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Tag Archives: disability support pension

Scott’s new targets

In October, Labor voted to pass nearly $3 billion in budget savings with revised welfare legislation which will see Family payments cut and young people on a disability support pension will have their cases reviewed.

The laws will:

  • reduce the primary income earner limit for Family Tax Benefit B from $150,000 to $100,000
  • limit the FTB – A large family payment to those with four or more children
  • review the cases of people under 35 who are receiving a disability support pension
  • include untaxed super income in eligibility assessments for the Seniors Health Card
  • remove scholarships for students moving between major cities

The most substantial cuts will involve those families who lose entitlement to FTB Part B, worth just over $3000 per year, when their youngest child turns six and is at school, although transitional arrangements will apply until July 2017. Low income lone parents will instead get a payment of $750 dollars a year per child aged 6 to 12 years.

About $10 billion in budget measures, including increasing the pension age, reducing the rate of increases to pensions and freezing family payments, remain blocked. In a bid to woo the crossbenchers, the Government has “repackaged” those cuts and changes to a new series of bills.

The Government proposes to freeze all income-test thresholds for most benefits for three years, and FTB payment rates for two. Freezing payment rates is regressive, since lower-income families bear proportionally higher cuts.

Lone parents earning around two-thirds of the average wage lose between 5.7 to 7.1 per cent of their disposable income. A single-income couple with two school-age children and average earnings loses nearly $90 per week or 6 per cent of their disposable income.

Compare this to the $29 or less than 1 per cent of disposable income paid through the Deficit Levy by an individual on three times the average wage – close to $250,000 by 2017–18. High-income couples could together bring in up to $360,000 per year and not contribute an extra cent.

There will be no transition for unemployed people under 25, who will receive Youth Allowance rather than Newstart. People under 30 will be required to wait for up to six months before getting unemployment benefits and then Work for the Dole.

An unemployed 23-year-old loses $50 per week or 18 per cent of their disposable income. An unemployed lone parent with one 8-year-old child loses $60 per week or 12 per cent.

Senator Abetz backed down from his ridiculous idea of making unemployed people apply for 40 jobs a month which would have led to 30 million job applications a month when there’s not even a couple of hundred thousand jobs on offer.

The Government has also launched a tender process for a new $5.1 billion employment services plan and work for the dole scheme to operate for five years from July 1 next year. One wonders which private companies will benefit from this $5 billion cash splash and whether the money would not be better spent creating jobs rather than providing slave labour for the private sector who will receive generous payments to administer the scheme.

I also wonder has this government done any modelling on increasing the pension age to 70. When they increased the age for females from 60 to 65 in 1995 , women with disabilities in this age group increasingly claimed the DSP. The proportion rose from close to zero to about 13 per cent by 2013. But as the number of women receiving the DSP went up, the number receiving the age pension went down by much more.

In 1995, only about 650 women aged sixty to sixty-four received the DSP and 211,000 received the age pension. By 2012, 86,000 female DSP recipients were in that age group, but only 28,000 age pensioners. So the total number receiving one or other of these pensions has nearly halved, and now the majority receive the DSP.

Increasing the pension age to 70 will just force more people onto the DSP and increase the medical and administrative costs to receive their payment. So much for cutting red tape.

I sincerely hope Labor have the number crunchers working out exactly how much people are worse off under this government’s policies. Add in the delay to the increase in the superannuation guarantee, higher fees for university students, cuts to health and education, increased fuel excise, scrapping the increase of the tax free threshold, and every single person is worse off though inversely proportional to their income and wealth.

The Australian Council of Social Service released a new report revealing that poverty is growing in Australia with an estimated 2.5 million people or 13.9% of all people living below the internationally accepted poverty line.

The report provides the most up to date picture of poverty in the nation drawing on new data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics Income and Expenditure surveys for 2011-12 and previous years. It finds that 603,000 or 17.7% of all children were living in poverty in Australia.

The poverty line for a single adult is $400 per week yet the maximum rate of payment for a single person on Newstart – when Rent Assistance and other supplementary payments is added – is only $303 per week. This is $97 per week below the 50% of median income poverty line.

It also emphasises the danger posed by Budget proposals to reduce the indexation of pension payments to the Consumer Price Index only, which is likely to result in higher poverty rates over time than would be the case if payments were indexed to wages and therefore community living standards.

Most at risk groups

  • Women – significantly more likely to experience poverty than men (14.7% compared to 13%);
  • Children and older people – face higher risks of poverty compared to other age groups (17.7% and 14.8% respectively);
  • Sole parents – at high risk with 33% in poverty in 2012 and 36.8% of all children in poverty were in sole parent households;
  • Born overseas – Poverty is higher amongst adults born in countries where the main language is not English (18.8%) than amongst those born overseas in an English speaking country (11.4%), or in Australia (11.6%);
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – ABS data does not include information to accurately measure this poverty rate, however 2011 HILDA data found 19.3% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in poverty, compared to 12.4% of the total Australian population;
  • People with a disability – latest available data does not allow this poverty rate to be calculated, however our previous report found 27.4% of people with a disability were living in poverty in 2009-2010 compared to 12.8% for the total population.

