6PR Perth Radio – Breakfast Show
with Harvey Deegan
5 January 2012
E & OE
There’s a very interesting article in The Australian today, from a gentleman by the name of Mitch Fifield. Mitch is the Opposition’s disabilities spokesman, and he’s addressing the rather unusual portfolio that exists in the Government, called social inclusion. If the Coalition achieves government at the next election, that will be one of the first portfolios to go. I don’t know anything about the social inclusion portfolio, other than it’s been around for about four years and that Julia Gillard was the first minister responsible for that. Let’s find out from Mitch Fifield himself just what it is all about. Welcome to the program, Mitch.
Good morning Harvey.
Social inclusion I don’t feel so bad now that I know who the Minister is, but I don’t think many other people would. But I do feel better because apparently he’s not quite sure what it’s all about.
No, that’s right. We could all be forgiven for not knowing what social inclusion is if the Minister himself doesn’t. Just after he was appointed at the end of last year, in his first press conference the Canberra press gallery asked him the reasonable question what is social inclusion, and what is your portfolio? His reply, which wasn’t really illuminating, was that social inclusion ‘means different things to different people.’ He followed that up with an opinion piece in The Australian to try and explain it, and he didn’t fare much better when he said that it was ‘a relatively new and perhaps unfamiliar term.’ So clearly, Julia Gillard when she had the gig – didn’t do a good job of defining the portfolio.
And nor did Tanya Plibersek. And now we have Mark Butler. In your eyes, what is it supposed to mean, Mitch?
I think social inclusion is a pretty meaningless term. What I would say is that it should be the core responsibility of most ministers to try and help people who face extra challenges for reasons beyond their control. People who have disabilities, for instance. I don’t think you need some broad, overarching, ill-defined portfolio to try and improve people’s quality of life. What you need are individual ministers in individual portfolios like health, like housing, like disabilities who are making a real difference, not just talking about it.
What has the portfolio actually achieved? Or the people in the portfolio, what do you think they’ve achieved, if anything you’ll probably say nothing – over the period of time that it’s been in existence?
I don’t think they’ve achieved a lot. We do know that they’ve produced eight reports over the last four years, and one of them, which cost $110,000, reached some earth-shattering conclusions. That Australians are pretty satisfied with their lives, 96% of people have contact with family and friends in an average week, that 16% of people find it difficult sometimes to have a say in the household, and that 7% of people are sometimes scared after dark. So basically what that $110,000 found was that people are pretty happy, they enjoy their family and friends, their families sometimes give them the absolute irrits, and sometimes people are afraid after dark.
Gee, well I’m certainly glad we’ve paid $110,000 to confirm our worst fears! By the way, in case there are those out there that think this is a totally unbalanced argument it is in a way because I tend to agree with Mitch. But we certainly have put in a request for the Minister for Social Inclusion to come on and have his say. So if he does, great. He can have his say too and we’ll find out what it all really means from his perspective.
In this opinion piece, you make a point that really, the Minister that should be responsible for social inclusion is really the Treasurer.
The Treasurer is really the ultimate minister for social inclusion, because he’s got a pretty important job to make sure that the economy is strong and growing. That means that people have jobs, and that is the most important thing you can do for anyone’s social inclusion is to see them in a job. The other important role that the treasurer has in social inclusion is that, if you’re running budget surpluses, if you’re living within your means, you’ve then got the capacity as a government to address systemic disadvantage in portfolios like disabilities, like housing. You can’t have a good social policy if you don’t have a good economic policy.
As I mentioned, if the Coalition wins government at the next election, I don’t suppose it’s necessarily your call Mitch, but you would be recommending to the Leader – who we presume would be Tony Abbott that the social inclusion portfolio be scrapped, simple as that?
That’s right, that would be my strong recommendation. We don’t have a social inclusion portfolio in opposition. We didn’t have one when we were in government. I can’t see what having this portfolio actually does, what it achieves, who it has benefited.
Alright, well thank you very much for your opinion today Mitch. It was an interesting piece in The Australian today and people should take a look at it and they can make up their own minds. We really appreciate your time this morning Mitch.
Thanks indeed Harvey.
That’s Mitch Fifield. He’s the Opposition’s disabilities spokesman.