Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
NATALIE BARR: For more, I’m joined by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann this morning. Good morning to you.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning.
NATALIE BARR: The bottom line was helped by savings on the NDIS. $4.6 billion was budgeted for but that was actually never spent. Is that the right way to balance the books?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have actually more than doubled spending on the NDIS over the last 12 months, increasing the number of participants by 115,000 to 300,000. Over the last three years we have increased the number of participants in the NDIS tenfold from 30,000 three years ago to 300,000. It is a massive undertaking. It is a very important undertaking. We are implementing it as fast as we can, but we need to ensure providers in the market are able to keep up with the level of demand. There is a lot more work to be done and we are doing the best we can.
NATALIE BARR: There seems to be a problem there, doesn’t there? Paralympian Dylan Alcott tweeted yesterday. He said he is devastated, the budget surplus is due to savings through the NDIS funding delays. He says he sees the heartbroken families of people who try to get NDIS funding and can’t. He is calling on the Government to fix this. He is one of our greatest ever wheelchair athletes. You think he would know. What is your response to that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I agree with him and we are working to fix it. We are going through a massive reform exercise. The level of support people with a disability used to get in Australia was completely inadequate. So instead of providing funding at a state level to a number of organisations and then they have to do the best they can, we are giving essentially every single Australian with a disability who needs that level of support access to that support. It is a massive increase in services and the provider market across the community needs to develop in order to be able to meet that demand as well as making sure that the funding is there. The funding is there. The money is in the Budget. But we can only spend at the pace that the market is able to develop to meet that demand. Our objective is to get to the full $500,000 participants as soon as we can. We have increased from 30,000 to 300,000 participants over the last three years, including 115,000 additional this past year. But yes, of course, we have to continue to go as fast as we can.
NATALIE BARR: Why do we need a surplus right now? Economic growth is slowing, unemployment is up 5.3 per cent, that’s the highest in 12 months. Is the economy as healthy as you guys are making it sound?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our economy continues to grow. We are facing global headwinds. We are dealing with the consequences of the floods earlier in the year as well as with the consequences and the impact of the drought. We have delivered $300 billion worth of income tax cuts. Over the last two months, about $16 billion income tax relief has been put back into the pockets of hard-working Australians. We are investing about $100 billion in infrastructure over the next decade. We are making decisions to invest. We are providing record funding for schools, hospital, disability services, welfare. But Government needs to live within its means, because if we don’t, we have to impose higher taxes in the future, which would weaken the economy when we want to continue to strengthen it.
NATALIE BARR: Household debt is huge, wages are flat, underemployment is much bigger than the unemployment rate and you guys are saying yes, but we’ve got a surplus. It just seems like the wrong time to be growing that surplus, doesn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The employment growth is higher than it has been over the long run average at 2.6 per cent. Wages growth is higher than it has been since 2013-14. At 2.3 per cent itt is running above inflation of 1.6 per cent. We are continuing to work hard to build a stronger economy to ensure that into the future even more Australians can get into work and can get better wages over time.
NATALIE BARR: Okay. Thank you very much for your time this morning Minister.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.