Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Mutual obligation makes difficult lives doubly hard

By Michael Raper - posted Friday, 15 December 2000

It is true that "no government can afford to be seen to hurt the most disadvantaged in the community" (Dennis Shanahan, The Australian 20/11/00).

Yet that is precisely what this Government is doing through its unjustifiably harsh social security penalties regime.

Over 300,000 penalties imposed on 200,000 people in the last 12 months constitutes a 250 per cent increase in the last three years.


With penalties of $760 to $1400 for not attending an interview at Centrelink, the Government is achieving annual savings of $170 million at the expense of some of our most disadvantaged and vulnerable unemployed people.

One group badly affected are homeless people who fail to receive Centrelink letters. People with mental illness or episodic psychiatric conditions, young people and Indigenous Australians are also disproportionately caught out by these extremely harsh penalties.

They are not only having a devastating impact on the penalised individuals but also on the charities and community welfare agencies to whom they turn for help.

So much so that 22 such groups (including the Anglican, Catholic and Uniting Church charities and The Salvation Army) united in November to call on the Government to overhaul its 'mutual obligation' penalty regime. In part, the petition states:

"We support an active welfare system in which every effort is made to assist unemployed people into work, and to support students with their studies. We also support a system in which people are required to meet basic rules to maintain their benefit entitlements - but the rules must be fair and comprehensible, they must be fairly applied, and the punishment should fit the infringement.

These three pre-conditions do not exist in the present system. As a result, difficult lives are being made doubly hard by the excessive penalties that are rigorously imposed on those who infringe often complex and unreasonable social security rules."


Fair and balanced obligations

The McClure Report on welfare reform also strongly argued for the Government to adopt a new approach to 'mutual obligation'. The McClure Report said that penalties should only be used as a "last resort". ACOSS argues that they should also be appropriate to those on low incomes.

A properly balanced policy of 'mutual obligation' along the lines that the McClure Report proposed to Government is a long way from the current system of harsh requirements and limited assistance with training and jobs.

A 'mutual obligation' policy that was balanced and fair would see the primary obligation resting with the Government to provide an adequate social security payment as well as opportunities for employment, training and rehabilitation that will help unemployed people, sole parents and disability pensioners overcome their very real barriers to employment.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. 4
  6. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Michael Raper is a former President of the Australian Council for Social Services.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Michael Raper
Related Links
Photo of Michael Raper
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy