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Community Groups Slam Crackdown on Migrant Welfare

Friday, 30th November 2018 at 4:45 pm
Luke Michael
The community sector has implored Labor to reject a bill forcing migrants to wait four years to access key welfare payments.  

Friday, 30th November 2018
at 4:45 pm
Luke Michael



Community Groups Slam Crackdown on Migrant Welfare
Friday, 30th November 2018 at 4:45 pm

The community sector has implored Labor to reject a bill forcing migrants to wait four years to access key welfare payments.  

Under federal government measures backed by Labor on Thursday, the waiting period for newly arrived migrants to access Newstart, Youth Allowance and Austudy would be extended to four years.

Labor said it supported the bill only after negotiating significant changes, including reducing the proposed waiting period for Family Tax Benefit Part A and the Carer Allowance from four years to one year.

But community groups and the Greens remain strongly opposed to the bill, and have implored Labor to reconsider their support.

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) said the community sector believed there was no justification for cutting off support for people, including children, who were in financial need.

In a statement, ACOSS urged Labor to join the Greens, the Centre Alliance and Tim Storer in opposing the bill in the Senate.

“The amended bill… will still impose a four-year wait to access Newstart, hurting people most in need,” the statement said.

“It will also, for the first time, impose a one-year wait to access Family Tax Benefit Part A, which is a crucial payment for low-income families, including families without paid work and families on the minimum wage trying to give their children the best start in life.”

Leanne Ho, the executive officer of the National Social Security Rights Network, said the community sector would bear the brunt of these welfare cuts.

“Any savings… will be lost in the cost to charitable and community organisations or other government-funded services of dealing with the increased poverty and social problems though provision of emergency relief including food, housing, and healthcare,” Ho said.

“We see people who are already subject to a long waiting period who want make a meaningful contribution to their new community, but are living in garages and cannot access the support needed to get on their feet.”

On Tuesday, Labor won the support of the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) for the amended bill.

But the group withdrew their support for the legislation on Thursday.

“Earlier this week FECCA accepted amendments to the bill on the understanding that there was not enough support in the Senate to defeat it,” chairperson Mary Patetsos said.

“FECCA now believes that – combined with the votes of Labor senators and Australian Greens senators – there are sufficient crossbench senators prepared to vote against this legislation.”

Labor MPs Chris Bowen and Linda Burney defended the opposition’s support of the bill, arguing the amendments would protect as many people as possible without leaving the fate of the bill at the mercy of One Nation and the Senate crossbench.

In a joint statement, they said the alternative risked the government’s plan for four-year waiting periods to pass in their entirety.  

“As a result of Labor’s negotiations, the number of families and children impacted each year by the government’s Family Tax Benefit waiting period will be reduced by around three quarters, and the number of people impacted by other changes will be nearly halved,” they said.

Around 49,000 families and 107,000 children will be protected from the Family Tax Benefit waiting period each year because of the amendments, according to Labor.

Australian Greens leader Richard Di Natale described Labor’s support as a “grubby deal” with the government to rob more than a billion dollars from some of Australia’s most vulnerable people.

“Pauline Hanson [on Thursday] said she was proud of the Labor Party but when Senator Hanson is cheering you on you need to take a good hard look at yourself,” Di Natale said.

“I call upon Bill Shorten’s Labor Party to tear up this dodgy deal that makes life harder for vulnerable migrants.”

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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