Wednesday, 10 May 2017
Questions without Notice
Pensions and Benefits
My question is to Senator Ryan, Minister representing the Minister for Social Services. The Parliamentary Budget Office recently calculated, at my request, that Australian taxpayers provide $15 billion of welfare to 870,000 people who live in Australia but are not Australian citizens, of whom 710,000 are not covered by a bilateral welfare agreement with another country. To put this in perspective, it means that a family of four people in Western Sydney hands $2,500 a year to the government, which then gives it to people who are not Australians. Is the government open to considering reduced access to welfare for noncitizens, particularly those who are not refugees? If not, how would you justify this expenditure to the family of four from Penrith who are paying for it?
I thank Senator Leyonhjelm for the question and for his provision of some notice of it to me, shortly before question time. The government is committed to ensuring Australia's strong welfare system is affordable and sustainable for the future, while providing targeted support to Australians most in need. The government has also committed to ensuring the residency based nature of the welfare system. As part of the budget brought down last night, the government will strengthen the residency requirement for pensioners.
From 1 July next year, to qualify for the age pension or disability support pension a person will be required to have 10 years continuous residence in Australia, with five years of this residence during either their working life or time not receiving an activity-tested income support payment. In circumstances where the person does not meet these requirements, they will be required to have 15 years continuous Australian residence before being eligible to receive the age pension or DSP. This measure ensures pensions are better targeted to those who have resided in Australia for an extended period, including during their working life, or who have been self-reliant.
Minister, do you think that skilled migrants consider eligibility for welfare when deciding to come to Australia? Or do you think eligibility for welfare would be a bigger consideration for family reunion migrants?
I again thank Senator Leyonhjelm for the notice that allowed me to get some information on this. On a personal level, I am not entirely sure I am well qualified to answer that. Australia's welfare system is based on residency, with access to taxpayer funded payments generally restricted to citizens and to permanent residents. This includes waiting periods for newly arrived permanent residents before access to most income support payments and qualifying periods for the age pension and DSP, including the changes I have just outlined.
The community expects that migrants to Australia should be self-sufficient or rely on family members for support. They should not expect to be supported by Australian taxpayers, particularly if they arrive close to retirement age or have been a long-term recipient of an activity-tested payment such as the Newstart allowance. In line with these expectations, the government will reinforce the residency based nature of Australia's pension system by increasing the residency requirements to qualify, as I outlined in my earlier answer.
I believe terrible policy outcomes like widespread eligibility for welfare occur because bad policies are handed down from one government to another and we fail to take a fresh look at how money is being spent. Do you think our welfare spending would look the same as it does now if we started from scratch? If not, how would you change it?
The government is committed to ensuring Australia has a strong welfare safety net, while we maintain the integrity of the system to ensure it is affordable and sustainable. Taxpayers rightly expect that those who can work should work, and the government announced a comprehensive suite of reforms in last night's budget to act on that expectation. The budget includes a simplification of seven working-age payments into a single jobseeker payment. This will be complemented by improvements to mutual obligations and compliance by the Minister for Employment. The suite of measures is designed to ensure that appropriate support is provided to help jobseekers into employment and to improve the long-term sustainability of the system. In response to the question about my own personal opinion, it is not my portfolio, so it is probably best I do not comment.