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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 6 Hansard (16 May) . . Page.. 1700 ..

MS GALLAGHER (continuing):

Some organisations are estimating that up to 250,000 Australians will be affected by these changes. I think the government knows this is a cruel initiative. This is shown by the fact that they are giving people one year to get used to this idea before the cuts are implemented.

For the people who are moved off the disability support pension and on to Newstart, which is a nice word for the dole, the financial impact is significant-up to $52 per fortnight less, loss of pensioner education supplement, loss of pensioner concession card.

One can only wonder what this will mean for people with a disability who work more than 15 hours per week on the supported wages system or in sheltered workshops. The decision to introduce a new work test of 15 hours per week presumes that people who work more than that and who receive the disability support pension are earning decent wages. This is often not the case.

It also presumes that those who are on the DSP and who work more than 15 hours per week should be treated in the same way as a person without a disability who is receiving the dole. You could, on the surface, argue that this is the federal government embracing the theory of normalisation. That is, if we are to support a person with a disability, then they should not have a special benefit but rather be treated as anyone else would be treated. However, I am a little cynical and I do think that is the real agenda.

The federal government is simply cost cutting and extending their program of mutual obligation to another group of disadvantaged people within our community. A discussion on mutual obligation and the impact of this policy on local services is perhaps a separate debate of its own, and I look forward to that debate, but here in the ACT the reality of the budget decisions on disability support pensioners will mean that local services will again have to pick up the slack and make up the difference.

We should also consider this change to the disability support pension in light of its impact on women. From what I have read about the federal budget, it was pretty light on initiatives for women. The change in disability support pension will have an impact on women. Women's work patterns are different to those of men. Women often have multi-roles in that they seek part-time employment. These proposed changes will have a disproportionate impact on women.

The changes will also act as a disincentive for people with a disability to enter the work force. This can isolate women, or further isolate them if they are already isolated, and confine them to their homes.

In addition, the Commonwealth's attempt to make its contribution to services to people with a disability conditional on the passing of laws needed to take other people with disabilities off the disability support pension is unconscionable. This is holding to ransom the services for some people with a disability in order to reduce income support for other people with a disability.

People have described this budget as only providing for upper-class welfare, not a budget for disability support pensions, help for the unemployed or medicines for those who need them.

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