Government Pushes Welfare Reform Success Amid More Robo-Debt Controversy
22 November 2017 at 4:51 pm
Social Services Minister Christian Porter has detailed the federal government’s efforts to overhaul the welfare system during a speech in Canberra on Wednesday including what he described as the recent success of “getting teenage parents off income support”.
“In 2018-19, the government will no longer be borrowing to fund recurrent expenditure in the welfare system or elsewhere,” Porter told the National Press Club.
“That is the most undervalued piece of good news for every young Australian in this country.”
Porter said young parents were particularly vulnerable to welfare dependency.
“Of the 27,940 young Australians in this group their expected average duration on income support [is] some or all of 45 years over their future lifetime,” Porter said.
“Since the coalition came to government, the number of young parents on welfare decreased by 4,031 people.
“That’s 4,031 fewer young parents in the welfare system, more young parents moving into work or further education and building careers, independence and better lives.
“That 4,000 person improvement will also save the taxpayer up to $2 billion over the life of those young Australians.”
The minister’s speech comes as the controversial Welfare Reform Bill, which was due to be debated in Parliament, has been postponed and news has broken that Centrelink is to use 1,000 labour-hire staff to recover welfare debts.
The government will have to garner support from the Senate cross bench to get its welfare plans including plans to drug test unemployed welfare recipients across the line.
Welfare peak body ACOSS tweeted during the Porter speech that “community organisations [must] stand together to say no to the Welfare ‘Reform’ Bill and no to drug testing. The government must stop the cuts and stop the attack on people who have the least in Australia”.
Minister Christian Porter is speaking at the press club today. Community organisations stand together to say no to the Welfare ‘Reform’ Bill and no to drug testing. The government must stop the cuts and stop the attack on people who have the least in Australia. #auspol
— ACOSS (@ACOSS) November 21, 2017
The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) said the government’s decision to outsource 1,000 Centrelink jobs through labour hire arrangements “posed yet another threat to the social safety net for all Australians”.
“The Department of Human Services (DHS) has confirmed private labour hire firms will employ the staff, with their work focused on the disastrous robo-debt scheme and welfare compliance,” CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood said.
“The decision… is new and scandalous. Dealing with social security debts is an incredibly sensitive job that should be done by well-trained public sector workers. This is just another example of the government privatising our safety net.
“Robo-debt has been an absolute disaster for both DHS staff and the community. The Turnbull government is now trying to abdicate its responsibility for this debacle by outsourcing the mop-up to a private company.”
St Vincent de Paul Society National Council said the Centrelink move “did not inspire confidence that the government will pursue reform in a respectful and fair way”.
Society CEO Dr John Falzon said treating people with respect was “integral to helping people find work and giving them hope that they can engage more fully in society”.
“Employing 1,000 contractors from a private company to chase supposed debt does neither.
Now is the time to strengthen the public service, not undermine it by implementing an outdated ideology of privatisation of public services,” Falzon said.
“We have seen how this ideology of privatisation has failed catastrophically in helping people who are experiencing exclusion and inequality.
“If this latest ill-conceived plan of the government proceeds, many of these same people will be pursued for debts that they may not even have accrued, when they are already struggling to survive below the poverty line.
“The government seems to have learnt nothing from the Robo-debt fiasco, except that in future they may be able to blame problems on external contractors.”