Toys for CSMC Kids Party!

Help CSMC bring the gift of Christmas so kids don’t miss out

‘Santa’ won’t make it to some families this year and many single mothers will wake up on Christmas morning to face the heartbreaking disappointment or resignation on their child’s face when they realise Santa didn’t come.

You can help make sure this doesn’t happen by donating to our campaign here:

For more than 10 years Council of Single Mothers and their Children (CSMC) has been there to help single mothers bring the joy of Christmas into their children’s lives through our Holiday Toys program; however being a single parent can sometimes be a lonely experience so in addition to our Toys for Kids program, this year CSMC is hosting an afternoon tea, with games and cool activities for kids. Hosting a party will give mums the opportunity to meet other mothers and enjoy some simple fun with their kids, but we need your help to make the magic happen.

CSMC is raising funds to make sure we can say yes to as many families as possible and we want you to help us play Santa. Your small donations add up fast and just $5 can make a difference, while $30 will make a gift a reality for one child.

Every cent CSMC receives will go towards giving the gift of Christmas to single mothers and their children.

Please donate to our online crowdfunding campaign by using this link:

Please take the time to forward this link to your networks. Email it to others who understand the importance of bringing some relief and joy to all children at Christmas, share on your facebook page, tweet and tell everyone you know to find us on Pozible at ‘toysforkids’.

Don’t forget to donate and please contact CSMC Project Worker Kerry Davies on 03 9654 0327 or if you can volunteer your time to help sort and pack toys or work at the party!

Death of a Statesman



Gough Whitlam may have been Prime Minister for slightly less than three years but during his short time in government he introduced some of the most far reaching and progressive social reforms in Australian history. Many of the benefits and services we still enjoy, and perhaps even take for granted, were the result of the massive achievements of the Whitlam led federal parliament of 1972-75.

For women parenting alone and the newly formed Council for the Single Mother and her Child (CSMC) four years of hard lobbying work paid off when, in March 1973, the Whitlam government’s Social Security Minister Bill Hayden introduced the Supporting Mothers Benefit for struggling unmarried single mothers and their children. In a letter written to CSMC in 2003 Hayden remembered this as the work of which he was most proud, above even the introduction of universal health care: providing women with access to this support put an end to forced adoptions in Australia, a system of abuse which only recently received a formal apology.

Equally important to the safety and independence of women parenting alone was the Whitlam government’s positive family law reform. Legal Aid was established and The Family Law Act of 1975 included the introduction of the Family Court and no fault divorce making it easier for women to leave a marriage without having to prove abuse or desertion and still retain the right to primary care of their children.

Under Whitlam all pensions were increased and properly indexed and women’s rights overall were hugely advanced beginning with the appointment of the first Women’s Advisor to the Prime Minister, arbitration for equal pay, granting of paid maternity leave for government employees, funding for women’s support services and the removal of sales tax on contraception.

When Whitlam made the Labor policy speech for the 1972 election campaign his respect and inclusion for women was evident when he opened with “Men and Women of Australia!”. Women of the era remember it as the first time they had been publicly acknowledged and addressed by a political candidate.

But Gough Whitlam wasn’t only a true Prime Minister for women: his government undertook work to begin development of Land Rights legislation and established a separate ministry for Aboriginal Affairs. Universal health care was made available to all Australians through the introduction of Medibank. Free university education became a reality and needs based school funding was implemented. Troops were withdrawn from Vietnam and military conscription ended. We saw diplomatic advancement in Asia, the introduction of the Racial Discrimination Act and Environmental Protection legislation. Whitlam removed God Save the Queen as our national anthem and created an Australian-based honours system. The Death Penalty was abolished, increased funding for migrants, the arts, heritage and housing was delivered and 39 international treaties and conventions signed. Our elections were more effectively democratised by introducing the One Vote One Value system and lowering the voting age to 18. Whitlam’s government argued for sanctions against apartheid in South Africa at the UN, while banning racially discriminatory sporting teams from visiting Australia. Infrastructure investment saw Sewage systems delivered to working class areas of Australia’s major cities.

