Do we have a culture of entitlement?
Tuesday, June 17, 2014 - 20:30

Beau is unemployed and on Newstart. He has spent six months looking for an IT job. He says he’s worked hard to set up his career and wouldn’t want to go 'degrade" himself to do a job unrelated to his field.

"If I was to go and work in a café or something, I'd just see that as an absolute waste of time," he says.

Rosina has five children and receives about $20,000 in family tax benefits a year.

"I think I'm entitled," she says. "Children are a good thing and we should encourage things that are socially good. We're working towards stable families."

In the lead up to this year’s Federal budget, Treasurer Joe Hockey said 'the age of entitlement is over."

This week, Jenny Brockie asks – do we have a culture of entitlement?

Presenter: Jenny Brockie 
Producer: Elise Potaka 
Associate Producer: Alix Piatek 
Associate Producer: Amanda Xiberras 

Join the discussion by using the #insightsbs hashtag on Twitter, posting on our Facebook page


JENNY BROCKIE: Welcome everyone, good to have us with us tonight. Beau, you've been on unemployment benefits Newstart for six months, why?


BEAU EVANS: Can't get full time work in IT and then when I go on contracts and they're not long enough, and then even though they say I'm great when I leave, never get any call back for full time employment since in different streams.


JENNY BROCKIE: So you want to work in IT?


BEAU EVANS: I want to work in IT, yeah, I've got about four years experience in IT. So I've lost a couple of full time jobs only I was doing night shifts, supporting IT, doing that by myself, which got a bit hard, breaking the camel's back too much on the one person and I slept in a couple of times and lost my job, didn't mean to. But I don't think anyone would actively set all their alarms and everything and not wake up and go to work from the aftermath that would come afterwards. I didn't mean to do that, that's made it a bit hard to get another full time job.


JENNY BROCKIE: Because you were sacked from that job?


BEAU EVANS: Yeah. So then with the contracts they're just not long enough. Then even when I do a good job, the full time work seems to be in a different stream. So they're short contracts and then it takes too long to get another contract and then the Newstart in between is nowhere near enough money to survive. So I just keep on borrowing money, getting further into debt. I'm $16,000 in debt now - I just keep on borrowing money off my dad's because Newstart only really pays for my rent alone.






JENNY BROCKIE: Yeah? How much do you get from Newstart every fortnight?

BEAU EVANS: $609.47.


JENNY BROCKIE: And under the proposed changes you would have had to go on Youth Allowance, you know"¦




JENNY BROCKIE: If that happened?


BEAU EVANS: I think being under 25 or so, I would have to change to Youth Allowance.

JENNY BROCKIE: Have you only applied for IT jobs?


BEAU EVANS: Yeah, only applied for IT jobs. I've said that it would be jeopardising my situation in everything I've studied for my whole life and being who I want to be in the world, if I was to go and work in a cafe or something after all my experience in IT, that would be just jeopardising my entire life and I see that as ridiculous.


JENNY BROCKIE: So you're not prepared to apply for anything outside your area of expertise?




JENNY BROCKIE: Nothing at all?


BEAU EVANS: I see that as totally ridiculous.


JENNY BROCKIE: Totally ridiculous?




JENNY BROCKIE: Okay. Madeleine, you're 23, you're also on Newstart. Why?


MADELEINE HANSEN: I'm on Newstart to fund my job search, so I've actively been looking for employment within interior design because I recently graduated in December with a Bachelor of Design, but I've also been looking on the side for part-time casual work within hospitality and retail to help support myself as well because I don't want to have to rely on Newstart, but unfortunately even that process has proved quite difficult.


JENNY BROCKIE: Why, why can't you get those jobs?


MADELEINE HANSEN: What I'm realistically looking for in interior design is also unpaid work experience. So it's sort of figuring out where the priority would lie, obviously in being able to fund my life but also pursuing my passion.


JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, so you want a job that gives you enough room to do that unpaid work so that you can keep a finger in the profession that you want to pursue?

MADELEINE HANSEN: Yeah, so far it has been quite difficult.

JENNY BROCKIE: Do you want to stay on Newstart until you get a job in design?


MADELEINE HANSEN: I would, I'd prefer to be off Newstart so I could rely on myself and be independent. But unfortunately it hasn't allowed for that to happen yet so I'm striving towards that.


JENNY BROCKIE: Sarah, you're 28, you took a gap year after university and travelled overseas. Then you came back and went on Newstart. Why?


SARAH COSTANZO: Well I came back with a little bit savings in my pocket but that pretty much got absorbed straight away with trying to find a place to live, paying bond and getting all my furniture brought back from I had it in storage and it wasn't enough to live off and you can't just walk straight into a job unfortunately. And I'd had two years since I graduated and I really wanted to get a job in design as well but, you know, that takes time to get your folio out there, so I went on Newstart just to kind of support myself.


JENNY BROCKIE: Where are you working now?


SARAH COSTANZO: I'm currently working in the travel industry, I've been there for three years and I enjoy it but it's not where I want to be and I've just started a post graduate in graphic design.


JENNY BROCKIE: And do you think you should get some kind of government benefit until you can find the kind of job that you feel you're qualified for?


SARAH COSTANZO: I do feel when you want a career path that, yeah, you should get a bit more support because I really felt like I was being kicked out of the system very quickly.

