Some Australian government welfare recipients will be forced to pay their bills

Monday, May 1, 2006

Australian federal minister for families, Mal Brough, has told a function in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales' central east that he plans to introduce a system forcing parents, who receive welfare payments and who also are identified as neglecting their children, to pay their bills.

Under the proposal, parents who are identified will be required to attend an interview with Centrelink (the agency responsible for welfare payments) to arrange for up to 30 percent of their benefits be automatically deducted to pay their bills and buy food.

Mr Brough says that there are a small percentage of parents who neglect their children, by spending their welfare payments on alcohol, drugs or gambling. The families minister says these parents neglect their children by failing to provide their children with food and clothing.

During his speech, Mr Brough said that many had expressed concerns about the government being able to identify those "abusing" the system but said that school principals, welfare workers, police and courts would be able to identify children in such situations.

Mr Brough said that similar voluntary programs operating in Cape York in Queensland had operated successfully and that similar programs should be bought in nation-wide. He said that not every family suffering from these problems would voluntarily take up the scheme and that the government would need to make it compulsory for some families.

Australian welfare organisations have criticized the plan claiming it is impractical.

Lin Hatfield Dodds from the Australian Council of Social Service said that the government needed to do more to assist families in crisis, but the problems raised by the government were "human problems and not financial problems".

Nationals senator, Barnaby Joyce who holds the balance of power in the Australian senate said he would not support the proposal if it was rushed into parliament as part of this years budget, expected to be handed down next week. "I don't think anything you do in a rush works out terribly well," said Mr Joyce.

Kim Beazley, leader of the Australian opposition said that the government would not be able to organise such a system, saying that they were unable to organise "a kick in a street fight".