Call for Senate to reject punitive Social Services Bill

8 June 2018

An alliance of peak bodies and welfare groups has called on Labor, Green and crossbench Senators to reject a Government move to force new migrants to wait longer before they can access various social security payments.

The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) has joined the Australian Council of Social Service, St Vincent de Paul Society National Council and more than 30 other organisations (listed below), declaring that the proposed legislation will impose severe hardship on tens of thousands of people.

A proposal to lift the waiting period from the current two years to three years was included in the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Encouraging Self-sufficiency for Newly Arrived Migrants) Bill 2018, introduced to Parliament earlier this year.
However, the Government announced in last month’s Federal Budget that the waiting period would be extended further, to four years. A Parliamentary Committee is now examining the Bill.

The Chairperson of FECCA, Mary Patetsos said that any extended waiting period would affect social security payments as well as carer allowances, family tax benefit and widow allowances.

“These changes will hit the most vulnerable of migrants,” Ms Patetsos said.

“Permanent migrants should enjoy the same benefits as all other Australian residents, especially at the time when they need a little help to settle into their new home.

“Regardless of the Committee’s report, we call on the Senate to oppose any increase to waiting periods, whether to three years or four years.”

People most at risk in the proposed changes to waiting periods include:

  • Single parents and children;
  • Women at risk of family violence;
  • Children whose parent unexpectedly loses their job;
  • Young migrants and newly-graduated students;
  • People who unexpectedly become a carer.

The Chief Executive Officer of St Vincent de Paul Society National Council, Dr John Falzon said: “These changes are unjust, unnecessary and divisive.

“They undermine the needs-based focus of our social safety net and will create an underclass of residents cut off from the basic rights and supports afforded to other members of the community.

“Without access to a safety net, the most vulnerable new residents will be forced to rely on charities and risk being trapped in a cycle of poverty and hardship.

“The current two-year waiting period already causes significant and unnecessary hardship, and it is unconscionable that the Government is seeking to increase the hardship of people in need of support,” Dr Falzon said.

The Chief Executive Officer of ACOSS, Dr Cassandra Goldie, said: “Migrants must already wait two years to access essential social security payments. We cannot see the justification for extending this waiting period other than to make life harder for people setting up their lives in Australia.

“Very concerning is the fact that women and children will be hardest hit by this cut, with at least 110,000 children, including children born in Australia, to lose access to Family Tax Benefit.

“People who are migrants make such a huge contribution to Australia. They should be treated fairly, including being supported if they are in financial need,” said Dr Goldie.

Anglicare Australia
Carers Australia
Harmony Alliance: Migrant and Refugee Women for Change
Uniting Care Australia
St Francis Social Services
Albury-Wodonga Ethnic Communities Council
Australia Multicultural & Settlement Services
Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria
Melbourne Catholic Migrant & Refugee Office
Multicultural Council of Tasmania
Multicultural Communities Council Gold Coast
National Social Security Rights Network
Refugee Communities Advocacy Network
Refugee and Immigration Legal Services
Tasmanian Asylum Seeker Support
Welcome to Australia
Tasmanian Council of Social Service
LGBTIQ Support and Protection Services
Women with Disabilities Australia
ACT Council of Social Service
People with Disability Australia
National Council of Single Mothers & their Children
Council of Single Mothers and their Children
Queensland Council of Social Service
First Peoples Disability Network Australia
Asylum Seeker Resource Centre
Community Mental Health Australia
Financial Counselling Australia
Children and Young People with Disability Australia
Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand
Jobs Australia
Settlement Council of Australia