JENNY BROCKIE: Jarryd, you're 25, you work as programmer, what do you think about Newstart? How should it be used?

JARRYD MARRICK: Well, I'm interested to ask the people who have spoken, the jobs that you had outside of your field, did that in any way hamper your attempt to get a job inside your field? How is it that that's a hindrance?


SARAH COSTANZO: Well I personally work full time now so you know, it's a Monday to Friday kind of job, you know, there's no time to go for interviews and I'm not trying to make excuses but it's very hard to have a commitment to your full time job and a commitment to the career that you want .

JENNY BROCKIE: Madeleine, what about you?


MADELEINE HANSEN: Job searching is a full time effort as well so in pursuing what we want to do, you know, it takes hours every day and a focus and dedication to chasing up.

JENNY BROCKIE: Jarryd, you're in IT as well like Beau so when you heard Beau's story what you did think?


JARRYD MARRICK: I was a bit worried about that actually. I did get into IT fairly easily straight out of my course but I think the key difference is that if I didn't, I would not have hesitated to get a job outside of IT. Also, I'm in my second IT job, both of which were full time and for my second job I had to apply for other jobs while I was in full time employment. I probably applied for about fifty, yeah, while full time employed and I got one eventually. So"¦


JENNY BROCKIE: So fifty jobs in your field or any fifty jobs?


JARRYD MARRICK: In my field because I was already working full time in my field.


JENNY BROCKIE: I guess what I'm getting at is, you know, at what point do you think you should take a job, another job, other than the job you've trained for?


JARRYD MARRICK: When you don't have a job.


JENNY BROCKIE: When you don't have a job?




JENNY BROCKIE: So you should be prepared to do anything?


JARRYD MARRICK: Anything's better than nothing, I don't understand, but if you've got nothing you get something and then you try and get into your field.



BEAU EVANS: It's a waste of time, if I was to go and work in a cafe or something, I'd just see that as an absolute waste of time. It would a be a failure of the system, it would be very inefficient that a skilled IT professional ends up working in a cafe to get enough money so they can get an IT job when they're perfectly ready to get an IT job.


JENNY BROCKIE: So how long would you be prepared to stay on Newstart and hang out for an IT job?


BEAU EVANS: As short a time as possible, but as long as necessary.


JENNY BROCKIE: Yeah, but what if it is necessary, you know, do you have a kind of timeframe where you'd think well, beyond this time I'm going to try something else?


BEAU EVANS: Beyond the specific time go and work in a cafe or something? I wouldn't end up with that kind of conclusion, I'd go and do something else. My dad's going to start a restaurant in Cambodia, I'd go and do something like that, I wouldn't go and degrade myself to the point where I'm doing something that's got nothing to do with me.


SARAH COSTANZO: I don't think you're down, like degrading yourself by taking another job in another field and it's still interests me and I've now gone back to study and you know, so I can get back into my field but I don't feel like I've degraded myself because I tried to get out of the system so I could support myself. It just, it would have been nice just to not feel so pressured to leave and have six more months to try and get into design.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, anyone else want to chime in at this point?


JEFFERY WANG: I would work in IT and I must say in IT, I understand what a service provider actually does. What you don't realise is you're actually lucky because you're in IT. Because a lot of those skills are actually transferrable, customer service, communications, you know, there's a lot of skills that you can actually learn working in a cafe that's absolutely required working for a managed service provider.


JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Amanda Vanstone in Adelaide, you were a member of the Commission of Audit which looked for wasteful government spending. Do you think people should be prepared to do any job regardless of their qualifications, what do you think the role of Newstart should be?


AMANDA VANSTONE, NATIONAL COMMISSION OF AUDIT: Well in the end, yes, I certainly don't think someone who chooses to take a job working in a cafe is somehow degrading themselves. I agree with the young man who said hold on, the customers service skills, they're the transferrable skill that can move from one industry to another. And I think we have to look at being responsible for ourselves. It's terrific that we've got a system that helps people through difficult spots but I don't think that should be looked at as a system that says if you can't get the job you want you can just sit on Newstart till you find what you want. Other taxpayers, it's not the government, it's other taxpayers will fund you to sit around until you get what you want. I don't agree with that.


JENNY BROCKIE: Let's broaden this out a bit. Do you think we have a culture of entitlement in Australia, as the Treasurer suggests?


AMANDA VANSTONE: Well, I think we have become a very materialistic society, I'm 61, save anyone guessing, probably see that by the crinkly lines on my face, but when I was a kid if you had a set of Lakeland Derwent coloured pencils you were, you know, hot stuff on the block and if you 24 or 36 you were doing really well. If you had 72 you were a spoilt brat and 144 your parents were probably criminals. Now you try and buy a kid off now, you try and buy a kid off to behave with a promise of a set of coloured pencils, they're not interested.

When I was a kid, kids shared rooms - there was one bathroom per house and not always one car per house. Now I accept that the Australian standards have changed but that's the point. It's a lifestyle that we should be able to afford and we equally expect, when things go wrong, that we call it the government but it's really our fellow taxpayers, will come in and foot the bill.


JENNY BROCKIE: So what should we expect of our government in terms of welfare payments and a safety net? What should we expect in a wealthy country?


