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Ethnic groups oppose pension changes

11 September 20170 comments

Australia’s ethnic communities have condemned plans before Parliament to make migrants wait up to 15 years before qualifying for aged or disability pensions.

Under existing laws, people must have been an Australian resident for 10 years – five of which must be continuous – before applying for a pension.

The government wants to extend this to 10 years of continuous residence – including five years during a person’s working life – before they can seek a pension.

Alternatively, migrants may claim a pension after 15 years of continuous residence.

A Senate committee is investigating the push to tighten pension residency requirements, as part of a bundle of welfare cuts expected to net almost $900 million in savings.

Social Services Minister Christian Porter argues it is reasonable to expect people coming to Australia have contributed to the economy and society before claiming a pension.

The measure will only affect about 2400 people per year but is expected to save roughly $119 million over the forward estimates.

Joe Caputo

The welfare package also includes a revived attempt to cut off pension supplements to people after six weeks overseas.

Two prominent migrant groups – the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Council of Australia (FECCA) and the National Ethnic Disability Alliance (NEDA) – are urging parliament to block the measures.

“It is particularly alarming those who will be most affected by these amendments are the most vulnerable of an already vulnerable cohort of the population – the elderly and people with disability,” the groups said written submission said.

The organisations fear elderly Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds will be forced to choose between abandoning unwell or dying family members abroad and losing significant income support.

FECCA Chair Joe Caputo said the organisation opposed proposals partly because pension recipients who have lived in Australia for less than 35 years will have their pension benefits reduced if they travel overseas for more than six weeks.

“Nearly 40 per cent of people receiving the Age Pension were not born in Australia. These provisions will disadvantage a significant section of the Australian population who were born overseas and who wish to maintain ties with their place of birth,” Mr Caputo said.

“Migration has made Australia great, and migrant Australians should not be punished in their older age because they wish to make an extended visit to their country of origin,” he said.

The Australian Government already imposes waiting periods of ten years for people born overseas before they can access pensions, he added.

“These additional changes will further disadvantage culturally and linguistically diverse Australians leaving them with fewer rights. This is inequitable and does not contribute to social cohesion within Australian society,” Mr Caputo said.

He expressed concern about other elements of the Bill that will impact some of the most vulnerable members of society including extended waiting periods for unemployment payments, further cuts to family payments, and the abolition of the energy supplement.


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist