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Tuesday, 26 June 2012
Page: 4549

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (20:36): The incorporated speech read as follows—

The Australian Greens welcome the modest improvements to social security arrangements that are set out in some of the schedules to this bill, however we are extremely concerned by changes to the conditions and benefits of vulnerable income support recipients.

The continuous squeezing of all social security recipients is part of a legacy — started by the Howard Government, and continued, with gusto, by the present Government. This Bill is just another step along a so called 'tough-love' path; a path than serves only to disempower people and to fuel negative stereotypes.

The Greens cannot support Schedule 2 of this Bill. It will reduce the period for which a wide array of social security payments can be received while overseas, from 13 to six weeks. Over twenty different benefits are affected.

The government has repeatedly reduced the eligibility criteria for overseas travel, from 12 months, to 26 weeks, and then to 13 weeks. Not content with this, and despite known cases of hardship, the government wants to reduce it once again, to 6 weeks.

The National Welfare Rights Network has indicated that the changes to portability have the potential to particularly disadvantage people who have come here as migrants or refugees, and who have family members dispersed across the globe to whom they have strong ties of responsibility:

"Often people who access the portability provisions want to be able to stay with close relatives such as parents or children. The person needing to travel may be frail or have severe ill-health. This is particularly important for people who do not have family members in Australia and the restrictions in this Bill would limit their ability to spend some quality time with their parent(s) or closed member of their family."

Also, six weeks is often insufficient time for those seeking cheaper or alternative medical treatment overseas.

Taking into account Australia's history as a nation built on immigration, the economic contribution of migration policies and the distance of Australia from other countries, the proposal to limit portability is problematic. Furthermore, considering how much it costs to go overseas, being able to stay overseas for only six weeks is unfair. Penalising people for wanting to spend time with dying family members or for seeking medical treatment is not acceptable.

While there are some provisions for exemptions, it has been made clear by advocacy organisations that they are too restrictive to address legitimate needs. The Greens

We agree that social security in Australia needs reform, reform that adequately supports people at the most vulnerable time of their lives, not reform that causes further harm and disempowers people. The Greens can't support these schedules of the Bill.