AMANDA VANSTONE: Well we should expect a good welfare system. I was pleased to hear John Howard say once when we were in government when someone came up with some frankly ridiculous proposal to be very, very tough. He said look, we'll never have a system, a welfare system like the United States, or for that matter a health system like them. We are a more generous country and we should maintain that. But the risk is always the case that when you have a generous system people come to think of it as if it's the norm, rather than realising, as one member in the audience does and probably others, that it is a very generous system and being grateful for it.

Many people start to regard it as the base level and they don't understand that in other countries you just don't have that base level at all. It isn't easy to live on a welfare system but it's not meant to be a substitute wage. It's never meant to be extremely generous and it is not easy to live on it, but it's not expected to be either because it's not expected to be something that you'll be on for a long period of time.


JENNY BROCKIE: So do you think in general benefits have gone too far, government benefits have gone too far?


AMANDA VANSTONE: Look, I don't want to restrict it to just the welfare system. I mean the Commission of Audit recommended getting rid of what I would call some business welfare and certainly recommended getting rid of what I would call, you know, upper middle class welfare. So I don't think we should just focus on the base level of the welfare system and said let's just tighten that up. Put it this way, does every other taxpayer have an obligation to keep paying tax so that a young person can wait until they find the job of their choice over a two or three year period? My answer to that would be no, that's not fair to other taxpayers.


BEAU EVANS: I study my whole live, I go to school from when I'm kindergarten to year 12, I go to TAFE, I do my certifications, I go out, I get Bender certifications, I have multiple years in the workforce and then when it happens that I don't have the contracts that are not long enough, I don't wake up for work. The Newstart doesn't remind me that I'm rich, I think what's the problem here? It's very inefficient, should be much higher. We're a rich country, do I have to just constantly ask other people for money whatever, just pays my rent alone.


JENNY BROCKIE: Do people think we do live in an age of entitlement in Australia? I'm just wondering what you all think, do you think it is an age of entitlement? What do you think? Graeme, you think it is?






GRAEME JOHNSON: Because the bottom level, the level which people fall off the job stage, or whatever it is, is the level at which people think they should be living and I believe it's just a safety net and I think you should bounce off the safety net. The safety net should say alright, you've hit the bottom, now come back up again.


PAT ISAACS: If you can, not everybody can.


GRAEME JOHNSON: Everybody can.


JENNY BROCKIE: What did you say Pat?


GRAEME JOHNSON: Everybody can.


PAT ISAACS: No, not everybody can, I'm sorry, excuse me.




PAT ISAACS: Not everybody is able to bounce back up, there's a question of age, there's a question of health, alright? I mean at my age no one's going to employ me, I might want a job but no one's going to give me one.


GRAEME JOHNSON: I'm 73 and I'm working till I'm 80.


PAT ISAACS: I'm nearly with you and I don't have a problem with that but I do have a problem with Amanda, for example, saying that the government doesn't want to take all, everything from the people that can least afford it because I believe that's exactly what's been happening. Because I think this budget, if it goes through, will actually take from the people with the least capacity to pay and most vulnerable who probably won't be able to fight back.


JENNY BROCKIE: Jeffrey, you're shaking your head in agreement or disagreement?


JEFFREY WANG: Disagreement.




JEFFREY WANG: Look, I come from a country where, you know, the concept of Newstart is foreign, you know, just understanding"¦


JENNY BROCKIE: You're from Taiwan yeah?


JEFFERY WANG: Yeah I'm from Taiwan originally, so look, they might have social welfare measures employed since I've actually left there but, you know, this is supposed to be a safety net and you know, in a lot of circumstances there are people who are less privileged than you they can't even access that.


JENNY BROCKIE: Alicia, do you think we're too entitled?


ALICIA WALDING: To a degree, yes. My generation, yes.


JENNY BROCKIE: You think to a degree, why?


ALICIA WALDING: I come from a migrant family who came here after the Second World War. I agree that it is a lot harder for some people but I think that we need to put the work in so if you're unemployed, for me I've actually been made redundant three times. Not once in those three times, which were periods of a year to eighteen months, did I consider Newstart or Youth Allowance or anything of those options. It's not an option because I come from a family where we work to do whatever we need to do to provide for ourselves.


GRAEME JOHNSON: Good on you. Fantastic.


BEAU EVANS: I come from a family where I study for my life so I can go and be and IT professional rather than be a Newstart and be a dole bludger and ends up, because of the system that I end up being on Newstart being a dole bludger so it's a very inefficient system, we've got some serious problems here.




JARRYD MARRICK: Sorry, I'll take issue with that. I don't think you're on Newstart because Australia hasn't provided you an IT job, you're on Newstart because you will only take one very specific job in one very specific field. When I mean, excuse the turn of phrase but beggars can't be choosers, you get what you get.




BEAU EVANS: Does anyone see that we're in Australia here with all these businesses, all these recruitment companies and stuff and we're on this Newstart, it's very inefficient. It shouldn't be the way that we - people should be allowed to be in jobs that they want to do. We can easily provide this service in Australia. We just going about it wrong.




ALI CROWE: I've been in situations for the past eighteen months, I've applied for over 600 jobs, ranging from retail where I've worked"¦




ALI CROWE: Yes. I have a big email list of the receipt of my applications. These have ranged from retail, cafe, hospitality, all the way to my chosen field of NGOs, communications and marketing.


JENNY BROCKIE: And are you on benefits now?


ALI CROWE: I've just received benefits. I turned 22 in August, prior to that I was not eligible for anything.


JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, so how long do you expect to be on benefits, you don't know if you've been out of work for eighteen months?


