Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced plans to reduce welfare payments for the poorest and most economically disadvantaged people in Australia. The cuts are part of a proposed package of $6.5 billion savings in the federal budget that parliament is still to vote on.
Turnbull has proposed axing the energy supplement fund that all welfare recipients receive. This fund is worth between $4.40 and $7.05 a week, which might not sound like much, but is a lot for people who are already living below the poverty line.
According to an announcement on the Department of Human Services website, if the government's proposed legislation is approved, “From 20 September 2016, the Energy Supplement will not be available for new customers of social security payments, family payments and the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card.
"Existing customers will continue to receive the payment as long they remain continuously eligible for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, social security payments or family payments that attract the Energy Supplement.”
While discussion has centred on the impact of this change to Newstart payments for the unemployed, the cut will affect all new — and potentially some current — welfare recipients.
If the changes are passed, people who receive the new, reduced payments will struggle even more than those currently on welfare payments to cover their rent and put food on the table.
But it is not just new recipients who will be impacted by this. These cuts will lead to less disposable income, which in turn will impact on local traders and business, possibly to the point of job losses. The end result could be more people applying for the very welfare payments the Coalition government is attempting to get rid of.
Despite the media reporting on the proposed legislative changes as a fait accompli, the cuts will only be applied if the legislation passes.
The good news for a change is that the newly-elected parliament is not set to convene until August 30, and the process of debating, amending and voting on the budget can take weeks, if not longer. This gives us a window of opportunity to pre-empt all the nasties that are coming our way and take action.
When former Prime Minister Tony Abbott tried to bring in his round of budget attacks against the poor, large numbers of workers, students and activists came out on the streets demanding MP's "block or bust" the Liberal budget. In the end Abbott was forced to back down on some measures. We can do this again.
Now is the time to speak to your trade unions, student associations and activist organisations like the Anti-Poverty Network or Australian Unemployment Union, and start working with others to put political pressure on the government.
With enough political pressure we can make these cuts politically unpalatable and give cause to MPs to reconsider their position.