Coalition promises to support charities and the NDIS… but won’t budge on Newstart
30 April 2019 at 8:39 am
The Coalition government says it strongly supports the charity sector and has promised the National Disability Insurance Scheme will always be fully funded, as it seeks re-election in May.
But the government maintained there was no need to raise Newstart, repeating its mantra that “the best form of welfare is a job”.
In the lead up to May’s federal election, Pro Bono News is speaking with representatives from the Coalition, Labor and The Greens to gauge each party’s vision for the social sector.
The Coalition government is yet to provide a formal response to last August’s Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Legislation Review and Senator Zed Seselja, the minister responsible for the charity sector, did not respond to questions around when this response would come.
But in a statement, he said the government was considering the review’s recommendations and had confidence in the ability of ACNC commissioner Dr Gary Johns.
“The government is carefully considering the recommendations of the Review Panel, led by Patrick McClure… [which] is a substantial piece of work that covers a range of complex issues and challenges affecting the 56,000 charities and around 600,000 not for profits in the sector,” Seselja said.
“The government strongly supports the charity and not-for-profit sectors. The Coalition welcomes the review panel’s finding that the ACNC is functioning as intended under commissioner Gary Johns.”
Johns has been a contentious figure in the sector ever since his appointment and there is speculation staff morale at the ACNC has significantly declined under his leadership – although the commission denies this.
These concerns have intensified recently after it emerged assistant commissioner Murray Baird was on leave from the ACNC following a major clash with Johns over leadership and the direction of the organisation.
Seselja admitted during a Senate estimates hearing he had not been briefed about the leadership shake-up at the commission, but added the government allowed the ACNC to operate independently.
The @ACNC_gov_au has been rocked by a disastrous Senate estimates appearance that has laid bare a major leadership rift over the direction of the charity watchdog. https://t.co/2TaQ5oJv9X pic.twitter.com/oM8SDClRNT
— Pro Bono News (@ProBonoNews) April 15, 2019
Seselja told Pro Bono News that the Coalition supported the sector’s long-running push for fundraising reform, but would not commit to a timeframe or any specific actions.
“The government maintains its support for reducing the regulatory burden on small organisations supporting the local community, including basic religious charities,” he said.
“In the meantime, the government and the ACNC are working with states and territories, and the sector, to continue to reduce red tape.
“At the Consumer Affairs Forum, states and territories agreed to work with the Commonwealth to explore harmonisation of fundraising laws.”
Pro Bono News also received a response from Social Services Minister Paul Fletcher, who looked to allay fears of underspending on the NDIS, after the budget revealed payments were expected to decrease by $1.6 billion in 2019-20.
“Under the Morrison government, the NDIS will always be fully funded because of our strong economy and prudent budget management,” Fletcher said.
“NDIS budget funding is increasing over the forward estimates – from $13.3 billion in 2018-19 to almost $18 billion in 2019-20 and more than $22 billion in 2020-21.
“Funding for the NDIS is like any demand driven programs, such as health and pensions.”
But disability groups say any excess funds should be used to fix the NDIS’s implementation problems which are preventing people from using the scheme in the first place.
Fletcher maintained “not one cent will be cut from participants’ NDIS plans” as a result of the budget, and said an additional $144 million was being provided to reflect the additional resources needed for people transitioning to the scheme.
He also spruiked the government’s recent action adding a psychosocial disabilities stream to the scheme, changing NDIS pricing, and establishing an NDIS Participant Employment Taskforce to get people into work.
On welfare, the government is refusing to bow to sector and public pressure for Newstart – which has not risen in real terms since 1994 – to be raised by $75 a week.
This is despite a Newstart increase being supported by the Business Council of Australia and former Coalition Prime Minister John Howard.
“The Coalition knows that the best form of welfare is a job,” Fletcher said.
“The government wants a sustainable welfare system that supports the most vulnerable, encourages those capable of work or study to do so, and reduces intergenerational welfare dependency.
“Newstart is primarily a payment designed to assist people transition through the labour market. For this reason, Newstart recipients can earn income from work or other sources before their payment is affected.”
Fletcher said around two-thirds of those on Newstart exited income support within 12 months, and added that 99 per cent of recipients received more than just the base rate of Newstart.
He said the government’s one‑off Energy Assistance Payment – which offers $75 for singles and $125 for couples to help pay their power bills – would be available to Newstart recipients, although this was not originally the case.
“We’ve taken the decision that around 5 million income support recipients will receive this energy payment, including those on the Age Pension and Disability Support Pension, as well as other working age benefits, including Newstart and Youth Allowance,” he said.
The Morrison Government has been shamed by public outcry into including people on Newstart in one off token $75 Energy Assistance payment. This backflip is offensive, The public outcry is about no real increase to Newstart for 25 years. People need $75 per week, every week. Now.
— ACOSS (@ACOSS) April 3, 2019
The government’s welfare plans also include the controversial cashless welfare card, which has come under fire from community groups who say the card is unfairly punitive.
Fletcher said the government stood by the initiative.
“Unlike Labor and the Greens, our Liberal-National government is committed to the principle of mutual obligation – and we believe the [cashless welfare card] is an effective way of supporting Australians on welfare to have more control of their lives,” he said.
On housing, Fletcher said the Coalition was delivering its 2017-18 Housing Affordability plan, to improve housing outcomes for all Australians by “unlocking supply, creating the right incentives and improving outcomes for those most in need”.
“This plan includes providing $7.5 billion over five years through the new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement (NHHA) with states and territories – which includes an additional $620 million in specific funding for homelessness services, matched by states,” he said.
The government has also established the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC) to deliver cheaper finance for community housing providers, and is increasing the Capital Gains Tax discount from 50 per cent to 60 per cent for affordable housing investors.
But community housing and homelessness groups remain unconvinced by this plan, and were left reeling after the federal budget barely mentioned spending around social and affordable housing.
Pro Bono News is speaking with representatives from the Coalition, Labor and The Greens in the lead up to the federal election about their policies for the social sector.