Looking for another Judi in the Senate

Margo Kingston’s site has an interview with Liberal MP, Judi Moylan, who abstained on the vote in the House of Representatives on the government’s welfare legislation. She seems to have been the only Liberal MP to admit the basic fact that the legislation will directly lead to many poor and disadvantaged people having their payments significantly reduced.

She stated that she abstained rather than voted against the Bill partly because she supported some of the package, and partly because if she had “crossed the floor it would not have changed the outcome“. In the day or two before the welfare package comes on for a vote in the Senate, we need to find a Judi Moylan equivalent amongst the Coalition Senators – just one will do. One person crossing the floor in the Senate would change the outcome.

Whilst there are a range of problems with the government’s legislation, the core problem is that it will lead to major cuts in the income for over 170 000 Australians (on the government’s own figures).

I’ll be moving an amendment to the legislation which will allow the government to implement all its measures requiring all these people to be subjected to all the actvity tests, job search obligations, training programs, reporting requirements and the like that the government wants – but will prevent those people having their income cut while they are looking for work.

The government keeps chanting a mantra about the need to ‘get people off welfare and into work.’ Nobody disputes the benefits or importance of this, but I have not heard a single government person raise a single example of how automatically and permanently cutting a person’s welfare payment will help them get a job.

It is just another ideologically driven, extreme policy – which unfortunately will cause significant harm to peple with disabilities and the children of single parents. I am finding it immensely frustrating that any single, individual Coalition Senator could prevent it, but there seems to be none willing to do so.

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  1. So cutting someone’s welfare payment will not help them get a job?

    How is it then that many critics of the government are complaining that getting a job will result in a loss of income for some welfare recipients?

    If a person finds him/herself to be better off on welfare than in employment then there is an inbuilt incentive not to get a job or being serious about getting a job.

    Why is it that fruit and vegetable growers in areas of high unemployment cannot get pickers from the local community and have to rely on holidaying overseas backpackers?

    If you are going to have a welfare system, one guiding principle should be that the highest benefit should be lower than what an unskilled person can get by working.

    We now have massive numbers of people of working age who are dependent on social security in categories like Newstart, Sole Parent’s Benefit or whatever they are calling it this year and Disability Support Benefits.

    The numbers on these benefits would be nearing 2 million people.

  2. amortiser

    If you think the minimum wage is lower than base welfare payments, you’re not well informed.

    People who end up worse off if they take paid employment are almost always people who would otherwise take up some paid work.

    More people will be put in that position as a result of the government’s changes, as more people will be put on a tighter income test (in effect, they will have topay higher taxes).

    I’m not sure it is viable to force people with disabilities to do fruitpicking and make sole parents leave their kids behind to go and do the same.

  3. amortiser,

    Perhaps you should undertake some research on this issue.

    As someone who has followed our political system since 1973, I remember a former senator telling me that “there would always be a safety net”. However, as the Senate is now debating the Welfare to Work legislation (this comprises of two bills)debate is being restricted.

    I would you and others to have a look at the Senate Hansard on this legislation. I should also refer to the Community Affairs Committee that undertook a short inquiry into the legislation.

    The time restraints imposed by the Howard Government also prevented our senators from properly scrutinising the legislation along with allowing more time for public input.

    The safety net provided under Social Security law is under threat and many thousands of Australians will be hurt by a restructuring of this net although the government is saying the opposite.
    I would also bring as a related item, the latest press release from Minister Peter Dutton. This is available on the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations DEWAR website under ministers.

    It is okay to make comment about farmers not being able to get assistance in picking fruit or vegies but Centrelink (to my knowledge)class this as income. Seasonal work has its disadvantages if one was to re-apply for assistance via Centrelink.

    Senator Bartlett was correct in his comments and there’s enough information to suggest that moving a person from – for example, Disability Support Pension to Newstart will mean a lower payment. DSP is higher than Newstart.

    What do you say to those in receipt of the DSP that will be forced onto Newstart if they don’t meet the stringent work test? With people already receiving the DSP as from Budget night 2005, they too will be affected.

    In recent weeks, I have forwarded several emails to government senators – expressing my concerns and this is one issue that isn’t going to go away.

    Prior to the drafting of this response; I have heard some of the debate on the welfare legislation and as the vote is pending, I too, hope that someone other than Senator Barnaby Joyce will vote these bills down.

    Although there is more that I could comment on, there is a lack of compassion within the Federal Government and Senator Humphries who chaired the committee said in his second reading speech earlier tonight that 100,000 jobs would be created.

