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Government's razor gang cuts carer bonus -

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PETER CAVE: The Federal Government's razor gang looks set to axe the annual bonus that's been paid
to carers of the sick and disabled for the past four years as it cuts spending to curb inflation.

The Australian newspaper says senior sources have confirmed that the payments will be scrapped,
with a plan to boost the utilities allowance, though the move will leave carers significantly worse
off. The Opposition says it's a callous attack on the most vulnerable.

From Canberra, Alexandra Kirk reports.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: For the past four years the Commonwealth has increased payments to carers via
one-off bonuses. Last year's budget included a $1,000 bonus to the carer payment, plus an extra
$600 for those on the carer allowance. Many households received both. The Australian newspaper says
the Labor Government will scrap the annual bonuses.

Family and Community Services Minister Jenny Macklin is refusing to rule anything in or out of the
budget. However, her office says the carer bonus payments were only one-off payments, which the
previous government never guaranteed into the budget.

The Government says it understands the difficulties faced by carers, and that's why it's extending
the utilities allowance to carer payment recipients for the first time, with an increase of $500 a
year, every year. The first payment will be made later this month.

The Opposition says with Government coffers tipped to receive a massive budget surplus of
$20-billion, it can well afford to pay carers a bonus again.

TONY ABBOTT: Kevin Rudd made great play of attacking John Howard for running some kind of
"brutopia" you might remember. Well, what kind of brutopia is this that a country with a
$20-billion-plus surplus can't afford to make these one-off bonus payments to carers who are doing
a terrific job and are amongst the most vulnerable people in our society?

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Opposition's Family and Community Services spokesman, Tony Abbott, says it's
important to fight inflation but carers should not be made the victims of that fight.

TONY ABBOTT: It's a callous attack on the most vulnerable people in our society. Carers received
very substantial bonuses in the last four Howard budgets, thanks to the massive surplus, and the
surplus this year is going to be even bigger according to all reports and so they should get the
payment again.

I think it would be terrible if the Howard ... if the new Rudd Government should use carers as kind
of human shields in its fight against inflation.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But it is true, isn't it, that the carer bonus payment was only ever a one-off
payment?

TONY ABBOTT: But it was paid in the last four budgets. We do have to do something with this massive
surplus. It is the people's money, not the Government's money, and the Government should give it
back, in particular to people who are very vulnerable and carers get paid little enough as it is.
They save our community tens of thousands of dollars each, because the people they're looking after
would mostly otherwise be institutionalised and they deserve a fair go, and that's what they're not
getting from this new government it seems.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The chief executive of Carers Australia, Joan Hughes, says the cut comes as a
complete shock.

JOAN HUGHES: Well, most family carers who are on Centrelink payments are living $200 below the
federal minimum wage on a weekly basis. So we know that many of these families are living, you
know, below the poverty line and they need money in order to pay basic bills. So, that's what the
$1,600 or the carer bonuses did in the last four budgets. It's going to affect over 400,000 family
carers who are on Centrelink payments.

PETER CAVE: Joan Hughes, chief executive of Carers Australia.