Posted on November 21, 2011

Indigenous Fall Foul of Big-Stick Welfare Tactics

Patricia Karvelas, The Australian, November 22, 2011

Twenty per cent of all indigenous people on the dole have had their payments cut off because they failed to turn up to interviews in the first three months of the Gillard government’s new tough-love approach to welfare.

The Australian can reveal that in the three months since the government changed the dole rules, making it easier to dock all unemployed people’s payments, Aborigines have been hardest hit, incurring 20,020 suspensions.

But the big-stick approach has also meant that they are now turning up to more appointments than ever before because of fear they will lose welfare money, the government says.

The 20,020 suspensions from July to September were incurred by 13,768 jobseekers, who made up about 20 per cent of the 66,843 indigenous people who were unemployed. Only 1332 of the 20,020 suspensions lasted 14 days or more. Nationally, about 10 per cent of unemployed people incurred suspensions.

Canberra says early signs suggest that the new approach to compliance among Aborigines is already having a positive effect on attendance rates, which have increased by 3 per cent when compared with the corresponding three-month period last year. Whereas an average of 142,066 indigenous people attended appointments last financial year, 163,589 attended from July to September, since the rules changed.

The highest proportion of indigenous people who had their payments docked were in Queensland (29 per cent); followed by NSW (27 per cent).

Under the tougher dole rules, the first time a jobseeker fails to attend a Job Services Australia interview, Centrelink puts a temporary stop on dole payments. They start again once the jobseeker contacts Centrelink and confirms they will attend their rescheduled appointment. In the case of a first failure, full back-pay would then be provided.

The new rules allow employment-services providers to report jobseekers who have failed to attend Centrelink.

Employment Participation Minister Kate Ellis told The Australian businesses were crying out for workers and yet there remained too many Australians–including a disproportionate number of indigenous people–languishing on the dole queue.

“Earlier this year, our government introduced tough new rules that suspend income-support payments for unemployed people if they fail to show up at appointments or activities that are designed to help them find work.

“We have already seen positive early signs that this tough approach is making a difference, with more unemployed indigenous Australians showing up to their appointments and meeting their requirements over the past few months.”