    Within my emails I have asked where are the jobs going to come from? I’m yet to get a response.

    There are clearly losers whether its from the welfare changes and the winner is the DEWAR and the Government.

    I would invite Andrew to respond to my thoughts.

  4. Not that anyone reading this asked for my life story, but I grew up in a less well off single parent family. And I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the ALP and the other politicians who supported them for assisting us from time to time with enough money to get by and for providing me with a very reasonably priced top-quality university education. I am furthermore pleased to report that this allowed myself and my brothers to proceed on to fulfilling and lucrative careers. There is bugger all chance any of us will ever require welfare payments and we (grudgingly) cough up our share of tax. So thanks chaps, you’ve made life easier and more comfortable for me at least.

    Does our government realise there are real people who will suffer as a result of these changes, which they admit won’t save any money for years to come? And do the goddamn aspirational Australians who support them ever stop to think that for every one of the single parents they love to look down on there is also at least one child? And someone (usually a bloke) who has run away from his responsibilities.

    For goodness sake John, stop bloody picking on people!

  5. It is blatantly apparent that the w2w package is not intended for the betterment of welfare recipients.
    I am not opposed to work-for-the-dole schemes, nor am I opposed to the idea that it will likely be better for a large number of single parents to work at least part time, which currently 68%, do.
    However it is clear by the axing of Pensioner Education Supplement[Austudy for sole-parents and the disabled] that Mr Howard’s intention is not to help this group return to work for the betterment of themselves and their children, but rather, create a workforce of unskilled labourers who will work for – well [NO] minimum wage [now].
    The effect of this bill existing as legislation will be to create a far greater gap between the middle and working class, and those who are in a high income bracket.
    If the legislation is not, or cannot be quashed after the next election, there is a significant chance it will create a subclass and raise crime rates dramatically, as this legislation works hand in hand with the IR changes which target the same struggling socio-economic group.

  6. A quick point, Daily Magnet: there will be a minimum wage (set by the new Australian Fair Pay Commission). However, there is no guarantee whatsoever that this will ever increase if the commissioner (oh! what a surprise! it’s Howard’s buddy!) decides it’s not in Australia’s economic interests to do so.

    Awards will quickly disappear following the passage of this legislation, as in a few years the rates will be seen to be lower that what even the worst negotiator could squeeze out of their boss.

  7. Andrew:
    I have already dealt elsewhere on your previous blog about the massive fraud on the Australian taxpayer that is Disability Support Benefits. In your response to that post you yourself admitted that as an employee of the then Dept of Social Security you took into account the overall employment climate in determining whether someone should be on DSB and not level of disability necessary for qualification under the legislation.

    DSB has been more about limiting the numbers on unemployment benefit than properly classifying those with real disabilities. For those whinging about research maybe you should look at the way the numbers on DSB escalated from 1972 and the gender makeup of those numbers. To suggest that there are over 700,000 people in this country of working age who are so disabled that they cannot work is nonsense.

    To also suggest that welfare payments do not exceed what someone in unskilled work is paid is also nonsense. Some people from welfare organisations even gave evidence to the Senate Enquiry that welfare recipients will lose money if they take employment. So lets not mislead people.

    Over the last 30 years there has been built up in this country a welfare mentality to the point where there are now verging on 2,000,000 people of working age who are dependent on government welfare.
    This is the cause of major social dislocation. The concept of taking responsibility for ones own life is now an option to be avoided rather than a virtue to be pursued.

    The government should take a more stringent line with Sole Parents. Extending the age of the child back to 8 rather than the initial 6 is backsliding. This benefit is the greatest poverty trap that has ever been created. The government should cease all new claims for Sole Parents and phase out all existing payments when the youngest child reaches the age of 6. The baby bonus should be abolished.

    That affects no new people whatever. New sole parents then have a decision to make which is not influenced by what income they can expect from the government.

    When this benefit was taken over and extended by the federal government in 1973 there were estimated to be about 12500 recipients. There are now over 400000 recipients with more than 700000 dependent children, large numbers of whom will know of no source of income other than welfare. Poverty for these people will become a permanent feature of their lives if the cycle is not broken.

    If this is the life that those opposed to reform want for these people then they are cruel indeed. If they have better proposals that will prevent people from getting onto this welfare cycle in the first place then lets hear them. To advocate the status quo is no solution whatever.

  8. Lucy:
    The Fair Pay Commission is an exercise in futility.

    There are 3 possible outcomes for their decision on the minimum wage.

