A bipartisan parliamentary report has found the Federal Government will breach its international obligations if it goes ahead with its budget proposal to force young jobseekers to wait six months for unemployment benefits.
The tough welfare measure is due to be debated in Parliament this week and the Government is negotiating with crossbench senators to get the bill passed.
Family First senator Bob Day has encouraged Senate colleagues to push for a compromise option of a one-month waiting period rather than six.
But the report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights said “the committee considers that the measure is incompatible with the right to social security and the right to an adequate standard of living”.
Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) chief executive Cassandra Goldie said the committee’s unanimous findings were damning and should convince senators to reject the bill.
“If we are to be serious, standing on the global stage saying Australia respects human rights, then this is the acid test,” Dr Goldie said.
“Will the Government respect the findings of its own human rights committee?”
“The committee is there for a purpose. It has reported to Parliament, and we believe it is the obligations now of Parliament to respond and respect those findings.”
The committee was put in place by the previous Labor government but its findings are not binding on the Government.
“There’s quite clearly a moral obligation, and internationally, it is a legal obligation,” Dr Goldie said.
“The Government is involved in the UN Security Council, it is an important member of the United Nations systems, and these are serious international legal obligations that it is obliged to meet.
“These are not discretionary obligations that the Government can pick and choose from. They are founded in important international human rights obligations.”
Social Services Minister defends tough welfare measures
ACOSS said the committee’s findings backed up criticism from community and welfare groups about the impact of the tough welfare measures on jobseekers under the age of 30.
Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews told the Human Rights Committee that the budget measure was aimed at increasing the numbers of young people in work if they were able to do so.
“This measure seeks to address youth unemployment by encouraging young people to accept jobs rather than relying on income support at risk of becoming disengaged, both socially and economically,” Mr Andrews told the committee.
He said jobseekers would get help to look for work and exemptions would be available to some people.
But the committee found the Minister’s response did not address its fundamental concerns about the effect of the waiting period.
“The response does not provide any further information as to how young people are to sustain themselves during a six-month period without social security,” the report said.
“The committee noted in its original assessment that information regarding the likely impact of the measure on individuals and their families, and how individuals subject to the measure will retain access to adequate shelter and food, is necessary in order to assess the human rights compatibility of this measure.”
The committee is chaired by Liberal senator Dean Smith and includes four other Government members, four Labor representatives and one from the Greens.
It found another budget proposal, to lift the age of eligibility for the Newstart allowance from 22 to 25, was also in breach of Australia’s international obligations because it was incompatible with the rights to equality and non-discrimination on the basis of age.