Chatting to 2UE's Justin Smith About A Particularly Cruel Government Cut

16 June 2015

JUSTIN SMITH:So there you go, it's been calculated at about 700 per cent more expensive.


So what was happening since 2001 was that the federal government was giving $256 a month to people who needed to buy this food - particularly for children. They were giving it to them so that they could buy it. They have now said, the Department of Health in their infinite wisdom, have said that they are going to cancel this program from December 2015 with no real explanation.

Well, I've been working on this thing all day and I have not heard an explanation, other than to save a bit of money and it's $3 million a year for these people who really need it. I mean, we are not talking age of entitlement here Joe, this is $3 million for people who really need it. The Government won't come on today, let's get the Shadow Assistant Minister for Health, Stephen Jones, Thanks for your time.


SMITH: What do you make of this?

JONES: We think it is a small, pathetic act by the Government. It is saving very, very little - about $3 million a year. But it makes a huge impact to the 950 people who are suffering from IEM. We are calling on the Minister to do the right thing, we think this is a small-minded act and it makes a huge difference to these people. You gave some examples in that interview you did and one of my constituents has written to me, both her and her brother suffer from IEM.

A loaf of bread, for example, costs me about $3 when I go to the supermarket, for them it is $10 for a loaf of bread. A packet of pasta, $2 for me, about $10 for them. That all adds up, the cost of the Government providing about $250 a month, but actually they end up spending a lot more than that because it doesn't cover all of the costs. It just assists them in the additional costs that they have in meeting their health needs. The constituent, she makes the point, if people are unable to afford the right type of food it is going to cost the Government more in hospital and other associated bills. Because they suffer from conditions that not eating properly is going to lead to.

SMITH: Look and I'm a real newbie on this, I've only been learning about this today. I'm glad I have, these people who could be disabled, mentally-impaired for life if they get this wrong. If they eat the wrong foods or they go the cheaper option here...and then they are being cared for by the state.

JONES: I think this is a really important point to make; the consequences for them eating the wrong sort of food can be renal failure, which means that they are in hospital on a dialysis machine. Or they might get terrible skin diseases, at the really extreme end you have mental retardation, daily tremors and seizures and all sorts of things.

SMITH: It's awful; I think we've been ignorant of it because of the amount of people who have it, which is kind of the point behind this. We can do it, the Government can do this, we can stretch for this. It's not a big ask, is it Stephen?

JONES: Absolutely not, about $3 million a year is spent as I've said. Look can I make this point, if there is a good thing that has come from what is a bad decision from the Government it is that it has brought the public's awareness of the suffering that many people - or the challenges that many people - alongside us are living through. I think as a wealthy nation, we should be able to make this small contribution to assist them to live a health life. The point that I was making also, you end up paying more if you don't help these people.

SMITH: Yeah, absolutely. Well I hope you have been asking the right questions, I'm sure you have. Have you been given any other reason - apart from saving a few bucks here - have you been given any other reason why this got cancelled?

JONES: When pressed on this matter, the Prime Minister said, 'Well, supermarkets are now selling these sorts of goods at reasonable prices'. We know that this simply is not true -

SMITH: Not true?

JONES: No it's not the case. You might be able to get a few products, but you are simply not able to get a whole heap of products. Many of them have to get on to the Internet and shop overseas for them; they get them sent here in big boxes so that they can meet their monthly need.

SMITH: Thanks for the chat.

JONES: Thank you.