Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews has hosed down speculation that all disability pensioners could be examined by independent doctors to see if they are still eligible for welfare.
But he’s reiterated the federal government’s desire to see more people working instead of receiving support payments, saying individuals would be happier and contributing more if they earned incomes.
The government is undertaking a review of Australia’s welfare system, including the $15 billion per year disability support pension (DSP), warning the costs are unsustainable and risk further blow out.
But speculation that disability pensioners could be re-examined by the Department of Human Services under proposed changes in the review has sparked outcry and warnings of dire budget cuts ahead.
Mr Andrews on Sunday sought to assure those on the pension that the government believed in a ‘‘genuine safety net’’, and said it would be a waste of time to retest everybody receiving the support payments.
‘‘We’re not aimed at the great bulk of people on the DSP,’’ he told reporters in Melbourne.
Instead, the government wanted to explore ways to keep young people or new disability pensioners off welfare and in work, even part time.
Mr Andrews said people under 35 or those about to apply for the DSP would benefit more from a job.
‘‘If they’re in work they’re likely to be earning more, they’re likely to be happier, they’re likely to contribute more to their own families, and therefore to better society,’’ he said.
More than 800,000 Australians are currently receiving the pension, with another 1000 qualifying for the payment every week, and the government warns the costs could blow out to $18 billion in just years.
Labor accused the government of having no plan for getting people back into work, just an agenda of making savings ahead of the May budget.
The Australian Greens said the government was trying to sneak through a ‘‘disability crackdown’’ while the public’s attention was elsewhere over the Easter break.
People with Disability Australia president Craig Wallace was also critical of the timing, saying there had been no consultation with the sector about this proposal.
‘‘I suspect that it’s far from a happy Easter for many people with disabilities and their families who are now worried about whether they will continue to receive income following the budget, he told reporters in Canberra on Sunday.
Mr Andrews said an interim report from the review, headed by former Mission Australia CEO Patrick McClure, should be released for public discussion within about two weeks.