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Thursday, 15 October 2015
Page: 7802

Pensions and Benefits


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (14:21): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services, Senator Fifield. I refer to reports that the Minister for Social Services, Mr Porter, is looking for more savings from his portfolio. Mr Porter is reportedly on the hunt for savings in his new portfolio, hinting spending cuts to carers' and disability payments may be needed. This week is Carers Week and Anti-Poverty Week. Carers and people with disability are at a higher risk of poverty than the general population. What further cuts to carer and disability support payments is the minister planning in Anti-Poverty Week?


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate, Minister for Communications, Minister for the Arts and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Government) (14:21): I thank Senator Siewert for her question. One of the reasons why the government have been working extremely hard on budget repair is to make sure that we as a government are in a position to fund and support that which is the core business of government. I know from my previous portfolio that an important part of the core business of government is providing support to people who face extra challenges, often for reasons beyond their control. What that means is we want to make sure that we are in a position to fully fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme. What that means is we want make sure we are a position to continue, as we all want to continue, to have a good and generous social safety net in terms of age pensions, disability support pensions and Newstart benefits.

Government has to make sure that it has a sustainable budget and that it is repairing its budget so that, in the long term, it can continue to be in a position to support those important things, which, as I say—

Senator Siewert: Mr President, on a point of order: the minister is well into his second minute. I asked a specific question about what cuts to carer and DSP payments the government is considering. Could he please address that issue of cuts.

The PRESIDENT: I remind the minister of the question and I inform the minister he has 47 seconds in which to answer.

Senator FIFIELD: Obviously, we have a budget every single year, and in the context of a budget all ministers have a duty and an obligation to make sure that the taxpayer dollar is being spent to its best benefit and that taxpayers are getting the best possible value from government programs. The Minister for Social Services, like every minister, makes sure and looks to make sure that spending is appropriate and is targeted in his portfolio. I think you only need to look at the commitment that this government has made to budget repair to be certain that— (Time expired)





Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (14:24): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note that the minister did not rule out that the government might be considering cuts to carer payments and disability payments. ACOSS has found that there are 2.5 million Australians living in poverty. Is the government planning to develop a national anti-poverty plan?


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate, Minister for Communications, Minister for the Arts and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Government) (14:24): Everything that this government does in terms of policy and in terms of framing each of its budgets is about improving the standard of living of Australians. At the heart of that is seeking to pursue policies that will increase growth, introducing policies that will increase growth, because we know that a growing economy means more jobs and the best poverty buster known is a job. Everything we do is about helping to create an economic environment that is conducive to business growing, prospering and employing people. That was our approach in our first two budgets; it will be the approach that we take in the coming budget.


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (14:25): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Carers contribute $60.3 billion a year worth of care. In the government's decision making on cuts to carer payments, are they considering how they will pay for that care if they are not supporting carers to provide that care?


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate, Minister for Communications, Minister for the Arts and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Government) (14:26): I know from my previous role, as well as anyone on this side of the chamber, the important role that carers play in our community. The work that unpaid family carers do could never be replaced by government. It is very important that government recognises and supports carers, and this government does so through carer payment and through carer allowance. This government will always make sure that there is appropriate support for unpaid family carers.

Senator Siewert is referring to media speculation. There is always media speculation the closer you get to a budget. But this government's commitment to carers is clear, has been clear and will continue.