Richmond Fellowship WA chief executive Joe Calleja said new rules, under the Federal Government’s Employment Services model, were concerning.
He said Centrelink staff would have no discretion to make decisions when responding to job seekers’ non-attendance and breaches of performance.
Instead, people receiving unemployment benefits who did not attend a meeting with an employment service provider without a serious reason would have their benefit suspended.
Mr Calleja said in the United Kingdom, people were taking their lives because of punitive job seeker rules and the same would happen in Australia.
‘If you have a scenario where someone genuinely wants to get a job, they’re in poverty, their self-esteem is slowly being crushed by the fact they can’t get work, they then have their benefit removed, what hope is left for them?’ he said.
‘Some people will go to friends and family and they will help them out, but some people will feel so ashamed and so distressed, so alone that for them, the only option left is to take their life.’
Mr Calleja said changes were based on the assumption that people were rorting the system.
‘A small percentage of people fall into that category (but) most people want to work, they want to be able to have a life,’ he said.
A Department of Employment spokesman said if changes went ahead, it would be limited to the application of short-term financial penalties for failing to attend appointments.
‘Centrelink will continue to make decisions on the application of the majority of compliance penalties for job seekers receiving income support,’ the spokesman said. ‘That is, penalties for non-attendance at all other appointments, activities and job interviews, as well as decisions on whether a job seeker had refused a suitable job without good reason.
‘Centrelink and employment service providers would continue to have full discretion with regard to those penalty decisions and will exercise this discretion in accordance with the same guidelines.’
Changes will apply from July 2015 if approved.