Coalition’s welfare approach risks breakdown of trust

Opinion 2Recently, with much media fanfare, Minister Christian Porter announced the ‘Australian Priority Investment Approach to Welfare’ using data to identify and target groups in the community most at risk of long term welfare dependency. While I am always wary of any use of the verb ‘target’ with this government, the principles around providing effective support to vulnerable people to ensure that they are able to break welfare dependence are sound.

Jenny Macklin has called for more information, as well as some reassurance that this is not another attempt to save expenditure packaged with social justice language. It was this government which latched on to the plan to make young people wait for rolling periods of six months without any support seemingly to make them more job ready and less reliant on welfare.

Remember the heartfelt statements that this proposal was based on the New Zealand model, carefully researched, and focussed on helping young, that is up to age 30, people into work. After a Senate inquiry and two estimates sessions, embarrassed public servants admitted that the links to the New Zealand policy were ‘tenuous’ and the decision was made by the government.

Again this week, Minister Porter extolled the New Zealand experience, as well as the first mention in over twelve months of the ‘Investment Approach to Welfare‘ which has been sitting on government shelves since 2014.

The new evidence-based approach should be welcomed, but attempts to target particular groups without real consultation across the community and no commitment to the wide range of support services which must be in place, and resourced, again risks a breakdown of real trust and a focus on punishment rather than support. Slogans about the best form of welfare being a job, have been trotted out for years, but still the critical links between support and a supply of available flexible and secure jobs are missing from the discussion.

The Minister particularly listed young carers as a ‘target’ group, and it is well known that the pressure on young people who are caring for family members is significant. I have been able to meet with many young carers over the last few years: National Carers have established a network, as well as a scholarship program to offer some support to young people balancing caring responsibilities, education and work. Perhaps the Minister could work with these impressive, focussed and articulate young carers to develop some policy direction?

 

Claire Moore, Senator for Queensland

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