This is only a small snapshot of a long and impressive list of achievements from the Whitlam government. After such a brief time in government almost anything that you appreciate or enjoy in modern Australian culture can be traced back to his short and undemocratically dismissed government of the early 70s.

In his book The Whitlam Government 1972-1975 Gough Whitlam said “A conservative government survives essentially by dampening expectations and subduing hopes. Conservatism is basically pessimistic, reformism is basically optimistic.”

No government is perfect including Whitlam’s, but how sad we have moved so far from the vision and values this great man brought to our country.

Vale Gough Whitlam July 11 1916 – Oct 21 2014: your legacy for single mothers will never be forgotten.

Parenting in an age of uncertainty

by Liz Shield


Ross Griff flickr cc

(Image credit: Ross Griff, flickr creative commons)


CSMC member, Liz Shield, shares how she finds meaning and beauty in life, teaching her values and exploring the world with her daughter, while making the most of what she has.

As parents, we all vary, but essentially what we want is to do what we think is best for our children and to protect them from harm.  Right?

I am a single mum with a 15 month old daughter and some days I feel like this is achievable. Other days, I am swamped by a tidal wave of despair and anxiety worrying about her future.

As someone who is passionate about justice, I have been involved in community action around a number of causes over the last 20 years. I have rallied, sat-in, marched and occupied. I have signed petitions, written letters, held banners and phoned members of parliament. I’m still an activist, but now I have to co-ordinate my participation around my baby’s needs and sleep times. Participating is a lot more involved now.

There are some indisputable facts about our current global situation: unequal division of resources; over consumption and waste; the massive drain on finite natural resources, threatening habitat and biodiversity; control of our economy by undemocratic institutions motivated by profit; and pollution, which is adversely affecting our climate.

I want to be able to live self-sufficiently so I started to think about what I could do to live happily, save money, minimize our impact and in some way prepare ourselves for an uncertain future, as well as instilling the values I wished to share with my daughter.

Here’s what I came up with:

Consume less news

I realized I was on information overload and needed to reduce my consumption. Now I get my news from a limited number of sources, and choose not to watch it on TV.


Play more 

Not watching TV means I have more time to play with my daughter.


Plant a Garden

Even though I am renting and have limited space, I want my daughter to know where food comes from and experience the wonder of watching a seed germinate and turn into a plant. She loves playing in dirt and “helping” me with gardening. This is also an exercise in food activism, as we are saving money and eating healthily while reducing food miles.


Talk to the animals

Children in western nations have weaker immune systems today because they have less contact with animals. My daughter pats lots of dogs and plays with guinea pigs and her nanna’s chooks. We have visited the Collingwood Children’s farm. It feels like a good start in cultivating her interest in and compassion for our nonhuman companions. Also, she knows where food really comes from.


Walk the talk 

To save money and reduce my carbon footprint, I try to drive my car less. I wanted to buy a ‘cargo bike” those really amazing ones with a large square carrier for children. They cost several thousand dollars, which I don’t have. For now, I try and live locally and walk a lot. We also catch the train (because she LOVES it) and patronise small local businesses.


Be a Borrower 

Instead of trying to OWN everything I am enjoying showing my child the value of sharing and belonging. As members of our local library and toy library we can read and play with amazing books and toys, then give them back! And get more! This breaks the cycle of consumption and waste and makes my single parent pay stretch further.


You can make it!

I don’t consider myself very “crafty” but when I was pregnant I decided to make my baby some bunting for her room, rather than buy it, so I could look at it and know I made it for her. Now I try to apply that to a lot of things. I enjoy making activities for her to play with, which means we have to depend less on imported and poorly made items. I hope she will appreciate “stuff” comes from resources and people’s labour, and will know the value of learning skills ourselves.


Go outside

I have spent so much time worrying about the world and trying to save it, that I have been guilty of forgetting to enjoy it. I take my daughter to the beach and the bush, and show her the moon, the river, the sky. In doing this, I see for myself the beauty in the world, and remember there is so much good that just doesn’t get reported because it is right there, under our noses.


It is important for me to include my daughter in protests and community campaigns I am involved with; however, I’m finding peace and joy in the small acts of direct action we take every day that change us both, as well as the world.

