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Thursday, 16 May 2002
Page: 1764

Senator JACINTA COLLINS (3:26 PM) —I wish to take note of the responses to questions put to Senator Vanstone today regarding the disability support pension. I was pleased to hear her note that the gate is not closed on the significant impact this measure, as it currently stands, will have on a large number of Australia's working disabled currently in receipt of the disability support pension. I was concerned to hear today from the minister her view that these problems occur only with two per cent of the current disability support pensioners and that she was not able to sustain that claim with any detail which leads her to that conclusion nor indeed indicate the date or the age of the data which leads her to that impression. I look forward to that information becoming available as soon as possible because these issues are quite significant.

I looked at the fairly extreme case of somebody who might be working just below the threshold of 29 hours per week and is in receipt of the disability support pension as a part payment. That person, if they are under these measures and are shunted over to the Newstart means test, will lose more than $200 per fortnight. Under these arrangements, someone can lose up to $200 per fortnight. This is what the minister has come late to; this is what the minister has now come to understand, and she has said that the gate is not closed. The minister should have been aware of this issue. I was aware of this issue years ago with respect to people who work part time. There is a significant financial effect on people currently working if they are moved from one means testing regime to another. I am astounded that this government had not taken that issue into account.

Perhaps that is why there is such a significant difference in the forecasts made by the disability sector as to how many people are going to be affected by these changes as compared to the minister's forecast of how many people are going to be affected. If that is the case, and if that is translated into Treasury's estimates of savings, we are going to have a very interesting time in Senate estimates understanding how the government has estimated its savings and whether it has taken this issue into account. That may not be the case. Certainly the minister gave us no hope that that was the case. But I have to be cynical and reflect on the fact that the minister really gave these people no hope when she said, `We'll deal with the issues of the implementation.' Anyone who heard the budget speech heard the comments about how we will deal with issues of implementation: `We'll just do it over five years.' Is that the comfort we give people who are the current working disabled—we just say, `Somewhere in the next five years, you'll be shunted from the disability support pension over to Newstart'? For some people that could mean up to $200 per fortnight less in payments.

That is not even taking into account people who come from families that perhaps involve another disabled person or a disabled spouse. And it is not taking into account the very severe impact of the differential means test on child payments. So the figures could even be much higher than this $200 per fortnight cut that people might suffer. I look forward to more from the minister on this issue, but I cannot say I had a huge amount of satisfaction from her comments in question time.

Who is involved in these cases? I have had a few already since the budget. I refer to one particular email where the person concerned has indicated that she is happy for her comments to be presented publicly. I will start reading from it. I know I will run out of time so I intend to seek leave to incorporate the remainder of it. She writes:

Dear Jacinta,

As a person with a disability I am disappointed with the Federal Governments approach and treatment of people with disabilities in the 2002 Budget.

Presently I am employed part-time, 24 hours a week, in an Information and referral Service for people with disabilities, family members, friends, carers, health professionals and students. I am also receiving part payment of the Disability Support Pension. I have been disabled since the onset of Rheumatoid Arthritis in 1993.

The Disability Support Pension (DSP) requires rigorous assessment to make the payment and without the financial support I receive each fortnight I would find it difficult to meet the costs associated with daily living.

That is why people need this payment: to meet the costs of daily living. I seek leave to incorporate the remainder of the email. (Time expired)

Leave granted.

The document read as follows—

As I am able to do part-time work, access to the DSP is assessed on a routine basis. My doctor a specialist and Associate Professor in Rheumatology, is in agreement with me that I am best suited to working in a part-time capacity. I would find it difficult to work in a full-time position and would imagine that the stress related in pursuing a full-time occupation would be detrimental to my health. I find then that the government's approach to removing me from the DSP onto a Jobsearch allowance would be none other than farcical.

Further to this, as I speak with other people with disabilities in my part-time role, I would like to convey the sentiment that is being shared with me. I have received many phone calls from people with disabilities that are feeling weak and vulnerable. Yesterday I received a call from someone stating that a friend in a wheelchair was on the brink of suicide following the announcements in the budget.

I urge you as a Senator not to support this change to allow the Government to take from the poor to pay for war. I am available for further discussion on this topic at anytime, please feel free to contact me.