Nationals back welfare system expansion and crackdown on vegan 'milk'


The National party will push for an expansion to Australia’s welfare system as well as for a ban on labelling non-dairy milk “milk”.

In motions passed at its Nationals Federal Council in Canberra over the weekend, the party also passed a motion in support of a national rollout of the cashless debit card for parenting or unemployment welfare recipients under the age of 35.

The federal government has proposed legislation to expand the cashless debit card under a policy the prime minister, Scott Morrison, terms “compassionate conservative” welfare.

Morrison has long rejected calls to increase Newstart – something that is supported by former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce.

During Saturday’s conference, National party members reportedly voted to push Morrison to do more for welfare recipients.

The motion called for the government to “pursue increasing the welfare system to make it adequate in supporting Australians in meeting their basic needs and enabling dignified participation in a modern economy”.

In a speech the Nationals leader Michael McCormack gave his personal support to a national rollout of the cashless debit card.

“This is a bit controversial, we know that, but the cashless debt card is not punitive,” McCormack said.

He said “the evidence was there for all to see” that it was effective, citing drops in youth unemployment in Queensland trials.

McCormack claimed trials had shown the card reduced harm from alcohol and drugs, and encouraged personal financial responsibility.

The impact of the card, which quarantines up to 80% of a person’s welfare payment for restricted spending, is in dispute. It is frequently accused of being specifically punitive.

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In 2017 research conducted on the South Australian trial in Ceduna found 49% of participants felt it had made their lives worse and only 22% reported improvements.

The independent evaluation by Orima Research said there was limited evidence of an impact on crime rates, and it was unable to determine where the trial had succeeded or failed.

In June 2018 the Australian National Audit Office found it was “difficult to conclude” whether the card was reducing social harm.

More than 21,000 people, of whom 83% are Indigenous, are already on income quarantining in the Northern Territory.

Key criticisms of the NT’s Basic Card have included social stigma and practical impediments, such as being unable to buy second-hand goods, provide cash for children’s school excursions, and forcing remote-living people to drive a long way to a shop that accepts the card.

On Saturday McCormack also launched the $100m National Water Grid Authority, an organisation set up to help secure Australia’s long-term water supplies.

Projections by WaterNSW have revealed regional parts of the state could run out of water as early as November, with data showing the worst-case scenario for the state if there’s no rain or government intervention.

The Nationals meeting also voted in favour of a motion to lobby the federal government to change labelling requirements on vegan food, preventing products such as soy milk, almond milk and vegan meat from being branded as such.

Under current laws, only milk from cows can be labelled “milk” without an added qualifier.

“I’m not anti plant-based protein foods, I think they’re going to have a role to play in the food proposition going forward,” said agricultural minister and deputy Nationals leader, Bridget McKenzie. “But that means then we need to be very clear with consumers about what they’re purchasing.

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“So if you want actual chicken, then that’s what it should be called. If you want plant-based protein that tastes like chicken, then that’s what it should called.”

An August report from IBIS World found the soy and almond milk production industry, which also included rice and coconut milk, was expected to have grown by 8.3% in five years by 2019/20.

The growing market demand for non-dairy milk was attributed to consumer health concerns, and while soy milk had been the dominant non-dairy choice, its share of the market was declining against alternatives such as almond milk.

Last week the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria voiced its support for the motion.

“Chicken-free chicken? Isn’t that an oxymoron?,” the organisation said on its Twitter account.

“Using names like milk, chicken and meat for plant-based alternatives greatly confuses consumers when looking to by healthy nutritious products.”

In a petition calling for a ban on non-dairy products using the word “milk”, the Nationals Farmers’ Federation said consumers were being “misled” into thinking the products had equivalent nutrition.



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