Social Sector Urges Government to Abandon Welfare Changes
26 June 2017 at 8:40 am
The social sector has called on the government to abandon its proposed welfare changes after legislation to help people “move from welfare into work” was introduced into the House of Representatives on Thursday.
The measures in the controversial Welfare Reform Bill, which include tough jobseeker compliance measures and a two year drug testing trial for 5,000 new recipients of Newstart and Youth Allowance, were first announced in the May budget.
In a joint statement from Minister for Employment Senator Michaelia Cash, Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge and Minister for Social Services Christian Porter, the government announced it had backed “its commitment to comprehensive reform of Australia’s welfare system”.
According to the statement, the measures “will better support people into work and ensure the welfare system continues to provide a safety net for those who need it most”.
However the move has sparked protest from social sector organisations.
Anglicare Australia called on the government to abandon its proposed welfare changes and for the Senate to reject any relevant legislation.
In particular, the organisation argued measures such as the new demerit point system, random drug testing and increased obligations to look for work or participate in work for the dole programs, were “punitive and not supported by evidence”.
Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers said the proposals would drive more Australians into extreme poverty.
“Between drug testing, the demerit point proposal, and the recently leaked ‘welfare hotspot’ list, what we have seen in recent weeks is a concerted campaign to demonise people accessing the social safety net,” Chambers said.
“Anglicare’s Jobs Availability Snapshot shows that people are already trying their hardest to compete for jobs that just aren’t there.
“But instead of offering relief, people who need help from the government are being scapegoated and criminalised.
“We should be a community that helps people when they need it, instead of kicking them when they’re down.”
Mission Australia CEO Catherine Yeomans said the “punitive reforms” would “push already vulnerable people into poverty and increase stigma around addiction”.
“People receiving welfare payments are often barely surviving on seriously inadequate payments. The demerit system will cut off people’s already meagre income for up to four weeks, leaving them with no way to cover basic costs like rent, bills and food,” Yeomans said.
“The impact on families and children could be severe – by cutting their income, entire families could be pushed into further poverty and into homelessness.
“Most concerning is the unacceptable impact that these measures will have on people who already have challenging and complex lives.”
Yeomans said targeting people with drug and alcohol addiction issues was “not only disrespectful but a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of substance misuse”.
“Our experience shows that if people are given the opportunity to seek treatment and develop their skills in regards to further education and employment, they grasp it with both hands. Currently these services are just not there for those with complex needs,” she said.
“What’s most hard to swallow is that the government are telling us that they’re doing it for the good of the people targeted by these reforms but we know that support, not punishment, is what’s needed to help people who face real barriers to searching for jobs.
“Mission Australia stands ready to support people in need, but we also believe it is the role of government to provide an adequate safety net for all Australians, particularly the most vulnerable among us.”
Under the new bill, from 1 January 2018 job seekers in three as yet undisclosed locations who return a single positive drug test will see their welfare payments quarantined.
If a job seeker tests positive a second time they will be referred to a medical professional to “assess their circumstances and identify appropriate treatment options which will then form part of their mutual obligations”.
According to the government the drug testing trial “is not designed to stigmatise or penalise people” but to “identify those people with drug issues and help them so that they can ultimately enjoy the whole range of benefits that come from earning a living through work”.
However Anti-Poverty Network SA said the measure would “only add to the considerable stigma and stress experienced by welfare recipients”.
The organisation launched a protest outside the office of Christopher Pyne, SA’s most senior federal Liberal Party MP, on Friday, under the banner “Operation Piss-Take”.
They also called on the South Australian state government to refuse to participate following the recent announcement from the Victorian government that it will not cooperate with this policy.
Anti-Poverty Network SA spokesperson Nijole Naujokas said the scheme treated Centrelink clients “like second-class citizens”.
“The Turnbull government does not care about getting addicts the support they need. This policy is designed to portray the unemployed as drug addicts in order to distract the public from the government’s failure to provide enough jobs”, Naujokas said.