NWRN calls on the government to reverse harmful cuts in support for new migrants and their families

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In the 2015-16 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, the Government proposed to save $225 million over four years by removing exemptions from the Newly Arrived Resident’s Waiting Period (NARWP) for new migrants who are family members of Australian citizens or permanent residents from 1 January 2017.  Legislation to give effect to this proposal was due to be introduced during Parliament’s winter sitting this year.

Under the current law, new migrants to Australia generally have to wait two years after the grant of their permanent visa before they can access most income support payments.  However there are some exemptions from this two year NARWP, which include an exemption for a person who is a family member of an Australian citizen or permanent resident (of at least two years).  This exemption is mainly for partners or children of an Australian citizen or permanent resident.

Information provided to the Senate Community Affairs Committee during the estimates process has highlighted that this will have an impact particularly on women migrating to Australia on permanent partner visas, with about three quarters of those now unable to receive payments women.[1]

The only option for these women, if their families are in hardship during their first two years in Australia, is to seek to qualify for special benefit.  However, access to this payment is very restricted and many of these families may be forced to rely on a single income for those two years and, in some cases, a single income support payment which, even with family assistance payments, will leave these families in poverty.

The effect of this is to reduce support for new Australian families.  This is short sighted policy that affects vulnerable families facing the challenges of adapting to life in a new country, just when they need more support not less.  Increased financial hardship is associated with family and domestic violence and breakdown, so this measure has the potential to undermine the Government’s commitment of increased funding to support victims of family and domestic violence in this Budget.[2]

Similarly, the measure undermines support for new migrants to Australia.  Support for new migrants benefits the whole community.

Coherent social policy in areas such as family and domestic violence needs to include adequate income support as a key aspect.  In its 2016 Federal Budget submission the NWRN developed a suite of proposals to improve access to income support for vulnerable women and families affected by family and domestic violence (available here).

The National Welfare Rights Network opposes this measure and calls on the Government to abandon this proposal.  Its media release, supported by the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia and the National Ethnic Disability Alliance, is available here.

[2] The Budget allocates additional funding of $100 million over three years (although the Budget papers show that $32.2 million is redirected from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Indigenous program budget).  See Budget 2016-17, Budget Paper No. 2, Budget Measures 2016-17, Part 2: Expense Measures – Social Services (“Domestic and Family Violence – new initiatives to break the cycle of violence”), accessible at http://www.budget.gov.au/2016-17/content/bp2/html/bp2_expense-21.htm.