Dissenting Report by the Australian Greens
The Australian Greens oppose the Social Services Legislation Amendment
(Encouraging Self-sufficiency for Newly Arrived Migrants) Bill 2018 (Bill).
The Bill increases the Newly Arrived Residents Waiting Period (NARWP)
from two years to three years for income support payments and health care cards
including Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance, Austudy, Carer Payment, Sickness
Allowance and Special Benefit among others as well as Low-Income Health Care
Card and Commonwealth Seniors Card. The Bill also extends how long migrants
will have to wait for Parenting Payment, Bereavement Allowance and Widow
Allowance by applying the three year NARWP to these payments (currently they
have a two year qualifying residence period). It also introduces a NARWP of
three years for Carer Allowance, Family Tax Benefit, Parental Leave Pay and Dad
and Partner Pay (all of which are currently free of a waiting or qualifying residence
These changes will affect migrants who are granted a permanent,
non-humanitarian visa or a relevant temporary visa on or after the commencement
date of the Bill, unless there is a relevant exemption.
This Bill discriminates against migrants and is likely to create an
underclass of migrants who are unable to access Australia's social safety net
when they need to.
The Bill does not take into account the specific circumstances and
vulnerabilities of those it will most impact.
In addition to the measures contained in this Bill, the Government
announced a further extension of the NARWP from three years to four years in
the 2018-19 Budget. While the Bill does not contain provisions to enact this
Budget measure, the Australian Greens will be opposing the measure when it is
put before the Parliament, whether that is in the form of Government amendments
to the Bill or in the form of a new bill. To extend the NARWP a further year is
cruel and harmful; particularly when this inquiry has shown the worrying impact
this Bill will have on migrants.
Lack of evidence to support increasing the waiting period
In its submission to the inquiry, the Department of Social Services
The amendments in this Bill are designed to strengthen the
rules that govern access to welfare payments by encouraging new migrants to
support themselves for longer after settling in Australia and by applying
consistent rules and expectations across the welfare payments system.
Of concern is the lack of evidence demonstrating the need for a one year
increase to the existing NARWP, and its application to additional payments and
The DSS said in its submission:
A 2016 Productivity Commission report noted that permanent
non-humanitarian migrants who arrived between 2000 and 2011 and would have been
subject to a two year waiting period (unless exempt) had lower take-up rates of
income support in 2011 than the general population. In particular, only three
per cent of permanent skilled migrants and 13 per cent of family migrants who
arrived between 2000 and 2011 were receiving any form of income support in
2011, compared to 17 per cent for the general population.
The submission later said:
This research indicates that most new migrants who have come
under the skilled and family migration program since the introduction of the
two year waiting period have been able to support themselves without needing to
rely on income support, both during and following their waiting period. This
reflects the intention of the waiting period.
If the two year waiting period has been working as intended, it begs the
question why is the Government seeking to increase the existing NARWP by an
As Mr Barns, Spokesman, Australian Lawyers Alliance, said at the
Whilst the title of the bill is encouraging self-sufficiency
for newly arrived migrants, we don't see it as encouraging self-sufficiency so
much as being highly punitive and certainly not achieving any laudable or
Further, he said:
We're not aware of any evidence at all that suggests there is
a link between increasing self-sufficiency on the part of migrants and delaying
payments for a period of a further year—in other words, discriminating in an
active fashion. I'm not aware of that evidence. If there is evidence and data
we'd be happy to see it, but we're certainly not aware of it.
Mr Mojtahedi, Principal Solicitor, Immigration Advice and Rights Centre,
... there does not appear to me to be a legitimate basis or
need to extend the current waiting period. It is our view that extending the
proposed changes to family visa holders presents further difficulties. It would
be unfortunate to suggest that Australians who choose to bring their families
to join them should only do so if they can afford to support them. The
significance of family unity and the benefits it brings to the community is
acknowledged universally and should not be limited to the wealthy and
The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) said in its submission:
The existing two-year waiting period already serves as a
substantial signal to people coming to Australia that they must be able to
support themselves. We submit that it will be near impossible for people to
predict and adequately plan beyond a two-year period when moving to a new
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said:
There is a track record of migrants contributing
significantly to the Australian economy. Resiliently thriving in the midst of
adversity and creating a home and future for themselves and their families.
Unfortunately unforeseen circumstances such as loss of employment, pregnancy
and child birth, ill health etc. may lead to destitution if there is no safety
net for these people to cope with the immediate challenge while they transition
back into employment.
The Multicultral Youth Advocacy Network (MYAN) said in its submission:
Australia has a very targeted social security system and has
in fact the most targeted social security system to the poor when compared with
other OECD countries. In addition to having a very targeted system, as
reflected by the Productivity Commission, the take up rates of benefits
provided in this system to the newly arrived migrants are already low. In light
of this, rather than a consistent social security system, MYAN believes that
Australia needs to continue to have a targeted system, and that could
demonstrate itself as a targeted support system for new arrivals to Australia –
not based on visa subclasses, but the individual situation of the people
arriving. As mentioned by the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, newly
arrived migrants may achieve better settlement outcomes if they could access
the same support provided to the entrants arriving Australia under the
The Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia (FECCA)
Once migrants have been supported through the early stages of
their journey and provided with pathways to citizenship, not only do they go on
to become self-sufficient but they also contribute significantly to Australian
society. In November 2016, the ABS reported that migrants who had obtained
Australian citizenship since arrival had a higher labour force participation
rate (80 per cent) than permanent residents and temporary residents (70 per
cent) and those born in Australia (66 per cent). FECCA strongly believe that
providing support for people in the early stages of their journey is critical
to ensuring that they are able to fully establish their lives in Australia.
Consequences of the proposed changes
The focus of most of the inquiry was on the consequences of the proposed
changes on migrants.
Mr Tebbey, Chief Executive Officer, Settlement Council of Australia,
summed it up nicely when he said:
SCOA is concerned that the newly arrived residents waiting period,
if it is increased in both time and scope, will potentially render a number of
migrants who may become vulnerable following their arrival in Australia unable
to access much-needed assistance. We suggest that, for these migrants, the need
for assistance is likely to be a short-term one and one that, if properly
addressed, will assist those migrants in regaining their independence as
quickly as possible. Without access to such payments, however, these issues and
the hardship facing those migrants are likely to be exacerbated. For this
reason, we see that the waiting period may indeed have the unintended
consequence of further entrenching people in a position of ongoing hardship and
ultimately increasing the long-term economic cost to Australia and denying it
the significant economic returns.
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said:
The bill would impose unnecessary hardship on individuals and
families, and may impact the ability of people to be self-sufficient if they
are not adequately supported in the early years of their arrival in Australia.
They also said:
The changes will impact the demand on the social services
sector in Australia. As waiting periods to access to the welfare payment system
are extended (and in some cases introduced), people may face destitution and
homelessness and will turn to the social services sector, placing greater
demand on an already stretched sector.
FECCA said it:
... believes the proposed Bill would impose considerable
hardship, and create an underclass of migrants who find themselves facing dire
financial circumstances as they try to settle into Australia.
At the public hearing on the Bill, Professor Mallett, General Manager,
Research and Policy Centre, Brotherhood of St Laurence, said:
In short, our key concerns are that migrants who are unable
to secure sustained work will face an extended period without employment
assistance and income support. Newly arrived migrants are largely on their own
in terms of finding work in Australia. There is nothing in the bill to assist them
to secure and sustain work; rather, it will defer the point at which an
estimated 30,000 people are able to attract federal employment support, beyond
the lightest-touch assistance as a voluntary jobseeker that is linked to
eligibility for income support.
The Australian Greens share these concerns. We need to be providing
migrants with the supports they need to enable them to settle into Australia so
they are able to contribute to their full potential.
