This Digest is prepared for debate. It reflects the legislation as
introduced and does not canvass subsequent amendments.
This Digest was available from
25 June 1996
Social Security Legislation Amendment (Newly Arrived
Resident's Waiting Periods and Other Measures) Bill
Date Introduced: 23 May 1996
House: House of Representatives
Portfolio: Social Security
Commencement: The changes to benefit eligibility
take place either from Royal Assent; or from 1 April 1996. The
commencement dates of the various measures are detailed in the Main
Provisions section of this Digest.
This Bill is designed to impose on immigrants a two-year waiting
period for a range of social security payments. Refugees,
humanitarian category migrants, and their partners and dependent
children are exempt.
There is support from both the Coalition and the Labor parties
for imposing a waiting period on newly arrived migrants before they
are allowed to access at least some social security payments.
In 1993, the previous Labor government imposed a six-month
waiting period for job search allowance, newstart allowance, and
sickness allowance, and, from their inception in 1995, youth
training allowance and parenting allowance.
The Second Reading Speech to the Bill offers few clues as to why
the Government is taking these measures other than to say:
The Government expects that new entrants to Australia should
provide for their own support during their first two years (104
weeks) in Australia, and as a result, announced as part of its 1996
election policy commitments, that the newly arrived resident's
waiting period would be so extended.
The main arguments advanced elsewhere in favour of the Bill seem
to be that with unemployment running at 8.5 per cent in May 1996,
and a net foreign debt of $184.8 billion in the March quarter of
1996, Australia cannot afford to have new migrants coming here, and
immediately drawing social welfare payments, like unemployment
benefits. For example, research by Monash sociologist Ernest Healy
has shown that in May 1994, 27 per cent of all migrants in the
labour force who arrived in Australia during 1992-93 were on
Put simply, the Bill seeks to discourage those who cannot pay
their way, and may cause them to think twice before
In an interview in April, the Federal Minister for Immigration
and Multicultural Affairs, the Hon. Phillip Ruddock hinted at
It was a clear, unambiguous policy commitment ... designed to
ensure that people who desire to enter Australia who are not
refugees, are not humanitarian (migrants), who have not been
subject to significant change in their circumstances, will be
excluded from obtaining (benefits) for two years.
An effect that there might be is that some people who apply to
come here, they might reconsider their situation.(2)
However, opponents of the Bill believe the government has
another agenda - to change the pattern of migration.
Victor Rebikoff, the chairman of the peak ethnic lobby group,
the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia, has
accused the Coalition of planning to use the waiting period as a
means of cutting back on family reunion migration. He has also said
that the proposal raises questions about the Coalition's commitment
to a non-discriminatory immigration policy. Mr Rebikoff has also
claimed that one-quarter of the annual intake of migrants would be
affected, particularly poorer ones from new communities.(3)
Research by Professor Bob Birrell seems to support the argument
that certain categories of migrants - for example spouse/fiance(e)s
- from particular countries may, in practice, be disadvantaged by
According to Professor Birrell, spouse/fiance(e) immigration has
risen sharply, doubling between the early 1980s and 1990s.
(T)he spouse-fiance(e) category contributed around 26,000 people
or 29% of the total migration program of 89,760 for 1994-95.(4)
Professor Birrell says the vast majority of spouses and
fiances(es) come from the poorer countries in Asia and the Middle
East, with the most rapid growth from Vietnam and China.
Whilst this group will be affected by the proposed laws
tightening spouse eligibility, it is impossible to predict whether
these changes will stop people migrating, or simply lead to more
calls on voluntary welfare services once they are here.
There may be an argument as to whether the Bill breaches section
10(1) of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 which
prohibits discrimination on the basis of nationality. Under section
18, an act is discriminatory even if only one of the reasons for it
Supporters of the Bill may argue that even if it does change the
composition of the immigration program, the government has the
right to do this in the interests of the whole community.
