Australian Towns Depend Upon Welfare
"Towns Survive On Benefit Cheques" The Courier-Mail (27/11/1999)

Queensland is fragmenting into regions of glaring social disadvantage in which more than half of some communities receive some form of government benefit.

Centrelink figures have revealed the Toowoomba and Bundaberg regions are home to the state's highest numbers of welfare recipients with more than 40,000 people receiving a hand-out in each centre.

The proportion on welfare remains high even after those in receipt of family payments are precluded.

In the Toowoomba region alone, which has a population of about 90,000, 48,904 people receive a welfare benefit of some kind, including family payment, pensions or unemployment allowance.

Toowoomba's placement at the top of the welfare beneficiaries' list reflected the large number of people attracted to the city for retirement, federal Member for Groom Ian Macfarlane said.

"I don't see the figures as negative at all," he said. "There are a lot of people who are disadvantaged but the community as a whole is doing quite well"

In Bundaberg, Mayor Kay McDuff has described as "staggering" figures which show 43,018 people from a population of about 77,000 receive some form of government benefit.

"This year sugar prices are low and from that there is certainly a carryover into the city from the point of view, if the farmers aren't spending, someone else has to suffer" Cr McDuff said. "I don't take much pride in that we haven't enough work to offer to everyone who lives here."

Queensland's top 10 "welfare" regions are Toowoomba, Bundaberg, Mackay, Cairns, Ipswich, Hervey Bay, Biggera Waters, Woodridge, Beenleigh and Nerang.

Centrelink Queensland communication and marketing manager Sandra Hogan yesterday said many of Toowoomba's population were on "broken pensions" where they also received other income.

Bundaberg Centrelink had identified "many people" in the region whose job-search chances had been hampered by difficulties with literacy and numeracy, she said.

Queensland Council of Social Service director Shirley Watters said while the figures were not cause for alarm, they did raise some concerns about the community economy in rural areas.

Ms Watters said QCOSS figures had found about 17% of Toowoomba's overall personal income was derived through the social security system and the figure was 27% in Bundaberg.

Lifeline Toowoomba yesterday claimed hundreds of families were preparing for a lean Christmas.

A spokeswoman for federal Community Services Minister Larry Anthony said the Government had been concerned for "some time" about the growing numbers of welfare recipients.

"It believes the best form of welfare you can give anyone is a job. Obviously there are people you can't expect to look for work, like pensioners," she said. "People on social security payments are on a limited budget and probably live in places which are more affordable."