Core social security payments
In relation to Schedule 1 of the Bill (which lengthens the current NARWP
for the majority of the income support payments affected and the Low-Income
Health Care Card and Commonwealth Seniors Card as well as applies the extended
NARWP to Bereavement Allowance, Widow Allowance, Parenting Payment and Carer
Allowance), National Social Security Rights Network said:
The Government has estimated that Schedule 1 will save $141.8
million from forward estimates. This figure demonstrates that many newly
arrived migrants have been assessed as having a recognisable need for income
support during their first few years in Australia, as the income support
payments represented by this figure are not easy to obtain.
Schedule 1 deals with the core social security payments that
provide income support for those who do not earn enough from paid employment to
meet basic living costs. Claimants must satisfy strict income and asset tests
to ensure that payments are directed to those most in need. Many payments also
require participation in mutual obligation activities to increase the
likelihood of gaining employment.
They went on to say:
... migrants who receive these social security payments have
already been assessed by the Department of Human Services as being in financial
hardship and not being in a position to fully support themselves financially.
The experience of our member centres and other research suggests that removing
these payments during this period will merely push some individuals and
families further into financial insecurity and shift the burden and cost of
providing support onto community organisations, charity groups, and
Family Tax Benefit and Carer
There were concerns raised regarding the impact of introducing the NARWP
for Family Tax Benefit and Carer Allowance on low-income families, children and
As ACOSS said in its submission:
Making new migrants wait three years to receive supplementary
payments like FTB and Carer Allowance will disadvantage children and people
providing care. Migrant families and carers will go without income support
despite their household's financial situation being exactly the same as others
eligible for the payment.
Specifically with regards to Family Tax Benefit, ACOSS said:
FTB is designed to supplement income from employment,
including full-time employment. Often people in full-time, low-paid employment
receive the full rate of FTB. The payment is to help cover the cost of
children. However, under this Bill, even if their child was born in Australia,
migrant families would be denied FTB for up to three years.
At the hearing, Professor Mallett, Brotherhood of St Laurence, said:
Delaying eligibility for family tax benefit could operate as
a disincentive to workforce participation, particularly for secondary income
earners, because it will substantially increase out-of-pocket costs related to
Crucially, we believe this bill will have impact on child and
family poverty. We believe it stands to potentially increase child and family
poverty. Children will be adversely affected. Of the total $1.3 billion saving
the bill forecasts, the largest component—$898 million—are family related
benefits. It's expected that around 50,000 families will lose income, with
110,000 children impacted by the loss of family tax benefits. ... The proposed
waiting period for the family tax benefit will discourage participation in
early childhood education and care, which plays a pivotal role in child
development and wellbeing.
Ms Paschalidis-Chilas, Manager of Government and Member Relations,
Settler Services International, said:
On the proposed changes to the eligibility for the family tax
benefit, we think this would be the first time Australia discriminates in
taxing permanent residents. A fundamental principle of western liberal
democracies is that there is no unfair discrimination before the law or how
permanent residents are taxed or, indeed, access government services. The proposed
changes in this bill are a radical departure from this principle, we feel. The
rationale for the family tax benefit is to reduce the tax paid by low-income
families with children, most of whom are working, so that these parents are in
a better financial position to care for and support their children. As the
family tax benefit makes such obvious sense in supporting the children of most
Australian parents, why would we not want the children of recent migrants to
have the same benefit? These children of migrants are also future Australian
citizens and it is in all our interests that they do well. The proposed period
for receiving the family tax benefit is discrimination: people will pay a
higher rate of tax for no other reason than that they have been residents for
less than three years.
Discrimination in taxation sets a dangerous precedent which
could be extended or applied to other sections of Australian society. If this
bill is passed into law, it would be the first time that some Australian
residents will be taxed at a higher rate than other Australian simply because
of how long they have been residents. Once Australia takes this step, there is
no guarantee that other Australians won't be targeted in the future. For
example, a future government could decide to deny family tax benefit to people
under a certain age. A future government may also decide to extend the waiting
period for newly arrived migrants from three years to five, or even 10, or
exclude recent migrants from government provided health or education. We run
the real risk of creating an underclass of piece workers who pay higher taxes
and receive less services than other Australians.
