Quietly slotted into Wednesday's headline-grabbing childcare and paid parental leave bill were some big changes to welfare payments for young people. While most of the coverage focused on the much-heralded extension of government-provided PPL and cheaper childcare, snuck inside the bill was a plan to make young people wait four weeks before they can access Centrelink payments, and moving people aged 22-24 from the Newstart payment to the cheaper Youth Allowance, which pays $91 less each fortnight.
Well, the changes seem dead in the water just a day after they were announced, with Labor, the Greens and most of the Senate crossbench declaring they would not support the plan. Currently, unemployed young people have to wait just one week before they can start getting Centrelink payments, but the government wanted to extend that to a month.
After outrage from youth and social services agencies, the political opposition to the bill was revealed on Thursday. Labor, the Greens and the three Nick Xenophon Team senators have confirmed they would vote against the childcare bill, thereby condemning the changes to welfare payments to defeat also.
"We are concerned the new Bill also includes unfair measures previously and repeatedly rejected by Federal Parliament and the broader community, such as making young people who become unemployed wait five weeks to receive income support," said the Australian Council of Social Service in a statement.
"This measure will not create jobs and merely punishes people who lose one."
The Foundation for Young Australians also savaged the idea.
"Permanent work is proving elusive for young people in particular: there are now more part-time and casual than full-time young workers. Underemployment has increased by from 4.7 percent to 17.5 percent since 1985. That's an increase of 270 percent. So even though young people want to work more they can't," FYA CEO Jan Owen said.
"To turn the growing risks into opportunities, young people need to be placed at the centre of the national policy discussion. We need to be asking how can help young people not only survive but thrive in the future -- not make short term cuts to the benefits which help them get by in the interim."
The Senate is currently in an odd position, with senators Rod Culleton and Bob Day missing due to legal challenges over their eligibility to serve in the parliament. Government senator Cory Bernardi also controversially resigned from the Liberal Party to become an independent on Tuesday. The government needs 39 votes to pass legislation in the Senate, and with 29 seats to their name, they need 10 of the crossbench to get laws through.
Labor and the Greens oppose the measures. That means they need all 10 of the current sitting crossbenchers to get it over the line. Nick Xenophon and his two NXT colleagues will vote against it, the South Australian said on Thursday, while Jacqui Lambie is also planning to oppose. Unless some drastic changes are made to the bill, or some other sweeteners are added to win some votes, that's game over.
Such a waiting period was previously raised in 2015, but was voted down in the Senate after outcry, with opponents claiming it would force unemployed young people to live in poverty. After Wednesday's changes were revealed, Labor and the Greens were quick to criticise.
"The Coalition's harsh plan to make young jobseekers wait five (sic) weeks for Newstart combined with their plan to change the eligibility age for Newstart will make life harder for young Australians," said Labor's shadow minister for social services Jenny Macklin.
"Malcolm Turnbull's doesn't have a plan to help families his only plan is to rip billions from household budgets across Australia."
Greens senator Rachel Siewert also lashed the idea.
"The Government has painted this legislation as a compromise to get the childcare package through the Senate but it is just a shopping list of the nasty social safety net measures that they have not been able to get through the senate in the past. It is an attack on families, young people and the aged," she said in a statement.
"This Omnicuts bill has four week wait to access the Newstart or youth allowance if you're a young unemployed person. The Government has been trying to keep young people off income support since Tony Abbott's appalling 2014 budget."
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