Uncertain future for government’s planned welfare changes

(Transcripts from SBS World News Radio)

Federal government plans to make people under 30 wait six months for the dole may be under review.


Reports suggest the Abbott government is also looking at reducing the number of job applications required each month to qualify for the welfare payment.

As Amanda Cavill reports, the government says it’s having sensible talks with Senate crossbenchers in a bid to get its controversial changes through the upper house.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

The government’s proposed welfare laws, which would freeze payments for unemployed people who turn down a job offer or miss multiple appointments, will come before the Senate this week.

But the changes are likely to remain unacceptable to the Greens, Labor and some crossbenchers and face certain defeat without substantial changes.

However it’s believed the government is planning to back down on its original timeframe and might adopt that of New Zealand, which has a one month waiting period for its unemployment benefit.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer Steve Ciobo says the government is having what he calls “mature conversations” with the Senate crossbench to get the measure passed.

“Really what it underscores is just how stubborn the Australian Labor Party is being because the fact is the Coalition has a clear mandate from the Australian people to get Australia back on track. Discussions with the crossbench to try and put through the kind of structural reforms that we are seeking to make to make sure Australia is on a sustainable footing mean there’s lots of points of conversation in relation to a lot of the government’s initiatives. But again I would call on the Senate to respect the mandate and to put through the various reforms we are making.”

However even if the government is prepared to make concessions it’s still facing opposition from a hostile Senate.

Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt says even a one-month wait is a recipe for homelessness.

“What are you going to tell the landlord when your income gets cut off for a month. A landlord doesn’t care that the government has now backed down in some compromise proposal with the crossbench. They just want the rent to be paid. Whether it’s one month or six months the government should not be kicking young jobseekers off the dole. People should be given a helping hand to find a new job, not put further into poverty.”

Labor MP Stephen Jones has also dismissed the idea saying it’s a ridiculous proposition put forward by Workplace Relations Minister Senator Eric Abetz.

“He uses, in part, evidence that you can’t get short-term labour in the agricultural industry for fruit-picking and vege-picking and the like. Nothing is more likely to put in place a disincentive for people getting short-term work that may lead to longer-term work than telling people under 30 that they’ll be cut off the dole for 6 months every time they lose their job. Every time that you get a few weeks’ work, the clock starts again. It is an absolute mad proposition and the Government shouldn’t be bringing it forward, they should be ditching it.”

But Independent Senator David Leyonhjelm says he could support such a proposal.

He says there are already stringent arrangements in place to ensure Newstart Allowance recipients look for work.

“Yeah that’s an interesting idea. I’m more amenable to that idea than I am to the six months. I flat out reject the six months idea. I’d listen to that idea I haven’t really come to any final conclusion but it’s a lot better than six months.”

Another plan under active consideration for compromise is the Coalition’s intention to require people receiving the Newstart allowance to apply for 40 jobs a month from next year.

The federal government also wants to make it mandatory for jobseekers aged 18 to 49 to work for their welfare payments.

The Senate has already voted down another of the government’s welfare measures.

Last month the Coalition introduced regulations to limit the reasonable excuses job seekers can use if they fail to meet certain requirements, but Labor and the Greens voted together to block the move.