Childcare reform package hides stringent welfare cuts: My Daily Advertiser column for February 2017

by ray goodlass

Almost lost last week amidst the fuss over Senator Bernardi’s resignation from the Liberal Party, whilst at the same time keeping his Senate seat, salary and entitlement, was an important piece of government legislation that rolled welfare cuts into childcare reforms.

In a secret deal between the Government and crossbenchers on the family tax benefit (FTB) sneaked through stringent cuts to the social safety net that hurts families, young people and aged pensioners.

The Turnbull government has been accused of holding parents “hostage” by combining its childcare reforms with $8 billion in cuts to unemployed young people, welfare recipients and families whose employers provide paid parental leave.

The government had previously flagged it would combine its childcare changes with cuts to family tax benefits, but went further last Wednesday by rolling several previously rejected welfare cuts into the same bill. This is of course the oldest trick in the books, burying cuts that are likely to be unpopular within a reform that is otherwise likely to be supported.

 The bill now includes measures such as: increasing the age of eligibility for unemployment benefits from 22 to 25, a move that would cut payments to young jobseekers by $45 a week. People aged under 25 without a job will be receive Youth Allowance worth $438 a fortnight rather than the $528 Newstart Allowance; jobseekers under 25 will have to wait four weeks before accessing income support; abolishing the Energy Supplement, worth up to $14 a fortnight, for new welfare recipients; capping government-funded and employer-paid parental leave at 20 weeks a year and stopping pension payments to Australians who travel for more than six weeks overseas.

Jo Briskey, executive director of parent advocacy group The Parenthood, said the plan was akin to “holding families to ransom”.

Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Cassandra Goldie said: “The so-called concessions the government has made will be wiped out by other changes in the bill, leaving many low-income people worse off.

“Of course we all want greater support for families to get better-quality childcare but it cannot be funded on the backs of some of the most disadvantaged people in our country.”

Labor families spokeswoman Jenny Macklin said the opposition was opposed to the package, but One Nation leader Pauline Hanson said welfare payments need to be “reined in”.

Also  key crossbench senator Nick Xenophon said the government was “moving in the right direction” by softening its family payment cuts.

“I think the government has improved the package, improved the childcare package and in terms of Indigenous and remote communities there are some real improvements there as well, so that’s welcomed,” he said. 

However, and quite rightly, “Nick Xenaphon and other crossbenchers should think long and hard before getting behind the legislation”, Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said today.”

The Government has painted this legislation as a compromise to get the childcare package through the Senate but it is just a shopping list of the nasty social safety net measures that they have not been able to get through the senate in the past. It is an attack on families, young people and the aged.

Also tucked away in this hodgepodge legislation is the reduction of people receiving their aged pension once out of the country from 26 weeks to six weeks.

The Government is unrelentingly going after young families, and those relying on our social security safety net.