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McClure Report a challenge for the new Scott Morrison

  • 02 March 2015

Scott Morrison is in a real quandary. As new Social Services Minister, he has moved quickly to soften his rhetoric, move away from the tough stance he took in the Immigration portfolio, and manoeuvre for a chance to rise further in the game of snakes and ladders of Federal politics.

Morrison’s timing might be good, but Patrick McClure’s is very bad. McClure has now presented Morrison with a massively controversial report on welfare reform which would significantly reduce the incomes of a million marginalised Australians. Morrison is caught on the horns of a dilemma: he can pursue the tough changes McClure calls for, which accord with Government policies, or he can kick the ball into touch.  

So much has happened in the past year that we can easily forget that the last Budget effectively launched a new program of welfare reform in Australia. The approach to the Disability Support Benefit (DSP) embodied in the Budget was a crossing of the Rubicon.  Before the Budget, DSP recipients did not have to seek work, and they could use the modest income support of this pension to survive frugally. But now, most DSP recipients under 35 have lost the guarantee of income support. Historically DSP has been justified from a sense of compassion for the people with disability. The policy is now that people with significant impairments should seek to make a contribution to society economically through work.  

McClure’s final report has effectively endorsed this view. He proposes major changes to the welfare system and effectively supports the Budget position. In my submission to the review, I called for McClure to retain the ambition of a single working age payment which he called for some 15 years ago. In his final report he has returned to this position. He proposes a single working age payment for persons who have less than the most profound disabilities: permanent disabilities which prohibit them from working 8 hours or more a week. People in this challenging position would retain a pension payment which is effectively now the DSP. However, those with a non-permanent disability or who can work 8-or more hours a week would receive a working age payment. The new working age payment has three tiers. The upper tier would be for people with disability who can work 8-14 hours a week, the middle tier is for those with 15-29 hours of work capacity and includes those