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Budget Attacks Most Vulnerable

13 May 2015 at 3:51 pm
Xavier Smerdon
The Federal Budget attacks the most vulnerable members of the Australian society, writes Greens spokesperson on Ageing and Disability Services, Rachel Siewert.

Xavier Smerdon | 13 May 2015 at 3:51 pm


Budget Attacks Most Vulnerable
13 May 2015 at 3:51 pm

The Federal Budget attacks the most vulnerable members of the Australian society, writes Greens spokesperson on Ageing and Disability Services, Rachel Siewert.  

Treasurer Joe Hockey is saying this budget enables every Australian to “have a go”, but it doesn't. This Budget once again targets the most vulnerable in our community and undermines their ability to “have a go”.

The Government has again vilified vulnerable Australians in this Budget with punitive approaches to job seekers, condemning young people to periods without income support, emphasise on compliance and fraud, while also doing next to nothing to genuinely increase employment.

Despite the enormous community outrage last year, it seems the Government hasn’t quite learned its lesson. Joe Hockey has once again demonised vulnerable Australians with punitive approaches that range from being glaringly cruel to worryingly insidious.

The Government’s delivery of a “dull” Budget which failed to raise revenue whilst continuing to vilify struggling Australians is disappointing and unfair. The Abbott Government continues to put a wrecking ball through the lives of people that are trying to get to their feet after experiencing hardship; they must stop punitive approaches that are constantly knocking the poorest members of our community again and again.

It is still cruel and counterproductive to exclude young people from income support for extensive periods of time. One month off income support with no way to pay for essentials will have harmful impacts on young people. This is still an uncaring, ideological attack on the young. Four weeks is long enough for a young person to get into a thousand dollars’ worth of debt, as they try to pay their rent, feed themselves and incur the costs of job seeking. If they are not lucky enough to move off payments and into a job quickly, we are condemning them to a poverty trap.

The fact that Joe Hockey cannot admit this measure is cruel is an indication of how little he understands about being out of work and living week-to-week. Whether it is for six months or one month, it is still an ideological measure, not an evidence based one. We need to be moving young people into sustainable employment not blaming them for the circumstances they find themselves in. Yes there are some positive measures that look at supporting vulnerable youth, but I can’t help but think that for every young person who will receive assistance, there will be several whose sense of wellbeing; physical safety is put under threat.

We will continue to oppose young people being pushed off income support, whether it be for six months or one month.

Young people, older people and single parents will also have to wait six months before becoming eligible for the wage subsidy program that has been created by merging the long term wage subsidy programs, the youth subsidy, the restart subsidy and the Tasmanian jobs program. Despite it being streamlined, there are still waiting periods and the risk of employers creating short-term churning positions and we will be looking at this closely when estimates rolls around.

Bizarrely, income management will continue to be funded despite evidence that it doesn’t work and funding committed to consulting and trialling the Healthy Welfare Card. This is a glaringly obvious move to keep mining magnate billionaire Andrew Forrest happy. $2.7 million has been committed to “facilitate consultation and engagement with communities” around the Healthy Welfare Card – despite evidence the approach is clearly ineffective. An undisclosed amount has also been committed to “trialling” the Healthy Welfare Card across three undisclosed communities. This opaque and draconian measure needs to be ditched.

The enormous investment in upgrading the IT infrastructure that underpins our social security sector is long overdue but even here the focus isn’t on innovating and creating a better system to help people into the future. Rather it is about compliance and fraud.

The Government’s worldview is clear – those who are in need of help should be met with distrust.

These measures demonstrate Scott Morrison’s uncaring Ministerial style; his shift in portfolio has simply moved him from vilifying asylum seekers to attacking people in need of support.

Despite the repeated call for a $50 a week increase to Newstart and the comprehensive review of the payments system conducted by McClure over the past twelve months, the complete inadequacy of this payment has not been addressed by the Government. Newstart is only indexed against CPI, and so every year that Government refuses to take action is another year that this payment falls further and further behind community living stands.

Imagine trying to find suitable accommodation, let alone also paying for food and transport and all the other miscellaneous costs of life on $260 a week.

Elderly Australians will breathe a sigh of relief that the pension indexation measures were abandoned, but there was no commitment to the broader retirement incomes that can look at the growing imbalance in retirement incomes caused by the flaws in the super system, age discrimination and employment.

The Government is picking what it thinks is the low hanging fruit with their changes to the pension, but more must be done in this area to make sure all older Australians are cared in retirement.

Thankfully, the Government is shifting away from the harsh changes of indexation to the pension; this cruel measure was a classic case of punishing those on low incomes and would have seen full pensioners ultimately $80 a week worse off.

It is a relief that in this instance the Government has recognised that punishing the less well-off is not acceptable in a caring Australia, but the Government is still refusing to commit to a broader retirement income review.

In committing to a retirement income review, the Government would be working towards ensuring all older Australians are cared for in retirement.

The Australian Greens will closely scrutinise these new measures and will continue to push for a review.

It is time the Government completely abandoned cruel measures that attack our most vulnerable and reinstate the funding they took away from essential services and supports last year. We are a caring society and we can do better.

About the author: Senator Rachel Siewert is the Greens spokesperson on Ageing and Disability Services and Chair of the Community Affairs References Committee which is currently holding an inquiry into the impact of the community service tender program by the Department of Social Services.

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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