    They set the rate below the market rate which will mean that wage rates will rise above the stipulated minimum and so will be meaningless.

    They can set the rate above the market rate and thus make it illegal of those people who want a job to be employed at a lower rate. Unemployment will result. Employers are not charitable institutions. They employ people when it is profitable to do so. Minimum wage laws will not change that basic fact.
    Setting the minimum rate above what employees are worth consigns those people to unemployment.

    They can also get the rate just right which is highly unlikely as every person has differing skills and abilities. Even if they did it would be the market rate anyway so the existence of the minimum wage would not matter if it was there or not. The Commission is at best just a waste of money and at worst a killer of employment opportunities.

  9. amortiser – I did say I took the relevant employment climate into account in assessing a person’s eligibility for the (then) Invalid Pension. This was required as part of the assessment process at the time, so I would have been acting unlawfully if I didn’t. I did not say I took no account of the “level of disability necessary for qualification”.

    While this is no longer relevant under the current legislation anyway, it frankly seems silly to me to suggest you can disconnect the two – forcing people with a disability to look for work that they have no chance of obtaining, just to satisfy someone’s need for ideological purity, doesn’t strike me as being very clever social policy. Nor is it good for the individual involved, or the taxpayer.

  10. amortiser – You argue that the fair pay commision is pointless because it is unlikely to set the minimum wage to the “exact right level”. But your post implies that you define the exact right level as the bare minimum that employers could get away with if there was no such thing as a minimum wage. That’s fine, but as such it’s clear your objection to the idea is idealogical, not technical.

  11. Dan:
    The facts are that a minimum wage above what is profitable for an employer to pay renders those potential employees unemployable.

    There is nothing idealogical about it. It’s a fact of life and the fact that you don’t employ all those people shows exactly that.

  12. Andrew:
    The change in the legislation to allow for consideration to be given to the employment climate did not come in until 1991. If memory serves me correctly your actions involved a period prior to that change.

    If you look at the escalation of the figures between 1972 and 1991 it is abundantly clear that the escalation took place for reasons other than increasing disability rates. Eligibility for the then called Invalid Pension was 80% incapacity.

    Those moving people to Invalid Pension prior to 1991 for reasons other than 80% incapacity were clearly acting illegally. I stand strongly by my statement that in that period there was a massive fraud perpetrated on Australian taxpayers.

  13. Andrew:
    You said:
    ” While this is no longer relevant under the current legislation anyway, it frankly seems silly to me to suggest you can disconnect the two – forcing people with a disability to look for work that they have no chance of obtaining, just to satisfy someone’s need for ideological purity, doesn’t strike me as being very clever social policy. Nor is it good for the individual involved, or the taxpayer.”

    If the purpose of doing that is to distort the real level of unemployment which it obviously was then it is easy to see the motivation.

    As a legislator I find it puzzling that you would advocate that the law be ignored as it is a bit inconvenient. The law provided that to be eligible for the Invalid Pension a person had to be 80% incapacitated.

    If they couldn’t get work and they didn’t meet that criteria then they go on unemployment benefit. The employment climate had nothing to do with the criteria for eligibility for the Invalid Pension. Reducing the unemployment figures had a big political tick attached to it. Successive governments didn’t seem to care how it was achieved whether by fair means or foul. Reducing the unemployment rolls by 300,000 illegally is quite dishonest in my book. I’m not sure about yours.

    On social policy generally, there seems to be a lobby at work that considers increasing welfare dependence is a good thing. Any attempt to have people become independent is met with vehement opposition. I thought it would be self evident that it is preferable for able bodied people to become independent with paid employment.

    If you are similarly minded then you would be doing all you can to develop policies to achieve that purpose. To date I haven’t seen one such proposal from the Democrats. Leaving people in poverty traps has become an article of faith, sadly.

  14. I might have the answer on the fruit and vegie pickers if you isolate it to the current period of time. The cost of travel.

  15. amortiser

    I think we had this argument many months ago. I did not and do not advocate that the law be ignored and I do not agree that this is what occured at the time.

    I don’t know what methods were used then to determine unemployment levels, but certainly these days it is not determined through examinig the number of people receiving Newstart/dole.

    I don’t know what the government’s motivation then was, but the motivation now is fairly obvious – to get people on a lower rate of payment.

    You also seem to have taken on the government’s dishonest tactic, which is to accuse anyone who oppose income cuts for the poor to be supporting welfare dependence and supporting leaving people in poverty traps.

    This is particularly ironic given the government’s current legislation actually worsens some poverty traps.