ALI CROWE: I'm actually relocating to Melbourne in a couple of months to study my Masters, to increase my chances of employability so I'll be on benefits for at least a year and a half.


JENNY BROCKIE: Frank Stilwell, you're a political economist, you're also a member of the Greens I should point out, do you think we're entitled as a country? Do you think we have a sense of entitlement to certain things?


FRANK STILWELL, THE UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY: Well, I think there is a sense of entitlement but it's by no means confined to those who are in disadvantaged situations. I think there's a strong sense of entitlement among the wealthy to retain their wealth and not contribute"¦


PAT ISAACS: I agree, I agree entirely.


FRANK STILWELL: I think that's the more fundamental problem here. I've taught at Sydney University for over forty years, I've seen a lot of students coming through, their studies, trying to get their jobs, preferably in their chosen careers, but the notion of job snobs seems quite foreign to me. I observe young people trying to get skills, trying to get interesting and useful work and they deserve our help as a society to achieve that goal.

JENNY BROCKIE: Roger, what's your experience of this, working in the tourism industry?

RODGER POWELL, TOURISM ACCOMMODATION AUSTRALIA: Deloitte Access Economics did a study recently that identified that there are some 30,000 jobs available in our sector. So those are jobs all around the country, they're part-time jobs, full time jobs, and a huge range of jobs offering via our sector from washing dishes to, but they're mostly service jobs, people contact jobs, there's a huge variety. That study identified that by 2015 there will be 50,000 jobs available and the basis of that study was to encourage the government to open up immigration opportunities so that we can get people applying for the jobs.


JENNY BROCKIE: So you can't fill them with people here?


RODGER POWELL: My employers tell me that people don't apply for those jobs.


JENNY BROCKIE: So Ali here should get in touch with you?




RODGER POWELL: Absolutely.


JENNY BROCKIE: Why aren't people taking those jobs in Australia, do you think?


RODGER POWELL: I think we heard some of the attitudes earlier about that people reflect on those jobs. I mean the constant discussion about working in a cafe as being a demeaning thing. I was a butcher, a highly qualified butcher and when I was made redundant because the meatworks I worked in closed down, I travelled the entire east coast of Australia, ended up in Townsville, unable to find a butchering job and took a job in a pub and that's led me to where I am today.


JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, lady here, yes?


JUNE GABRIEL: I worked from when I was fifteen until I was thirty. The first jobs I had poorly paid so I thought I'm better than this, I'm looking for equal pay. So the first one I went to was to work in the Post Office whereby after I'd worked there a while Mr Menzies got rid of all the girls and just kept the boys. The next I took on was a bus conductress and I had that till the day I retired and I worked really hard. Now I'm a pensioner and I think I am entitled, I really am. I've paid taxes all my life and I have worked hard. And what I object to is what they intend to take from the pensioners. We don't get that much, we really don't, we battle to get through. I don't, I heard, I think it was Joe Hockey said we go on cruises, well tell him to arrange one for me. I haven't been on one yet. Yes, I wish I could go on cruises.


TERRY BARNES: I think we have to get our language right here. That's not an entitlement in my mind, that's a privilege - it's a privilege that society has given to members of that, fellow members of society. I mean basically we are sharing our resources with each other. It's a privilege to have access to those resources it's not necessarily a right.


JENNY BROCKIE: What do people think about that idea?


JUNE GABRIEL: I disagree.




MALE: It's a right because she worked her whole life pay taxes to help others so that now when she's still young at heart, she can get some of that help back. You help when you can, so that when you can't help others will help you.


JENNY BROCKIE: Rosina, you're a member of the Liberal Party and you have five children. How old are they?


ROSINA GORDON: They're 8, 7, 6, 4 and 1.


JENNY BROCKIE: And you're a stay at home mum?


ROSINA GORDON: I am now, yeah.


JENNY BROCKIE: How much does your husband earn?


ROSINA GORDON: His taxable income is 58,000.


JENNY BROCKIE: And what government benefits do you receive?


ROSINA GORDON: We do receive family tax benefit A and part B, so sometimes we do have to use child after school care.


JENNY BROCKIE: So how much would you receive from the government all together for your family?


ROSINA GORDON: I receive about $20,000 in family tax benefit.






JENNY BROCKIE: How much do you rely on that government money?


ROSINA GORDON: Um, look, the way I see it is John Howard and Peter Costello came out battling about the aging population which is what the Commission of Audit said is a problem with the budget. They highlighted that as one of the biggest problems. They said we're putting in place tax breaks to make it easier to have children because we need to solve this problem and it can't be too expensive. We understand the cost involved and we understand what happens when someone gives up an income to look after their children and what that does to the family.

John Howard said why should a man who has no dependants be paying the same amount of tax as a man who's got seven or five other people to feed with the same amount of money? So he introduced the family tax benefit as a tax break. Now it's being called a welfare payment. Somehow families have been put on welfare and no family, no one in my position ever wanted to be put on welfare. I never expected I would end up on welfare, but apparently that's where I'm at.


JENNY BROCKIE: Are you saying you were encouraged to have children under one system and now the system has changed, is that the point you're making?


ROSINA GORDON: They did say have a child for the country and they did make a budget that made it possible.


JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think you're entitled to that $20,000 when you chose to have five kids, that's my question?