For more information about global financial and other changes and suggestions for a DIY lifestyle please see

2014 Victorian state election: where do the major parties stand on issues affecting women parenting alone?

The 2014 Victorian state election is bearing down on us and considering the current national political climate the outcome is likely to be close.

Federally, with the LNP claiming victory in 2013, we saw an immediate, hard shift to the political right and a steady march toward policies and tough budget measures calculated to drive vulnerable Australians, including women (and particularly women parenting alone), deeper into hardship and poverty. With this in mind, it becomes even more important for single mother families to know where our state politicians stand on issues affecting the women and children of Victoria.

To help us identify how their policies will potentially impact women parenting alone, CSMC approached state representatives for all three major political parties requesting feedback on a list of questions relevant to issues affecting our members. Currently we have only received comment from the Victorian Greens; however we do have a meeting scheduled with the Shadow Minister for Women, Danielle Green to hear more about Labor’s policies for women and their children.

At CSMC’s initial contact with the State Liberals in July we were advised to send our questions to the Minister for Women’s Affairs, Heidi Victoria, as well as to the Minister for Children, Wendy Lovell. When neither of these Ministers responded we were told we should be addressing our questions to the Minister for Community Services, Mary Wooldridge. Almost two months later we are still waiting for a response from Minister Wooldridge.

In our interaction with the Minister for Women’s Affairs, Heidi Victoria’s office we were told, like many others we were confused about the Minister’s role. The staffer we spoke to told us the Minister for Women’s Affairs wasn’t there to represent issues of equity for women overall, but represented working women and women in business and government. The implications of this conversation being single mothers are all on welfare, don’t work, don’t own businesses and aren’t represented in government, therefore are not the concern of the Minister.

It is deeply troubling to think our politicians could be so out of touch with the lives of the people they represent. Women who parent alone are growing in number, are progressively more politically savvy and represent up to 20% of the vote in some constituencies.

As a cohort we are growing increasingly tired of politicians who hear ‘single mother’ and see us only as people on welfare and not as women who are unfailingly stepping up to the job of parenting alone when our relationships break down, as well as contributing members of the Australian community who make significant financial and personal sacrifices to ensure our children thrive despite the great odds stacked against us.

On behalf of our members, CSMC would sincerely like to thank the Victorian Greens for taking the time to respectfully respond to our questions and to Danielle Green from the Victorian Labor Party for following up on our concerns and making a time to meet with us.

You can find the Greens answers to our questions below and we will keep you posted on further developments with the other political parties, including our forthcoming meeting with the Shadow Minister for Women so you are able to inform your vote at the state election come November.

How will your party work to ensure single parent families are raised out of poverty, regardless of their source of income?

There are a number of ways to raise single parents out of poverty.  One way is to ensure the government payments are adequate for stay-at-home parents to live off.

As you will know, the Australian Greens have provided a strong voice for single mothers, being the only party to oppose the cuts to Centrelink single parent payments. We have also advocated for a $50 increase in the Newstart payment.

Rather than providing adequate support to single parent households, the Abbott Government is only making things worse. Single parents families will be unfairly impacted by the budget, with ACOSS finding that single parent households on low incomes are $50 per week worse off as a result of cuts to family payments alone.

Cuts to family payments and the single parenting payment, the loss of the pensioner education supplement (again) as well as the increased costs of medication and visits to the doctor will all have a substantial impact on the household budget. NATSEM suggest some single parent families will lose more than 14% of their disposable income as a result of budget measures.

The Greens will not sit by while the Government keeps punishing single parents and making it harder for them to afford the absolute essentials like rent, food, utilities bills and school costs. Since budget night, the Australian Greens have been steadfast in opposing any budget measure that punishes vulnerable people.

The Australian Greens are moving ahead with legislation to reverse the cuts to single parents by the Howard and Gillard Governments. We are consulting on draft legislation that will see single parents remain eligible for parenting payments until their youngest child turns 16, rather than the current limit of 8.

Other ways to lift single parents out of poverty are addressed in subsequent questions.

How does your party plan to increase the availability of secure family friendly jobs with predictable working hours? 

The Greens understand that having a job with good workplace conditions is incredibly important to families, particularly single parents, for whom juggling the responsibilities of work and home is even more demanding and challenging.

