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Issue #1536      22 February 2012

Welfare Rights welcomes landmark Law Reform report

Maree O’Halloran, President of the National Welfare Rights Network (NWRN) has welcomed a landmark report of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) on Family Violence & Commonwealth Laws.

“This is a landmark report. We hope this report represents a turning point in the way that our social security system, Centrelink and other government agencies treat people experiencing or subject to family violence. NWRN calls on the government to accept the recommendations and to move quickly to implement them.

“This ALRC report demonstrates that our social security system in both its design and execution is failing some of the very women who are in the greatest need of its protection, those who are experiencing or have been subjected to family violence.”

Ms O’Halloran said the ALRC is to be commended on the detailed research and consultation undertaken in its inquiry. She said stakeholders including Welfare Rights were given the opportunity to contribute based on our first-hand experience of the harshest and most unjust aspects of our social security system for people experiencing family violence. The end result is a report which provides the government with a clear roadmap for action and there is now no excuse for delay.

Key recommendations include amending social security legislation or policy:

  • that the availability of crisis payment be expanded to be available to persons who are otherwise not eligible for income support and be provided to any person suffering severe financial hardship who is “subject to” or “experiencing” family violence;
  • to ensure that a person or persons experiencing family violence are not subject to Compulsory Income Management;
  • that harsh debt provisions be modified to ensure that a person who has been subject to family violence is not penalised when acting under the duress of a violent partner;
  • that New Zealand residents who have rights to work and reside in Australia have access to Special Benefit, a safety net payment, where there has been a substantial change of circumstances beyond their control such as family violence, and
  • that Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations review periods of exemption from activity requirements to ensure a long enough time for victims of family violence.

“Compulsory income management is not beneficial for anyone; however, it is definitely inappropriate for women experiencing domestic violence,” said Ms O’Halloran.

“The ALRC has supported amending the social security legislation to make allowance for situations where women have been pressured by an abusive partner to claim a social security payment as a single person or not to declare the correct amounts of their earnings.

While the numbers affected are small, the impact of the existing harsh rules is devastating on women who have suffered at the hands of their partners.

“This is also an interesting report in the wake of comments about social security made by the New Zealand Prime Minister when he met with our Prime Minister. The report notes that New Zealanders, unlike other migrants, have indefinite work rights, and the right to remain here indefinitely, contributing to compulsory superannuation and tax while working.

However, even if their circumstances change, such that they face destitution, New Zealanders are not eligible for Special Benefit, unlike other newly arrived residents.

“Centrelink has indicated in discussions with NWRN on the report that Centrelink’s response will depend on whether it is adequately resourced to make the changes necessary.

“The Australian government has a responsibility to act without delay on the recommendations set out in the report. Every day that is wasted on implementing this report is a day in which women and children experiencing family violence may be further put at risk and victimised by the system.”  

Next article – Farmers and the supermarkets

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