federal Government today is launching the new family support program.

JENNY MACKLIN: Yes.

LEON BYNER: Now can you explain how that will touch the people listening across our state today? How - how will that change their life or enhance their life?

JENNY MACKLIN: Just to give you a couple of examples of terrific organisations here in South Australia that already benefit and will continue to benefit, so we're going down to Uniting Care Wesley down in Port Adelaide, in Seton.

They will have confirmed today that they'll receive four-point-four million dollars over the next three years to deliver the terrific work that they do for families, particularly families who might be under pressure.

LEON BYNER: I've got a question. That's a great initiative and you're to be congratulated because Uniting Care Wesley are a sensational community service charity. I think they're brilliant but is there not a temptation if you have seen here a lack of goodwill by the State Government to trowel into monies that were not entitled to be taken by them at all.

Is there not a danger in helping out wonderful organisations like Uniting Care Wesley that the State...

JENNY MACKLIN: It's a program that the Commonwealth's been funding with Uniting Care Wesley, with the Salvation Army, with Anglican Community Care...

LEON BYNER: Because these charities are really doing it tough because more and more people as you know Jenny are out there wanting help and a lot of them are not necessarily just the homeless or others.

JENNY MACKLIN: Oh, absolutely.

LEON BYNER: Some of these are - are what you would call the working poor who've got to go to charity to get fed.

JENNY MACKLIN: Or in this case what this service is all about is supporting families. So providing parents with the skills that they need, providing parents with support when they might face family breakdown, those sorts of issues, support with their children.

One of the complaints that these services have made to us over the years is that they wanted contracts over a longer time. So these contracts are now for three years rather than having to be renewed for each year.

LEON BYNER: Okay.

JENNY MACKLIN: That of course gives them a lot more certainty.

LEON BYNER: So how much money will be divvied up in South Australia altogether? You're spending about four-ninety million and it's going to go to various organisations like the Uniting Care Wesley?

JENNY MACKLIN: Like Uniting Care Wesley.

LEON BYNER: Yeah, so how - what kind of share are we getting in South Australia?

JENNY MACKLIN: In South Australia it's going to go to thirty three different organisations and there will be just under fifty million, so forty-eight-point-eight million over three years.

LEON BYNER: So these are charities who now would be doing it very tough because we know demand is up, and that's another thing. I mean we are in a situation now where we are providing lots and lots of family support which is a great thing, and yet underneath that what we are seeing is this rich get richer, poor get poorer and people being squeezed out. You

understand that don't you?

JENNY MACKLIN: I do, I do and…

LEON BYNER: What's driving that? Why is that happening?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think that is an incredibly important point because we've got the lowest unemployment that we've seen for a long time, so more and more people are getting work. We are of course wanting to see more people get into employment. The more we can help people get work, the less pressure on families.

LEON BYNER: And on that, are you going to get tougher on people who have been unemployed for a long time that are - that are getting benefits?

JENNY MAKLIN: Well I think the way that you would have seen the Prime Minister put it the other night is we've got to do both. We've got to make sure that we have clear expectations, that people who can work do work, but we also need to provide the sort of support that people need to get them into work.

LEON BYNER: But let's get back to the point we made that we - despite all this support that people are getting and then there's the possible repatriation through the carbon tax which is another issue that's still to be bedded down if you like in more detail so I don't want to go there today because we can't tell people specifically that much but why is it that we are seeing a much greater rift between the rich and the poor and yet you'd think that with the mining boom, with the dollar a dollar five US, you know, against the pence and the yen, what's happened here?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think you've got a lot of people, families, who are under financial pressure because they might be for example just holding it together with a low paid job or with casual work. That's what we want to see improved. We want to see people get the opportunity to get better paid employment, invest more in education and skills.

One of the things we are doing to help families financially is that we've got some legislation in the parliament that will finally see the Family Tax Benefit for teenagers up where it should be.

LEON BYNER: Okay now on that point, I know this is not strictly your portfolio but that Family Tax Benefit A is designed - it - we once upon a time called it child endowment.

JENNY MACKLIN: Yes.

LEON BYNER: It's now set for children.

JENNY MACKLIN: Yes.

LEON BYNER: However, our State Government is joining the national bandwagon and doing what a lot of other state governments are doing and now it's adding more money to be assessed as rent.

So with the pension you've talked about that you've been very clear on your attitude as have I, what we are seeing here is a major gouge against families who if they have to use public housing or even the supported accommodation or those accommodations that are not strictly Housing SA but other tenants, but still it's Housing SA, they are going to be paying a lot more, it's not good.