ROSINA GORDON: I think I'm entitled to a handout. I don't want a handout, I want a fair tax system and I think I'm entitled to a fair tax system because we know that come 2050 when the people over the age of 56 have doubled and the people over the age of 85 have quadrupled, and we've got a shrinking tax base and a shrinking labour force, those politicians are going to be looking under every crevice and every crack for a taxpayer and I'm raising five of them and they will be the future taxpayers.


JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Amanda, what did you want to say?


AMANDA VANSTONE: Well, it's on that very point actually. We used to provide some family assistance in the form of what was called a dependant spouse rebate and I think some other tax assistance for families, but that came at the end of the year and there are some families who just can't wait to get the rebate at the end of the year. They need the money during the year and so as a means of simplification a number of benefits were rolled into one or two family tax A and B and it was decided that therefore they would be paid out on, I think, a fortnightly basis because some really low income families just can't wait for the tax system to help them at the very end of the year. That was the design problem that led to the change. But I don't think it matters whether you call it welfare or tax, in the end it says, one of the audience said, it's other taxpayers, us as a community, redistributing the money to help each other.


JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think someone like Rosina though is entitled to government benefits for having five children?


AMANDA VANSTONE: Well, look, if the law says the benefits are there, of course someone's entitled. I think your question generally is, if I might rephrase it, is should we be looking at assisting people who have children? Well of course we should. The debate is where does it end? The notion of a sense of entitlement is not an anti-welfare notion, it's a notion that all of us have to look at whether our government expenditures, whether they're in welfare or direct benefits or tax credits or superannuation discounts, whether we can continue to afford to spend in the way that we are for everybody, not just at low income people.


JENNY BROCKIE: Angela, you're a single mum with an a eight year old son?




JENNY BROCKIE: What do you think about this discussion?


ANGELA MOLINA: I think, I'm one of those that's going to be affected with the cutoff the family tax benefit B. I'm a single mum, I don't have a secondary income to bring home. I have to"¦


JENNY BROCKIE: What do you get in benefits at the moment?


ANGELA MOLINA: I get the family tax benefit B, I earn too much to qualify for the family tax benefit A which I don't mind.

JENNY BROCKIE: How much do you get a fortnight from the government?




JENNY BROCKIE: And how much do you earn?




JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, so you get 160 a fortnight from family tax benefit B but you're going to be affected if that budget measure goes ahead?




JENNY BROCKIE: Yeah, so sorry, go on, what do you think listening to this discussion?


ANGELA MOLINA: Um, I think as a single parent, you've got a lot of stress already. You have to manage, you have to raise the child on your own. My son starts his day at 6 in the morning, I drop him off at before school care so that I can go to work and then, you know, he goes to after school care because there's no one who can pick him up and so the money that I do receive from my benefits goes directly towards child care because it's essential for me. So now I'm going to be losing that and I've got a mortgage, I've got bills, I've got house to pay for, the house requirements to pay for, I've got many, many, many financial stresses.


JENNY BROCKIE: Okay. Jeffrey, you mentioned earlier that you grew up in Taiwan and you came here when you were 17. What do you think of the Australian welfare system in general?


JEFFERY WANG: Look, I'll try and set the context in the culture I grew up in, if I was ever found in the line in CentreLink, my parents would probably disown me and that's the sort of attitude I think a lot of migrant families actually do have. And growing up in that setting, you know, you are expected, and I was telling Pat, you know, you're expected to look after yourself and not just yourself, you're expected to look after your entire family. I'm not saying that's the right way but, you know, in a lot of ways that actually works out quite well and I do that family is probably one of the best social welfare systems out there. If you're having trouble finding a job and you can't make ends meet, you know, I do see that as my own personal responsibility. If I have, if I have a child who has trouble looking for a job then, you know, I look upon myself to look after the child.


JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, other comments, I'm interested, yes?


FEMALE: I think some of the choices that we make have to be constrained by resources and the capacities we have. I'm a single mum with a seven year old and a five year old, losing family tax benefit B for me will mean a second job. But I've also made choices about bringing my aging and unwell parents to live with me. Rather than going back to my parents, I've brought them to me. So now I'm the wage earner for five people, for two parents and two children, but we'll make it work because of the choices we make.


JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, other comments about this? Yeah?


BEAU EVANS: It astounds me as that we in Australia, like we are in Australia, people say oh, you're lucky that you should have welfare at all. We are in Australia, do you think we should not have a welfare system? Alright, if you think we have a welfare system, do you think that the current welfare system, you know, pays enough money? Everyone here that's on welfare says it's not enough money to get through. Are people being put in front of the jobs that they should be able to? Can we provide this service? It's very inefficient.


JENNY BROCKIE: Peter, how many people in Australia are actually getting some form of welfare?


PETER WHITEFORD, AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY: Well it depends on how you define welfare, but if you take, you know, if you look at Social Security payments that are meant to be enough for people to live on, including the aged pension, that's about 5 million. Half of them are on the aged pension or a veterans so they're over the age of 65. The biggest payment is disability pension although we're moving more and more people onto Newstart. Can I also say I agree entirely we haven't got an efficient system. The people who are unemployed in the short run, we have the lowest level of benefits relative to wages in the developed world.




PETER WHITEFORD: So we have basically people on unemployment benefits have been moving away from the rest of society. I mean they're not the same people, they're different people all the time, but you know, we're giving, particularly young people as they look for their first job, as I said the lowest level of benefits in the developed world, less than half the minimum wage.


