Migrants protest controversial pension change plans

Australia’s ethnic communities are urging senators to reject plans to make migrants wait up to 15 years before qualifying for aged or disability pensions.

A Senate committee will on Thursday investigate 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.

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.

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

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

Two peak migrant groups – the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Council of Australia and the National Ethnic Disability Alliance – 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,” its 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.

Meanwhile, the Law Council of Australia will add its voice to a chorus of opposition to drug testing welfare recipients, arguing it is neither a necessary nor proportionate response to substance abuse.

The council is concerned the changes could deny individuals procedural fairness, risk compounding disadvantage and potentially fall foul of international human rights obligations.

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