Vote Down Punitive and Dangerous Welfare Reform Bill

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Dear Nick Xenophon Team,

I would like to inform you of my grave concerns regarding the Welfare Reform Bill 2017.

As the President of the Australian Unemployed Workers' Union , I believe I can offer you an insight into the reality of unemployment that no advisor can. I hope this letter will give you an opportunity to pause and reflect on how these Bills will negatively effect the lives of hundreds of thousands of unemployed Australians. It’s the least you can do.

I wish to point out in the strongest possible terms that this Bill is a cruel and dangerous attack on the dignity and wellbeing of the unemployed – people who have been shut out of the labour market due to no fault of their own. If passed, this Bill will achieve what successive governments have been trying to accomplish for decades – the breakdown and privatisation of our social security system. 

In particular, I wish to highlight my concerns over the government’s plan to impose harsh and punitive requirements on Newstart recipients such as myself, which will:

  1. subject all unemployed workers to the punitive demerit point compliance system, which in the majority of cases will remove government oversight and deny unemployed Australians their right to appeal decisions;
  2. extend the waiting period for Newstart, forcing new applicants to miss out on their first payment (up to $770); 
  3. require unemployed workers over 30 to attend significantly more hours at a Work for the Dole activity, despite this program being revealed to be dangerous and ineffective by two separate government-commissioned reports;

I believe these changes represent some of the most significant attacks ever launched against the unemployed since the introduction of the welfare state.

These are changes that will force hundreds of thousands of Australians over the age of 30 to attend 50% more hours at Work for the Dole. This is in spite of the fact that Work for the Dole is widely known to be dangerous and pointless. 

Between 2014 and 2016, Work for the Dole injuries increased five times. Josh Park-Fing tragically died at his Work for the Dole site in 2016. Before his death, Josh had suffered an injury at the site yet was forced to continue or face being penalised. Even the government's own reports admit that 64% of sites do not meet basic safety standards and that the program increases the chances of the unemployed finding work by only 2%.

These are changes, which, for the first time ever, will hand the $10 billion mostly for-profit employment services industry the power to make compliance decisions. This industry is already failing to enforce the compliance system fairly. As noted recently by the National Welfare Rights Network, almost half of job agency compliance reports are rejected by Centrelink because they were unfair.

This widespread illegality has to be one of the largest frauds ever perpetrated a Federal government. And yet the government is responding by giving them more power.

Denying unemployed workers the power to appeal against these penalties in such a dysfunctional system is opening up unemployed workers to a world of abuse. In light of the increased Work for the Dole requirements, this change will not only lead  to more unemployed people being penalised unfairly, but will also make it almost impossible for unemployed workers to raise safety concerns at their Work for the Dole site. This is a disaster waiting to happen.

Already the compliance system is out of control - in 2015-16, the number of penalties imposed by the $10 billion employment services industry exceeded two million for the first time – a seven-fold since 2011. Why is the government removing the checks and balances in an already dysfunctional and punitive system?

And finally, these are changes that will make it harder for the unemployed to survive on Newstart – a payment that is already $390 per fortnight below the poverty line. This attempt to to push Newstart applicants deeper into poverty is nothing short of an act of violence.

As a party claiming to be the "common sense alternative", why are you willing to put your name to such cruel and punitive policies?

Unemployed people are already struggling enough as it is. This Bill will kick them while they are down.

Is this what the Nick Xenophon Team stand for? 

The unemployed are struggling to find work when, going by government figures, there are around 17 other people competing for that job.

They are struggling to survive in an overly punitive and completely dysfunctional employment services industry.

They are struggling to live on the starvation rate of Newstart. This payment was initially designed to support people for short periods between jobs. Politicians need to wake up to the reality that being unemployed is far from temporary in Australia. The average time people spend on Newstart is over four years. 
Does the Nick Xenophon Team think its fair for hundreds of thousands of Australians to be attacked in this way simply because they find themselves in a society which has locked them out of the labour market? 

Will the Nick Xenophon Team stand by this Bill if there is another Work for the Dole death?

As you hold the balance of power in the Senate, your party has the power to vote down this Bill. On behalf of the 880,000 Australians on Newstart and Youth Allowance attending job agencies – and the 1.2 million Australians in insecure employment and at constant risk of unemployment – I ask you, vote down this Bill.

The lives of the unemployed depend on it.

Look forwarding to hearing from you.


Owen Bennett
Australian Unemployed Workers Union

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