UN asks Australian Government to explain violation of single parents’ rights

The Australian Council of Social Service today called on the Australian Government to detail its response to a United Nations request for it to explain the decision to cut the payments of over 80,000 single parent families.

The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights and Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice has written to the Australian Government about the slashing of about $100 a week from the payments of single parents, which took effect on 1 January. The letter is in response to an urgent complaint that ACOSS and other welfare groups and human rights experts made last year to the UN Special Rapporteur, following the Federal Government’s refusal to follow the recommendation of its own Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights to delay the cuts.

“We thank the UN Special Rapporteur for taking this issue up on behalf of these single parents, 90% of whom are women, and their children.

“The strongly worded letter from the UN Special Rapporteur raises serious concerns that the cuts may be a violation of several rights included under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The ball is now in the Australian Government’s court to explain otherwise.

“These include the rights to social security, (article 9 ICESCR), the right to an adequate standard of living (article 11 ICESCR), and the prohibition of non-discrimination in the enjoyment of these rights (article 2 paragraph 2 ICESCR). The letter states that there could also be a violation of additional provisions of the ICESCR such as the prohibition of retrogressive measures (article 2 paragraph 1 ICESCR) and the general limitation clause (article 4 ICESCR).

“Even more concerning is the apparent violations of the Conventions on the Rights of the Child and on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women. The Children’s Convention states that:

“in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

“It is clear that this certainly was not the case. Unfortunately achieving a Budget saving was the primary consideration ahead of the rights and wellbeing of children in single parent families who are already among the most disadvantaged in this country. Single mothers are also among the most marginalised and vulnerable groups.

“With one in six children living in poverty in Australia, it is unfathomable that, in the face of such a letter of concern from the UN Special Rapporteur, the Federal Government still went ahead with these cuts. It is also an indictment on both major political parties that the Federal Parliament ignored the first-ever recommendations of the new Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights. Only a handful of parliamentarians, including the Australian Greens and Independents, respected its findings and voted against these cuts. It is incumbent on the Commonwealth Government to address this wrong-doing that will cost our community more in the long term by driving more single parents and their children into poverty.

“The UN Special Rapporteur asks some pertinent questions needing urgent answers, such as whether an impact assessment was conducted concerning an adequate standard of living of the families affected, and whether there was an impact assessment carried out concerning children’s rights and interests.

“Like the UN, we would all like to know what monitoring mechanisms have been put in place to assess the implementation of the Act and its impact on the rights of those affected. And what processes or mechanisms for redress will be included. We would also like an explanation for the inadequate consultation with those parents directly affected by the cuts and the lack of alternatives considered.

“These questions need immediate answers. We’ve been asking them for many months and the Government has had this letter since October last year, several months before the cuts in payment took effect,” Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

This will be one of the issues to be discussed at the up-coming ACOSS National Conference
‘Community: The Heart of the Economy’ – 25-26 March 2013.

The UN Special Rapporteur’s letter to the Australian Government dated 19 October 2013: 

Letter from ACOSS and other groups to the UN Special Rapporteur dated October 5, 2012

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