“There is a wisdom in not fixing things that aren’t broken,” Mr Porter told a State of the Nation audience in Canberra. “If you’re going to engage in reform, it’s critical to identify the problems that exist within the current system.”
Mr Porter discussed the social services inquiry that has taken “two years and three ministers” – himself, Michaelia Cash and Alan Tudge – to complete, and what reforms the Turnbull Government would be implementing as a result of its findings.
Mr Porter described the inquiry process as “looking at deep structural problems that haven’t been tackled in decades”.
He said when his government came into power in 2013, the amount of spending on welfare was unsustainable, and that the yearly welfare bill under the Labor Government was 100 per cent of the total income tax revenue.
He said currently, this is down to 80 per cent, which he described as still a very large amount, but that it was “getting towards something that looks like sustainability”. He said that since the 2013 election, the Turnbull Government’s combined savings have been $150 billion dollars, and that making such saving has been “unpopular work”, but it has ensured the sustainability of the welfare system.
“The decision to end some of these payments was difficult and not overly popular, and open to ruthless point-scoring from the other side, but it absolutely was the right thing to do for the Australian people,” he said.
Speaking on the results of the inquiry, they found around 100,000 individuals on job-seeker welfare who consistently missed appointments required as part of their welfare (i.e., job interviews), never faced consequences for these failed appointments.
Additionally, when missed appointments were availed by “reasonable excuse” pertaining to drug and alcohol issues, there was no effort to help the individual overcome their substance dependencies.
“The system boxes up, ignores, and fails to help people with drug and alcohol problems,” Mr Porter said.
He said that individuals who used this reason for missing an appointment increased 131 per cent in a year, and that at present you can use the excuse without anyone insisting you have to address the underlying issue.
Mr Porter described this as a huge component of the system failing badly.
“The system had been putting too many people in the too-hard basket. Not giving them the focus, attention or help that they need.
“For the first time treating drug and alcohol issues will be counted as a valid part of your job seeking activities.”
Mr Porter said the government will be undertaking a limited trial of drug testing along with providing rehabilitation support for those missing appointments due to drug and alcohol related reasons.
“All these structural changes are accompanied by massive investments including $685 million over four years to address drug and alcohol dependence,” he said.
“These reforms are not about saving money, they are about saving individual lives.”
Mr Porter also expressed the “evergreen” importance of working, saying “dependence is poverty, and the only escape from poverty is a job”.
“Work remains a sacred form of giving,” he said. “Work provides depth and breadth to people’s lives. The first reward we see is a sense of dignity, a sense of pride, and a sense of purpose. We see feelings of isolation give way to feelings of belonging. It gives meaning in life.
“All our reforms are about giving more people more opportunity to grow from these benefits.”
Click here to see all the highlights from State of the Nation 2017