Rachel Siewert, Greens senator for Western Australia, is concerned that the federal opposition hasn't come out more strongly against the government's welfare package. "We would get rid of Welfare to Work and look towards better options that support people", she told Green Left Weekly.
She said the fall-out from the harsh laws was "very worrying". In one instance, she recounted, "a woman being treated for cancer was still under mutual obligation and the sick leave time recommended by her doctor was halved by Centrelink".
Siewert said that while the Greens would support the extension of training places to pensioners, they would not support the extension of the mutual obligation system.
"Mutual obligation is designed to encourage the belief that people who receive benefits are dole bludgers, and that we are being magnanimous in supporting them. We need to change around the way we, as a community, support people focusing on training.
"Welfare to Work extends the blame game to single parents", Siewert continued. "For the Liberals, if you're in a partnership — a heterosexual partnership — one partner, the woman, should stay at home. If you're a single parent, you have to go to work. But you can't have it both ways. Shouldn't we encourage single parents to stay at home and give children the best option? People should have a choice."
"Labor's opposition to the Howard government's attacks on welfare beneficiaries is no more than skin deep", Rachel Evans, Socialist Alliance welfare spokesperson told Green Left. "The Welfare to Work law has delivered nothing but misery for unemployed people and pensioners. And there is no evidence that it has created one extra job.
"Disabled people, single parents and the unemployed don't need more courses, more obligations and more hoops to jump through. The problem is that there are simply not enough jobs, and that child care, public transport and support services are either too expensive or practically non-existent.
"If Labor wanted to make a difference, it would commit to scrapping Welfare to Work, raise the level of all benefits to at least the poverty line, and fund free accessible child care and public transport."