JENNY MACKLIN: It's not good. What the Federal Government is doing is making sure that Family Tax Benefit is improved. So as I was saying, what we're wanting to do is increase the Family Tax Benefit, especially for teenagers.

As you and any of your listeners would know, teenagers don't get cheaper as they get older.

LEON BYNER: No.

JENNY MACKLIN: And so...

LEON BYNER: [Laughs] We all know that.

JENNY MACKLIN: what we're doing is increasing Family Tax Benefit. For some families it will go up by around four-thousand dollars a year so...

LEON BYNER: And see conversely what's going to happen is if you live in community housing, your rent assistance - all of it - all of it - will be taken by the state now.

JENNY MACKLIN: They won't take all of that extra say four-thousand dollars.

LEON BYNER: No.

JENNY MACKLIN: The four-thousand dollars will go to people who are on the maximum rate of Family Tax Benefit. So they won't have all of that removed and in fact most of that money that the Federal Government will provide to families who've got teenagers aged from sixteen to nineteen, most of that money still will go to families which is a very good thing.

LEON BYNER: Well, if the kids are still living at home.

JENNY MACKLIN: Yes that's right and what we also want them to be doing is going to school. So they won't get this money if their children aren't staying at school. We're really saying to parents, you know, we know that it's much better if young people stay on at school, finish high school and then they'll get this increase in family tax benefit.

LEON BYNER: Now Jenny, I know you're going to be long enough here this morning to talk to the people of South Australia. If you've got a question for Jenny Macklin, Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services, Indigenous Affairs, 8223 0000.

LEON BYNER: With me in the studio this morning is a lady who is a big part of your life, even though you don't know her although you're meeting her this morning. Jenny Macklin,

Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services, Indigenous Affairs. And Toni, meet the Minister.

CALLER TONI: Oh, good morning, Jennifer. I just have a quick question. Just those increases you're talking about, is the youth allowance going to be increased?

JENNY MACKLIN: That's a separate payment. What I'm talking about that's going to be increased is the Family Tax Benefit Part A. So this is if you've got a child aged 16 to 19 who's still at school.

CALLER TONI: Yep. Yeah, that's my son's still at school and I'm a single parent so he gets the youth allowance. I just wondered if that was going to affect the youth allowance, as well.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well this might make you think again and actually apply for Family Tax Benefit Part A.

CALLER TONI: Okay.

JENNY MACKLIN: So I'd suggest that if you're in that situation, it might be worth your while having a talk with your local Centrelink.

LEON BYNER: So if you ring Centrelink and early in the morning's good or later in the day because if hanging on, it keeps telling us about when the best time to contact them, what sort of people would be best? Because you're intimating today that there are some people in Toni's position, for example got a teenage boy or girl who are still at an educational institution. What would it be that people should switch to Family Tax Benefit A? What sort of people should do this?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well the situation has been very confusing for people in Toni's circumstances. Someone who might have a child who's aged 16 to 19, still at school. For some of them it was - they were better off going on to Youth Allowance and Toni was probably in that situation. This legislation's still got to get through the senate. I'm pretty sure it will.

LEON BYNER: Yeah.

JENNY MACKLIN: And it will start on 1 January. So that's why I would suggest that Toni and anyone else in her circumstance...

LEON BYNER: So she would be better off?

JENNY MACKLIN: She may be. I can't tell without knowing all of her circumstances…

LEON BYNER: Sure. Talk to your local Centrelink.

JENNY MACKLIN: So that's why I recommend going to Centrelink.

LEON BYNER: Alright. Let's talk to Rod at McLaren Vale. Rod, you're talking with Jenny Macklin.

CALLER ROD: Yes good morning.

JENNY MACKLIN: Good morning.

CALLER ROD: Jenny, I've got a question about the pensioners. What is the Labor Party doing for the pensioners? Now pensioners go to the doctors and they've got to wait because the doctors are under staffed and they say they need more money to run their clinics. And you go to the hospitals and the hospitals tell you to go back to the doctors because they're under staffed as well. And they say that your complaint is a doctor's complaint and not a hospital complaint. Then on top of all of that, you're going to bring in the carbon tax which is going to put the price of food and power right through the roof. So what is the Labor Party going to do for pensioners?

JENNY MACKLIN: Just on the last issue that you raised; the carbon price. What we've made very clear in the last couple of days is that for pensioners, we're going to make sure that you're more than assisted for the price that...

LEON BYNER: Got a question.

JENNY MACKLIN: Yeah.

