Christian By Name, Not By Nature: Porter Punches Down On The Poor


By Jeremy Poxon on December 2, 2017

Christian Porter is commending his government for ‘taking risks’ with the lives of vulnerable people, writes Jeremy Poxon from the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union.

Last week, Social Services Minister Christian Porter lauded his government’s increasingly punitive and evidence-deficient policies (see: drug-testing welfare recipients) as “bold” and “innovative” strategies that will continue to deliver savings to the Federal budget.

In a speech at the National Press Club on Wednesday, Minister Porter said that while some of the welfare reforms may be “controversial,” he was proud that his government is “willing to take risks” when it comes to programs that significantly affect the lives of the vulnerable.

The minister heaped praise on the notorious Welfare Reform Bill, amid stiff opposition from advocacy groups and health experts who say it would push already vulnerable people further into poverty and homelessness. For these groups, government proposals to drug test welfare recipients and control their income feel a lot more “cruel” and “unusual” than “bold” and “innovative.”

Ignoring the views of these organisations, Porter made a specific plea to Senate crossbenchers, asking them to consider the Coalition’s success in reducing the welfare budget, when sizing up whether or not to support the drug-testing scheme. Effectively, Porter told Senators to prioritise the health of the budget above the health of drug-afflicted Australians on welfare.

The Minister’s speech largely focused on what he described as the Coalition’s fiscal “successes” compared to Labor, in reducing expenditure on social security and welfare dependency. He said that spending grew over 9% a year for six years under Labor, compared with 2% under the Coalition.

While it is true that the rate of welfare spending has slowed significantly under the Coalition, Porter neglected to mention that spending grew under Labour, mostly because of a tiny spanner in the works called The Global Financial Crisis. Between Rudd’s election in November 2007 and the middle of 2009, the number of unemployed people jumped from 470,000 to 660,000. Accordingly, the Labor government increased spending to look after those extra claimants needing welfare support during this difficult time. It doesn’t bear thinking about what would’ve happened to these people had someone like Porter been in charge of their payments.

Even though Australia already has one of the toughest compliance systems in the OECD, Minister Porter, whose background is in legal justice, continues to make impassioned pleas for even tougher welfare programs. In front of the packed room of journalists, he said he has actually seen drug-testing measures work first-hand: “I first became attracted to the idea of compelling people to seek treatment via drug testing when I was a crown solicitor in drug court.”

Alarmingly enough, he sees absolutely no reason why this testing can’t also work on welfare recipients. In the Minister’s mind, there appears to be little distinction between those under immediate prosecution, and those struggling to survive on $244/week Newstart payments.

He believes that mandated testing and strict restrictions actually have “a strong behavioural effect” on welfare recipients; however, it remains unclear what the Minister is basing this claim on.

Currently, there exists no evidence, here or overseas, that shows mandatory testing will help drug-addicted people receive treatment and find work.

Eventually, the focus of the Minister’s speech turned to jobs. (A motto for this government could be: ‘when it doubt, start beating your chest about job creation.’) He boasted that more than 370,000 jobs (mostly full-time) have been created over the past year – seemingly implying, again without evidence, that the 140,000 people his government has moved off welfare are predominately landing these newly created gigs.

Not even his Department’s own reports can verify how many of these 140,000 people have actually gained employment, and how many have simply stopped making claims for payments. If anything, the data suggests that (due to increasingly stringent requirements) the latter scenario is more likely. After all (to give Porter his due), the government’s policies have proven to be quite adept at denying welfare to those who most need it.

Although he’s right to claim good full-time employment growth, the labour force data released last week shows that, overall, labour participation is actually going down. This is because there’s been significant growth in the number of discouraged workers: people who are completely removed and alienated from the labour market.

It’s incredibly concerning that more and more Australians are simply giving up looking for work – yet, these “hidden unemployed” are barely acknowledged by pollies or pundits.

When there are 17 job seekers for every position currently available, you can understand why these unemployed workers feel completely disillusioned, demoralised and forgotten.

As it stands, labour under-utilisation (unemployment and underemployment) remains at a lofty 13.3%. In the latest batch of data, prospects for young people appear particularly grim: the teenage unemployment rate has now hit 28%, when factoring in hidden unemployment.

