Bill's Transcripts


13 MAY 2013

SUBJECTS: Income support measures


TONY EASTLEY: The Government has been keen to push out much of the bad budget news before tomorrow night and cuts seem to have been the order of the day.

 However there is at least one new spending measure: an extra $300 million for the unemployed and sole parents.

The Government has rejected calls from its MPs to increase the Newstart allowance, but it will allow those on the dole to work more hours before their benefits are affected and extend access to the Pensioner Concession Card.

 The Minister for Employment Bill Shorten has been speaking to Alexandra Kirk.

 BILL SHORTEN: We're increasing the threshold by $38 a fortnight, so people who are on Newstart benefits will able to earn more income than they would otherwise without losing their benefits. The reason why we picked this approach is we think that we've always got to be encouraging people who aren't working to work because we think getting a job is the basis upon which people can have good lives.

 ALEXANDRA KIRK: And does this apply to all people on welfare payments, including for example those on disability support pensions?

 BILL SHORTEN: No the disability support pension regime is a different administration, is a different area. This will apply to people on Newstart and a range of other allowances, work-based allowances. From March 2014, 54,000 sole parents will be able to earn more money without compromising their pension or their Newstart. We think that this will have a benefit for literally 150,000 plus people.

 ALEXANDRA KIRK: You're also extending access to the Pensioner Concession Card for single parents for three months and extending the education supplement to all single parents on Newstart.

 But this by no means makes up for the cut that you made to single parents by forcing them onto the dole; you're putting in $300 million, but you took out more than $700 million.

 BILL SHORTEN: Well first of all, what drives the Government, our Labor Government, is helping people find work. What we're doing is saying to people that if you get work, you can keep a bit more of your Newstart or your allowance. By the same token, everyone knows the tough financial circumstances we're in.

 ALEXANDRA KIRK: In doing this do you accept that shifting single parents onto the dole once their youngest child turns eight was a mistake, that it was too harsh, in the way that you did it?

 BILL SHORTEN: Well there's no doubt in my mind that was a difficult issue if it affected you. What I do also know is that there is equally no doubt in my mind that prioritising people finding work is ultimately the best chance that kids and parents have in life.

 It doesn't do any child any good to grow up in a house where there's no one working or where there's inter-generational unemployment. This is certainly a difficult issue. Government can't meet everyone's needs and expectations.

 But I think that this is a sensible step because what it's saying to people is: we get that the Newstart allowance is not high, but what we're saying is if you can find some more work, we've got your back and that we will also allow a more generous interaction between the allowance and low income.

 ALEXANDRA KIRK: But these measures don't help people on the dole if they can't get work. You like many of your colleagues, agreed that the dole isn't enough to live on. Why wouldn't the Government agree to what most people, including in the business sector argued for, which was a $50 a week increase?

 BILL SHORTEN: I'll tell you what some people in the business sector make for fair weather allies. They would be happy for Government to spend an infinite amount just as long they didn't have to pay for it.

 So what I know is that if we were to increase the Newstart allowance by $50, it would cost eight billion dollars over the next four years for - and that is just for people who are single. If we increased the Newstart allowance for couples and singles it would be $13 billion. These are difficult questions.

 TONY EASTLEY: The Minister for Employment, Bill Shorten, speaking to Alexandra Kirk.