This is the first of a weekly blog about Parliamentary Business. This week: Social Security Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill, Senate Committee Inquiry and a Petition against Drug Testing for Welfare Recipients.
Every week, I will discuss selected Bills,Petitions and Committee Inquiries. Where appropriate, I will discuss Matters of Public Importance raised in Parliament. Through this weekly blog, I also hope to create awareness about the APH website and encourage active interaction.
Quick Recap: (Not the entire list)
- Will remove seven current payments and reduce them to one jobseeker payment.
(Remove: Widow B Pension, Wife Pension, Bereavement Allowance, Sickness Allowance, Widow Allowance, Partner Allowance) and
- Establishment of a drug testing trial and
- Removal of exemptions for drug and alcohol dependence and
- Changes to Reasonable Excuses and
- New Targeted Compliance Framework and
- Claim Provisions (Benefits will no longer be backdated to date of claim)
Please note: this section is a discussion, therefore it is from my own point of view. Please read the official Explanatory Note because this will explain the information as tabled.
Streamlining Payments – Everyone is a Jobseeker
It appears the Government’s aim is to punish as many welfare recipients as possible. Even those with a reasonable excuse.
Therefore, bereaved, widowed and incapacitated due to illness are all now “Jobseekers” under this Bill.
Even those genuinely incapacitated will need to participate in jobsearch.
These individuals will be scooped up into the same nauseating bucket the Liberals carry around at their sides filled with condemnation and labelled “Bludgers.”
Widow and Wife’s Pension
Since at least the 1990’s Governments have changed access to the Widow’s pension and Wife’s pension. These pensions are primarily the domain of women, because they are now unable to rely on a husband’s income due to his illness or death. This is another move to completely cancel these payments. Hence, my view is that they should be revisited and reinstated – not abolished.
These recipients, mainly women, are not bludgers. They are often active in family life and the community. Individual case managers should support Mature-Aged jobseekers in a voluntary program. A 20-year-old at a counter telling them that they haven’t done enough, should not exist. They should not live in fear they will be ‘cut off’ because they are the mercy of the system.
A Blow to Mature Aged Jobseekers
Mature-aged jobseekers are currently able to participate in voluntary work. This will no longer be the case. Are the Liberals suspicious this is a ‘loophole’ to avoid paid work? That is how The explanatory note reads to me. The vile deep bucket labelled “Bludgers” now includes volunteers.
Schedule 9 – Changes to activity tests for persons aged 55 to 59
The Liberal Party does not value the contribution of volunteers (particularly women). Many mature aged women and men, who have not worked, would have a history of active participation in the community and schools. In addition, they often perform caring duties for grandchildren, because formal childcare is difficult to access and punishment is ludicrous, because this is a valuable contribution to society.
Mature Aged Jobseekers, seek employment, often because of illness, death and/or bereavement of a loved one and therefore should participate in voluntary jobsearch. Jobsearch can have an emotional toll on a mature aged individual, therefore, specialised case managers who understand this demographic need to support this group.This is because the sudden requirement for jobsearch can be a shock and furthermore is a huge disruption to their regular routine.
Financial Penalties – Every Single Time – For Everyone
The nature and extent of jobseeker compliance is harsher in terms of punishment and wider in the scope of recipients it is proposed to encompass.
I would describe the widening and intensity of financial penalties as ‘welfare punishment creep.’
This term describes the growing number of welfare recipients financial penalties apply to and the increasing lack of consideration and reasoning for which penalties are applied.
This new Bill recommends a financial penalty to all jobseekers, with no consideration for a reasonable excuse, it appears.
This Bill proposes:
This section in the explanatory memorandum reads as if the Liberal Party has the assumption that ‘every welfare recipient is trying to rip off the system, and they will find any excuse to get out of working‘. Do the Liberals see all welfare recipients as underhanded and dishonest? Did you really think they would stop at cheezel eating X-Box players?
Welfare recipients are required to agree with participation in drug testing:
The Government’s Mantra
The Government is implementing these drug trials under the premise that drug tests will show that jobseekers are not willing and able to participate in jobsearch.
A one off drug test may not show any indication of long-term or chronic drug use. Drug tests may not indicate the individual is unable to participate in jobsearch. In addition, as different tests test within the limitation of different time frames and this will not always ensure natural justice.
Urinary Drug Testing
This picks up drugs in a person’s system 3-4 days prior. This does not indicate chronic drug use or the inability to jobsearch or indicate impairment to work.