Workplace conditions, like wages and government allowances, are controlled by federal laws. The Australian Greens believe workplace laws should provide better work-life balance, with people having more control over their working arrangements and enforceable rights to flexible working practices, balanced against the legitimate operational needs of the employer. People should also have legal protection against working excessive hours.

The Australia Greens are also strong advocates of equal pay for equal work. Australian men are said to earn 17.1% more than Australian women, and men are said to be paid 10% more in the same professions.

In Victoria, in July our unemployment rate hit 7%, the highest rate since 2001. This is the tenth month in a row that unemployment in Victoria has been above 6 per cent. With the closure of many manufacturing industries and a high population growth rate, it’s clear that more needs to be done to create new jobs.

The Victorian Greens have a number of election policies that will generate jobs. Two already announced include: our plan to build 50 new trams for the network, which will create around 500 local jobs; and our plan for a Victorian Cash for Containers scheme, which will create over 1,200 jobs. Closer to the election the Greens will announce more specific commitments which will lead to job creation.

How will your party guarantee all children are able to participate fully in their education, ensuring all aspects of schooling – uniforms, equipment, fees and school activities including camps and excursions – are affordable?

The Greens understand that for single parents, schooling can be expensive and extra-curricular activities can be unaffordable.

The Victorian Greens support elimination of all fees for ‘non-core’ activities charged by public schools. This can be achieved through increased funding and reinstating the Education Maintenance Allowance. This allowance should be paid at a level sufficient to ensure that all students can afford to participate in the full range of extracurricular activities including but not limited to camps, excursions and instrumental music.

How does your party plan to assist single mothers to study and train for careers that offer secure employment and opportunity for career growth?

The Greens believe people are entitled to well-funded and high quality, life-long public education and training.

For decades, TAFE has provided quality, low cost education and training to Victorians of all ages and backgrounds to give them the skills to get meaningful jobs. TAFE plays a critical role in supporting women to train and obtain skills to get quality jobs.

In 2009, the former Labor government introduced market contestability to VET. This led to a sudden rise in the number of private training organisations and a blow out in the VET budget.

Instead of reining in the funding of the new private providers, many of whom were rorting the system in 2012, the Coalition government slashed TAFE budgets.

This has led to campus and course closures across Victoria, higher student fees, less student concessions and the loss of thousands of dedicated TAFE staff.

As a result, VET students of all ages are struggling with the everyday cost of basics such as food and transport, and are concerned about their accumulating debt.

The Greens understand the importance of TAFE. Colleen Hartland, Greens MP for the western suburbs, received her first qualification at age 40 as a TAFE student.

The Greens will restore core public TAFE funding and reinstate TAFE as the primary, low cost provider of VET in Victoria.

The Greens support will ensure everyone has access to quality, affordable training opportunities.

How does your party plan to increase the availability of affordable, secure housing for single mother families?

The housing affordability crisis in Australia has come to define this generation. Successive governments have failed to keep up with the housing needs of a diverse, growing and ageing population. And this Victorian Coalition Government is no exception.

Despite 34,000 people currently facing years on the public housing waiting list, the Napthine Government has become the lowest funder of social housing per head of population of any state or territory in Australia. The Coalition provides just $74 for social housing per head of population, compared to $165 in NSW and $265 per person in South Australia, our two closest neighbours.

The Coalition Government’s long awaited social housing framework failed to provide any vision or make any investment to increase the number of public housing dwellings to meet the growing need. Further it has cut funding to highly successful programs, such as the Social Housing Advocacy and Support Program (SHASP).

The Greens stand for increased investment to build new social housing dwellings that are affordable, sustainable, safe, secure and suited to client needs. We support restoring funding of SHASP and expanding programs to help prevent homelessness.

Affordable private rental housing is also essential. An increasing number of Victorians will rent for life. However, currently less than one per cent of rental properties in Melbourne are affordable to a single person on Newstart, and less than two per cent to a single parent with one child.

To increase the number of affordable rental properties, the Greens are standing for minimum targets for provision of affordable housing in urban renewal precincts, such as Fisherman’s bend, Richmond Station and E-Gate in Docklands.