Genesis in Fightback
The Bill has its genesis in Coalition Fightback policy
released in 1991 which stated:
The Coalition will not permit future migrants access to benefits
for two years after they first arrive, unless they are given
refugee or humanitarian entry status. Access to Family Allowances
will however, be maintained.(5)
In the lead-up to the last election, this policy was reaffirmed
by then Shadow Treasurer and Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Peter
Costello. To quote one of his pre-election statements:
In January 1993, the Labor Government introduced a six month
wait after arrival in Australia for migrants, other than refugees
and humanitarian migrants, before they became eligible to receive
most welfare benefits.
Access to welfare benefits for migrants other than refugee and
humanitarian migrants will be available after two years under a
Coalition Government. This will have little impact on those
migrants, particularly those in the Preferential Family Reunion
category, who are accepted for entry into Australia on the basis of
formal assurances of support.
Full access to Family Allowance and Medicare will be maintained
for all migrants immediately upon arrival.
As well, the Coalition will provide a 'safety-net' in the form
of a special allowance for those migrants whose circumstances
change significantly after arrival in Australia for reasons beyond
their personal control.
The Coalition projects that this will achieve savings of $602
million over three years.
However, this policy will apply to prospective migrants only. It
will not be applied retrospectively or to migrants who arrive in
Australia before 1 April 1996.(6)
In general, the provisions affecting social security benefits
which are already subject to a six-month waiting have effect from 1
April 1996. Provisions covering additional benefits, come into
operation from the date of Royal Assent. The waiting period will
generally begin to run from either the migrant's arrival in
Australia or the granting of their permanent residence visa -
whichever is the later date.
The Bill reflects most of the commitments made by Mr
- As discussed above, many of the provisions are effective from 1
The Department of Social Security has already alerted staff to
this, sending a directive out in May that in part states:
It will not be possible for Parliament to pass the legislation
before the implementation date of 1 April 1996. However, it is the
Government's intention to enact this legislation retrospectively.
This means that staff will have to inform new migrant customers
about the two year waiting period from 1 April even though the Act
will not have changed.
- The Bill does not include Medicare, so it will continue to be
available to newly arrived migrants.
- The Bill also provides a special safety-net benefit for
migrants whose circumstances change through no fault of their own.
The payment is at the discretion of the Secretary of the Department
of Social Security. In making the decision, the Secretary must act
in accordance with guidelines which are disallowable by
Contrary to Mr Costello's pre-election remarks(8), the Bill does
not provide full access to the family payment (family allowance).
It only provides access at the minimum rate of $22.70 per child, as
opposed to a maximum of $121.10.(9)
In his February statement, Mr Costello gave no indication that
the Coalition's scheme would apply to more social security benefits
Additional benefits subject to the waiting period include:
- carer pension;
- maternity allowance;
- child disability allowance;
- double orphan allowance(10);
- Commonwealth Senior's health card and health care card under
the disadvantaged person scheme; and
- special benefits (migrants will only be entitled to special
benefits if, in the opinion of the Secretary of the Department,
they are suffering hardship because their circumstances have
changed through no fault of their own. This test is significantly
tougher than the present one.)
In addition, the Bill substantially tightens eligibility for
spouses/fiance(e)s. They will have to serve their own two-year
waiting period, even if their partner is fully entitled to social
security. However, spouses/fiance(e)s in Australia on a subclass
820 visa (a two-year temporary visa which converts to permanent
residency providing the marriage/partnership has lasted) will not
have to serve an additional two years once they become permanent
Under the Bill, migrants must wait two years before they qualify
for the mature age allowance. This is an improvement on the present
position. At present, migrants have to wait ten years (the same
period as for age pensions).
In his February statement, Mr Costello(11) said the new measures
would save more than $600 million over three years. The then Deputy
Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, the Hon. Kim Beazley,
contested this, claiming the savings would be about $183.6
The amended Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill puts the savings
at $360.5 million ($31.4 million in 1996-97, $143.5 million in
1997-98, and $185.6 million in 1998-99).
Refugees and Special Humanitarian Migrants and their
Family members of refugees, or former refugees, will continue to
have access to the full range of social security benefits.
Australia has reciprocal agreements covering a range of social
security payments to citizens/and or residents of other countries
including, for example, Malta and Greece. Under section 1208(1) of
the Social Security Act 1991, these agreements take
precedence over any contrary provision in the Act.