In regards to the changes that would affect carers, Ms Cresswell, Chief
Executive Office, Carers Australia, said:
We strongly oppose this measure and any measure that imposes
waiting periods on carers based on how long they have lived in Australia. Many
people come to Australia to work and then unexpectedly become carers through
the birth of a child with an illness or a disability, through their partner's
sudden illness or an accident, or through a parent who is dying and needs end
of life care. These carers may have no means of support if they have to give up
their jobs and provide full-time care, yet, by taking on these roles, they make
an enormous sacrifice and they make a huge contribution to Australia and to all
Many of these carers are already subject to a two-year
waiting period for carer payment and will only receive special benefit, which
of course is paid at a much lower rate, even though many will have studied
and/or worked in Australia on temporary visas for some years before being
granted permanent residency. Further, the disincentives
built into the special benefit to take on casual or part-time work exacerbates
the difficulties experienced by carers who are trying to gain or maintain their
workforce attachment during the months or years that they care for their loved
ones. This measure would unfairly increase this waiting period to three years,
and it would reduce carers' entitlements further by extending the waiting
period for access to the carer allowance and family tax benefits.
The carer allowance ... is a very small payment of less than
$65 a week, and it helps carers with the additional costs of caring. We all
know that there are additional costs to caring. There's a direct benefit to
families, to the community and to Australia at large in keeping people in their
own homes rather than the alternative of residential care. Carers allowance and
family tax benefit payments are also available to most working families and
recognise the additional cost of caring and raising children as well as the
contribution that carers and parents make to Australian society. Carers who are
unable to combine continuing paid employment with their caring role will lose
the small additional support they receive to help with the cost of caring. The
unfairness and inequity of having two people working side by side, earning the
same salary and having the same number of dependents but having different
entitlements and overall incomes seems incongruous with our Australian ethos.
Parental Leave Pay and Dad and
There were concerns raised regarding the impact of introducing the NARWP
for Parental Leave Pay and Dad and Partner Pay.
As ACOSS said in its submission:
Parents on low incomes or in casual or part-time work would
be most disadvantaged if they could not access Paid Parental Leave. These
parents are unlikely to receive income from their workplaces when they take
leave to care for a newborn. Furthermore, employers generally require employees
to have been employed with them for at least 12 months before Paid Parental
Leave becomes payable. Therefore, recent migrants are already at a disadvantage
in terms of accessing paid parental leave from an employer when they first come
to Australia if they have a baby shortly after arrival.
National Social Security Rights Network said:
The introduction of the NARWP for paid parental leave and
partner leave will create separate classes of parents within Australia's
workforce. Many migrants will be forced to leave employment to raise their
children without financial assistance. Others may return to work soon after the
birth of a child to ensure that they can continue to afford to meet basic
needs. Many partners of birth mothers will lose the opportunity to be present
during the initial weeks of their newborn's life.
MYAN focussed their concerns on the impacts of the proposed changes on
young people, particularly those coming to Australia on 115 and 117 visas.
Several visas are available for young people under the Family
stream of Migration Programme of Australia. Some of these visas are
specifically for young people under 18 years old who are orphans, and who are
unable to be cared for by their parents. While these visas are separate from
the visas granted under Humanitarian Programme, an important portion of these
visas are granted to young people whose countries of birth are the same of those
arriving under the Humanitarian Programme.
They went on to say:
Almost a quarter (23%) of all youth arrivals under the Family
stream were from the top ten countries of birth of humanitarian youth arrivals.
While the Explanatory Memorandum of the Bill mentions that
migrants arriving on family related visas have the support of their family
members and are making the decision to move here to be with them, ... some of the
young people arriving under the family stream are arriving in Australia to
unite with their families who have been humanitarian arrivals in the past and
who may not be in a position to sufficiently support them.
