A Greens senator is calling for the government to extend a suspension on Workforce Australia payment penalties and to focus on fixing the country’s “broken” welfare system.
Greens senator Janet Rice has tabled a 31,000-person strong petition asking for the suspension to be stretched to 90 days, up from the initial 30-day period.
The Labor government initially paused payment suspensions to thousands of welfare recipients for 30 days due to issues with Workforce Australia’s rollout.
Senator Rice said the petition spoke for all those struggling with the “confusing and broken” system who risked losing their payments amid soaring cost of living pressures.
“It’s vital the government listens to their voices, and the millions of other Australians living below the poverty line who are at risk of further harm if Labor kicks them off payments because of the department’s errors in its own system,” she said.
“From day dot Workforce Australia was causing people harm and stress … the rollout has been an unmitigated disaster with one IT issue after another, yet it’s jobseekers who are being held over a barrel and threatened with payment suspensions.”
Senator Rice said a minimum 90-day pause should be used to fix technical issues.
Australian Unemployed Workers Union spokesperson Jeremy Poxon said welfare recipients were those forced to suffer when the entire system breaks down.
He added forcing recipients to fulfil face-to-face obligations was not appropriate through a huge COVID wave.
“While there are still so many problems in Workforce Australia — and so many welfare recipients deeply confused and in a state of panic — it’s simply disturbing that the new government isn’t suspending mutual obligations and payment cut-offs,” he said.
“During this period of mass system failure, and in the middle of a new COVID wave it’s obscene that this government is still forcing people to attend face-to-face activities … we continue to hear stories from immunocompromised people, terrified of contracting COVID, being forced by providers to attend meetings.”