The government wants to drive people into poverty before they can access income support

Linda Burney spoke to 6PR Perth Live on the Government’s proposed Newstart waiting periods


SUBJECTS: Newstart waiting times; Age pension cuts

JO MCMANUS: Linda Burney, what is wrong with the Payment Integrity bill in your opinion?


LINDA BURNEY, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FAMILIES AND SOCIAL SERVICES, MEMBER FOR BARTON: The Payment Integrity Bill has three parts to it. It’s increasing by five years the residency requirement time for people for the age and disability pension. It’s also taking away the pensioner supplement for people that stay for more than six weeks overseas. But the piece that you’ve just spoken about Jo – the piece of the legislation that is really disastrous – is extending the Liquid Assets Test. So basically, what it’s doing is it’s saying that people who are made redundant or their industries are taken out of Australia, and it’s not their fault and they get a redundancy payment, or they’ve got a little bit of savings, they will have to wait – what is now 13 weeks – for up to 26 weeks in the new legislation.


MCMANUS: Hang on. Hang on. Just a moment. You’re saying that people who are made redundant through no fault of their own will have to wait six months before they can get any assistance from the government?


BURNEY: 26 weeks is the maximum – correct, that’s if they’ve got some savings, some meagre savings in many instances. And that means they’ve got nothing to fall back on if they need to replace white goods; if they need to pay a bond; if they need to get a different car; or if they need to retrain; they just won’t have the money to be able to do that.


MCMANUS: You say if they’ve got meagre savings – sorry can you be more specific?


BURNEY: Yes, I can be more specific. The meagre savings for the 26 weeks – which is a doubling of the time that people have to wait – is $18,000 for a person that is single and has no dependents, and $36,000 for a person who has dependents. So if you think about a redundancy package, that could be up to $30 - $40 - $50,000, and that’s all that person has to fall back on in emergencies. And the government is basically getting people to run down all their savings before they qualify for any sort of assistance and that is just disastrous for mental health; disastrous for marriage and disastrous for people that are trying to get another job.


MCMANUS: Because I think that there are – the idea of a redundancy to give people time to come to terms with what's just happened to them –


BURNEY: - Yes. 


MCMANUS: - To perhaps use some of that money to get retraining or to – and this will make it much more difficult for them, will it not?


BURNEY: Well, that’s absolutely right Jo, it takes away people’s buffer. And there’s absolutely no evidence for this particular measure. Experts have actually said it will only push people into desperate situations, and not help them get work. We don’t want people to lose their cars, their house, their marriage. We want them to get back on their feet and this will do nothing to assist with that.


MCMANUS: So what chance have you and the cross bench got of blocking this?


BURNEY: Well as people would be aware, the numbers in the federal parliament are very challenging. The government has a majority even if the crossbench votes with Labor in the lower house. But in the upper house, it’s a different story. It really does depend on Labor and perhaps the Greens voting together, with the support of four independents that will make this unfair measure not able to be put into law. I cannot believe the government, who is going to look at saving something like $29 million over the forward estimates, are going to punish people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

MCMANUS: But they’re saying that it would save more than a $100 million over four years so therefore – and that this money is set aside – is not supposed to be for people to go and have a holiday, it’s supposed to be for them to get back into work and all of those kinds of things.


BURNEY: Yeah look I completely understand that. But this is not just happening in this space. We’re also seeing it with people who are trying to get the age pension which they’ve got a right to. The waiting times are just enormous. The government deliberately doubling the time people have to wait to run down all their assets before they can qualify for Newstart and Newstart is inadequate anyhow.


MCMANUS: Yep. I’m speaking with the Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services Linda Burney. If you’ve had – if you’re concerned about this – if you’re worried that you’re going to lose your job, do you think this would make your life more difficult? Give me a call, 9221 1882. Linda, you mentioned the other – one of the other issues with this, the cutting of the pension supplement after six weeks overseas. Well, isn’t that reasonable? People aren’t supposed to be on holiday overseas and get supplements.


BURNEY: Well the people who do this Jo are people that are mostly migrants to the country in their old age, they want to go back to their homeland before they’re too frail to do so, or they go back before they’re too frail to visit relatives for one last time. And those are the people that the government is focusing on. And these are people –


MCMANUS: - But it’s only a supplement they’re losing, they’re not losing their entire pension –


BURNEY: They’re not losing their entire pension –


MCMANUS: - I don’t think that’s unreasonable is it? I mean, should we be supporting people to spend that money in another country? They should be spending it here for our economy.


BURNEY: Well, if you put yourself in their shoes and you’ve got ageing relatives that you will never see again, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for people who’ve come here after the first or second world war that have paid taxes all their lives, that have worked hard all their lives –


MCMANUS: - But it won’t just be those people will it?


BURNEY: It will be mostly those people, yes.


MCMANUS: Fair enough. So what do you do now Linda? How do you push on to stop this change?


BURNEY: So what happens now is this legislation has been introduced into the lower house. It hasn’t gone to the Senate yet. And we’ll be obviously talking to our colleagues which we’ve already done. And Labor has made the decision that we will oppose this bill. And we will also be obviously talking to the crossbench and see where the votes –


MCMANUS: - See if you can get them to play ball. And of course, the government did try to get this through a couple of years ago and failed, so do you feel confident that you can stop it and people will rise up and say that we don’t want this?


BURNEY: Well, I am very hopeful of that Jo. I mean, what we are seeing with this and a number of other – and many other policies going back to 2014, the government is blowing the dust off these policies or these legislation, and trying to reintroduce them. It’s actually cynical and it just shows to me who’s quite experienced in this field that this is a government that has a very small agenda.


MCMANUS: Linda, thank you very much for your time this afternoon on Perth Live.