The Coalition does not have a viable plan for those locked out of the labour market and meaningful income through no fault of their own. Instead, it’s committed to implementing arduous welfare obligations, in order to ‘modify’ behaviours and disincentivise ‘bludging.’

For those ‘lucky’ unemployed workers who manage to clear the welfare hurdles, Newstart hardly delivers relief from the depredations of poverty. Minister Porter again dismissed suggestions that he needed to raise the Newstart allowance, even though the payment has remained the same in real terms for the last 23 years. Under his watch, 55% of people on the payment now live below the poverty line.

In lieu of all this, it’s staggering that Minister Porter continues to pronounce the government’s welfare reforms such a resounding success. There are far too many disadvantaged Australians locked out of the labour market, and falling into extreme poverty, for these claims to be remotely convincing.

Sadly, the mainstream media continues to uncritically reproduce his government’s bogus narrative that we must deplete our safety net for the sake of the budget. Alarmingly, we’ve all become accustomed to treating vulnerable people like little more than a financial burden.

No doubt, as the Welfare Reform Bill edges closer to the Senate, Minister Porter will continue spruiking punitive welfare policies that do more to alienate and penalise the vulnerable than provide them with assistance.

It’s up to us to publicly reject his claims, and stand alongside the 44 civil society organisations, who are calling on the Federal Government to stop these “bold,” “innovative” attacks on the three million Australians who currently live in poverty.

This article was originally published on

Jeremy Poxon is an independent journalist and an AUWU Media Officer

Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon backs Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union

Renee Viellaris, The Courier-Mail

Subscriber only

A SOPHISTICATED “bludgers’ club” that coaches dole ­recipients how to fight being pushed into paid work is being financially backed by Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon.

Senator Rhiannon has told The Courier-Mail she wants the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union (AUWU) membership to increase, raising questions why a parliamentarian would want more jobless Australians to rebel against their mutual obligations to taxpayers.

The union, which is not registered and does not have charity status, has 6500 members across the country, hosts a ­detailed website and a “national advocacy phone” to advise welfare recipients of their “rights” when it comes to Work for the Dole and job searching.

Articulate union president Owen Bennett advocates for the working week to be reduced to 35 hours, increasing Centrelink benefits to $517 a week and the abolition of the Work for the Dole program.

Firebrand Senator Barry O’Sullivan yesterday slammed Senator Rhiannon for bank­rolling the “bludgers’ club”, saying that she should be ashamed of herself for offending “fair-thinking Australians who want to support the genuinely unemployed”.

Senator Lee Rhiannon.

He accused Senator Rhiannon of backing the group in a bid to attract more voters to the Greens.

But Senator Rhiannon said the group provided support and believed it should attract more members.

“I donated $300 to the AUWU as I support the ­important work they do,’’ Senator Rhiannon said. “Considering the high levels of mismanagement by job agencies, and the exploitation of workers when they do find a job, I hope this union gains more members and more support.”

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said that the organisation had a perverse purpose.

“Mr Bennett would better serve the unemployed if he ran an organisation that aimed to get people off welfare and into work,” she said.

Mr Bennett denied the organisation distracted the jobless from looking for paid work. The website sets out what mutual obligations are fair, how to hit back at job agencies when they do not contact penalised jobseekers who fail to turn up for compulsory activities and rails against the physical danger of Work for the Dole.

Editorial: Admit Centrelink system is broken and then fix it

January 5, 2017 10:00pm
The Government needs to actually admit there are real problems with the new system to catch fraud and overpayments and suspend it.
The Government needs to actually admit there are real problems with the new system to catch fraud and overpayments and suspend it.

WHEN a government agency tasked with assisting some of the most vulnerable Australians is reduced to suggesting on Twitter that clients seek help via Lifeline, perhaps it is time to acknowledge there might be a problem.

In recent weeks Centrelink has been deluged with thousands of angry and frightened social security recipients who received letters informing them they need to repay, in some cases, thousands dollars in alleged overpayments.

This, according to Human Services Minister Alan Tudge, is all about “strengthening the integrity of the welfare system by cracking down on fraud and overpayments”.

