In what are probably its dying days, the Gillard ALP Government has administered a parting kick to Australia’s most vulnerable people. This most right-wing of Labor governments has tabled a new bill that is sneakily-titled and draconian in content.
The ‘Social Security Legislation Amendment (Public Housing Tenants’ Support) Bill 2013’ allows a “public housing lessor” (eg a State-based Office of Housing) to compulsory deduct rent from a tenant’s welfare payment if certain conditions apply. A tenant only has to be four weeks behind and have $100 owing for the Office of Housing to be allowed to directly access their income.
In fact, Section 5 (1) (b) of the Act goes further and allows the authorities to hack into a tenants account in a case where they owe nothing but “there is a risk (rents will not) have been paid by due time”. The Act also allows for compulsory deductions to recover over-payments (which are due to Department error), and for water, repairs, and maintenance bills.
All Social Security benefits are eligible for this legalised plunder as are other payments such as Abstudy, pensions, Family Tax Benefits and the Double Orphan pension. The direct debit is capped by a huge 35% of tenant’s income.
In Australia, public housing is increasingly made up of people on welfare payments. Tenants are mired in dire poverty for the most part. Benefits are being cut in real terms every year, and recently in actual terms for single parents. When public housing tenants get jobs they are usually part-time, casual and for low pay.
Essentially, the ALP Federal government, almost certainly with the support of the Opposition, is acting to ensure they get first pick on the mountain of bills pilling up for struggling public housing tenants.
These types of draconian measures were first introduced by the Howard Liberal government against Aboriginal Australians through the ‘Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007’. A key feature of this Act was to quarantine a proportion of welfare benefits.
It was claimed at the time to be specific to Aboriginal people in the NT and was aimed at helping deal with an alleged epidemic of child abuse. Socialists argued at the time that the Howard government’s Act, loyally supported by Labor, was aimed at strengthening control over potential areas of mining, demonising Aboriginal people to divert attention of voters away from class issues, and would eventually be spread to all Australians. This is exactly what is happening now with Gillard’s new bill.
On the one hand pro-capitalist politicians, economists and journalists today argue for an end to ‘red tape’ and government regulation on business. They demand lower taxes for the rich and powerful. On the other hand, for the poor, these same forces want greater government coercion in anti-union legislation, greater police powers to use against dissent and higher taxes against working class people.
This blatant class bias will serve to radicalise more and more people in the period ahead. The Socialist Party will work with others to fight these new laws but argue that we need to smash the system that breeds class oppression and build a new socialist society that shares out the available wealth and provides a decent living for all.
By Stephen Jolly