Abbott’s strategy to help these people is “we removed the carbon tax”. Come on Labor, let’s compare that to all the other things they have “removed”.

Morrison doesn’t see helping these people as his responsibility. He views them as his targets, the challenge he must face and subdue.

In the May budget they cut $44 million from the capital works budget for the National Partnership on Homelessness.

Three days before Christmas they axed funding to Community Housing Federation Australia, National Shelter, Homelessness Australia, disability groups and financial counselling services.

In the next budget, Scott Morrison is going to do something about making childcare more affordable. This will be a welcome move if it isn’t just about making politicians able to claim for their nannies.

poverty He will also be trying to sell Tony’s signature Paid Parental Leave Scheme or some sort of renegotiated version of it. If it is means tested, completely unavailable to those over a certain income, then it may be worthwhile though it basically defeats Tony’s stated purpose of encouraging “women of calibre” to breed. It’s interesting that this “workplace entitlement” is being promoted by the Minister for Social Security who wants the government to pay for maternity leave rather than the employer. I guess Tony is desperate to have an answer other than carbon tax about what he has done for women but let’s not let it blind us to the needs of our most disadvantaged citizens.

As this government silences advocates for the homeless, the disabled, the young and the needy, our Indigenous and refugee communities, we, the public, must raise our voices to help protect our most vulnerable and to tell the government which direction we want this country to go.

“…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped. ” – Hubert H. Humphrey

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Kevin bloody Andrews

Kevin Andrews (image from abc.net.au)

Kevin Andrews (image from abc.net.au)

As a companion piece to rossleigh’s excellent article, I thought it might be useful to have a closer look at our Social Services Minister, Kevin Andrews.

As a backbencher, Andrews authored the Euthanasia Laws Bill 1996 to overrule Northern Territory legislation that legalised euthanasia (the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995).

Andrews also called for an end to trials of the RU-486 drug and voted against a bill that took away the Health Minister’s power to veto applications to allow the drug to be used.

In taking a stance against stem cell research in 2002, he stated that it was the “first time” that “human beings can be treated as a commodity”. He also took a stance against stem cell research during a debate in 2006, which resulted in the overturning of a previous ban on the research.

As the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, he was responsible for introducing the Howard Government’s major changes to industrial relations law in 2005, commonly known as WorkChoices.

Andrews is a member of the Lyons Forum, a socially conservative Christian faction within the Coalition. He has served as the Forum Secretary and is credited with suggesting the name for the faction.

As Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Andrews attracted controversy after he revoked on character grounds the visa of Dr Mohamed Haneef, who had been granted bail on charges of aiding terrorists. After the Director of Public Prosecutions dropped all charges against Haneef, Andrews refused calls to reinstate Haneef’s visa, stating that his personal evidence was still valid. Andrews’ justification of his decision, on the basis that he had a reasonable suspicion that Haneef had associated with suspected terrorists and therefore failed the test of good character that a person must pass to keep a visa, was rejected in the Federal Court, and the revocation of Haneef’s visa was overturned. However in November, e-mails released under the Freedom of Information act appeared to indicate that Andrews’ office had a plan to revoke the visa before the case went to court, in the case that bail was granted.

Following Andrews’ criticism of irregularities discovered in the CV of an Indian doctor working on the Gold Coast, various media organisations carried reports disputing Andrews’ claim on parliamentary and ministerial websites to have co-authored three books, having contributed only a chapter to each. Andrews argued in his own defence that:

“In common, everyday parlance, as one of the authors (of a chapter) I presumed you called yourself a co-author – that’s all I’ve simply done. I wasn’t aware, to be frank, of some publishing convention that someone’s referred to (that suggests otherwise). If that offends people’s sensibilities well so be it, basically.”

Andrews’ 2007 decision to cut Australia’s refugee intake from African nations was branded by some critics as “racist”, and pulling out the race card before the 2007 Australian Federal election. Andrews defended the decision, saying: “Some groups don’t seem to be settling and adjusting into the Australian way of life as quickly as we would hope.” Andrews accused Sudanese refugees of fighting in bars and congregating in parks to drink alcoholic beverages, but did not provide statistics to back up his claims.

In 2009, Kevin Andrews declared his candidacy against Malcolm Turnbull in a vote for a leadership spill, in opposition to Turnbull’s support for the government’s emissions trading scheme. He had declared himself a climate change sceptic, saying that ‘the jury is still out’ on human contributions to global warming. The party room however voted down having a leadership spill 41 votes to 35 and the Andrews challenge did not eventuate. After continued leadership speculation, a second Party Room meeting was held, at which point the leadership was declared vacant. Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and Malcolm Turnbull all stood for the leadership, and Tony Abbott was ultimately successful. Following his election as Leader, Abbott promoted Andrews to the Shadow Cabinet as Minister for Families, Housing and Human Services.

A member of the Catholic Pontifical Council for the Laity, Andrews is an Adjunct Lecturer in Politics and in Marriage Education in the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne.