LEON BYNER: You're going to want to pay this to pensioners in South Australia in a way that doesn't allow the State Government...

JENNY MACKLIN: [Laughs]

LEON BYNER: You're smiling, but let's be real, you know...

JENNY MACKLIN: Yes. I know, I'm agreeing with you.

LEON BYNER: So the worry is this. I mean, put aside the politics of the carbon tax. Let's just look at the reality of compensation. Is there not a danger that that compensation will then be dipped into by this government to increase rents even more if you're in public housing or community housing?

JENNY MACKLIN: Sure. Well we will, of course, be wanting to make absolutely sure that this...

LEON BYNER: How are you going to do that? Because you get it in writing and they'll just tell you to blow it.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I got it in writing last time, you're dead right.

LEON BYNER: It didn't mean - so what are you going to do? Put them in a brace?

JENNY MACKLIN: We will make sure that this money goes to pensioners because as your listener has just said, he wants to make sure that this money goes to him. We want to make sure that this additional assistance that we will provide to pensioners and to low and middle income families goes to them to help...

LEON BYNER: Is there any way that you can pay it that the State Government can't touch it?

JENNY MACKLIN: All of this we're working on right now, the actual amounts that we're going to pay, how we're going to pay it, all of that detail is being worked through.

LEON BYNER: Alright. Now this is something we need to find out. We know now that you do pay a utilities allowance and you pay it quarterly. Alright? You've changed recently the way that you pay it but you do pay that. Now we know that power prices - and Ross Garnaut has said this. In fact thinks we're being gouged. He's probably right. But the price of electricity and energy itself has gone up through the roof. Are you contemplating - apart from the carbon tax because remember we don't know whether it's going to include petrol or not yet. And Graham Richardson, a former colleague of yours, has said if you include petrol; you're gone. That's his view. But what's going to happen here with a utility allowance? Are you looking at actually increasing that allowance per se?

JENNY MACKLIN: What we did when we put the pension a couple of years ago, was we put the utilities allowance, the old utilities allowance into what we call now the pension » « supplement . And we've got a new indexation arrangement for the pension that makes sure that the price increases that pensioners face is actually calculated separate from everybody else.

So we have a pensioner indexation method, and that has actually meant that the pension's gone up faster than other payments going to other people in our community.

It has meant that pensioners have got more. And that's why - as I mentioned to you before - we've seen the fortnightly rate of the pension go up by a hundred-and-twenty-eight dollars a fortnight for single maximum rate pensioners, if you compare now back to September 2009.

LEON BYNER: Yes, yes. Alright, now this is interesting. Wayne Swan has earmarked - and I'm not going to get you to comment on specific Budget issues, because I know you're not going to do that - and nor is he or anybody else - don't get that.

But if it's going to be a really tough Budget, and you don't want to touch the people that are the most vulnerable because you want to over-compensate them, how should we interpret that? How would you have the public interpret ladies and gentlemen, you're going to have a very tough Budget this year? How should we interpret that if your intention is to over-compensate those at the margins?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, the way in which we're going to pay for the compensation to the assistance to people when we introduce a carbon price is, of course, by money that we raise by pricing carbon. And the people who will pay that are the big polluters. So it's the big polluters...

LEON BYNER: But they'll pass that on to you and me though.

JENNY MACKLIN: And they'll also be, of course, paying that price. And the money that we raise from that increased price will be used to make sure that we have the money to allocate to pensioners.

LEON BYNER: Now you've got a - and again, let me just get this clear. You're trying to figure out a way with Penny, your finance minister, and probably the Treasurer, to work it so that South Australia can't dip into that money.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, so that anybody can't, to be fair. What we want to do is make sure that whenever we're providing assistance to families, to individuals, to pensioners...

LEON BYNER: I'm really interested to see how you're going to do this.

JENNY MACKLIN: [Laughs] Well, as you can imagine, given the experience that I've gone through, I do want to absolutely make sure that this money goes to the people who need it.

LEON BYNER: It's not looking good for the local government here, of South Australia, when you're telling the people of this country - and state - the same ones who've got to vote for you at some point - that you don't trust your local colleagues. It's not good, is it?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, I think when you make a decision to increase the pension, and it's very clear why you're making that decision - because pensioners have been waiting for that increase for a very long time - but we want to make sure that that money goes to them.

LEON BYNER: Look, I commend you for what you're doing for the charities like the Wesley Mission and others - and I wish you well. And you're probably - have a throng of media around you this morning. But I'm glad you took the time to come in. And we'll continue to liaise regularly with your office when we get anomalous complaints that you can look into and fix.