Non-citizens receive $15b in welfare

Analysis requested by Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm has revealed that around 870,000 non-citizens receive about $15 billion a year in welfare benefits.

Non-citizens claiming Australian welfare mostly hail from Britain, New Zealand, Africa and the Middle East.

The information provided by the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO), estimates that around 710,000 non-citizens, who claim an average of $17,500 annually, hail from countries with which Australia has no social security agreement, account for around 83 per cent of the $15 billion total.

“At present, around 2.5 million (non-citizens) live in Australia and are eligible for welfare,” said Senator Leyonhjelm. “While I believe refugees should continue to be eligible for welfare to help them find their feet, the vast majority of non-citizens are not refugees and should not require handouts.”

The remainder consists of over 150,000 non-citizens from countries with which Australia does have a reciprocal agreement, such as New Zealand and India.

UK citizens are the largest group at 170,000, followed by African and Middle Eastern citizens at 90,000 and Chinese citizens at 50,000.

In Australia, pension eligibility is determined by residence rather than citizenship. If a non-citizen lives in Australia for 10 years, they are eligible for the Age Pension.

Australia is one of the few OECD nations where somebody who doesn’t work can receive benefits.

The PBO figures raise questions about the generosity of Australia’s welfare system, and whether welfare payments should be confined to Australian citizens, except where a reciprocal social security agreement is in place with a non-citizen’s nation of origin.

Senator Leyonhjelm suggested that, should welfare be limited to Australian citizens, it “will discourage those with poor job prospects from coming to Australia, and will build support for immigration within the Australian community”.

The Federal Government currently spends $158.6 billion per annum on welfare and this figure is projected to rise to $191 billion by 2020.

Opinion: More to consider than ‘welfare’

Non-citizens being paid $15 billion in welfare benefits will surely raise some alarm bells, but it’s worth remembering a few other factors.

Many non-citizens who come to Australia will require assistance to help them get their feet on the ground, after which, many will start businesses that will eventually contribute to the economy and create jobs for others.

Many people assume that welfare recipients actually want to be on welfare – this is simply not the case. Sure, there are some who won’t work in a fit, but they are not limited to non-citizens. And the welfare paid out to these non-citizens is not necessarily Newstart.

Considering that most non-citizens and migrants will flock to where the work is – Melbourne and Sydney – the housing affordability issues in these capital cities means that a large number of people on low-income wages need rent assistance simply to get by.

Immigration is necessary for the success of our economy. Looking back to years past, the European migration post WW2 and then the Vietnamese migration in the late 1970s both led to economic booms for Australia. At the time, this migration was seen as a burden. In hindsight, it was a blessing.

The current migration of Middle Eastern and African citizens should eventually pay dividends for our bottom line, but first, these people need help to live week to week. So then, should we look at this $15 billion, which is 10 per cent of the total cost of welfare, as an investment rather than an expense?

By limiting welfare to Australian citizens, the people who’ll suffer most will be the ones stripped of their 457 visas. They may be here to work, but will be denied even low-income employment and will have to rely on ‘charity’ to get by. This makes it somewhat of a catch 22 – want to work but can’t, but also cannot receive welfare.

And what of the foreign-owned multinational corporations that continue to dodge paying tax in Australia? This sets us back at least $6 billion each year, so why isn’t this foregone revenue seen as welfare paid to foreigners?

Senator Leyonhjelm’s point that refugees should be entitled to the help they need to get a start in their new home and that anyone hailing from a country where we have a reciprocal agreement in place should also have access to welfare is a good one. If we limit assistance to those who need it, rather than those who are simply taking advantage of our generosity, it will ease pressure on the budget and, hopefully, improve Australians’ perception of immigration.

Do you think Senator Leyonhjelm makes a valid point? Should welfare be limited to Australian citizens only? If the Government stuck to its ‘jobs and growth’ mantra, would this be such an issue? Would the Government be better served by making foreign-owned companies pay their fair share of tax, rather than focusing on welfare paid to non-citizens?

Related articles:
Welfare cheats to face crackdown
750,000 welfare recipients overpaid
Bob Carr calls for curb to immigration

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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