ADAM STEER: One thing that became glaringly apparent across the dry season is the top end needs more workers, but are they actually hiding in plain sight? One of the big outcomes of the Albanese Government Jobs and Skills Summit a few weeks back was a plan to let seniors work extra hours without losing their pension entitlements. So how soon will our grey nomads be able to pull on the work boots and ease the staff shortage pain?
Justine Elliot is the Federal Assistant Minister for Social Services. Good morning, Assistant Minister. How soon is the plan likely to come into action?
JUSTINE ELLIOT: Good morning, Adam, and great to be with you. Look, as you said, this really good idea came out of the Jobs and Skills Summit. And can I just start by saying how much the Albanese Labor Government really values our older Australians, and we acknowledge these are the people - they built our nation, they've worked hard, raised their families, paid their taxes. And we know now in retirement many of them do want to work a bit more. And that's why we've put forward this idea and that legislation actually goes into the Parliament this week. So we're very excited about that, providing more opportunities for those on the pension to be able to earn more but not have their pension affected.
ADAM STEER: And remind me, why were seniors being penalised for working in the first place?
JUSTINE ELLIOT: Well, Adam, there was a limit to how much pensioners could earn in terms of their actual pension being affected. We've actually increased that. So as it stands at the moment pensioners can earn $7800 before their pension was reduced. So we're increasing that an additional $4000, so that goes up to $11,800 they're able to earn.
So the timeline for this is, we're looking to introduce the legislation this week, and then it will mean that many of our older Australians have the capacity to earn more.
Now of course we know that many older Australians do want to do more work, and sometimes that's on a regular basis or it might be on a seasonal basis. And as you said in your introduction too, everyone acknowledges the skills crisis that we have, and we know our older Australians have a wealth of knowledge and experience that our country desperately needs and wants, and this is the way to help them. In fact, it's all part of a broader suite of measures that we've brought in to assist our older Australians.
ADAM STEER: Yeah.
JUSTINE ELLIOT: Not only have we got this in place with the pension increase, and we've also got initiatives to downsize so it doesn't affect their pension, we've also increased the income limits for their healthcare card, and of course cheaper prescription medicines. So we're committed to assisting our older Australians wherever we can.
And we know from the Jobs and Skills Summit, and indeed from talking to people across the country, one of the big issues is a lot of our older Australians say, look, we want to be able to earn a bit more whilst we're on the pension, and that's exactly what the Albanese Labor Government are doing.
ADAM STEER: Okay, so you've increased this to $11,800 over a financial year, so I think that's $490 a fortnight. How did you come up with that number?
JUSTINE ELLIOT: Well look, obviously this is an issue that's been raised many times and it was discussed fully at the Jobs and Skills Summit, so we thought this was a good starting point in terms of just giving our pensioners that extra capacity to earn more without affecting their pension. Because we know that was a concern obviously many of them had - if they were earning above that limit, then of course their pension could be reduced.
So now it gives them the opportunity to take up that extra work when they want it. But really importantly, the country needs them.
ADAM STEER: [Talks over] I understand that. But why 400- up to $490 a fortnight? What was the rationale behind that number? Why didn't you increase it more, for example?
JUSTINE ELLIOT: Well, this is the starting point we're looking at and we'll review that legislation at the end of the financial year. We thought this was a perfect place to start.
We listened to people at the Jobs Summit and listened to the community, and this seems to be consistent with what people are asking for. So it's a starting point. We're listening and we're acting. It's important that people have the capacity to earn more and not have their pension affected.
ADAM STEER: Okay. And is this a permanent change?
JUSTINE ELLIOT: Well, Adam, this, as I say this legislation is being introduced this week. At the moment it's a temporary credit, that extra $4000, until the end of the financial year. We'll then review that and listen to the community and listen to our older Australians about how that's working for them. But it's a strong initiative to recognise the people that built our nation and are a big part of helping us with this skills crisis.
ADAM STEER: And the Senate crossbench, they are in favour? Are you confident you can get it through the Senate?
JUSTINE ELLIOT: Well look, that's obviously up to the Senate crossbench. We've put forward to them our plan. But what I've consistently heard from people across the Parliament and across the nation is that it is a good idea to assist our older Australians to be able to earn more whilst not having their pension affected.
ADAM STEER: Assistant Minister, good to talk to you this morning. I will let you go because I know the parliamentary bells are about to ring.
JUSTINE ELLIOT: Thanks so much, Adam. Great to be with you.
ADAM STEER: Thank you. Justine Elliot, Federal Assistant Minister for Social Services.