Often rental properties are expensive to run as they have old, inefficient heating and hot water systems and are riddled with holes that let out the heat. They can also be insecure, with tenancy not guaranteed in the long term.

The Victorian Greens have introduced legislation into parliament to create minimum standards for rental properties in relation to repair, comfort, safety, facilities and energy efficiency. If passed, this law would also remove the ability for landlords to evict renters without giving a lawful reason. The aim is just for basic, decent accommodation for everyone.

The Greens believe the housing affordability crisis and years-long waiting list for public housing are unacceptable in a modern and prosperous economy.

What does your party plan to do to increase access to flexible and affordable childcare for single mother families across Victoria?

The Greens understand the provision of quality, affordable, and flexible care is a necessity for mothers.

Many families are also struggling to find the quality and affordable childcare they need. Investment is needed to ensure as many Victorian children as possible get the best start in life.

Instead of helping families meet the rising costs of childcare, Labor and the Abbott Government have made it harder for parents to make ends meet.

The Abbott Government has frozen the level of family income at which the maximum child care benefit subsidy can be claimed at $42,000 a year for the next three years and wants to continue to pause the maximum rebate at $7500 per child.

The Australian Greens opposed the Abbott Government’s cuts to the child care benefit as they are going to take an extra $57 a week from low income families.

Unfortunately Labor teamed up with the Liberals to pass this through the Australian Senate.

We need to stand up for working families, not punish them by making childcare unaffordable.

The Australian Greens will continue to stand up for single mothers and families to make child care more affordable.

Not only does child care need to be affordable, it needs to be available and in some areas there are long and growing wait lists. We know there has been a boom in Victoria’s population with 2,100 new Victorians each week. As a result there is a shortage of child care services in some areas.

To bring down waiting lists the Victorian Greens are standing for greater investment in child care centres in growth areas and areas of high socio-economic need.

When will legal aid funding be increased to ensure women have access to legal representation for the full extent of their family law proceedings?

The Greens strongly support increasing funding to legal aid and have advocated for this in the face of cuts by the Napthine Government in recent years.

We believe that both community legal centres and legal aid must have secure funds, in both criminal and civil jurisdictions, to ensure access to justice for all Victorians.

Women, in particular have suffered as a result of cuts to legal aid and community legal centres. Women have greater need for these services for family law proceedings and proceedings relating to family violence.

The Greens are standing for a greater range of specialist services available at court to victims of family violence so as to provide an integrated response at their first point of contact with the justice system.

What will your party do to protect women and children experiencing family violence?

In Australia one in three women over the age of 15 will experience physical assault and one in five will experience sexual assault.

In the face of worsening violence, the Liberal Government’s response has been totally inadequate, with measly funding and few reforms to address the issue. We can do so much more to make woman safe from violence. We need serious investment to make meaningful change.

The Greens are standing for:

  • Investment in a comprehensive family violence prevention strategy
  • Increased provision ofsupport services for crisis response, case management, women’s health, housing, legal assistance and court support.
  • Appropriate resourcing of multi-agency risk-management services partnerships in all regions, that focus on keeping women safe from high risk, violent offenders.
  • Reinstatement of funding for the Victorian Systemic Review of Family Violence Death at the Coroner’s Court to review.

The Greens are committed to reforms that will ensure men are held to account for their violence, and women are supported and protected.

Labor have committed to a Royal Commission into deaths which result from family violence. Will you back Labor’s commitment and what will you do to ensure this is still set up if the Liberal Party gains government?

The Greens support the Royal Commission; however we do not want it to provide a smokescreen for delaying investment in solutions now.

Royal Commissions take time – often years to complete. We already well understand many of the problems and solutions to family violence. We cannot afford to wait for the outcomes of the Royal Commission before acting. We will pressure a Labor Government, not only to carry out the Royal Commission, but to make meaningful investment in the short term in chronically underfunded family violence support services.

If the Liberal Party gains government, we will support Labor efforts in parliament to move ahead with the Royal Commission, as well as pressure them to invest in further services.

Will your party establish a ministerial reference group to ensure single mother families are represented in policy development on issues that affect them?