That premise is something no reasonable Australian would disagree with. Quite simply, anyone caught rorting the system should be forced to repay money owing, and possibly face additional penalties depending on the scale of any deliberate fraud.

The problem is that there is mounting evidence that thousands of innocent Australians are being informed they are liable for debts that don’t exist due to issues with Centrelink’s now automated compliance system. One key issue relates to a data matching system Centrelink is now using to marry its information with that held by the Australian Taxation Office and other agencies.

In some cases this system is incorrectly concluding a person was working two jobs when they had only declared one, perhaps due to a minor paperwork discrepancy. In others, where a person may have been unemployed for a period and receiving Newstart, the system is then averaging wages earned over the remainder of the year over the whole 12 months – including the period when no or little work was undertaken.

The compliance exercise is sending out tens of thousands of letters a month, and according to Human Services general manager Hank Jongen, has so far found $300 million in overpayments.

While the majority of these assessments may ultimately prove correct, there is still an alarming number of cases where the system appears to have failed completely. For people caught in this position, the situation is made worse by the onus of proof being reversed in terms of demonstrating that they don’t have a liability, as opposed to Centrelink proving that they do.

Clients are also reporting chronic problems with Centrelink’s website and difficulty accessing staff by telephone, all of which can add up to considerable stress and anxiety for people who, in many cases, may be guilty of nothing more than a clerical error or a victim of a Centrelink software oversight.

The whole mess is reminiscent of Queensland Health’s automated payroll debacle a few years ago, a shemozzle that ended up costing about $1.2 billion to fix.

While the affair has been referred to the Commonwealth Ombudsman for investigation, this process will take time.

In the interim the Government needs to actually admit there are real problems with the new system, and suspend it until it can guarantee what are serious flaws have been rectified.

Shorten backs push for low dole


Minister for Employment & Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten. Picture: Aaron Francis

  • TheAustralian


EMPLOYMENT Minister Bill Shorten has backed a controversial argument being put by his senior mandarins that the dole should be kept low to encourage the unemployed to take badly paid jobs.

A submission from four federal departments to a Senate inquiry into the Newstart Allowance says the OECD acknowledges that a rise in the base rate from $245 a week “has the distinct disadvantage of reducing employment incentives, especially for those who can only obtain low-paying employment”.

A spokesman for Mr Shorten said: “The submission is obviously the government’s position” despite it previously saying it had a more open mind. “I’d also point you to what the minister had to say about this to you on Sky Agenda at the end of last month.”

In the interview, Mr Shorten said he wanted to look at what could be done to break intergenerational cycles of long-term unemployment. “Intergenerational unemployment is a disaster for generations of people.

“But by the same token, I am fully aware that trying to get along on $249 a week is an incredibly difficult ask.”

Mr Shorten is coming under pressure from the union movement to overhaul the welfare system. The ACTU will today declare major reform of the income support system is vital to help unemployed people find decent, secure work. ACTU president Ged Kearney said reform must start with a $50-a-week rise to Newstart, which had not increased in real terms since the early 1990s and was barely enough to live on, let alone pay for the costs of finding a decent job. “The rate . . . is just 18 per cent of average wages . . . and is widely regarded as a major cause of entrenching people in long-term poverty, with insecure work playing a large role,” she said.

The ACTU wants Newstart raised to the level at which the payment starts to be withdrawn when people begin work, and a wider independent inquiry into the effects of insecure work on welfare.

Unions NSW has called for the Youth Allowance to be increased by $50 a week and indexed in line with pension payments. It wants the income threshold to be increased by $25 a week, allowing Youth Allowance recipients to earn $450 a fortnight before their payments are reduced. The government submission claims an increase to the dole would not assist in maintaining the “fundamental character of Newstart Allowance as a payment that predominantly supports work re-engagement”.

“Work incentives are built into the design of Newstart Allowance and a substantial increase in Newstart payment rates would reduce the incentive for some recipients to move off payment and into self-supporting work”.

The Senate inquiry follows lobbying by business and welfare to increase Newstart, as single mothers face losing an average $50 a week after being shifted from the parenting payment to the dole from January.

The joint submission — from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, the Department of Families, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Industry — seeks to blunt support for a $50-a-week rise to the dole.

