The Prime Minister has defended the biggest single cost-cutting decision in the budget, which forces new migrants to wait four years before accessing most government welfare payments.
Mr Morrison on Wednesday told SBS News the policy was “consistent with decisions” the government had made in the past.
According to the budget papers the government will save $671 million over five years by applying the four-year Newly Arrived Resident’s Waiting Period to anyone granted permanent residency in Australia from 1 January next year.
The duration of the waiting period to receive welfare payments previously depended on a migrant’s situation and visa type, but the new measure brings most government subsidies and visa classes in line with the current four-year wait to access JobSeeker, Austudy, and youth allowance payments.
“This has been a consistent policy the government has for some time, in terms of when people, when they come to country, get an entitlement to benefits,” Mr Morrison said.
“That’s consistent with decisions we’ve made in the past.”
Prior to the changes, which were revealed on Tuesday night as part of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s third federal budget, permanent migrants were able to immediately access the Family Tax Benefit B and some visa classes were exempt from wait periods.
A number of payments also previously had shorter two-year wait times for migrants, including the carer payment, dad and partner pay, parental leave pay, and Family Tax Benefit A.
A spokesperson for Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said the measures would create a clearer system.
“It further encourages self-sufficiency for newly arrived residents, and improves the sustainability of our welfare system.”
In a report published earlier this year, CEDA recommended the Newly Arrived Resident’s Waiting Period be reduced from four years to six months in order to give skilled migrants a better chance of finding employment.
Migrants coming to Australia on humanitarian visas won’t be subject to the four-year block on services.
The government has stressed the changes will only affect future permanent residents and won’t change the situation for people who are already on those visas.
A blatant money grab
The Prime Minister also pointed to the budget measures to help people already living in Australia earn extra money.
“What we’re also doing in this budget is ensuring that those who are on student visas, they can now work 40 hours a week,” he said.
Mr Morrison said the government is working through the “backlog of onshore claims” and ensuring that people who arrived in Australia during the pandemic have options to remain in Australia for longer.
Gabriela D’Souza, a senior economist with the Committee for Economic Development, told SBS News the budget decision was alarming.
“To me it seems like a blatant money grab from people who can’t work,” she said.
But she said the decision to remove the working hour cap for student in targeted industries was positive.
“Those students will be able to work as many hours as they want, but it also reduces the risk of exploitation, which could occur if students are in breach of their visa conditions,” she said.