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Issue #1669      January 21, 2015

Australia 2015 – Open season on the excluded

Scott Morrison’s appointment as Social Services Minister in December was the signal. Fresh from his stint as Immigration Minister where he “stopped the boats” – or at least enforced the offshore warehousing of refugees in worsening misery – he is now committed to “stopping the bludgers”. Morrison has dubbed himself “Minister for Economic Participation”, as if the measures the federal government has announced were about getting people into decent paying jobs. That’s not the real agenda behind a raft of changes being rolled out now and in the pipeline. The planners of globalised capitalism have ordered privatised “welfare” and lower living standards for all Australian workers and Morrison has vowed to try harder to deliver.

The corporate media is playing its part, supporting the extremist approach. Tales of millionaires on social security are back on the pages of the tabloids. Comments from a former Labor MP, Gary Johns, that people receiving social security payments should be forced to take contraceptive measures were contained in a well-timed opinion piece in The Australian.

“Some families, some communities, some cultures breed strife. Governments cannot always fix it. Compulsory contraception for those on benefits would help crack intergenerational reproduction of strife. As for inadequate non-beneficiaries, we just have to grin and bear it,” Johns said in a tasteless reference to the case of a Cairns woman accused of stabbing seven of her children and her niece.

Morrison is threatening that the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) – a privatising social security initiative with bi-partisan support – will be slashed if he doesn’t get Senate backing for axe-wielding measures in his new portfolio. He wants to hold the social security budget increase for 2015-16 to just 2.4 percent in the face of worsening unemployment, growing accommodation stress and other cost of living pressures on under-privileged Australians.

His predecessor, Howard-era hardliner Kevin Andrews, managed to get ALP backing for a host of downgrades already. These included:

  • limiting the Family Tax Benefit (FTB) “A” large family payment to those with four or more children
  • reducing the primary income earner limit for FTB “B” from $150,000 to $100,000
  • reviewing the cases of people under 35 who are receiving a Disability Support Pension (DSP)
  • including untaxed super income in eligibility assessments for the Seniors Health Card
  • removing scholarships for students moving between major cities

The new minister has already taken the attacks up a notch. From January 1, those applying for the Disability Support Pension will have to be assessed by a doctor contracted by the government instead of their own GP. If the government doctor finds they’re not completely unable to work they could be put on the dole instead – which is about $160 a week less. DSP recipients are at the very centre of the government’s social security hit list but NewStart, Sickness Benefit, widow or Youth Allowances will all have to wait an extra week to start receiving support. Payments to the unemployed will be cut off immediately if they fail to attend a Centrelink interview. The schoolkids’ bonus will be means-tested.

Advocates are very concerned about how Morrison will apply the recommendations of the McLure and Forrest reports. Among its many recommendations, the McLure report suggests “streamlining” the current system of social security payments from 20 to just five delivering unexplained savings. Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest’s report included a recommendation for cashless social security with a stigma-carrying “healthy welfare” card for Visa, MasterCard or EFTPOS purchases of a limited range of goods.

Other possible initiatives are being pushed for the Northern Territory at the moment. NT Senator and Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has announced a Work for the Dole scheme for remote Aboriginal communities involving work for 50 hours a fortnight, five days a week, 12 months of the year. The original CDEP scheme – the first work for the dole scheme of the modern era – was introduced in Aboriginal communities and involved 15 hours a week work to receive payments. That meant that recipients were getting something approaching the minimum wage for the hours worked but concepts like awards and minimum wages have little respect in the Abbott government. In fact they are under sustained attack including from current social security changes.

The claim that these are “welfare to work” initiatives is so much eyewash. The country’s leading demographer, Australian National University Professor Peter McDonald, has concluded a report that shows that the net job creation impact of these programs is zero. Many unemployed are locked out of the workforce due to a lack of relevant skills and, with the state and federal governments’ attacks on TAFE and higher education continuing, their exclusion is set to continue for a long time.

The number of potential critics with the resources to operate is on the decline, too. The latest batch of organisations to have Commonwealth funding unceremoniously abolished includes Blind Citizens Australia and homeless advocacy bodies such as National Shelter and the Community Housing Federation.

Next article – Win against East-West Link

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