Peter Whiteford of the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University argues that since 1996 payments for the single unemployed have fallen from 23.5 per cent of the average wage for males to 19.5 per cent.

February 1973: The Moment the Whitlam Government Made the Dole Enough Live On

One of the first legislative acts of the Whitlam government in 1973 was to increase social security benefits.

On February 28, 1973, the Minister for Social Security, Bill Hayden, introduced the Social Services Bill 1973 into the House of Representatives.

The bill sought to increase all pensions and unemployment and sickness benefits by amounts ranging from $1.50 to $14.00 a week. Hayden said the cost of the measures would be $126 million in a full year.


This is Social Security Minister Bill Hayden’s Second Reading Speech on the Social Services Bill 1973.

Mr HAYDEN (Oxley) (Minister for Social Security) – I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.










The Bill provides for generous increases in all pensions and in unemployment and sickness benefits by amounts ranging from $1.50 a week to $14 a week. Furthermore it provides for payment of the pension increases to be made retrospectively from and including the first pay day for each category of pension occurring after the election of this Government. The cost of these proposals, and others benefiting dependants which I shall outline a little later, will be $126m in a full year and $66.2m for this financial year.

This Bill provides a common benefit rate for all pensions and for unemployment and sickness benefits of $21.50 a week standard rate and $37.50 a week married rate. In doing this it removes several seriously unjust, penalising anomalies. This Bill has promptly honoured the undertaking of the Prime Minister made when he delivered the policy speech of the Australian Labor Party. He said then:

“The basic pension rate will no longer be tied to the financial and political considerations of annual Budgets. All pensions will be immediately raised by $1.50 and thereafter, every Spring and every Autumn, the basic pension rate will be raised by $1.50 until it reaches 25 per cent of average weekly male earnings. It will never be allowed to fall below that level.”

The Bill does more than give effect to the undertaking to increase immediately the basic rate of all pensions by $1.50 a week. In setting common benefit rates for all pensions and for unemployment and sickness benefits we have largely established the principle that common needs deserve common rates of benefit.

We still have some way to go before we fully realise this objective. In the near future I hope to be making further statements on behalf of the Government outlining additional steps which will be undertaken to realise fully this objective. In the meantime the goal already achieved is an extremely important one; it represents a great advance in social values and the appreciation of human worth. Moreover it locks into an ongoing programme whereby benefit rates will be automatically adjusted twice a year until they reach 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. Thereafter there will be regular automatic increases to retain this relationship to average weekly earnings. But more on this later.

It is worth noting some of the more objectionable forms of discrimination which will be eliminated by this Bill. For instance we have removed the long-standing, irritating penalty against the class B and C widows who were deemed eligible for widows pension but paid $2.75 a week less than a class A widows pension. We have ended the punishing meanness with which unemployment and sickness benefits have been paid. A man supporting a wife and 2 children, drawing unemployment benefit and even after allowing for child endowment, has been paid a benefit rate some $17 a week below the updated Melbourne University poverty line. There will be no more of this poor-house, alms-giving mentality which sees merit in official meanness and virtue in suffering, as long as it is in others.

The bulk of the unemployed today are the innocent social casualties of the disastrous economic policies of the last Government and its 1971 Budget. These people and their unhappy families neither sought to be, nor wish to remain, among the ranks of the unemployed. The need they suffer as a result of the meanness of unemployment benefit rates and the humiliation they suffer from unwanted unemployment are the penalty visited on them by the blundering economic policies of the last Government. One of the most objectionable aspects of the practices of the previous Government was the complete denial of any benefit at all for dependent full time student children over 16 years of an unemployment or sickness beneficiary. We have ended this injustice practiced by mean men for too long. Henceforth these student children will attract full benefit rights irrespective of age.

In view of the insignificant cost of this proposal – $600,000 in a full year and $200,000 for the remainder of this year – the dogged persistence with which previous governments have clung to this practice of denying and depriving the dependent student children of the needy unemployed is beyond any reasonable comprehension. Unfortunately some people in the community worry that a modest rate of unemployment benefits, as we propose, will destroy the industry and moral fibre of the nation. Given the fact that the weekly rate of benefit of $21.50 for a full week is much less than a great many business representatives pay for a single meal with a client – largely at taxpayers’ expense, of course – I doubt that anyone drawing benefits will be corrupted by any new found lavishness in his life style. Unemployment benefits do not pander to lazy layabouts. The work test administered by the Department of Labour through its employment offices effectively controls the work-shy.

