Tasmania Talks with Richard Perno


Topics: Emergency food relief, cost of living, social security payments, the Voice

RICHARD PERNO, HOST: Amanda Rishworth is in Tasmania. I think she's going to be a bit of an early Christmas present for one organisation. Minister, thanks for your time. Why are you here?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: I am here because I'm going to be visiting Loaves and Fishes as one of your fabulous local organisations that does a huge amount in food relief. They actually recover about 25,000 tonnes of food and get it out to people in need. We’ve actually made an election commitment some years ago, just before the last election, to deliver the building, the funding for the building for Loaves and Fishes. Today we'll be unveiling a plaque because we've done just that. Loaves and Fishes now have their warehouse, which they can continue to operate, but they actually own it now.

RICHARD PERNO: Yeah. I thought you might have been seeking, Minister, a bit of a religious experience with Loaves and Fishes. Maybe that's what it's about.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Oh, well, no, this is definitely about food relief. Definitely about food relief.

RICHARD PERNO: Look, on the serious side of things, Minister, that is a serious thing, isn't it? We're struggling.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: It is really difficult at the moment. Cost of living is particularly hard for a lot of people. And of course, as a Government, we're doing what we can to support people without making the situation worse, we've got to be careful around not adding to inflation. But look, Loaves and Fishes do an amazing job in that they rescue food. I mean, this is not just good for people in need, this is good for the environment as well. Instead of food going to landfill, food is repurposed. It's delivered to people in need. Sometimes that's in a prepared form, sometimes it's in a really direct form, and sometimes the work that they do in terms of breakfast for kids at school. It is a difficult time for people and the work that Loaves and Fishes does should absolutely be supported.

RICHARD PERNO: Yeah. Speaking of that, I noticed your government's brought down a raft of welfare payments. About 5.5 million or so Aussies are going to get a little bit of a shot in the arm and helping hand, as announced yesterday.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Yes, we've increased a range of payments as of yesterday. There's been the indexation of those on the Age Pension and Disability Pension. There's also been an increase to the base rate of JobSeeker, parenting payments and importantly, there's been an increase to Rent Assistance. It's actually the largest increase to Rent Assistance that has happened in the last 30 years, because we know, particularly with rent in the private market in particular, people are really doing it tough. So, we've increased a significant number of payments, which we hope will support people.

RICHARD PERNO: Yeah, I mean, it isn't much, but any dollar or cent that we can achieve. There was also a call for the welfare of a child that turns 14 or the parents of a welfare payment. You didn't do anything with that. That's now at 14. So, if my kids are 14, I lose that parenting payment.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Previous to the changes we made in the Budget, you lost the parenting payment at the age of eight. We've now increased it so you don't lose the parenting payment until 14. Obviously, those people can still get JobSeeker if they're looking for jobs, and you get an extra amount with dependents, so there's a range of different payment types. But we did make that age cut off more generous so that more parents can actually benefit from that.

RICHARD PERNO: Yeah. Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth. We're getting older, we're staying older, we're going to be alive a lot longer. Is this Government, the Albanese Government, your Government, prepared to realise that we're going to be around a lot longer? Are we looking at Age Pension, maybe raising the age of that? Are you contemplating that because you'll have to give more money to more as the years tick over?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: That’s not something we're actually contemplating, changing the age of the Age Pension. What we know from the Intergenerational Report, is that actually the Age Pension payment is relatively stable, because more and more people are actually enjoying superannuation. One of the things we did do when we got elected though was increase significantly the threshold for those self-funded retirees that might be on the lower income to get a Commonwealth Seniors Health card. We know that a lot of people don't necessarily need the support of the Pension, but do need the support of the cheaper medicines or cheaper visits to the doctors. As a single it’s now, it is actually $95,400 as the top rate and for a couple it's $152,000. That's almost double over the last year. So, that's something I would definitely recommend people to check out, because there's a raft of other things they could benefit.

RICHARD PERNO: Minister, why don't you allow those on the Pension to work more hours without having an impact on their Pension?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, we have actually introduced a number of changes. So, with the Pension, there already is an income free area, as well as a taper rate, so you don't lose it. We also brought in a more generous work bonus, so if that income comes from actually working there is now the ability to sort of… what they call it is… bank up to $11,800 and actually then use that and work, and you can use that before it even affects your pension.

RICHARD PERNO: There is some sure, I understand that, but, Amanda, why not just say, okay, pensioners, you want to work, work and still get the Pension.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Because the pension, of course is means tested…  

RICHARD PERNO: But you could do it, couldn't you? But what the Government argues isn’t it, Amanda, is that if we allow pensioners to go back, they'll earn a lot of money, but you're getting tax from all of that anyway, and there aren't that many pensioners who would like to pull up stumps of retirement and get back in the workforce?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I have to say, you're absolutely right there. A lot of pensioners do want to enjoy their retirement, but we still recognise that we have a means tested, income tested, Pension. There is obviously superannuation that contributes that if you throw the targeted nature of the Pension out the door, then we would have some challenges with how that interacts with income from superannuation and a whole range of things. So, we have made it more generous for pensioners to work, but I have to say, a lot of pensioners are quite keen to enjoy their retirement, and particularly in physical work, it's not something they're very interested in doing. It might you know, be doing a bit of retail work or doing hospitality at Christmas, but it's not something where they want to work all the time, sort of every day is the feedback I get.

RICHARD PERNO: All right. You're in Tasmania. Loaves and Fishes, has a little bit of an early Christmas present, going back to your Santa Claus thing. Amanda, we're in the Voice now. Tasmania and South Australia are going to be the tests of the yes or no vote. Obviously, you're pushing the yes vote.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I am pushing the Yes vote. I think obviously, it's a referendum and people get to make up their own mind. So, I'm one vote just like everyone else. But my personal opinion is that it is a really simple proposition. Do we want to recognise First Nations People in our constitution? And do we want to do that in a way that they've asked for? And that is through listening through a Voice to the Parliament and to the Government. And so I think it's a pretty simple proposition. I think the challenge when we look at the other side of that argument is let's just keep doing more of the same. And I think most Australians recognise doing more of the same is not really the way to go for First Nations People. It is a bit of a mess in terms of some of the delivery of housing. A lot of the money is not getting to the people that need it. So, I think doing more of the same isn't the answer. And we do need to look at how we do things differently.

RICHARD PERNO: All right? You have the power of Loaves and Fishes. Have you sampled their fair?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I haven't. I will be visiting them today and so I do hope something's on the menu.

RICHARD PERNO: Oh, very much so. Appreciate your time this morning. The Minister for a raft of things, including social services. That's a heavy portfolio. I hope you enjoy your stay in Tasmania. Amanda Rishworth. I do appreciate your time this morning. Thank you, Amanda.