Welfare changes a cash grab, Labor says

Rebecca Gredley
Labor's Linda Burney says the proposed welfare changes are a cash grab that will hurt people

Australians made redundant mid-career will be pushed into poverty through a revived proposal to change the welfare system, the federal opposition says.

The Morrison government is attempting to make changes to social security in a bid to save more than $290 million over the forward estimates.

Labor's social services spokeswoman Linda Burney described the changes as a cash grab that will hurt people when they need their savings the most.

"The psychological pain that some of these people will be going through is absolutely enormous," she said during debate on the bill.

The draft laws are on their way to the Senate after passing the lower house on Monday.

One of the three changes in the bill would make Australians wait up to six months before applying for some welfare payments, if they have $18,000 or more in liquid assets.

Currently the maximum waiting period applies to people with $11,500 or more of liquid assets, such as money in the bank or redundancy payments that haven't been paid out.

Ms Burney said it takes years before middle-aged Australians manage to find work again after losing their job, particularly when local industry shuts or moves away from where they live.

The wait time changes apply to Youth Allowance, Austudy, Sickness Allowance and Newstart - which is being rebranded as the Jobseeker Payment from March next year.

The changes were flagged in the 2017/18 budget, with the first version of the underpinning legislation lapsing at this year's election.

The draft laws also include changes to the pension, by stopping supplement payments to pensioners who are overseas for more than six weeks.

Their payments will be stopped immediately when moving overseas permanently.

The bill also changes requirements for migrants applying for both the aged pension and disability support pension, by making them live in Australia for longer before being able to apply.

To currently qualify people must have been a resident for a decade, including five continuous years.

But under the changes people must continually live in Australia for a decade, with either five years while of working age or more than five years without being on welfare.

Alternatively, people can fulfil the residency requirements if they have lived in Australia for 15 continuous years.

It doesn't apply to refugees.

Liberal MP Fiona Martin said the changes would ensure welfare was given to people who need it the most.

She said it brings the law into line with community expectations that migrants shouldn't expect immediate help from Australian taxpayers, particularly if they move close to retirement age.

Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie - whose Senate colleagues hold two crucial votes - said the minor party couldn't support the bill in its current form.

"The flaws in the bill would need to change substantially to garner our support," she said during the debate.