Government Called to Remedy “Abysmally Low” Welfare Payments
9 November 2017 at 9:59 am
Prominent Jesuit priest and human rights lawyer, Father Frank Brennan, has called on Australia’s political leaders to remedy “abysmally low” Newstart and Youth Allowance payments, which he said have set the nation on a path of growing inequality.
Brennan gave a speech in Melbourne on Wednesday night to mark the 110 year anniversary of the Harvester decision – which has been credited as the foundation for the national minimum wage.
The CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia said politicians needed to acknowledge that the nation’s economic system had lost its way, benefitting the purity of market rather than improving the society in which it operated.
“There can be no sustainable ‘budget repair’ without ensuring a robust safety net and an assured leg up for those missing out through no fault of their own,” Brennan said.
“Trickle down economics, by its very title is a top down approach to wealth distribution. It has failed those at the bottom of the pyramid.”
Brennan said political leaders needed to develop an adequate safety net to break the cycle of poverty.
He said this could be achieved by raising Newstart and the Youth Allowance from their “abysmally low levels”.
“We need to develop a ‘bottom up’ approach to sharing our nation’s resources, first ensuring that we have an adequate safety net for those who cannot participate in the workforce,” he said.
“It is legitimate for government to provide incentives for people to access the labour market, including social security payments lower than those payable to persons who have no prospect of accessing the labour market whether because of age or disability.
“But it is just wrong for governments to keep payments such as Newstart and the Youth Allowance at abysmally low levels, in the name of ‘budget repair’ when there are insufficient jobs available and no realistic prospect of employment, training or education.”
Brennan said that allowing governments to put some people “beyond the reach of a dignified life” was not an option.
“We need a reliable, independent means for determining what is sufficient to live a dignified life in a civilised community and to set the minimum wage and income support payments accordingly,” he said.
“Continuing with the same economic and social policy settings will exacerbate the already growing divide between the rich and the poor and eventually damage the economy to such an extent that it has a detrimental effect on everyone.”
Brennan also attacked the federal government’s plan to drug test welfare recipients, which he labelled “simply a political showpiece”.
“Many of us in church agencies have come out strongly opposing compulsory drug testing of welfare recipients in three locations chosen without any consultation with the local communities, and with no consultation with health professionals [who are] expert in dealing with substance abuse,” he said.
“The Turnbull government could not produce one health professional in support of the trial announced in the 2017 Budget. A string of experts came forward saying that compulsory drug testing would not work.
“As I told the [senate committee], ‘To have a trial where you do not seek the consent or guidance of the health professionals, nor of the local communities, it is no trial, it is simply a political showpiece.’”