Senate Urged to Reject Welfare Reform Bill
Monday, 5th February 2018 at 5:48 pm
People across the country have united in a day of action to fight welfare reforms, as the peak body for the community services sector calls for the senate to reject the bill amid claims it will make life “even tougher for people already struggling”.
The Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill is due to be debated in the Senate on Tuesday.
The proposed changes include a overhaul of the existing compliance regime for jobseekers, extending the waiting period for Newstart and increasing the number of hours Newstart recipients must work under the controversial Work for the Dole program.
The reforms are designed to save the federal government hundreds of millions of dollars but have been widely condemned by welfare recipients and civil society advocates.
The Australian Unemployed Workers Union held protests in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Bendigo and Brisbane on Saturday in opposition to the proposed Welfare Reform Bill and Cashless Debit Card Bill.
AUWU president Owen Bennett said the changes represented some of the most significant attacks ever launched against the unemployed.
“Despite already now wielding one of the toughest job seeker compliance regimes in the OECD, the coalition wants to enforce even more demands and activities on unemployed Australians,” Bennett said.
“It goes to show that this government has no interest in easing the burden of poverty and unemployment – instead, they seek to worsen it.
“The government continues to shift the burden and blame onto individuals themselves, who, they believe, need to be punished and coerced into finding jobs that just simply aren’t there.”
The protests come after hundreds of AUWU members publicly condemned the bills in open letters and petitions addressed to senators including the Nick Xenophon Team and Derryn Hinch.
AUWU media officer Jeremy Poxon, told Pro Bono News the crossbenchers held the balance of power, and could still vote the two bills down in the Senate.
“What we’ve been trying to for the last couple of months, culminating in the National Day of Action, is to really a. inform unemployed people and welfare recipients about everything that is on the table with these reforms and then b. get their voices to these senators and in the media more generally because the voices and experiences of unemployed people are removed from these policy decisions,” Poxon said.
“Just looking at our petition and open letters online there has been a real boost in the number of people who have signed them. Nationwide we had a bunch of our members handing out petitions to passersby and members of the public so I guess it is fair to say the Nick Xenophon Team have probably experienced an increase in correspondence thanks to us and that was really the main goal of what we were doing.”
Poxon said while “the hour was getting late” to change the minds of the senators, the National Day of Action had united a number of voices in opposing the welfare reforms.
“Speaking directly from the Melbourne [protest], we had a bunch of speakers, Father Bob Maguire was one of them, we also had a speaker from the Homeless Persons Union and we had a speaker from Fair Go For Pensioners, and it was really nice to see the broadening out of movement, [with] unemployed people, homeless people, older people, coming together to be this real voice against the direction welfare policies have taken,” he said.
It comes as the Australian Council of Social Service has also called on the Senate to reject the bill.
ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie told Pro Bono News the Welfare Reform Bill would introduce a “further raft of social security cuts and changes that will make life even tougher for people already struggling”.
“Each week, people must pay for their accommodation, whether it be rent or mortgage. Although easy for the top 20 per cent in Australia, there are many people who watch those dollars leave their wallet, and panic sets in as there simply is not enough left over to afford the absolute essential basics to live on, such as food, bills, transport and clothing. It is these people who are about to hurt even more if the government’s proposed welfare ‘reform’ bill is passed,” Goldie said.
“People are already hungry, skipping meals to pay bills. Why is the government persecuting those who have the least in Australia, at the same time as they’re proposing unfunded company tax cuts?”
Goldie also raised concerns that the bill would remove protections for people who, because of extenuating circumstances, cannot get all the paperwork for their income support claim into Centrelink.
“This means that people in hospital, people going through a separation or women escaping domestic violence will have to wait longer to get their Centrelink payment because it is impossible to get the paperwork together,” she said.
“80,000 people seeking work will have their payments cut under the proposed compliance changes for people receiving an unemployment payment. The government must stop their persecution of people on low incomes and their relentless cutting of funding to social security.
“Unemployment payments, which have been repeatedly targeted for budget cuts, represent less than 3 per cent of overall budget spending. The social safety net exists to provide protection for everyone in Australia. Attacking people on the lowest incomes benefits no one.”
The bill has also come under criticism from Philip Alston, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, who accused the government of pursuing policies that “stigmatise” and “marginalise” poorer sections of society.
In a letter sent to the government last week, Alston raised concerns about the planned expansion of cashless welfare cards, and their impact on Indigenous communities.
He also took to social media to express his concerns, saying a close reading of the reforms revealed “a clear underlying agenda”.
“It is not, as advertised, based on employment promotion, efficiency, targeting, dignity, and the other terms used to describe it. Rather, the goal is to make welfare increasingly unsustainable, difficult to secure, and demeaning,” Alston said.
“The assumption seems to be that this will force those living in poverty to give up their supposedly wilful refusal to work and to renounce their bad habits such as alcohol abuse and gambling.
“The legislation seeks to consolidate, in important ways, the evolution of Australia’s social welfare system over the past two decades from the provision of a comprehensive safety net as part of a conception of social citizenship to a set of highly conditional and limited benefits enabling the very worst off to subsist in misery.”