THE Federal Government has been challenged to look at “broadening its revenue base to ensure those at the top actually pay their fair share” as it looks at a review of welfare payments.
The St Vincent de Paul Society’s national council chief executive officer Dr John Falzon said “the Government needs to abandon an ideological fixation with taking from amongst the poorest in Australia in order to bring about better budget outcomes”.
“A potential welfare overhaul should not come at the cost of Australia moving from a modern social security system to a semi-Dickensian one,” he said.
“If we continue on this trajectory, we’ll be going down the American road of low wages and an almost non-existent social security system.”
Dr Falzon said the society had not been invited for preliminary consultations on the coming review of welfare payments.
His comments came shortly after the Government announced the review, which it said was necessary to ensure the nation’s welfare system remained sustainable.
The system is costing more than $70 billion dollars a year.
Stricter conditions on carer pensions and single-mother payments as well as changes to youth payments are being flagged as potential recommendations from the team reviewing Australia’s welfare system.
An interim report on the review, which is being headed by former Mission Australia chief Patrick McClure, is expected next month and a full report is due later this year.
Dr Falzon said the St Vincent de Paul Society broadly supported a review of the welfare system.
“But focusing on reducing the amount of cash spent on it will come at the expense of long-term objectives such as reducing unemployment,” he said.
“It’s always been therapeutic for welfare bashers to put in the boot to people who are excluded and blame them for their exclusion from the workforce.
“It’s irrational and ideologically driven to say we need to reduce cash welfare payments.
“There is very little political courage or will to act on the woefully low Newstart payments.
“It is seen as somehow soft.
“The reality, however, is that it is very hard to live, let alone get a job, when you’re battling on $35 a day.”
Dr Falzon said he was deeply concerned by the Government’s lack of consultation in the latest review.
“We have not had an invitation to consult and have written to the minister (Kevin Andrews) seeking face-to-face discussions but we are yet to hear back,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Mr Andrews’ office said: “The Coalition Government acknowledges it is important to maintain an adequate safety net for those who cannot provide for themselves.”
“The government also acknowledges that work is often the best form of welfare for those who are able to participate in the workforce in some capacity,” she said.
“This is not about pushing people off welfare or making short-term savings – this is about the long-term sustainability of Australia’s social welfare system.
“Patrick McClure is advising the Government on the review that is looking into working age income support payments, and the consultation process is ongoing.”