The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has written to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights drawing attention to what it believes is a serious breach of international human rights laws right here in Australia.
Has the civilian population come under bombardment from government-backed militia, like it is in Syria? Has the opposition leader been arrested and tortured, as in Ukraine? Has a woman had her 7-month-old foetus forcibly aborted in a state hospital after refusing to pay a fine for breaching the one-child policy, as it happened this week in China?
Not quite. ACOSS is outraged that single parents with children older than 8 and have been claiming Parenting Payment for many years are now being told to look for work. If they fail to find a job, they will have their fingernails pulled out with pliers and … er, sorry, no, they will be switched to a different welfare payment, Newstart Allowance, which is less generous than Parenting Payment. This, according to the ACOSS letter, constitutes ‘a violation of human rights, as defined by the core United Nations treaties.’
It’s important to be clear what the government is exactly proposing. In 2006, new rules were introduced requiring recipients of Parenting Payment to look for employment once their youngest child turned 8 (before that, single parents had the right to stay on welfare until their youngest child reached school-leaving age, by which time most parents had lost any skills and motivation they may once have had and become almost unemployable). The new rule only applied to fresh applicants, however. Those who were already claiming Parenting Payment were exempt. It is this exemption that the government now wishes to withdraw and save taxpayers about $685 million over the next four years.
In other words, we are talking about people whose children are at least 8 years old and who have been living on welfare benefits without a break for at least the last six years. ACOSS believes there could be as many as 100,000 of them. The government thinks it would sensible to require these people to look for work, just like all other parents do. But ACOSS thinks this breaches some inviolable human right for single parents to stay on parenting welfare payments until their child turns 16 as they would have been able to do if the government had not acted.
Peter Saunders & Andrew Baker from the Centre for Independent Studies have a great piece in today's incise blog on the welfare lobby's campaign against reform:
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