JENNY BROCKIE: How does our welfare system overall compare to other countries?


PETER WHITEFORD: We've got, you know, if you look at the total spending on health and welfare, we're the sixth lowest in the OECD. We spend less than Japan, we spend less than the United States. The only places that spend less than us are places like Chile and Mexico and Korea, Korea is rapidly catching up. East Asian societies have the most rapidly aging populations in the world so they're going to have to deal with population aging even more than us. But, so we don't spend very much but we target it to the poor more than any other country in the world. That doesn't mean that you can't be more efficient. There's always ways of improving it.


JENNY BROCKIE: So you think we - I guess what I'm asking you, given that you've looked at this area of welfare policy quite extensively, do you think that Australia can afford to keep providing the kinds of benefits that it does.


PETER WHITEFORD: I think the really important issue is not anything to do with the immediate term, it's actually over the next ten years or so, and preferably before the next ten years are over. We do need to bring into balance what we spend and what we raise revenue for. So I think that's incredibly important that we get"¦


JENNY BROCKIE: So we're spending too much?


PETER WHITEFORD: No, I think we have to look at both spending and taxes. Now the Commission of Audit looked mainly at spending, it didn't, the taxation system was beyond its remit so most of its recommendations are about the spending side rather than the taxing side. There's a review of taxation that's supposed to be coming I think after the second half of the year.


JENNY BROCKIE: And that's why we're talking tonight mostly about spending and not about taxation by the way. Terry, what did you want to say because you've advised Tony Abbott on"¦..


TERRY BARNES: Yes I did, once upon a time.


JENNY BROCKIE: Under the Howard government, right?


TERRY BARNES: I did, sometimes you have to get in early before the problem becomes so bad and so intractable that nothing can be done. The government in the budget is trying to get that right. Maybe they haven't done it as well as they could have but they're actually got the right message, they just haven't designed it and haven't sold it as well as they could have.


JENNY BROCKIE: Amanda Vanstone, do you think - yeah go.


AMANDA VANSTONE: People talk about a crisis and in one way it's a very dramatic word and makes people think oh, is it happening now? I think as was said a bit earlier we have to look at, if we do nothing now where will we be in ten years? The overall point is the government needed to do something, we could not keep pretending that we could keep on spending at that level and as an example of the bipartisanship on this that you might not see in Parliament we had both Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, not known to be the best mates themselves, agreeing that spending had to be reined in because of the change in economic circumstances in the world and because of the change to our demographics.


BEAU EVANS: There's a little problem maybe and in ten years’ time if we carry on the same we're going to have a bit of a big problem but we're not going about it the right way, are we?


AMANDA VANSTONE: You can't have a bit of a big problem. You either have a big problem or you don't.


BEAU EVANS: You don't have a big problem now.


AMANDA VANSTONE: I would rather see, I would always rather see a government make changes now over time that saved us from having to make very dramatic changes in say ten years’ time.


PAT ISAACS: I'm, I'm okay, Amanda, let me ask you. I'm in a situation where I get by, just. If these measures come into play I don't know what more I can give up to be honest with you. I don't smoke, I don't drink, I don't gamble, I hardly go out. It's not easy.




PAT ISAACS: Cruises, what are they?


JENNY BROCKIE: Now you're on a pension, yeah?


PAT ISAACS: I've worked hard all my life. Back in the day when women didn't go to work I was working. And all I want to do, I live very simply, yes, I'm on a pension and a government pension is my only income, I have no other income, no super, no income stream, nothing.


JENNY BROCKIE: Do you own your own home?


PAT ISAACS: We'll, me and the bank.


JUNE GABRIEL: The bank owns it.


PAT ISAACS: Yeah, and because I'm able to pay so little, that debt doesn't seem to come down. But I suppose I've had to get to the stage where I say well, if I kark it, then the house will have to be sold and that will be pay it off and my kids won't get as much. So what do I give up? Do I have to give my car up and then I'm totally dependent on other people? I don't have family here, my family are not in a position to help me. Do I give up eating? You know, anybody got any ideas?


JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, anyone want to react to that? Amanda, do you want to?


PAT ISAACS: It scares me"¦


JENNY BROCKIE: A pensioner who is scared by the budget.


AMANDA VANSTONE: Well look, it's just impossible for me, not just because I'm in another state but to comment on someone's personal circumstances when I don't know the full scenario of their life or their background, I just don't think I can do that. The government didn't choose to do some of the things that I would have done if I were in the budget and did some things that perhaps I might not have.


JENNY BROCKIE: What would you have liked them to do, what would have liked the government to do?


AMANDA VANSTONE: I would have liked to see much more substantial cuts made to the PPL system.


JENNY BROCKIE: The paid parental leave system.


AMANDA VANSTONE: The Commission's remit was not to look at taxation, we did take the opportunity to make the point that we do hope that the tax incentives for super are addressed in that review. I think there needs to be changes made there and I hope we have, for example, a mini budget maybe that we can address those issues before the next budget.


PAT ISAACS: No one has a problem with cutting spending, it's where the cuts are proposed from, that's what I have the problem with, that's what my friends here have the problem with and also the young people.


BEAU EVANS: Yeah, it's fair enough you have a budget crisis, why do you have to create a welfare crisis because of it? Surely you can come up with more efficient ways to cut the finance so that you can restructure it, so that it's best for everyone, because at the moment it's not best for everyone.




