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Tuesday, 13 September 2005
Page: 69

Senator BARNETT (4:50 PM) —I stand opposed to the motion put forward by the Labor Party but acknowledge that this is an important topic for the Senate to discuss—the future for and the potential of people with disabilities. I want to start by relating some of the key principles behind the government’s thinking on this issue, and contrast that with Labor’s thinking, policy and philosophy. The first key principle is this: the best form of welfare is a job. People, wherever it is possible, whenever they are capable and wherever jobs are available, want to have a job. They want the best in life so they can achieve their potential, and the best form of welfare is a job. We would like the Labor Party to acknowledge that and to say upfront, direct to the Australian public and to this chamber, that that is exactly the best way to go.

Linked with that key principle is the philosophy that people want to fight their way—and they will fight as hard as they can—out of the cycle of poverty that they may be in. They want to earn income so that they can make a difference for themselves and their families in life. They want to try to make a difference. They want to try to achieve their potential for not only themselves but also their families.

The opportunity to work will build self-esteem. Working builds confidence, it helps them achieve their potential. This leads into another key message or principle—that we must always focus on the ability, not the disability. We are talking about people with disabilities, yes, but we should be focusing on their abilities, not their disabilities. We need to be focusing on what they can do, not what they cannot do. We need to give them an opportunity to express themselves, to achieve their potential and do what they can.

It is a blight on Australia’s community that 700,000 children today live in a home where no parent works. There are 700,000 Australian children in this position and that is something of which all of us can be ashamed. It is a great disappointment. It is sad. This is not giving those children the best opportunity in life. We want to give them an opportunity to achieve their potential and reach their dreams.

In putting up this motion the Labor Party appear to have been blind to the fact that, if you are already on a disability support pension, you will not be affected; you can stay on it. You can stay on the disability support pension, and that continues post 1 July 2006. Senator Wong mentioned that date. Yes, that is when the new rules do apply but if you are already on a disability support pension you can stay on it. The other key principle that appears to have not been acknowledged by the Labor Party is that, for those people with a disability, you are only put on Newstart and asked to work if you are assessed as having a capacity and an availability to so work. If you are assessed as not having the capacity you will not be forced to work. Senator Troeth made that point earlier in the debate.

I would like to a address the NATSEM—the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling—report that was released today. We appreciate the work and effort that has gone into that study, but I have received advice today that the study is flawed. I want to address the flaws in the study. The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Kevin Andrews, made a statement today—it is a public document and the opposition are welcome to it—where he says that the study fails to recognise that people who go onto Newstart post July 2006 will do so on the basis that they are not entitled to receive the disability support pension. If they are already on the disability support pension then they will stay on it under the conditions for which it was granted. That is the key point I have just referred to.

Any comparison between a person with a disability on Newstart and DSP should properly acknowledge that only 10 per cent of DSP recipients engage in some form of paid work. So we have that sorted out. Then the minister said it was more appropriate to compare a person with a disability on Newstart who undertakes 15 hours of work per week to that of a person on DSP who earns no private income. This comparison shows that a person who works at the minimum wage is up to $92.20 a week better off than someone on the DSP who does not work at all. For those on the other side, the minister has included a table in his media release that you can look at and refer to. I do not know if opposition senators have read the table and considered it because, if you have, you have not referred to in the debate today in this chamber. I am referring to it because it is a public document that has been released today. You have referred to the NATSEM report released today; I am referring to the government’s response that was released today. The minister makes it very clear that people are up to $92.20 better off under this proposal.

In the table it refers to the DSP where there is no paid work and the Newstart allowance for 15 hours paid work. There has been reference made in the debate to the pensioner concession card, the pharmaceutical allowance and the telephone allowance. Guess what? They are still there. They remain no matter which arrangement you might be under. The media release is there and I ask opposition senators to consider it. Please, consider the facts and then draw the public’s attention to it and voice your own views on it. That is the response from the government.

I want to quickly refer to the $555 million in new and expanded employment and rehabilitation services under the government’s $3.6 billion Welfare to Work reforms. I want to refer to Erick Pastoor, the former Tasmanian Liberal candidate for Denison, because he is a man who has stood up and said, ‘Yes, I will have a go.’ He has a disability and he says, ‘I want to make a difference.’ He is a good example of that and he should be commended. He is an example for the government and for the public. I congratulate him on making that stand, making a difference in his own life and being an excellent example for the people of Tasmania. (Time expired)