Further, they said:
Young people arriving on 115 (Remaining Relative) and 117
(Orphan Relative) visas are typically living in Australia in kinship care
arrangements. These young people may experience vulnerabilities related to
their pre-migration experiences, and their transition to a new country and
culture, as well as due to breakdown of their family relations after their arrival
in Australia. Breakdown of relations between a young person and the carer
family member(s) in Australia could be due to various reasons, such as
increased pressure on housing (such as overcrowding), lack of financial
capabilities, different expectations of the carer or the young person in
relation to settlement needs, etc., and may leave the young person at risk of
destitution and homelessness. It has been demonstrated that some of these young
people already face such problems when their family relations breakdown within
the two-year waiting period, even though in the past their carers/families had
access to limited additional supports, such as the Family Tax Benefit.
This cohort of young people are also not eligible for any special
exemptions from waiting periods, which will place extra pressure on carer
family and community supports, particularly given the Bill will leave these
young people and carers already worse off. It could lead to this group having
their needs unmet, particularly in the case of family breakdown.
As the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said in its submission:
Access to the welfare payment system should be based on need.
The ASRC's experience shows that the social welfare provided to people in the
early stages of migration can be critical, particularly for women and youth
struggling with the challenges of employment in a foreign land.
FECCA strongly believes that permanent migrants and their
children should enjoy the same benefits as all residents, and that their
transition to life in Australia should not be made more difficult, particularly
when they have been acknowledged as possessing skills that are critical to our
The Australian Greens want to see all individuals, including migrants,
receive income support based on financial need, not how long they have lived in
Australia. We also want to see migrants being able to access other supports
like Family Tax Benefit and Parental Leave Pay and Dad and Partner Pay under
the same circumstances as other Australians.
Current automatic exemptions such as those for refugees and temporary
humanitarian-type visa holders as well as Permanent Carer Visa Holders will
continue under this Bill.
Exemptions that relate to a change of circumstances during the NARWP
will also continue. For example, the exemptions for migrants who become a lone
parent after becoming an Australian resident. Specifically, they are exempt
from the NARWP for Parenting Payment, Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance and
Farm Household Allowance.
There are also a number of new exemptions that relate to payments and
supports that will become subject to a NARWP if the Bill passes, specifically
they relate to family payments and Carer Allowance as well as the Low Income
Health Care Card and Parental Leave Pay and Dad and Partner Pay. New Zealand
citizens will have exemptions for certain payments. For more information, see
the DSS submission to the inquiry.
Mr Micallef, Immediate past chair, Ethnic Communities' Council of
The exemptions in the bill for refugees and other cases are
certainly very welcome, but it's not possible to capture all the circumstances
of vulnerable people for exemptions. It should not be a default position that
people require exceptional circumstances in order to receive support. They
should receive support as an entitlement.
Ms Dale, Principal Solicitor, Refugee Advice and Casework Service, said:
We also note with concern that, at a first-instance reading,
there seems to not be an explicit inclusion of those who hold or have held a
temporary protection visa or safe haven enterprise visa, a TPV or a SHEV. It
seems that TPV and SHEV holders are not explicitly exempt from the waiting
periods of some particular payments, which is, again, at odds with the intention
of the legislation, particularly given that some of the people holding such
visas may have already been in Australia for six years or more. It is our position
that, without such coverage in the legislation, protection does not exist for
these individuals, and we would recommend that the committee seek the expertise
of the Department of Social Services to ensure that this is, indeed, in the
While those on temporary humanitarian-type visas such as Temporary
Protection Visa holders and Safe Haven Enterprise Visa holders will continue to
be exempt from the NARWP for Special Benefit, the Low Income Health Card,
Family Tax Benefit, Parental Leave Payment and Dad and Partner Pay, they will
not be exempt from the NARWP for all payments and concession cards like
refugees and former refugees will.
