Government's dole plan 'would violate human rights'

Liberal senator Dean Smith.

The federal government has been warned it will breach Australia's international human rights obligations if it makes young job seekers wait six months for unemployment benefits.

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

The federal government has been warned it will breach Australia's international human rights obligations if it makes young job seekers wait six months for unemployment benefits.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights, chaired by a Coalition MP, has found the plan is incompatible with the rights to social security and an adequate standard of living.

The controversial measure is set to be debated this week in the Senate, where it was already facing considerable opposition.

And as Amanda Cavill reports, the committee's findings are unlikely to help the Government's case.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews says making job seekers wait for the dole is aimed at encouraging them to work.

He says encouraging young Australians to accept jobs rather than relying on income support is good for them, both socially and economically.

Before the May budget, Mr Andrews said a culture of work needed to be engendered in the young.

"A system of 'earn or learn' for young Australians under 30. We believe that young people should either be working, but if they're not working, then they should be in training. Whether it's a TAFE college or whether it's a Vocational Certificate, they should be working or in training to try and get themselves into a position to work. And 'earn or learn' will be the Government's approach to young people under 30."

The committee has found another budget proposal, to lift the age of eligibility for the Newstart allowance from 22 to 25, also breaches Australia's international obligations.

The committee's report says it is incompatible with the rights to equality and non-discrimination on the basis of age.

The previous Labor government put the committee in place, but its findings are not binding on the Government.

Liberal senator Dean Smith chairs it, and it includes four other Government members, four Labor representatives and one from the Greens.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen says the Government needs to reflect on what he calls its arrogance and lack of empathy.

And he says the Government should be embarrassed that even its own committee members do not back the plan.

"Well, this is an embarrassment for the Government. You have got a Liberal chair of a committee saying a Liberal piece of legislation breaches international obligations. This is very embarrassing for the Government. But, of course, the most concerning thing about this, this piece of policy, is that it is designed deliberately to create an underclass in Australia, to lock out people under 30 from unemployment benefits when being out of work may be no fault of their own."

Liberal backbencher Ewan Jones has defended the Government's controversial welfare changes, though.

Mr Jones says a tough love approach is necessary because the status quo is not bringing down the youth unemployment rate.

"Are we better to say to them, 'Look, there's your dole, go home, eat Cheezels, get on the xBox, kiss you goodbye, and we'll never see you again'? Or are we better to sit there and say, 'You must do something, you must be involved here, because there's no free tickets, there are no free lunches.'"

The Government needs the support of Labor, the Greens or the Palmer United Party bloc, plus two more crossbenchers, to pass the legislation.

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 Greens Leader Christine Milne says she will not consider a compromise because the measure is completely unreasonable.

Seantor Milne says she is not surprised the committee found the Government's plan breaches Australia's international obligations.

"It absolutely breaches human rights obligations. The Greens have been saying that all along. You simply cannot take away people's rights. How can a young person possibly live for six months on nothing, an unemployed young person live on nothing? And that is why all of the charities, all of the social-security agencies, everyone who actually has a real world interest in the lives of young people and unemployed people know it's impossible and the Government should back off it."

And Independent Nick Xenophon says he will not be supporting the legislation in any form.

"I'm not happy to wait for them for one month at all. And I'll say why. One month can make the difference between a young person who's looking for a job losing their home, not being able to pay rent, sliding into homelessness and poverty and despair, and not being able to get out of that rut. It's not as though Newstart is overly generous. The issue is about creating new jobs and the economy. And the issue is about having a decent industry and manufacturing policy, because that's where tens of thousands of jobs could potentially be lost unless the Government pulls its finger out."*

The Palmer United Party says it will not support the laws, meaning the Government is unlikely to get its way.

If the Government fails to win Senate support, it could sidestep parliament and introduce the laws through a legislative instrument needing no parliamentary approval.





Source World News Australia

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