The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) is preparing to fight the Government over its plans to crack down on welfare and its potential backflip on super changes.
Australia’s top welfare body says the Government is planning to renege on agreements made at the National Reform Summit in August last year, which ACOSS is calling a breach of faith.
It would appear that, in order to pacify angry conservatives within his own party, Malcolm Turnbull may be softening his ‘ironclad’ stance on changes to superannuation that the Coalition took to Election 2016.
ACOSS believes this softened stance is a betrayal of constructive discussions upon which welfare and community groups agreed during the August 2016 summit.
This, along with the proposed $5 billion in welfare savings that Social Services Minister Christian Porter wants legislated, has ACOSS ready to fight back.
“We’ve had the first clear indication from the Government that it is absolutely determined to make major cuts to incomes and living standards of people who are the poorest, they’re living on the lowest incomes in Australia,” ACOSS Chief Executive Cassandra Goldie told Fairfax Media.
Mr Porter has proposed changes to the welfare system that include reviewing disability support pensioners, increasing disclosure requirements, scaling back some carer payments and halting carbon tax compensation for new welfare recipients.
Dr Goldie believes these new measures were not part of reform summit discussions and have been created without consultation with welfare groups. She has also warned the Government against the savings, claiming that “integrity” measures such as these can place increased hardship on already vulnerable people – especially when it comes to recovering debts.
“At the absolute minimum, given that we are talking about some of the most vulnerable people, the Government should be sitting down with the community sector which has the direct experience with this system to make sure that its plans won’t create really harsh outcomes for people,” said Dr Goldie.
The Government claims that such measures will only affect legitimate recipients and will make welfare payments better targeted.
During last year’s National Reform Summit, the Government agreed that those on a low-income should be better looked after and that benefits should be increased from current levels.
The carbon tax compensation offers a small increase, but this only applies to those already on welfare. Still, any increase is better than the $38 per day recipients currently receive.
Dr Goldie argues that the Coalition’s indications that it may back down on proposed changes to super are a sign that it is still intent on looking after the top end – possibly ignoring the issues faced by low- to middle-income earners.
“That lifetime and annual cap are very modest measures to make superannuation fairer, to ensure that people who have high net worth are not using the superannuation system for essentially tax minimisation arrangements,” Dr Goldie said. “We strongly oppose any weakening of these. They’re modest, not extreme. And they are going to affect a very small percentage of the people who fall into the most wealthy groups in the country and are receiving overwhelmingly too generous tax concessions.
“What has the government learned from the election outcome? To listen better. Well, who’s it listening to?”
ACOSS is now calling on the Prime Minister to consult welfare and community groups about potential changes to welfare if his aim is to restore confidence in politics.
At this stage though, Dr Goldie feels there’s not been any indication that they’re prepared to do so.
ACOSS is angry at the Coalition for potentially changing its mind. Whilst the welfare group’s heart may be in the right place, it might be wiser to allow the dust to settle before attacking a government in its infancy.
Sure, all Australians want super to be fairer and most will back ACOSS in its fight to protect those less fortunate. But the new Cabinet was only named yesterday and will be sworn in today. Any proposed policies are just that – proposed. Nothing is yet set in stone and, in the meantime, the Government cannot be faulted for being cautious, tweaking policy and looking for savings wherever it can find them. It should be careful not to back-flip on policy though, as was a trait of the previous government.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the Government claims that it is not going after legitimate welfare recipients, rather, it is targeting those who abuse the system. Which criteria it follows to label welfare recipients as ‘abusers’ could be called into question, but the intent is surely fair.
It would, however, be advisable for Mr Turnbull to not put organisations such as ACOSS off-side and, if he really wants to restore Australia’s faith in politics, he should indeed consult all relevant sectors before legislating any such policies on super, welfare and health care.
And if Mr Turnbull is serious on his promise to ‘deliver’ a strong and stable government to the people of this nation, then he needs to learn the lesson handed down in Election 2016. He should listen to the people as well as to those organisations that have the rights of the people as their mandate. He needs to stop being seen as looking after the top end and start factoring in the real-life issues faced by many Australians. It goes without saying that low- to middle-income earners far outnumber the wealthy. If he keeps on ignoring the needs of this majority, he may find himself a very unpopular PM or an opposition leader.
What do you think? Is ACOSS right to commence attacking the Government so early in its term? Do you have any issues with Mr Porter’s proposed welfare changes? How do you think the Government should handle its plans to change super?