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Plan to make it harder for migrants to get benefits to affect 110,000 children

Government hopes to save $1.2bn by making migrants wait three years before accessing some benefits

Christopher Knaus

The Coalition’s plan to make it harder for new migrants to claim government benefits will affect 110,000 children, Senate estimates has heard.

The government hopes to save $1.2bn by making new migrants wait three years instead of two before they can access certain government payments, including family tax benefit, paid parental leave, and carers’ allowance.

The changes would hurt those arriving on family and skilled visas, but would not apply to humanitarian visas.

The Australian Council of Social Services (Acoss) has condemned the measures as harsh. The delays threaten to push migrants into poverty and hardship, creating a new “underclass of migrants”, Acoss says.

On Thursday, Senate estimates heard the measure would affect 110,000 children between July 2018, when it takes effect, and 2021.

It would also affect 50,000 families eligible for family tax benefit part A, and 30,000 individuals waiting for other payments.

The Department of Social Services said on Thursday it did not consult migrant resettlement services or anyone outside government about the changes.

The government says the changes are designed to help new migrants become “self-sufficient” when they first arrive in Australia.

But new Labor senator Kristina Keneally questioned how denying people government support would achieve that aim.

Keneally recounted her own experience as a migrant arriving in Australian, saying social security was critical in supporting her while she established herself and found a job.

“In my circumstance I arrived here and went and sought assistance in terms of finding a job and accommodation, and my entire intent was to be able to support myself,” Keneally said. “I was seeking employment and indeed found employment, but without those types of support when I first arrived here, those two things would have been much more difficult.”

Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells rejected the criticism. She said she knew of individual migrants who had come here without a cent of social security support, and were now among the most wealthy in the country.

“Let’s just park your experience,” Fierravanti-Wells said to Keneally. “From our perspective we believe that new migrants who are granted a permanent visa or a relevant temporary visas on or after the first of July 2018 should be placed and well-placed to support themselves through work, existing resources, or family support.

“That is a decision of government and might I say, plenty of people have come to this country and not got a cent in terms of support, and today are amongst our most wealthy in Australia.”

Keneally responded: “So is that what you hope will happen for every person who comes? If we deny them support they are going to become amongst our most wealthy citizens?”

There are a range of exemptions from the changes to account for hardship or difficult circumstances. Humanitarian visas are completely exempt.

Those who come on a partner visa but then have their relationship break down will also be exempt.

Acoss’s director of policy and advocacy, Edwina MacDonald, said late last year the changes would only serve to harm a group that makes “an enormous contribution to our society”.

“This will hurt people who lose their job, people who need to care for a child with disability, or a family member with a terminal illness,” MacDonald said. “It will disproportionately affect women and see more children live in poverty. This will drive more people to our charities for meeting the essentials of life, such as food and shelter.”

Fonte: The Guardian - 01/03/2018


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