The exemption that received the most attention during the inquiry was
the exemption relating to Special Benefit where holders of a permanent visa or
temporary Partner or Partner (Provisional) visa have experienced a substantial
change in circumstance during the NARWP and are in financial hardship.
The Addendum to the Submission from DSS said:
The substantial change of circumstance must be beyond the
person's control and have occurred after arrival in Australia and since the
start of their waiting period. Specific circumstances are not detailed in the
legislation and are at the discretion of the decision-maker. However, policy
guidance for decision-makers in the Guide to Social Security Law includes examples
of what may be classified as a substantial change of circumstances:
- Person or their sponsor/partner has a prolonged illness or injury
and is unable to work and/or there are significant medical costs being incurred
- Person loses their job through no fault of their own and the job
was organised or commenced prior to grant of the visa or arrival in Australia
- Sponsor or partner loses job through no fault of their own and
the job was organised or commenced after the Special Benefit claimant's arrival
- Separation from a partner and the person was the victim of
A child is born or family becomes responsible for a dependent
child and the child has (or develops) a severe medical condition or a severe
disability that incurs significant additional costs to the person or partner
- Sponsor or partner dies and the person has no means of support
- Sponsor or partner becomes a long-term prisoner or is confined
long-term to a hospital, psychiatric institution or nursing home and the person
has no means of support
- Sponsor or partner has been notified as a missing person or has
abandoned the person has no other means of support
- The person is the victim of substantiated domestic violence and
has no other means of support.
ACOSS said in its submission:
The exemptions available for people whose circumstances
change is generally restricted to accessing special benefit, except in the case
of a parent becoming a single parent. People escaping domestic violence would
only have access to special benefit and FTB (if applicable). ... special benefit,
at $274 per week, is totally inadequate to cover the cost of living. Unlike
Newstart, it has a dollar-for-dollar income test, which penalises people in
casual and part-time, low-paid work. We are deeply concerned that people could
remain in abusive situations because they would not be able to support
themselves on special benefit.
Mr Mojtahedi, Immigration Advice and Rights Centre, said at the hearing:
... to allow for an exemption to migrants if they are facing
financial hardship and a substantial change in circumstances is too onerous a
requirement. Any such safety net should catch people who are in financial
distress, irrespective of the need to demonstrate a substantial change in
circumstances, be it within or outside their control.
Ms Dale, Refugee Advice and Casework Service, said:
Whilst we understand that some exemptions will be available,
it is our experience that highly vulnerable individuals—the very people who
would need such exemptions—would not have the capacity to access them and jump
through the onerous bureaucratic hoops to get there. It is our daily experience
that such vulnerable individuals would not have the ability to demonstrate what
would be required of them to access this support. It seems counterintuitive to
create additional burdens for people who, at such a time, will need our help
National Social Security Rights Network said:
In our experience, it is difficult for individuals to satisfy
the criteria for 'a substantial change in circumstances.' Our position is that
the NARWP should not be applied to Special Benefit payments at all.
The Australian Greens are concerned that the circumstances in which
migrants may be eligible for an exemption to the NARWP for Special Benefit,
which is meant to be a payment of last resort, are too restrictive. Migrants
may become destitute as a consequence of being unable to access any financial
support when they find themselves on hard times.
The Australian Greens want to see Special Benefit available to all
individuals, including migrants, as a payment of last resort, regardless of
when they entered Australia or their visa type. We also want to see those on
temporary humanitarian-type visas such as Temporary Protection Visa holders and
Safe Haven Enterprise Visa holders exempt from the NARWP for all payments and
concession cards like refugees and former refugees will be.
The Australian Greens do not support the existing NARWP being extended
an extra year, particularly when there is no evidence that the additional year
will assist migrants to be more self-sufficient. In fact, we are concerned it
will have the opposite effect and will cause undue distress for those we should
be supporting to settle in Australia. We also do not support extending the
scope of the NARWP to additional payments and supports for similar reasons.
The Bill not be passed.
Senator Rachel Siewert
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