According to an internal instruction issued by the Department of
Social Security in May 1996, most people from countries with whom
Australia has one of these international agreement will have to
serve out the two-year waiting period.
The exceptions listed in the internal instruction are:
- People covered by the New Zealand agreement who arrive in
Australia on a New Zealand passport will continue to have access to
allowances after 26 weeks - except for the parenting allowance,
which is payable immediately.
- Temporary residents covered by the UK agreement will continue
to have access to sickness allowance.
Part 1 amends the Social Security
The changes to the allowances/benefits will apply from 1 April
1996 unless otherwise stated.
Item 2: makes it clear the waiting period does
not apply to a close family members of a refugee or a former
refugee, or to a spouse/partner who has a acquired a permanent visa
after coming into the country on an 820 subclass visa (this last
category only get a permanent visa after serving a two-year
Item 7: amends various definitions to take
account of the extended waiting period and the new categories of
Items 13 and 14: introduce a two-year waiting
period for a carer pension, (applies from the date
of Royal Assent).
Items 15 to 17: extend the waiting period for
widow allowance from six months to two years.
Items 18 to 21: introduce a waiting period for
disability wage supplement - unless the person is
20 per cent or more impaired or permanently blind or the
impairment/blindness occurred in Australia (applies from the date
of Royal Assent).
Items 22 to 25: extend the waiting period for
Items 26 to 29: extend the waiting period for
the newstart allowance.
Items 30 and 31: introduce a waiting period for
mature age allowance. (As noted above, this is
added because of changes to the residency rules. At the moment, a
10-year residency rule applies. From 1 July, that will be relaxed,
with Australian residency the only requirement.)
Items 32 to 35: extend the waiting period for
Items 36 to 38: introduces a waiting period for
special benefit allowance - unless the secretary
is satisfied of a substantial change in circumstances beyond the
migrants control (applies from date of Royal
Items 39 and 40: introduce a waiting period for
partner allowance (applies from date of
Item 41: introduces a waiting period for
maternity allowance (applies from date of
Items 42 to 45: extend the waiting period for
Items 46 and 47: introduce a waiting period for
child disability allowance (applies from date of
Items 48 and 49: introduce a waiting period for
double orphan allowance (applies from date of
Items 50 and 51: introduce a waiting period for
mobility allowance (applies from date of
Items 52 to 54: introduce a waiting period for
the seniors health card (applies from date of
Items 55 to 61: introduce a waiting period for
more than the minimum family payment (applies from
date of Royal Assent);
Part 2 amends the Student and Youth
Assistance Act 1973
Items 62 to 65: extend the waiting period for
youth training allowance.
(1) Katharine Betts, 'From Airport to Dole Queue', The
Independent Monthly, April 1995: 50.
(2) Colleen Egan, and AAP, 'Migration Pattern to change:
Ruddock', The Australian, 2 April 1996.
(3) Kimina Lyall, The Weekend Australian, 17 February
(4) Bob Birrell, People and Place, Vol. 3(4) 1993:
(5) Fightback, Liberal and National Party Coalition,
(6) Peter Costello MP, News Release, 'Meeting Our
Commitments', February 19, 1996.
(7) It is worth noting that the Second Reading Speech to the
Bill also makes it clear the Government is re-examining sponsorship
arrangements with a view to ensuring that where a person formally
sponsors an immigrant, they, rather than the taxpayer, will pick up
the bill if the migrant falls on hard times.
(8) Costello, op cit.
(9) Details of family payments contained in a Department of
Social Security leaflet, Social Security Payment Rates - 20
March - 30 June 1996: 6.
(10) A double orphan is defined as a child whose parents are
both dead, or where one or both parents are uncontactable, or
living outside Australia, or a long-term prisoner, or a long-term
mental or nursing home patient.
(11) Costello, op cit.
(12) Kim Beazley, Media Release, 'Coalition Costings -
the Real Story'.
Bronwyn Young Ph. 06 277 2699
12 June 1996
Bills Digest Service
Parliamentary Research Service
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Commonwealth of Australia 1996
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Last updated: 24 June 1996
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