The Greens are strong advocates of meaningful consultation with the community sector in relation to policy reforms that affect the communities they represent and provide services to. Too often, the government’s so-called consultation has in fact involved providing information to groups about government plans after they have been decided on.

The Greens support the establishment of ministerial reference groups in relation to a range of areas, including policies that affect single parents and mothers.

Federal Budget Summary

It’s taken us a while, but CSMC has finally finished an in-depth review of the federal budget. While we did try to capture as many measures as possible likely to impact single mother families this budget has proven to be so full of hidden nastiness it’s likely there are other, individual impacts depending on your circumstances.

Where we are not sure how the measures will impact single mother families, or if we think the impact is a potentially unintended consequence, we’ve sought clarity from the Treasury Department. So far they have remained unresponsive.

2014 Federal Budget targets those who can least afford it.

Last night the federal government delivered a Budget they insist is an essential remedy to the massive financial mess left to them by the previous Labor government.

Regardless of whether this is true or not (and all evidence points to, not!) what is clear is most of the ‘heavy lifting’ the government says is needed to get the economy back on track will be done by those who can least afford it.

Changes to payments for families

Family payments are set to undergo a two-year freeze, meaning payments will stagnate against CPI increases and the Pensioner Education Supplement will be abolished, making it virtually impossible for single mothers to afford to undertake higher education.

The introduction of a $750 annual supplement for each child aged between six and 12 years (payable to single parents receiving the maximum rate of Family Tax Benefit Part A) will do little to offset the losses single parents experience when they move from parenting payments to Newstart Allowance.

Where previously the earning threshold for Family Tax Benefit Part B was set as high as $150,000 we will now see this payment cut out at $100,000 and only be paid until a child turns six. Low-income single parents will get some reprieve from this, with payment extended until the child turns 12, however single parents currently receive Family Tax Benefit Part B until their child turns 18 so this change represent a loss of around $115 per fortnight for thousands of single parents.

Introduction of Medicare co-payment fee

The introduction of the $7 Medicare co-payment fee for GP and non emergency hospital visits may seem like a small amount to people earning a decent wage, but many single mothers and low income earners don’t have $7 in their budget to spare. CSMC hears from single mothers who tell us they already don’t have enough money to cover the basic essentials and going to the doctor will now become an unaffordable ‘luxury’.

For single mothers, low income earners and vulnerable older Australians, who are already struggling to meet the basic costs of living, this fee is likely to mean a delay in visiting the doctor, potentially exposing them to significant negative health outcomes over the long term.

Youth unemployment

The most disturbing aspects of the Budget however, are the measures targeting young Australians, many who are children of struggling single mothers and low-income families.

The eligibility age for Newstart will now rise to 24 and access to income support will only be granted for 6 months out of every year for anyone under 30 years of age unless otherwise exempt. Eligibility for Disability Allowance will also be tightened for anyone aged 29 or younger and assessments to determine ongoing eligibility will increase.

Youth unemployment is double the rate of unemployment for the general population but the coalition’s answer to tackling this concerning issue is to create a new underclass and drive a generation of young Australians into poverty.

This is a policy that appears to be aimed at pushing down wages. If the choice comes down to starving or accepting $9.00 or less per hour most people will choose not to starve. With housing costs at record highs and cost of living increases rising beyond the capacity of low income earners to keep up however, cutting people off payments and potentially lowering wages will lead to even more widespread poverty and homelessness among our young and vulnerable.

Cuts to education

Cuts to education funding are a blow for single parents and the pulling back from Gonski reforms will hurt our kids. The school kids bonus will also go leaving more families struggling with the costs of their children’s education.

School costs are already putting pressure on many parents, especially single mothers who, (after paying for rent, food and basic utilities) are left with little for extras. These mothers are already going without to ensure their children receive a decent education.

A government truly committed to growth and stability would recognise investing in education is one of the most important things it can do to secure our economic future. In a country as wealthy as ours, receiving a high standard of education should be every child’s right, but access to quality education is viewed as luxury to be granted only to those who can afford it.

Strangely, while taking to the boot to our children’s education, the Abbott government has seen fit to increased funding for Chaplains to deliver religious education in our schools. The money being spent to increase religious participation would be better spent on helping poor families meet the cost of education.

