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Monday, 18 August 2003
Page: 18710

Mr CAMERON THOMPSON (3:20 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Would the minister advise the House what the government is doing to boost the employment prospects of people with disabilities? Are there any alternative policies?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) —I thank the member for Blair for his question. I know he shares the government's commitment to try to give all Australians a fair go and to try to encourage Australians to have a go. In last year's bud-get the government announced a series of changes to try to encourage people with disabilities to stay in the work force. As well as changing the criteria for people to access the disability support pension rather than the unemployment benefit, the government announced $278 million in new programs to help people with disabilities to find work. I would have thought that helping people with disabilities to find work would be bipartisan policy but apparently it is not. Mr Speaker, I am now quoting:

Something also needs to be done about the outrageous growth in the DSP, which is now paid to more than 550,000 Australians.

That was not Senator Amanda Vanstone; that was in fact the shadow Treasurer, back in the days when he was interested in good policy rather than muscling up to the government. The shadow Treasurer went on to say:

The DSP is being used as a way to shift people off the dole and artificially lowering the unemployment rate.

The shadow Treasurer went on to say:

Incredibly, one in every 13 Australians aged between 40 and 65 has been classified as disabled and given the DSP.

It is incredible, isn't it? Because one of those people—formerly in the work force, now a long-term benefit recipient—is apparently a certain Sydney taxi driver who made the acquaintance of the member for Werriwa. Given the shadow Treasurer's views, it is even more incredible that the opposition in the Senate has rejected the government's changes not once but twice.

On the subject of the disability support pension, either the shadow Treasurer believed it then and does not believe it now, in which case he needs to explain why he has changed his mind, or he believed it then and still believes it now, and so he has to explain why he has not had the intelligence and the wit to be able to persuade his colleagues to support sensible and moderate changes that will help more people get work.