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Parliament House, Canberra: transcript of doorstop interview: welfare reform.

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Wayne Swan MP Manager of Opposition Business Shadow Minister for Family and Community Services




SWAN: The discussion paper announced today is not a new idea; you’ve really got to ask the question what has the Howard government been doing for the last 7 years.

The point I need to make about the Common Payment system is that in the hands of a kind-hearted and compassionate government it’s a good idea. But in the hands of the Howard Government, with its recent record, it will be a formula for more cuts to payments.

You’ve just got to look at what Senator Vanstone and Mr Howard have done. Before the election, they said no cuts to payments. After the election, in the budget they announce cuts to Disability Support Pensioners of $52 a fortnight.

What I fear about this discussion paper is that the government is letting us know that it has another round of fairly savage cuts to payments. So the government, on this issue, can’t be trusted.

Also the government talks about incentives. This government changed the whole payment system and taxation system only two years ago. They left in place tax rates of more than 80 cents in every additional dollar earnt by an unemployed person working part-time. That is, if you went to work and you were on benefits, Mr Howard and Mr Costello took 80 cents of every additional dollar that you earnt.

This government rewards welfare over work, they don’t have policies to reward work over welfare. This is the government that brought in a very harsh parental means test for Youth Allowance - absolutely king-hitting low-income Australian families. And this is the government that has effective marginal rates of tax, through the withdrawal of family payments, of more than 60 cents in the dollar for people earning as little as $30,000.

So all of the rhetoric about incentive is contrary to what the government has been up to in the last seven years.

JOURNALIST: Reading the report, do you feel that the government is living in the Fifties?


SWAN: Well, I made that comment in relation to a story in today’s Australian, which I think had a fair bit of spin on it. But if you look across the board, this government is living in the Fifties on so many of it policies.

The truth is we need a government in this country that rewards work over welfare.

What this government does is trap people on welfare benefits, making it almost impossible for them to stand on their own two feet. So we need policies to reward work over welfare. We need policies which will do that, the sort of policies that Simon Crean has been talking about - tax credits, and some relief for those working families who are trying to bring up children but can’t make ends meet.

JOURNALIST: Senator Vanstone seems to be assuming she will encounter some real resistance by Labor in the Senate to any or all of these reforms - probably more to do with a situation where single payments will have to apply to new applicants only, and couldn’t be applied across the board to the whole field. Is that Labor's position?

SWAN: Senator Vanstone has sharpened her axe and, in the last budget, put forward a proposal to cut the Disability support Pension by $52 a fortnight.

Labor’s proud to say that we opposed those measures in the Senate and we’re also proud to say that if she has further proposals to cut the payments of some of Australia’s most vulnerable people then we will oppose those. If she has genuine proposals for welfare reform that don’t involve savage cuts and that reward work over welfare, that invest in the capacity of people to move from welfare to work, to stand on their own two feet, we’ll support that wholeheartedly.

We’ll support genuine welfare reform but we’re not going to support proposals which aren’t reform, just a recipe for savage cuts.

JOUNALIST: The Single Payment per se…?

SWAN: The Single Payment per se, no problem. But what Senator Vanstone is really up to is what she did with Disability Support Pensions.

That’s code, in her language, for cuts to benefits. We’ll support genuine welfare reform. We want to reward work over welfare. It ought to be worthwhile for people who work to get that money in their hand, not to have it stolen by Senator Vanstone, over 80 cents in every dollar. And it ought to be worthwhile for the future of the country to invest in the capacity of people to go to work, so they stand on their own two feet and not be reliant upon the taxpayer.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

SWAN: I don’t believe that the government has any proposals in that area that are serious. I’ve not seen them. I don’t know where they’re outlined, and I don’t know what Senator Vanstone is up to there.

I think that this has been a bit of kite flying the government has put out there to cover up their underlying agenda, which is to cut payments in a savage way, just as they proposed for Disability Support Pensioners.

JOURNALIST: Senator Vanstone is saying she wants to put the passion back into those who’ve given up. Do you see passion written all over this report?



SWAN: I see a passion from Senator Vanstone to slash the payments of Disability Support Pensioners; I saw the passion from Senator Vanstone to cut those payments in the Senate. She would spill more red wine in a week, because she is on such a healthy income, than she’s going to take from Disability Support Pensioners, to who a dollar a day is a lot of money.

There’s a passion there. It’s a savage passion to cut the income support payments of low-income Australians.

What I want to see a passion for is real welfare reform. I want to see a government that is passionate about people standing on their own two feet, of rewarding work over welfare, and proud to invest in the capacities of each and every one of our citizens.

We don’t have that passion from Senator Vanstone or Mr Howard.

ENDS Thu 12 Dec 02 Web:

Contact: Wayne Swan on 0418 795 329 Matt Linden on 0407 430 613