    The Democrats’ policies have long recognised that welfare dependency is undesirable. Just because you might not like those policies doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

    However, we have not fallen for the view that all welfare of any sort is a bad thing. We have promoted extra resources for training, skills development, and encouraging investment in economically productive, job generating areas (rather than things like property sepculation). You don’t get people off welfare by reducing the level of their payments.

  16. Vee:
    In places like Bundaberg, the growers provide transport from town to the properties. Their chief source of labour is backpackers who generally have no transport.

    So transport is in fact not an issue.

  17. To those who still think the disabled should work:
    The Women with Disabilities Australia organization has put out a Submission to the Aust.Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committe of much needed amendments.Their paper shows the plight of those on disability. It seems to me that those who want to make the disabled work dont understand anything about what it is to be disabled and so I suggest that they read this article which points out what and how the disabled struggle.
    I read in The Age that in Germany if you dont take any job eg. prostitution, your pension is cut completely. Is this the path we are going on? I think so and soon we will become the 3rd world country that the government “tries to help” with huge monetary donations that could be better spent on looking after its own citizens first.
    I dont think we have to worry about fruit pickers shortage soon as orchardists are burying tons of fruit because of our new international trade laws, thanks to Mr Howard.
    I really have a difficult time digesting these new reforms and their obvious negative outcomes.
    I would suggest to leave welfare reforms alone after all what has really changed since they were introduced? People get sick,they do need help.The trugh is there will be more unemployment in the future. The pension given to them goes straight back into society anyway because they are consumers.The money just goes thru their hands back to the government and corporations but at least they are not out on the streets.
    I would wish that people would stop trying to make those already disadvantaged feel guilty for being in that situation. Dont forget, down the track it could be you or your loved one.And the laws you support now will be the laws you have to live under yourself.
    Thanks Andrew for supporting the underpriveledged.

  18. melissa said:
    “The pension given to them goes straight back into society anyway because they are consumers.The money just goes thru their hands back to the government and corporations but at least they are not out on the streets.”

    This idea that welfare recipients are good for the economy is breathtaking in its ignorance. If you take it to its logical conclusion it would be better for the economy if we had double or vene triple the number of welfare recipients as they would be fantastic consumers since they are not distracted by spending their time in productive activities.

    Melissa, wealth creation and economic growth are the result of production and saving, not consumption. Consumption is the reward for being productive. You cannot eat your cake before you bake it. It also has a moral dimension to it. What a person produces is his to dispose of.

  19. Melissa There are about one third of people supporting the other two thirds through high taxes.
    Some of those people really need help. the Goverment pay them well below the award wages line. Its poverty money. Dont you think if we soted out the many lazy blugers we could give more to the real needy? Dont ask me how we do that but we could certainly start with this huge amount going to unmarried mothers. We have the higest or sencond in the world. Until we stop all this welfare we are going down a very clear path. We wont have enough to care for the aged.

  20. Amortiser and Melissa

    It saddens me to read such rigid opinions quoting statistics without a concept of what those statistics actually represent. Those statistics represents human beings: women and children, who in many cases have been abandoned by their husbands and fathers, and then have to face society sticking the boot in when they’re down with these open discussion about ‘single mothers’ as if they choose these circumstances for themselves and their children. Are you aware that men dump their families onto welfare?

    Let me tell you about the average single mother. This woman is divorced. She has one child conceived in the ‘safety’ of marriage. She is in her 30s. She is on parenting payment single for approximately 3 to 4 years, before gaining skills and re-entering the workforce. Many become professionals who service the community in health and education.

    Unlike the popularly promoted perception of single mothers spending their lives on welfare, they are in fact a transient group of women.

    I am more than happy for my taxes being received by single mothers. I know it helps them get back on their feet and becoming productive taxpayers.

    Everyone in Australia is the recipient of tax payer benefits. If you’ve been educated in either a state or private school, or sent your kids to a state or private school, you’ve been the recipient of tax payer benefits. If you’ve ever been bulk billed, you’ve received tax payer benefits. If you’ve been to university prior to upfront fees, you’ve been a receipient of tax payer benefits, if you receive Family Tax B, you are a recipient of tax payer benefits.

    Maybe you should worry more about the non-payment of corporate tax, rather than discriminate against a vulnerable and powerless group of women and children who are only requiring support until they themselves are represented in the ‘two thirds’ of the population paying tax.

  21. “Let me tell you about the average single mother. This woman is divorced. She has one child conceived in the ’safety’ of marriage. She is in her 30s. She is on parenting payment single for approximately 3 to 4 years, before gaining skills and re-entering the workforce. Many become professionals who service the community in health and education.”

