Welfare Advocates Push Back Against ‘Divisive’ Migrants Bill
12 June 2018 at 3:50 pm
An alliance of more than 30 peak bodies and welfare groups have called on the Senate to reject legislation which would force new migrants to wait four years to access various social security payments.
Legislation to lengthen the waiting period from two years to three years was included in the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Encouraging Self-sufficiency for Newly Arrived Migrants) Bill 2018, introduced earlier this year.
However last month’s federal budget revealed that the waiting period would be extended to four years.
With the bill now sitting before a Senate committee for examination, an alliance of peak bodies and welfare groups have urged the Senate to reject the legislation.
Led by the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA), the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and the St Vincent de Paul Society National Council, the alliance has warned the bill will impose severe hardship on tens of thousands of people.
The chairperson of FECCA, Mary Patetsos, said extending the waiting period would not only affect social security payments, but also carer allowances, family tax benefit and widow allowances.
“These changes will hit the most vulnerable of migrants,” Patetsos said.
“Permanent migrants should enjoy the same benefits as all other Australian residents, especially at the time when they need a little help to settle into their new home.
“Regardless of the committee’s report, we call on the Senate to oppose any increase to waiting periods, whether to three years or four years.”
Those most at risk to a possible extended waiting period include: single parents and children, women at risk of family violence, young migrants and newly-graduated students, and those who unexpectedly become a carer.
St Vincent de Paul Society National Council CEO Dr John Falzon, said the changes were “unjust, unnecessary and divisive”.
“They undermine the needs-based focus of our social safety net and will create an underclass of residents cut off from the basic rights and supports afforded to other members of the community,” Falzon said.
“Without access to a safety net, the most vulnerable new residents will be forced to rely on charities and risk being trapped in a cycle of poverty and hardship.
“The current two-year waiting period already causes significant and unnecessary hardship, and it is unconscionable that the government is seeking to increase the hardship of people in need of support.”
ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie added: “Migrants must already wait two years to access essential social security payments. We cannot see the justification for extending this waiting period other than to make life harder for people setting up their lives in Australia.
“People who are migrants make such a huge contribution to Australia. They should be treated fairly, including being supported if they are in financial need.”
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert told Pro Bono News that she welcomed this alliance standing up to the proposed measures.
“Having to wait four years to access the social safety net means that more members of our community will be pushed into poverty. Why further deprive someone struggling for support?,” Siewert said.
“It is harsh and cruel and may potentially mean that migrants struggle more to get back into work because of the poverty they have been forced in to.
“The Australian Greens will oppose the changes.”
At a Senate committee hearing in April, Professor Shelley Mallett, the general manager of Brotherhood of St Laurence’s (BSL) research and policy centre, told the inquiry the proposed measures would adversely affect more than 100,000 children.
“We believe [this bill] stands to potentially increase child and family poverty,” Mallett said.
“Of the total $1.3 billion saving the bill forecasts, the largest component – $898 million – are family related benefits. It’s expected that around 50,000 families will lose income, with 110,000 children impacted by the loss of family tax benefits.
“The introduction of a three-year waiting period – in theory, but in reality it could be up to six years – for new permanent residents to become eligible for parenting payment, family tax benefit and paid parental leave will leave low-income families in hardship.”
The Department of Social Services (DSS) noted in their submission to the committee that the legislation would only affect access to certain welfare payments.
“Affected migrants will continue to have access to other government-funded services where eligible, such as health care, education, child care subsidies and help to find work,” the submission said.
DSS added that it was vital Australia’s welfare system was “sustainable into the future”.
“It is important that Australia’s welfare payments system remains sustainable into the future and encourages people to support themselves where they are able, including new migrants to Australia,” the submission said.
“The amendments in this bill are designed to strengthen the rules that govern access to welfare payments by encouraging new migrants to support themselves for longer after settling in Australia and by applying consistent rules and expectations across the welfare payments system.”
The committee will present its report on the bill on 15 June.