MALE: Also so you can sit and not get a job outside your field, because you don’t want a job outside your field"¦


BEAU EVANS: I just went and did a NEES program to start my own business"¦.


JENNY BROCKIE: Let him speak, you've had a good go. Yes?


MALE: Like from going back to your earlier point about cafe work being degrading yourself, from someone who works in a restaurant it's not, for one thing. Well the question needs to be asked and I'd put this to Amanda, whether you believe welfare is about bringing people out of a lower socio economic class into a higher one, or whether it's a safety net, whether it's just there for people who just can't do anything else because you are able bodied, you can you do other things but you're choosing not.


AMANDA VANSTONE: When I was in a position of employing people I would put the applications in a pile and I'd pick out the people who were doing a job, any job, and they're the ones that would get more closely looked at. They're the ones who more likely to get a job because I would say to myself this person is out there trying to make ends meet. When I was in Rome I picked someone for a job who took a job in a cafe flipping burgers to help her get herself through university.


BEAU EVANS: Flipping chicken for a living.


AMANDA VANSTONE: Why did I pick her, because she demonstrated a work ethic and that's what I wanted and it was a great choice by the way, she was really good at her job.

MALE: And that’s a definition of a lucky country.


JENNY BROCKIE: Gary, you're one of the people clapping, you're a fruit grower, you're a member of the National Party, who picks your fruit for you?


GARY GODWILL: Mainly backpackers now because we found it very difficult to employ locals. I'll always employ a local if the local is good, has good work ethic, thank you Amanda, but we tend to get locals who are coming off employment benefits and when we finish the fruit, we've got to give them their separation tickets and they keep coming in and the paperwork becomes enormous. The backpackers have demonstrated very good work ethics, we love them, they tend to be people who are full of life's experiences. They could be ex uni students, they could have been in the workforce, they just want to travel the world, they need the money to get on to the next job.


JENNY BROCKIE: Now why do you think that you can't get locals to do that job?


GARY GODWILL: Because locals don't want to do it and look, we can"¦


JENNY BROCKIE: Because it's a horrible job?


PAT ISAACS: It is a horrible job, yeah.


GARY GODWILL: It is a tough job, it's hard work, but I've done it all my life. I love it.


JENNY BROCKIE: Zara, you're 92 years old and you're on a full government pension, how much do you get a fortnight?




JENNY BROCKIE: And how do you manage on $800 a fortnight?


ZARA GRAYSPENCE: I'm very frugal. The things I have to pay, like everyone pays, telephone and food and electricity, gas, and I have to pay, I wear a thing around my neck, I have to pay for that in case I fall over to press, that's about, that's deducted from my savings bank. I haven't used it yet. Or I can't cross my fingers, I've got arthritis. But there's so many things that it's my garden keeps me going.


JENNY BROCKIE: Now you've lived in the same house?



JENNY BROCKIE: 60 years, yes.




JENNY BROCKIE: In one of Australia's most expensive suburbs. How much do you think your house would be worth, do you know?


ZARA GRAYSPENCE: Well, the house that was behind me was recently sold, I think 2 million or 2 point something million. The agents, and I'm continually inundated by estate agents to sell because I'm in Mosman, but this agent said I'll get you 1.8 million and I said well what would I do with, with a million? I can't go anywhere, no one, I can't travel, no one will insure me and I've got my garden. That's why I'm physically okay, they say why don't you move out, as the estate agents have suggested? Oh, we'll find you a nice little unit somewhere near a bus stop. What about my garden? Oh, you could have a few pots. My garden, Amanda, keeps me alive and the doctor said I'll still be here, you're talking about in ten years, I'll be here in ten years.


JENNY BROCKIE: Amanda Vanstone, can I get a response from you because you did recommend that someone like, you did recommend one someone like Zara's house should be taken into account with her assessment for the pension. It would mean that she would get less money as an aged pensioner.


AMANDA VANSTONE: Look, it certainly looks as though she will be here in ten years.




AMANDA VANSTONE: But go to the principle question, should people who have a 1.5 or $2 million asset be able to get a benefit? I think it's fair enough to say well, what about the person who doesn't have that asset? They look and say now hold on, I'm in a much worse position than this person. I don't have any asset I can draw on and I think you can make a case that people who have a significant asset, one and a half, $2 million asset sitting there can get a reverse mortgage and use some of that asset to look after themselves. If it was in the bank you'd say she had to use it, someone with a $2 million house is much, much wealthier than someone with no house or who's in a housing trust accommodation.


FEMALE: Rubbish.


JENNY BROCKIE: Zara, can I get your reaction to that?


ZARA GRAYSPENCE: It's my home, it's not an asset.


JENNY BROCKIE: But what about Amanda's point that if that money was in the bank, that your house is worth, it would be treated differently to the fact that it's your house, do you think she has a point saying that?


ZARA GRAYSPENCE: What, a million dollars in the bank? In a savings bank? How much would I be getting interest? I wouldn't be earning anything and where would I, what would I spend it on? A million dollars? I can't travel, they won't insure me, I've been all over the world when I was young.


AMANDA VANSTONE: Spend it on yourself.


MALE: It's not the million dollars, the value of that house is that she's lived there for sixty years. She's got, it's all about the, the, the sentimental value.


