Dangerous welfare reforms must be rejected by the Senate

Dangerous welfare reforms must be rejected by the Senate

The Federal Government’s Welfare Reform Bill contains stigmatising and needlessly punishing measures, whilst giving too much power over the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote communities to an unelected bureaucrat.

The Bill, due to be debated in the Senate today, includes measures such as mandatory drug testing and income management trials, stricter rules around drug and alcohol dependence and a harsher penalty framework.

Adrianne Walters, a Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said that the measures should be opposed because they would unjustly punish vulnerable people and undermine the efforts of health experts to address drug and alcohol dependence as the serious medical conditions that they are.

"The Government has not pointed to any evidence that these measures will help people recover from drug or alcohol addiction or get them into work. Rather, they will aggravate economic disadvantage, and harmful stereotypes about people who turn to Australia’s social safety net in times of need," said Ms Walters.

People in remote communities covered by the Federal Government’s racially discriminatory work-for-the-dole program, the 'Community Development Program', would be affected by some measures in the Bill and exempt from others. Around 83 per cent of people subjected to the program are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.

"Some measures in the Bill would make life much harder for people in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities struggling everyday under the Government’s oppressive remote work-for-the-dole program – a program that requires them to work more hours than non-remote jobseekers, without any extra pay, and for pay well below the national minimum wage," said Ms Walters.

The Bill would exempt people covered by the Community Development Program from two of the reforms. However, this would come at the cost of giving the Secretary of a Department excessively broad powers to modify how basic laws about social security apply to people in remote communities into the future, with minimal Parliamentary scrutiny.

"Extraordinarily broad law-making power would move from the Parliament to an unelected bureaucrat. This sets a dangerous precedent, as a power that could be used to lessen basic entitlements and protections for certain classes of people, such as those in remote communities, with little Parliamentary scrutiny," said Ms Walters.

"The Senate has a responsibility to reject such a broad law-making power being transferred from Parliament to an unelected government official, as well as stopping other dangerous measures in the Bill that cruelly target people experiencing drug and alcohol dependence," said Ms Walters.

A copy of the Human Rights Law Centre’s submission to the inquiry can be read here.

For interviews or further information please call:

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519