This Budget is clearly the fruit of an ideology where poverty is viewed as a moral failing of the individual; yet this ideology is one that fails to recognise its own perverse role in creating systems that entrench poverty, ensuring certain groups remain trapped by circumstances beyond their power to control.

CSMC Response to Commisssion of Audit

The Commission of Audit report, released on 1 May 2014, has been universally slammed by welfare groups as being unbalanced and unfair. This is a view supported by CSMC, however we would go a step further and suggest this report effectively adds up to a war on the poor, with women and children being among the hardest hit.

Although Treasurer Joe Hockey has been quick to emphasise the Commission of Audit report is not the budget, the report has delivered a blueprint for the radical shake up of government programs and services, with more than 80 recommendations aimed at saving the government around $70 billion per year by 2023.

While the audit briefly acknowledges the government’s responsibility to protect the truly disadvantaged it is underpinned by a core conservative ideology of personal responsibility and choice.  Poverty, in this context, is viewed as a moral failing and while the report does tackle some areas of poorly targeted spending, recommendations in the report stand to undermine many of our vital social protections and drive already vulnerable Australian’s deeper into poverty.

Commission of Audit Key Recommendations

Cuts to family payments

Under changes proposed by the commission, Family Tax Benefit Part A would remain and families would receive the maximum rate of payment until they achieve an income of $48,837, where it would then reduce by 20c in every dollar earned until the payment reaches nil. Family Tax Benefit Part B would be abolished and replaced with a supplement payment in line with the current rate of Family Tax Benefit Part B ($4,241 for families with children under five years and $3,073 for families with children five to eight years) payable to single parent families until their youngest child turns eight.

Cutting Family Tax Benefit Part B once the youngest child turns eight is seen by the commission as an incentive to work, with the implication parents with children over eight have a greater capacity to work while their children are at school. However, reducing payments to parents once their child turns eight is short sighted and presumes the availability of jobs that align with school hours, when in reality these jobs are few and far between.

Indexing income support payments to Average Weekly Earnings (AWE)

The commission has recommended Benchmarking Parenting Payments at 25% of average weekly earnings and Pension and Carer payments at 28% of AWE. This is justified by the commission as being reflective of women’s increased workforce participation.

By benchmarking payments against average weekly earnings instead of the higher average male earning the commission is effectively acknowledging the gender pay gap that exists in this country. But rather than addressing the disparity in men’s and women’s wages, the commission is seeking to entrench this inequality into our welfare system.

This recommendation will, if adopted, reduce pensions by $100 a fortnight within a decade and leave single parents $75 a fortnight worse off.

Disability Support Pension

The commission is calling for a tightening of eligibility criteria for disability payments and the implementation of a 12 week assessment regime to determine ongoing eligibility for payment. This will mean increasing the frequency of medical assessments required to maintain this payment and will likely result in many people moved from the Disability Support Pension onto Newstart Allowance.

The eligibility criteria for DSP is already strict and the assessment process, including the medical assessment, is intensive and intrusive. Requiring people on DSP to repeat this process every three months is likely to have negative impacts on the physical and mental wellbeing and frequency of assessments should be undertaken yearly at most. For those moving from a Disability Support payment to Newstart this will mean a significant reduction in their income support payments.

Carers payment

The commission is recommending radical changes to Carer’s Allowance, calling for a review of eligibility criteria and targeting payments only to those whose caring responsibilities limit their capacity to work.  They are seeking to limit the annual Carer Supplement to one payment per year and capping the income test for Carer Allowance at $150,000 per annum.

As with other income support payments, the commission would like to see Carer’s Allowance benchmarked at 28% of AWE, lowering the overall payment.

Carers are already overburdened and under resourced and most get very little respite from their caring responsibilities. The majority of carers in this country are women, many who are juggling multiple responsibilities of working and parenting while providing care for families and loved ones.

Extended waiting periods for allowances

Forcing young people leaving school to wait six months before being eligible to apply for Youth Allowance assumes jobs are there for young people to take up, but at 12.2% youth unemployment in Australia is double the general unemployment rate.

Extending the waiting period for payments will have negative financial impacts low income families, particularly single mothers, who lose family payments once their child turn 16.

