'Mean-spirited': plan to make people with savings wait longer for welfare criticised

Crossbencher Rebekha Sharkie and welfare groups say plan would disproportionately affect older people and discourage saving

A government plan to force people with more than $18,000 savings to wait up to six months before accessing welfare benefits will struggle to pass parliament, with key crossbencher Rebekha Sharkie slamming the move as “shortsighted” and “mean”.

Welfare groups have also rounded on the proposal, saying the measures will make life more difficult for people – particularly older Australians – struggling on welfare.

The Coalition has revived a welfare payment integrity bill that lapsed in the previous parliament which extends the so-called “liquid assets test waiting period” from 13 weeks to 26 weeks, and cuts off the pension for people who spend more than six weeks overseas.

Stopping the payment of pension supplement after six weeks overseas saves the government $154m, while changes to the liquid assets test waiting period save $105m.

It is one of a suite of measures being revived by the Coalition as part of its “compassionate conservative” welfare agenda, which includes the drug testing of welfare recipients and an expansion of the cashless debit card.

The government is pushing ahead with the failed measures while resisting widespread calls for an increase to the Newstart payment, which is currently $560 a fortnight.

Sharkie, the welfare spokesperson for Centre Alliance, which controls two Senate votes, said she did not support the measures that would disproportionately affect older people.

“All you are doing is actually increasing the vulnerability of life for people, and particularly for older Australians,” Sharkie told Guardian Australia.

“It is hard to understand why the government is doing this, there is certainly no evidence to suggest that this will magically move people off Newstart.”

Sharkie said the asset test would discourage people from creating a “nest egg” and said the pension changes would punish Australians who travelled back overseas to look after elderly relatives.

“I just think these are mean-spirited plans by government and now they are making such a big deal of us running a surplus budget, where is the need for these cuts from the most vulnerable?

“I think it is ideologically based, it certainly can’t be based on evidence and good policy [and] I think it is a distraction to keep advocates busy trying to fight this wave of legislation rather than lobbying for an increase to Newstart.”

Without the support of Centre Alliance, Labor and the Greens, the government will need to secure the support of One Nation, Cory Bernardi and Jacqui Lambie, but Lambie is yet to be convinced.

St Vincent De Paul Society’s national council chief executive, Toby oConnor , said the government appeared to be sending a message that discouraged self-reliance.

“We think that Newstart is already tough for people to survive on and clearly this bill will make life more tough for folk,” oConnor told Guardian Australia.

He said the measures could contribute to poverty and financial instability by forcing people to deplete “modest savings”, or to go into debt before being able to access income support.

According to the government, it is estimated that about 10,000 people each year would incur an additional waiting period of one to 13 weeks under the proposed changes.

Currently, a single person with no dependents incurs a waiting period with $5,500 in cash savings or shares. A 13-week wait time applies from $11,500 or more. A couple or parent incurs a delay from $11,000, with the maximum 13-week period applying from $23,000 or more.

Under the new rules, the six-month waiting period would apply for a single person with $18,000 or more, or $36,000 for a couple or parent.

A spokesperson for social services minister Anne Ruston said the government was focused on “managing taxpayers’ money responsibly and maintaining the sustainability of the welfare system”.

“Australians expect people to use their own financial resources to support themselves before they call on taxpayer-funded welfare.”


Sarah Martin Chief political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Labor to oppose cashless welfare card expansion unless it is voluntary
Senate inquiry hears competing views on the card from Aboriginal corporations in the Northern Territory

Sarah Martin and Luke Henriques-Gomes

23, Sep, 2019 @6:00 PM

Article image
Jacqui Lambie agrees to support government's $158bn tax cuts plan
Tasmanian senator says she decided to support the tax package after government agree to respond to state’s public housing debt

Sarah Martin Chief political correspondent

03, Jul, 2019 @10:55 PM

Article image
Can the Centre Alliance hold? Rexit prompts Liberals to eye remaining MPs
Reports point to an active recruitment exercise being spearheaded by the PM’s office following Rex Patrick’s departure

Katharine Murphy Political editor

12, Aug, 2020 @5:30 PM

Article image
'Show some spine': Jacqui Lambie returns to parliament with John Setka ultimatum
The Senate powerbroker warns if the union boss does not resign, the Coalition’s ‘ensuring integrity’ bill will pass

Amy Remeikis

08, Sep, 2019 @6:00 PM

Article image
Jacqui Lambie says people scared and confused by Coalition’s cashless welfare card plan
Senator says after visiting remote Indigenous communities that many there feel they have not been properly consulted over new card

Lorena Allam Indigenous affairs editor

31, Jan, 2020 @12:45 AM

Article image
Labor says Nick Xenophon Team's welfare deal targets Australia's 'poorest people'
NXT says deal with Coalition, which doesn’t include controversial drug testing plan, ‘strikes a good balance’

Christopher Knaus

03, Jan, 2018 @2:52 AM

Article image
Plan to drug test welfare recipients in doubt after NXT vow to oppose it
Crossbenchers’ decision makes the bill’s passage through Senate difficult and puts the Coalition’s broader overhaul of the welfare system under a cloud

Christopher Knaus

13, Nov, 2017 @5:00 PM

Article image
Morrison government stares down push to end jobkeeper scheme early
Coalition delays a Labor and Greens push to expand the $1,500 fortnightly wage subsidy and insists it will be delivered until September

Paul Karp

13, May, 2020 @11:03 AM

Article image
Sports rorts inquiry set to grill Bridget McKenzie and Phil Gaetjens
Labor broadens attack on grant programs, arguing the urban congestion fund was used to promote Coalition candidates

Paul Karp

23, Feb, 2020 @4:30 PM

Article image
Rebekha Sharkie follows Indi example after unseating Jamie Briggs in Mayo
The Nick Xenophon Team candidate’s election victory has unnerved the Coalition, with Christopher Pyne warning the South Australian seat would suffer as a result

Calla Wahlquist

03, Jul, 2016 @9:13 PM