Ethnic groups urge Senate to block ‘self-sufficiency test’ for pension

Vulnerable migrants most affected by government's proposal to change pension waiting fimes to as much as 15 years, say ethnic groups. Source: AAP

The government’s plan to lengthen pension waiting times to as much as 15 years will hurt vulnerable migrants, community groups claim.

Ethnic groups have slammed as “unfair” government changes that would delay access to the aged pension for migrants who received payments from Centrelink, or have not spent five straight years working in Australia.

The changes will also apply to the disability pension.

Migrants would have to demonstrate they have lived in Australia for 10 years before claiming the pension, with at least five years spent working.

If they cannot point to five years of employment, they will need to show they did not access welfare – including the dole and Youth Allowance – for at least five of the years they lived in the country.

People who fail both requirements can still get the pension, but will need to wait 15 years instead of 10.

The Federation of Ethnic Communities' Council is warning the “mean-spirited” changes would have an unfair impact on migrants, especially new arrivals and low-income earners.

“It’s really penalising the people that can least afford it,” FECCA chair Joe Caputo told SBS World News.

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The government estimates the measure will save $119 million over the next four years.

An additional measure to block supplementary payments for pensioners who spend more than six weeks overseas will save another $150 million over the same period.

“If you’re making really small savings, is it worth doing it? You’re affecting a small number of people negatively, and yet, [there will be] very little impact on our overall economy,” Mr Caputo said.

Social services minister Christian Porter argued it was fair for the government to expect migrants to make an economic contribution before claiming the pension.

"This will mean that most people accessing the pension will have made some contribution to the Australian economy through paid work and paying taxes before they receive a pension," Mr Porter said in June, shortly after the reforms were announced in the 2017 Budget. 

FECCA will join other community groups in giving testimony to a Senate committee will on Thursday that will investigate the push to tighten pension residency requirements.

The group is urging a government “rethink” and calling on the Senate to block the measure.

If passed, the change would not affect current pension or disability pension recipients.

The changes form part of a bundle of welfare cuts expected to net almost $900 million in savings over the forward estimates. 

Source: James Elton-Pym

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