30th September, 2016
This submission opposes the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Budget Repair) Bill 2016. This Bill reintroduces Budget measures that failed to get through the previous Parliament, including: (i) restricting the portability of pension payments outside of Australia for people born overseas; (ii) axing the Pension Education Supplement; (iii) axing the Education Entry Payment; and, (iv) freezing the indexation of income free areas and thresholds (for three years) for working age payments, Parenting Payment Single and student payments.
All of these measures reduce income support and assistance to people whose income is already often well below the poverty line. Measures targeting people born oveseas are also discriminatory and inequitable, undermining the universal and non-discriminatory basis of Australia’s social security system. Several measures also contradict the objective of increasing workforce participation by inhibiting people on income support from undertaking education and training, creating disincentives to casual and part-time work, and weakening financial supports to participate in education.
In addition to examining these adverse consequences, this submission challenges the rhetoric of 'budget repair' that has been invoked to justify this and several other Bills that impose severe cuts on Australia's social security system. Reducing Government support for social security recipients on the lowest incomes, while failing to tackle tax concessions for higher socio-economic groups, is a fundamentally unfair strategy for reducing the budget deficit.
The Government has an obligation to provide income support payments at a level that ensures human dignity and an adequate standard of living. This Bill tears away at this notion. If passed, it will further erode an already fragile income support safety net, contributing to inequality and pushing people on low incomes into deeper poverty and hardship.
Postscript - Release of the Committee Report
On the 10th October, the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee released its report on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Budget Repair) Bill 2016.
The report can be found at: http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/BudgetRepair2016/Report
The Committee recommends that the Bill be amended to include transitional arrangements for current recipients of the Pensioner Education Supplement. This amendment would enable current recipients to continue receiving payments while they complete their education or training course. The Committee recommends that, with this amendment, the Bill be supported. However, both the Labor Party and Australian Greens issued two dissenting reports which reject the Bill in its entirety.
The majority report does not engage with a number of issues that were canvassed in previous reports, and that were raised by the Society and a number of other organisations who opposed the Bill. The submissions to the Inquiry were overwhelming opposed to the Bill: there were no submissions that supported the passage of the Bill. As the Australia Labor Party states in its dissenting report: 'The submitters' comments outlined in the majority report are unequivocal: these measures are fundamentally unfair. They should not be supported.'
According to the dissenting report issued by Committee members from the Australian Labor Party, the Bill should be rejected based on 'the conclusive and near unanimous evidence provided to the Committee rejecting the measures'. This evidence 'reiterated the damaging impacts of these measures for the most vulnerable in our community', and to recommend the passage of these measures 'would be to recommend the imposition of harsh and unfair cuts to low and middle income individuals and families'.
The dissenting report from the Australian Greens also rejects the Bill, noting the detrimental impacts it will have on vulnerable and low-income Australians, and expressing disappointment 'that the Government is continuing its harsh agenda punishing vulnerable people'.