Omnibus Bill will increase Inequality

The Omnibus Bill currently before the Federal Parliament will take at least $1.5 billion from the most vulnerable members of our society to pay for the Government’s child care scheme. While most of the publicity has been round changes to Family Tax Benefit which largely affect middle income earners, there are a raft of changes that affect the most vulnerable.

These changes include: ceasing the pensioner education supplement ($201 million) and the education entry payment ($43 million), closing the energy supplement to new welfare recipients ($933 million), shifting eligible 22 – 24 year olds from Newstart or Sickness Allowance to Youth Allowance ($431 million), and increasing the waiting period to receive Youth Allowance from one week to four weeks ($169 million).

Pauline Hanson has been quick to support the legislation claiming that there is a need to reign in welfare. The facts do not support her. Australia has one of the most targeted welfare systems in the world. Indeed, currently with regard to our basic income support measures for working age people, Newstart, Youth Allowance and Austudy, we have the reverse problem, with payments set too far below the poverty line. These payments have been dropping in value in relation to pensions since the 1990s and are now a major concern.

The changes envisaged in this Bill will see the rates for these Allowances drop even further and some recipients moved from the low Newstart Allowance (about 66% of the pension) to the even lower Youth Allowance (about 55% of the pension).
With regards to the cuts to the pensioner education supplement and the education entry payment, these are simply hits to the most vulnerable as they struggle to access higher education. The AASW submission to a previous version of this Bill gives a good account of what this would look like for the students affected. Sadly, the Government’s official justification for cutting these payments gives the impression that other Government channels of support such as the HECS-HELP, FEE-HELP and VET Student Loans tuition loan programs and payments by employment services providers have made these payments redundant. To use Trump terminology, this is an alternative fact. It is a lie. The loans cited by the Government are for tuition fees not living expenses. Two employment service providers who I contacted were incredulous that the service they provided were deemed to be somehow comparable to the ongoing income support in these payments. Both the Minister and the Senior Public servants should be called to account for spreading this misinformation.

With regard to extending waiting periods for young people to receive Youth Allowance, a Parliamentary Library report succinctly sums up the underlying assumptive problems with this provision when it says “There is no substantive evidence that young Australians lack the will to work.” This is simply a punitive action against poor young people who are unemployed. Previously this Government tried to have Legislation passed that would have had young people wait 6 months to receive Youth Allowance. There was such an outcry that they backed down. This revised punitive measure is simply there to appease the hard right.

Interestingly, when Bill Shorten, the leader of the Opposition, rose in Parliament to question some of these issues, the Prime Minister responded with a personal attack, accusing him of being a sycophant and envious of the rich. Was this relevant? No. Did it work? Yes. The backbench erupted and the mainstream media were distracted from the real issue and focused on the phony fight that the Prime Minister had just constructed. The Prime Minister used a Trump strategy and it worked. How sad that the standard of our main stream media is so low. It makes it very difficult for the ordinary person to stay informed on the issues of the day.

One easy way to stay informed on this important issue is to become a supporter of ACOSS. It is free, though you can donate if you want. ACOSS does excellent primary research on the effect of legislation on the most vulnerable and is a formidable advocate in Canberra. In a time when facts are hard to find, ACOSS is the place to go.

Len Baglow