For those most tragic social casualties – the homeless drifting males (and sometimes females) undermined by an unstable personality and reinforced in their sense of failure and worthlessness by their peer group and the insulation an aspiring middle class society tends to set between itself and these people – we are doing something positive right now. For too long attitudes to these people have been negative and repressive. Society has been prepared to outlay large amounts of money for its police, courts and prisons to repress these people. Considerably less money spent on rehabilitation and social aid programmes will provide greater benefit for society. It is this positive role which we now stress. A working party of top social welfare administrators and other experts has been appointed by this Government to investigate and report on a suitable programme.

We are genuinely committed to a belief in the supreme importance of human worth, the individual’s entitlement to treatment with dignity and his right to self respect.

I will now outline the main provisions of the Bill before the House. The standard rate of pension for aged persons, invalids and widows with children is to be. increased by $1.50 a week to $21.50 a week. As I have just mentioned, the standard rate will also apply to widow pensioners without children in future, which means that these women will receive increases of $4.25 a week. The married rate of pension is to be increased by $3 a week to $37.50 a week, that is, increased by $1.50 a week to $18.75 a week, for each partner. The age limit of 21 years for the payment of additional age, invalid or widow’s pension for full-time student children as well as the additional guardian’s or mother’s allowance, as appropriate where the standard rate applies, will be removed. Payment of additional pension for full-time students together with mother’s or guardian’s allowance, if applicable, will continue without regard to the child’s age until either eligibility for pension ceases or the child’s studies cease. Unemployment or sickness benefit received by a spouse will be exempt for the purpose of calculating age or invalid pension. Unemployment benefit rates and also sickness benefit rates where payment has not been made for a continuous period of more than 6 weeks are to be increased by $14 a week to $21.50 a week for unmarried persons 16 to 17 years of age, by $10.50 a week to $21.50 a week for unmarried persons 18 to 20 years of age, by $4.50 a week to $21.50 a week for unmarried adults and unmarried minors with no parent living in Australia and by $12.50 a week to $37.50 a week for married beneficiaries whose wives are dependent upon them.

Sickness benefit rates where payment has been made for a continuous period of more than 6 weeks will be increased by $8.50 a week to $21.50 a week for unmarried persons 16 to 20 years of age, by $1.50 a week to $21.50 a week for unmarried adults and unmarried minors with no parent living in Australia and by $9.50 a week to $37.50 a week for married beneficiaries whose wives are dependent upon them. The age limit of 16 years for the payment of additional unemployment or sickness benefit in respect of a child will be removed where the child is engaged in full-time studies. Payment will therefore be continued without regard to the child’s age until either eligibility for benefit ceases or the child’s studies cease. Any age or invalid pension received by a spouse will be exempt for the purpose of calculating the amount of unemployment or sickness benefit payable. I emphasise that these measures represent a first step towards ensuring that social security beneficiaries receive a rightful share of the community’s increasing prosperity.

When defending pension levels in the past, honourable members will recall that the former Government consistently compared increases in the rates of pensions with upward movements in the consumer price index. However, as I have stressed on so many occasions, the relevant comparison to make is to relate pension increases to increases in average weekly earnings; average weekly earnings themselves give a fairly good indication of the average standard of prosperity in the community. I have no wish to draw comparisons between the position as it was over 20 years ago with what it is now but I feel that I should say that, although the Liberal Country Party Government did follow a policy of increasing pensions faster than rises in prices generally and there were some significant increases during their term in office, from about the beginning of the 1950s the pension as a percentage of average weekly earnings dropped quite dramatically and it never fully recovered from that position. This situation will be corrected by this Government. The increase proposed in this Bill lifts the standard rate of pension as a proportion of average weekly earnings to the highest level of any time in the last 6 years. This position will continue to be improved. The following table which I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard gives a comparison of a selection of existing benefit rates and of the rates we are proposing.