Forced relocations

Rather than addressing the lack of regional jobs and employment opportunities for young Australian’s, the commission’s solution for youth unemployment is to force young unemployed people to relocate or lose their income support after 12 months.

The problem facing young Australian’s is not an unwillingness to work, but a structural deficiency, which limits employment opportunities for low skilled workers. Rather than forcing people to relocate the government would do better to invest in regional development.

Income taper rates

Under the commission’s proposal the income taper rate would increase to 75% reducing the amount income support recipients could earn before it would affect their allowance.

Income taper rates were only recently adjusted to allow for a mildly higher earning capacity of $100 per fortnight. This recommendation undoes this change.

Wage indexation and lowering of minimum wage

By setting the ‘Minimum Wage Benchmark’ at 44% of average weekly earnings the commission has effectively called for the reduction of the adult minimum wage from $622.20 per week to $488.90 per week.  Again, this is reflective of women’s lower wages and gender pay inequality in this country.

Australians are already struggling to get by on minimum wage and cutting wages is perverse and cynical, especially in light of wages at the top end of the scale, which are out of control.

Cutting minimum wage will lead to further poverty for a significant number of Australians, particularly women who represent the majority of underemployed or low paid workers in this country. Lowering minimum wage will also likely lower the overall average weekly earnings, leading to further reductions to income support payments, compounding poverty in Australia.

Cuts to homelessness services

The federal government has already cut around $40 million dollars from its homelessness budget and now, the commission is arguing housing affordability and prevention of homelessness is primarily a state responsibility.

The commission is calling for the government to limit its involvement in housing to Rent Assistance payments and an extension of Rent Assistance to public housing tenants providing the state governments charge market rents for these properties.

At CSMC we are seeing a steady increase in single mothers struggling to afford their rent or mortgage payments and homelessness is on the rise. If the changes to payments and the reduction of minimum wage are adopted by the government women and children will be hardest hit.

Raising rents on government properties to market value will most certainly increase homelessness and poverty for unemployed and low income earners.

Raise student share of tertiary education costs to 55%

The commission is arguing for tertiary students to bear more of the cost of their education. The report recommends deregulation of university fees to increase competition among universities, while calling for students to pay 55% of their higher education costs (up from 41%) at the same time as recommending HELP repayments commence when they start earning minimum wage.

Many low income earners are already priced out of tertiary education and for single mothers, many of who are already on minimum wage, this has the potential to close off access to higher education altogether.

Water down Gonski reforms

The report recommends winding back federal responsibility for schools and handing this back to the states, while also calling for the abolition of commonwealth vocational education programs and a watering down the Gonski school reforms.

This represents a set back for our children’s education and undoes reforms that would have ensured access to quality education for all Australian children and would be a serious a blow to children from poor families.

Medicare co-payment fee

The government hinted it was looking at the introduction of a $6 co-payment fee for GP and hospital emergency visits prior to the release of the Commission of Audit report. The report has taken this further, recommending a $15 co-payment fee for all GP visits and non-emergency treatments at hospital emergency departments for up to 15 visits per year, reducing to $7.50 per visit thereafter with lower rates for concession card holders.

Introducing a co-payment fee for GP visits will have little impact on wealthier Australians but for single mothers, low income earners and vulnerable older Australians this is likely to have significant and potentially dire impacts on our health and the health of our children.

Single mothers are already going without medication and other vital medical treatment as they run to try and keep up with cost of living increases. For single mothers who fall just over the line where they no longer qualify for a health care card, a $15 GP fee will lead to more women delaying seeking medical assistance.

In conclusion

Risk of poverty in Australia is significantly higher for women than it is for men. For single mothers this risk is even greater, with 25% of single mother families already living below the poverty line.

Single mothers are more likely than any other welfare group to be working, however they are also the most likely to be underemployed or working in low paid jobs. Poverty and homelessness among single mother families has already risen since changes to income support were introduced and these women are likely to suffer most under the changes proposed by the Commission of Audit.

CSMC considers the Commission of Audit report to be socially irresponsible, unjust and patently unfair. It is particularly punishing to women who take on the burden of caring responsibility in this country, with very little assistance or recognition of how much this unpaid work saves the community.