In the wake of blistering criticism at a senate inquiry, the federal government defended a controversial welfare program which overwhelmingly affects single mothers.
The ParentsNext welfare program was designed to prepare parents with young children to return to work.
In practice it reportedly threatened to suspend payments to mothers unless they participate in compulsory activities such as library sessions or swimming lessons.
According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, the program unfairly targets disadvantaged women and Indigenous Australians.
The HRC president Rosalind Croucher told the senate inquiry that she was “seriously concerned” about the discriminatory impacts of the program.
“Without money to provide adequate food and shelter for your family, how can human rights be realised? How can there be human dignity?” she said.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said that one of her concerns is how the program has affected women escaping domestic violence.
“It was pointed out that the control the Government was taking over women’s lives in fact mirrored the economic control abusive partners had formerly held over their lives, and [it had] the real potential to re-traumatise mothers,” she said.
However, Jobs Minister Kelly O’Dwyer has defended the program, which she said would reduce intergenerational welfare dependency and provide a pathway into employment.
“No government program is perfect, but this has the right intention,” she told The Sydney Morning Herald.
“We do need to recognise there will be some smoothing out around some of these issues [but] if providers are not fulfilling their obligations as per our contract with them, we will build in appropriate penalties for those providers.”
Ms O’Dwyer said there would not be legislative changes to ParentsNext before the next election.