JENNY BROCKIE: I should point out that the government hasn't picked up this recommendation, has it, Amanda?


MALE: Well good.


AMANDA VANSTONE: No, no it hasn't but I wonder if he would say the same it was a $10 million house? Would you still say the same? My point is there is a point at which it's fair enough to say what about a reverse mortgage on that house?

ZARA GRAYSPENCE: I don't want the money, I don’t want the money I've been poor all my life.


AMANDA VANSTONE: And spend it on looking after yourself?


JUNE GABRIEL: Can I just say something? When a person buys a house it's not their fault if the price goes up. Don't move me out. Have you realised what you'll do to old people when you start to move them out? That's almost a criminal offence.


JENNY BROCKIE: Jarryd, what did you want to say?


JARRYD MARRICK: Well my grandparents actually sold a farm that was worth around $2 million, from what I understand, and moved into the suburbs so the adjustment was huge, they were over 80. It can definitely be done but they saw the necessity. They've always been self-funded, even sitting on this asset this they were sharing a tea bag all their lives and then at the age of 80 they pack up from a huge open farm where you can't see your neighbours out to a retirement village, but they made that lifestyle adjustment, they knew it was necessary. They didn't want to take anything from the system that they didn't need and I think that's the attitude that's absolutely required. They saw it as a monetary asset, even though they loved it, they loved the life, it was very difficult adjustment. They made it anyway.


JENNY BROCKIE: Frank, did you want to say something on this?


FRANK STILWELL: I think we could devise a policy which enabled people to have their cake and eat it too, whereby people can stay in their own homes but perhaps, and receive government benefits if they're entitled to them, but at the point of death or when the asset is transferred, that the government could recoup some part of that.


JENNY BROCKIE: Death duties in other words.


FRANK STILWELL: It would enable people to live in their own homes but the government would effectively develop an interest in that home which could expect to generate a payment at the time of death or when the asset's passed on. Now of course that's, that takes.


JENNY BROCKIE: You think that's fairer?


JUNE GABRIEL: I think that's, I think a death duty is much fairer, which we will never win because the rich won't tolerate it.


JENNY BROCKIE: Pat, what do think?


PAT ISAACS: I'm not sure about that one. I mean I'd like to be able to leave something to my kids but at the same time if that's my only option, then I'd probably take it.


JENNY BROCKIE: Can I also ask how do you feel about the Medicare co-payment as a pensioner?


PAT ISAACS: Yes, I'm, I'm not happy about it because I believe and I've always believed that health care is a right, not a privilege.


JENNY BROCKIE: How do you'll feel about the co-payment Rosina?


ROSINA GORDON: I'm actually okay with the co-payment because I believe it helps us to respect the services that we get. If we pay a little bit towards them it will make us think twice about rushing off to the doctor for unnecessary things and it's an incentive for to us work harder.


JENNY BROCKIE: Angela, what do you think?


ANGELA MOLINA: I'm not happy with it. I think what it's going to cause is that people will just not go to the doctors as often as they should. Instead of preventing a health issue they're going to be reacting to a health issue which may prove that it's going to get worse. As a single parent I have to go to the doctor's for my son and myself, you know, and that's often because, you know, kids get sick, I get sick and it puts further financial strain.


JENNY BROCKIE: Terry, you advised Tony Abbott on health and aging in the Howard government, as we mentioned before. What do you think about the co-payment?


TERRY BARNES: I did the think tank paper that started the debate on co-payments a few months ago where I recommended a $6 co-payment for GP services only, not GPs and pathology and radiology.. But having said that, the system has to be sustainable as well as fair and compassionate and the important thing is that we get the balance right now. As I think we were talking about earlier, making it sustainable for the future. Now the most fair way to do that is to ensure that those who are least well off, chronically ill, the people on benefits and pensions and also families with young children have a reasonable safety net.

Now the government has gone with ten services $70 in a year and the average number of times that a person goes to a GP is about five, most people would never reach that safety net but when you do, $70 over the course of twelve months is fair and reasonable. It's also reminding people that it appears to be free when it's bulk billed but it actually is a very costly, world class medical service that you're getting and it helps people to ask the question about whether they do need to go to the doctor but I think $6 or $7 is not enough to deter them from going to the doctor when they need to.


JENNY BROCKIE: We're going to have to wrap up. Pat, how do you see the next few years for you?


PAT ISAACS: Oh, I suppose it depends on whether these prepared changes actually make it through the Senate. I can manage as things stand at the moment if I don't get any more taken off me.


JENNY BROCKIE: Rosina, if you didn't, if you weren't to get family tax benefit B after your youngest turns six, let's say for argument's sake, would you consider going back to work, for example?


ROSINA GORDON: Basically, because I've got the five young children, a traditional 9 to 5 role, it's not going to fit very well with my family. So my job now is, and I've got four years to do it, is to find a creative way to find an income.


JENNY BROCKIE: Beau, if the Newstart changes go ahead and it's six months on benefits, six months off, would you take a job in something other than IT with that change?


BEAU EVANS: No. I would just not worry about CentreLink and I would just be trying my hardest to get an IT job. I wouldn't even sign up for CentreLink because it's too much hassle.


JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, we have to leave it there but I'm sure everybody will want to keep talking about a lot of this. And you can keep doing that of course on Twitter and Facebook so please take that opportunity. I wonder what you think we're entitled to?