Andrews is an advisor to the Board of Life Decisions International (LDI), a (non-denominational) religious pro-life group that is primarily concerned with opposing the pro-choice Planned Parenthood organisation. LDI campaigns for chastity, boycotts corporations and names individual celebrities who support abortion, euthanasia, or embryonic stem cell experimentation or who, in their opinion, support sexual promiscuity. These include GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson and Johnson, Time Warner and Disney.

Andrews made a speech to the Endeavour Forum on 9 April 2003, a group focusing on women’s issues, opposing abortion, equal opportunity and affirmative action.

He has also spoken at the Family Council of Victoria, an organisation which regards homosexuality as the manifestation of a psychiatric disorder. The Family Council of Victoria also opposes sex-education and anti-homophobia policies in public schools, which it claims is “pro-homosexual indoctrination” of students.

In 2011, as a Liberal Shadow Cabinet frontbencher Andrews published a critique of the Greens policy agenda for Quadrant Magazine in which he wrote that the Australian Greens’ “objective involves a radical transformation of the culture that underpins Western civilisation” and that their agenda would threaten the “Judeo-Christian/Enlightenment synthesis that upholds the individual” as well as “the economic system that has resulted in the creation of wealth and prosperity for the most people in human history.”

In December 2013, as Social Services Minister, Andrews introduced to the House of Representatives a bill repealing almost all of the gambling harm-minimisation measures passed by the Gillard Labor government in November 2012.

“This is a straight capitulation to the power of the pokies lobby,” says Tim Costello, chair of the Australian Churches’ Gambling Taskforce.

When Australia is recognised as having perhaps the worst gambling problem in the world, with 41 per cent of poker machine revenue coming from problem gamblers, one must wonder about Andrew’s motivation. Could it have something to do with the sudden upsurge in gambling-industry donations to Australia’s major parties, which coincided with a deal between independent MP Andrew Wilkie and then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard?

Fittingly, Andrews’ amendment will also change the name of the law passed in 2012 — from the National Gambling Reform Act, to the National Gambling Measures Act. For now, meaningful gambling reform is quite literally off parliament’s books.

Andrews is a member of the Credlin-led decision-making Star Chamber which includes federal Liberal Party director Brian Loughnane – Ms Credlin’s husband – along with John Howard’s former chief of staff, Tony Nutt, and minister Michael Ronaldson.

He also has his gun sights set on the ABC. Speaking at Canberra airport on his way to a cabinet meeting, the Social Services Minister said that in a robust democracy, the media should be scrutinised as much as anybody else. ”I think the ABC should be open to constructive criticism about its performance as it would be about the performance of other people and other institutions in Australia,” he said. ”What goes around comes around.”

We then hear from our Social Services minister that the nation’s welfare system is “unsustainable” and large, urgent changes must be made to the disability pension and the general unemployment benefit.

He said the government was reviewing all welfare rules to see what could be done to decrease the number of unemployed on the dole, including the possibility of eliminating the ability of those on welfare to refuse to take a job if it was more than 90 minutes from their home and keep their income support payments.

Mr Andrews has already revealed the government is looking at changes that would see more people under the age of 40 on the DSP checked to see whether they could work and temporary payments for potentially impermanent conditions to prevent the number of those in the system from ballooning to one million.

Under Mr Andrews’ mooted change, disability pensioners who were assessed by their family doctors – before Labor tightened the system in 2011 – would be re-examined by medical experts at the Department of Human Services.

The minister is also considering giving a fixed higher payment for the most disabled pensioners, with lower payments for people with less restrictive disabilities, who might be able to work part time.

Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes said the Abbott government was “punishing some of the most vulnerable people in society” by tightening checks on the disability pension.

Regarding the minister’s idea to reassess recipients, Mr Innes said: “To effectively move the test back a few years, it just seems a cruel way of penalising people who’ve been in receipt of a benefit. Introducing a quarterly or six-monthly check is just adding more complexity both for the Centrelink system and for people with disabilities,” he said.

Andrews is pushing the idea that pensioners suffering “episodic” illnesses such as depression should be given monthly or quarterly medical certificates rather than getting two-year “set and forget” pensions. This idea, he said, was particularly important given there were now more disability pensioners suffering from psychological conditions than suffering musculoskeletal problems.

Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Cassandra Goldie said she would support any measures by the government to “invest” in disability pensioners to help them return to the workforce.

But she was concerned that subjecting disability pensioners to more regular assessments could end up “exacerbating their mental health condition”.

“We don’t have a welfare crisis in this area, we have a jobs crisis,” Dr Goldie said. “We all want to work on decent reforms which will improve people’s pathways back to being well and getting paid work.”

Despite the financial crisis that apparently makes it necessary for us to send people suffering from depression ‘down pit’, Mr Andrews was able to find $20 million for marriage guidance counselling vouchers. This of course has nothing to do with the fact that he and his wife are/were involved in the marriage counselling business.

I have tried to remain factual in this snapshot biography of our Social Services Minister but hells, bells and cockle shells, it would be hard to find someone less suitable for the job.

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