    From my own personal experience and from everything I’ve read on this over the last 10 years I don’t think this is right. However, I’m willing to be set straight if you could provide me with a reference or two where I can re-evaluate my current perspective.

  22. Geoff

    From a quick google search, I found the below quote at http://www.unisa.edu.au/hawkeinstitute/hpw/documents/mcinnes-how.doc

    Beneath the quote are scholarly references.

    The knowledge I have on single mothers was gained from research during my uni days. I am quite confident on the subject. The ABS is a good source on single mothers and time frames for receiving Parenting Payment Single.

    “Sole parents in Australia have persistently been the most active workforce age income support recipients in the paid workforce (Eardley 2000). There has long been a waiting list for single parents to voluntarily see a JET Adviser to get help with going back to work. The average duration on Parenting Payment Single is around three years (FACS 1998)…

    The demographic profile of lone parents in Australia is … nine out of ten single parents are women; most are separated or divorced, and aged in their thirties and forties, with one or two children (ABS 1999).”


    Australian Bureau of Statistics, (1990), Labour Force Status and other Characteristics of Families Australia, Catalogue Number 6224.0, Canberra, AGPS.
    Australian Bureau of Statistics, (1998), Labour Force January 1998, Catalogue Number 6203.0, Canberra, AGPS.
    Australian Bureau of Statistics, (2000) Labour Force Status: Families, Catalogue Number 6244.0, Canberra, AGPS.
    Australian Bureau of Statistics (2001) Australian Social Trends, Catalogue No: 41020, Canberra.
    Baker, M. and Tippin, D., (1999), Poverty, Social Assistance and the Employability of Mothers, Toronto, University of Toronto Press.
    Chalmers, J., (1999), Sole Parent Exit Study: Final Report, Sydney, Social Policy Research Centre.
    Danziger, S., Corcoran, M., Danziger, S., Heflin, C., Kalil, A., Levine, J., Rosen, D., Seefeldt, K., Siefert, K., Tolman, R., (2000),’ Barriers to the Employment of Welfare Recipients’, in R. Cherry and W. Rodgers (eds) Prosperity for all? The Economic Boom and African Americans, Russell Sage Fdn.
    Eardley, T., (2000), ‘Sole Parents and “Welfare Dependency”’, SPRC Newsletter 76. Sydney, Social Policy Research Centre.
    Family and Community Services Department, 1998, Some Common Questions About Lone Parents Answered, Parenting Policy Section, Canberra.
    Funder, K., (1989), ‘Women’s Post-Separation Workforce Participation’, in P. Whiteford (ed.), What future for the welfare state? Volume 5 Income Maintenance and Income Security, SPRC Reports and Proceedings 83, Sydney, Social Policy Research Centre.
    McDonald, P. (2001) ‘Family Support Policy in Australia: The Need for a Paradigm Shift’, People and Place, Vol. 9, No. 2.
    McHugh, M. and Millar, J., (1996), Sole Mothers in Australia: Supporting Mothers to Seek Work, Discussion Paper 71, Sydney, Social Policy Research Centre.
    McInnes, E. (2001) ‘Public Policy and Private Lives: Single Mothers, Social Policy and Gendered Violence’, Thesis Collection, Flinders University of SA.
    Oggins, J. and Fleming, A., (2001) Welfare Reform Sanctions and Financial Strain in a Food Pantry Sample, Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, Vol. 23, No. 2, June, pp. 101-124.
    Pearse, V., 2000, ‘Parents’ Participation and Planning – The Parenting Payment Intervention Pilot’ , AIFS Conference, Sydney, July.
    Robinson, J. and Griffiths, R., (1986), ‘Australian Families: Current Situation and Trends; 1969 – 1985’, Social Security Review, Background Paper Number 10, Canberra, AGPS.
    United States Department of Health and Human Services (1997) Evaluating two welfare-to-work program approaches: Two year findings on the labour force attachment and human capital development program in three sites’, New York, Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation.
    Wilson, K., Bates, K. and Pech, J., (1998), ‘Parents, the Labour Force and Social Security’, Income Support, Labour Markets and Behaviour: A Research Agenda Conference. Background Paper, Department of Family and Community Services, November 24-25: Canberra.



  23. thanks Donna… I’ve read a few things listed like the ABS stats, stuff from the social policy research centre and the SPRC report.

    I’ll get back to you when I finish, I’ll be skipping the US stuff though. OK? ;-)

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