The Business Council of Australia (BCA), which represents Australia's 100 biggest companies, said on February 14 that the federal government should consider cutting the disability pension as an alternative to the Queensland flood levy.
How low can these grubs go? Only days later, BCA’s biggest member, BHP-Billiton, posted a record $10.5 billion half-year profit.
The BCA is used to having governments bend to its will. But it's unlikely it really expected PM Julia Gillard — who is already struggling in the polls — to choose this as the time to slash the incomes of people already living below the poverty line.
Clearly, the BCA couldn't resist a chance to bang away on one of its favourite themes: welfare should be cut to encourage people to find work.
What the BCA really means is that a pool of desperate and hungry unemployed people will help put downward pressure on wages and conditions across the whole labour market. This would free up more federal funds to be spent as handouts to big business.
Anyone who thinks “generous” pensions are stopping people with disabilities from finding employment has rocks in their head. Even for those who are able to work and want a job, finding it can be very difficult.
For many people with intellectual disabilities, the only place they can get work is in special business services, akin to the old sheltered workshops, which can pay as low as $1 to $2 an hour.
Most bosses can’t be bothered to spend the time and money to create supportive work environments where people with disabilities could find meaningful work.
At the same time as the John Howard Liberal government rammed through WorkChoices, it slipped through its so-called Welfare to Work changes. Federal Labor didn’t even protest the changes, let alone pretend it would repeal them.
These changes cut the threshold at which people get pushed off the pension and on to the Newstart allowance. The threshold is calculated on the number of hours of work per week a person is assessed as capable of doing. Under Welfare to Work, it was halved from 30 to 15 hours.
This has done nothing to improve workforce participation by people with disabilities. The members of the BCA should start in their own backyard and impose real targets on themselves to employ more people with disabilities.
Even a fraction of the revenues that would have been realised from the original Resource Super Profits Tax — let alone a tax regime that really made the BCA members pay their way instead of bludging off the rest of the country — would easily pay for the National Disability Insurance Scheme that people with disabilities and their supporters have long called for.
[Sam Wainwright is a Fremantle City councillor and a member of Socialist Alliance.]