Tony Abbott’s razor gang considered welfare crackdown on ‘job snobs’ under 30

Originally published on the ABC web site 29 January 2018  – http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-01-29/treasurer-joe-hockey-and-prime-minister-tony-abbott-stand-toget/9353138

Exclusive by political reporter Ashlynne McGhee and Michael McKinnon

Tony Abbott’s “razor gang” considered banning anyone under 30 from accessing income support in a radical proposal ahead of the 2014 budget, according to cabinet documents obtained by the ABC.

Key points:

  • Options included cutting off under-30s entirely, just those in areas with job opportunities, or with no work history
  • Most extreme proposal would have saved $9 billion over four years
  • Kevin Andrews expressed “significant concerns” about proposal

The expenditure review committee was made up of then-prime minister Mr Abbott, then-treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.

It requested then-social services minister Kevin Andrews look at how to ban “job snobs” from receiving the welfare payments.

In one document marked “protected”, “sensitive” and “cabinet in confidence”, Mr Andrews proposed three options to permanently or temporarily halt income support for job seekers under 30.

They included cutting off under-30s entirely, cutting off under-30s in areas with employment opportunities, and limiting income support to young people with a work history.

There was also an option to roll out an income-managed basics card to “lessen the harshness of the measure”.

The most extreme proposal would have saved the federal government nearly $9 billion over four years.

But Mr Andrews, a strong factional ally of Mr Abbott, also anticipated a backlash.

The documents reveal he may have been responsible for killing off the plan.

Concerns plan could lead to homelessness, youth crime

In a draft letter to Mr Abbott and copied to then-employment minister Eric Abetz and then-human services minister Marise Payne, Mr Andrews expressed “significant concerns” about the razor gang’s request.

“This is a fundamental change to Australia’s universal social security system … it is not clear that there is a strong evidence base for this approach,” he wrote in the attached proposal.

“Young people in financial hardship could experience homelessness, be driven to crime and other antisocial behaviour, family breakdown and possible criminal flow-on resulting from removing the social security safety net.”

He noted that there was already a crackdown on youth welfare factored into the 2014 budget and suggested any further changes be part of a broader review of welfare.

In a statement provided to the ABC this morning, Mr Abbott said:

“While I never comment on the deliberations of cabinet, the 2014 budget was an attempt to make serious structural reforms to lift our nation’s productivity.”

Senator Abetz also responded by saying the Abbott government “was right to consider all options”.

“I was pleased at the time that it reached a sensible landing to not pursue these reforms,” he said in a statement.

“The Coalition Government was and is eager to ensure that we don’t set up young Australians for a lifetime of welfare and in order to find a sensible way forward, of course governments should at least look at all options.”

Senator Cormann and Senator Payne declined to comment.

Then PM Tony Abbot and former Treasurer Joe Hockey

Mr Andrews and Mr Hockey have also been contacted for comment.

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