Media & Speeches

The Best Welfare is Working

This opinion article by Business Council Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott was published in the Daily Telegraph on 23 September 2016. 

Growing up in public housing, I learned firsthand how government support can help people to improve their lives.

Having a safe and secure place to live, one that my family could not otherwise have afforded, gave me a chance to focus on what my grandmother taught me was important – my education.

And focusing on my education provided me a pathway to my first job, and ultimately my career.

For many Australian families, getting access to the right kind of government support at the right time is the key to setting them up for future success in life.

But, as Social Services Minister Christian Porter detailed on Tuesday, too often our current welfare system fails to deliver that support.

A government review of the data tells us many young people – students, parents and carers – are at risk of being on welfare for a lot of their lives.

Now, I want to be clear: in a country like ours we will always need a strong social safety net. Australia is a country that can and should look after those who can’t financially support themselves.

But that is not the majority of Australians.

For most people on welfare, our aim should be to help them get on their feet, get the skills they need, and help them find a job so they can support themselves and their families.

We don’t want a system where people can be on welfare for most of their lives. And we must do everything we can to prevent a generation of kids growing up in families where everyone is jobless.

Consider this: the collective lifetime cost of every person now on welfare is an estimated $4.8 trillion. Any system that’s in the billions, let alone the trillions, must be held to account, with rigorous assessment to show how it has improved the lives of those Australians in the program – and delivers value for money for taxpayers.

But it seems that our current system is not producing good outcomes for the majority of people. The money isn’t targeted to those who need it most. And it’s not as focused on helping people into work as it should be.

The government’s Australian Priority Investment Approach will put improving people’s lives at the centre of the system. And data will drive where the money is spent, and what it is spent on.

We don’t have the full details yet on how this new approach will work. And we don’t know if it will work. But we do know that something has to change.

The government will use some of the potential trillions of dollars to trial new approaches. It will fund the approaches that work, and drop those that don’t.

Most importantly the money will be focused on improving the lives of those on welfare, so they can get themselves to a place where they’re no longer dependent on government support and are in work.

And that will also allow us to ensure our social safety net remains sustainable for those Australians who can’t support themselves financially.

As the business community, our contribution is to build strong businesses that employ people and pay them good wages. That’s the best way to achieve social progress.