This will only show drugs used at least four weeks prior
This means that not only are the most recent three to four weeks invisible, but so too are drugs used prior to the growing time of the hair tested. This approach approximately samples from a month prior to hair collection back as far as four months prior to hair collection depending on the length of the hair sample.
This means that a jobseeker is penalised, even if they are in a period of cessation.
..if the cessation of drug use does not extend back to further than four months prior to sample collection, the subject may argue that any drug found reflects use prior to the time of cessation
The other concern is that chronic drug users will simply shift to drugs because they are not detected in hair testing or urine testing. Especially relevant is one such drug is GBH (liquid ecstasy).
GBH is the drug that saw 21 people hospitalised earlier this year.
Testing requires rigorous standards. Otherwise, contamination can occur. The NATA information paper also indicates that false negatives and false positives can occur.
Vulnerable People and the Right to Fairness
It is vital that welfare recipients experience compassion and fairness.
Another concern is jobseekers who are on psychiatric medication can return a false positive (see linked article above). Statistics also show that many individuals who are drug dependent have a comorbidity of mental illness.
The Australian Government’s own Department of Health and Aging reports that:
Comorbidity or the co-occurrence of mental disorders and substance use disorders is common.
The DMS-5 classifies Drug and Alcohol Abuse as a disorder.
“substance use disorder describes a problematic pattern of using alcohol or another substance that results in impairment in daily life or noticeable distress.”
Therefore, individuals are at greater risk if they have a psychiatric disorder, with a co-morbidity of drug addiction, or have a substance abuse disorder.
In addition, it is this specific group who are most likely to not have the self-efficacy to use the complaints system.
Fairness is an issue. When we are dealing with the most vulnerable in society, this is a major concern.
If the Government is concerned about substance abuse, they should invest in prevention and support services and not punitive welfare.
Please see the petition below and sign it!
Australian Liberals – Wanna Be UK Tories
These types of measures of consolidating payments is in line with the approach of the UK Conservative Party. This was largely rejected by the Social Welfare Sector in the UK.
The Sickness that is the UK Conservative Party is on display right now. That is thanks to Jeremy Corbyn. No credit to the former UKLabour party given. Do we really want to vote for a Government that follows suit? We are the country of the fair go. Not a country of abject poverty.
Senate Committee Inquiry
The Social Security Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill has concluded it’s second reading and is now referred to the Senate Standing Committees on Community Affairs. This committee covers Health, Social Services and Human Services.
Individuals and organisations can submit their opinions or proposals to the committee for consideration. Here is the information on how to write and submit a submission.
Submissions should be received by 4 August 2017. The reporting date is 4 September 2017.
There is not a lot of time to participate in feedback on this Bill, therefore, if you are against these changes, I would encourage you to write a submission as a direct protest.
Signing change.org petitions and sharing memes have their purpose, however, a submission is a direct voice to the Committee considering the Bill.
Many people regularly sign online petitions using platforms such as change.org, however, I would like to raise awareness that there are always petitions online in Federal and State Parliaments.
In fact, The House can only accept e-petitions that have been submitted via its e-petitions website. Signatures from other electronic or paper petitions cannot be added to your petition.
The petitions page is worth bookmarking. Submitting petitions to parliament (State and Federal) and supporting official petitions submitted to Parliament is also critical in the stand against an issue.
To support a Petition: Click on the Petition Link. Complete your details, tick the terms and conditions box, go to your email and confirm your signature.
Standing up for progress – Achievement Unlocked!
Petition: Drug Testing of Welfare Recipients
To the Hon. Speaker of the House of Representatives and Members of the House of Representatives
Certain citizens of Australia
The petitioners request that the House reject the Government’s proposed trial of drug testing for welfare recipients.
The petitioners request that the House reject the Government’s proposed trial of drug testing for welfare recipients. The suggested “random” selection of subjects by profiling people thought to be high risk will lead to discriminatory selection, while income quarantine and compulsory treatment are ineffective measures that will further marginalise the vulnerable. Rather than supporting people into employment, this will force those with substance abuse problems to disengage with the system and seek other means to support themselves. This reflects the experience of other jurisdictions, where mandatory testing has proven expensive and ineffective. Such resources would be better targeted towards supporting our overburdened treatment sector, as metropolitan and regional service providers continue to be understaffed and underfunded.
We ask that the House reject the Government’s proposed trial, preventing the invasive and stigmatising practice of mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients.
I hope you enjoyed this first weekly review of Parliamentary Business. Until next week….