Social Media Claim

Pensioners vs refugee payments post is from Canada, from 2004 and wrong

The Australian version of a post comparing supposed pension payments with those available to refugees.

The Statement

A Facebook post seeks to portray “illegal immigrants” and “refugees living in Australia” as receiving tens of thousands of dollars more than pensioners in government assistance.

The January 19, 2020 post features an image with a table of purported “weekly allowance” and other payments for an “Australian Aged Pensioner” and “illegal immigrants/refugees living in Australia”. Text above the table reads: “Sensationalism? Then think about just this one [not so] small aspect… The Australian Federal Government provides the following financial assistance:”

The post has been shared more than 170 times and has been seen more than 18,000 times on Facebook.

A former general manager of Centrelink. labelled claims that refugees received larger welfare payments than pensioners as "blatantly untrue".

The Analysis

Comparisons of supposed benefits paid to pensioners vs those paid to refugees first surfaced in Canada in 2004. An article in Canada’s Toronto Star newspaper in March 2004, about plans to resettle refugees in smaller Canadian cities, included a detail that “single refugees are eligible for $1,890 from Ottawa as a ‘start-up allowance’, along with a $580 monthly social assistance”.

The Candian Council for Refugees details the article and subsequent events on its website. A response from the Toronto Star explained that the article was misconstrued by a reader who emailed a “rant” claiming, falsely, that refugees received $2,470 ($1890 and $580 added together) each month to multiple recipients.

“A disturbing urban myth had been born,” the Star’s spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said in the November 2004 response that the figures in the story “could have been clearer” and explained the $1,890 payment was “a one-time payment for basic household needs” while refugees would get a $580 monthly payment.

The Star’s efforts to halt the urban myth would prove futile as the claim soon evolved and spread to the United States and Australia.

The ABC’s Mediawatch program debunked the Australian versions of the claim in 2008 after they appeared in a number of local newspapers.

The misleading claims were printed in Australian newspapers in 2007 to 2008 in the Gold Coast Bulletin, Herald Sun and twice in the Cairns Post.

After older Australians began receiving the chain emails with the same stories, former federal Minister for Community Services Mal Brough released a statement in August 2007 calling the claims in the email blatant lies.

“I urge anyone who receives these junk emails to treat them as such - mark them as junk - and send them to the trash can,” Mr Brough said.

The same month, Centrelink general manager Hank Jongen released a response to the Cairns Post, archived on the ABC Media Watch site, labelling the claims as blatantly untrue.

A spokesperson for the federal Department of Social Services told AAP FactCheck the claims in the January 19 post are not correct.

"Refugees who are permanent residence visa holders receive exactly the same social security payment rates as other permanent visa holders and Australian citizens in the same circumstances," the spokesperson said in an emailed response on January 24, 2020.

The reality of government payments in Australia at present is that a pensioner couple can receive a maximum of $703.50 each in a fortnight. This is equal to $351.75 per person each week or a combined $1407 a fortnight. That total includes the maximum available pension supplement of $51.90 each ($103.80 combined) and an energy supplement of $10.60 each ($21.20 combined).

This means an Australian pensioner couple can receive a maximum payment of $33,768 a year - double the amount claimed in the post.

People granted refugee status in Australia are mostly of working age, according to a 2014 research paper from the Australian Parliamentary Library. This means if they qualify for a government benefit it would be the Newstart Allowance.

A refugee couple can currently receive a maximum fortnightly Newstart payment of $504.70 each ($252.35 a week), or a combined $1009.40 a fortnight ($504.70 a week).

They could receive an additional $7.90 each or $15.80 combined for an energy supplement per fortnight ($3.95 each or $7.90 combined weekly) and may get rent assistance.

To get the maximum rent assistance of $130 a fortnight, their combined fortnightly rent has to be at least $372.73.

A refugee may receive a one-off crisis payment if they experience a difficult or extreme situation. The crisis payment is equal to one week of their existing income support payment, excluding allowances or supplements. A refugee couple would receive a one-off $504.70 if eligible for a crisis payment.

Therefore, a refugee couple could receive government assistance of up to $28,229.50 a year including the one-off crisis payment or $27,724.80 excluding the crisis payment.

This is half the amount claimed in the post and less than the government assistance provided to a couple on the age pension.

The claim that pensioners get less than refugees has been debunked in the past by the ABC Mediawatch program in 2008, the Refugee Council in 2012, the Parliamentary Library in 2012 and 2014 and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

The Verdict

Based on the evidence, AAP FactCheck found the Facebook post to be false. The welfare figures were based on misleading figures from a Canadian article from 2004 and a version putting them in an Australian context has been manufactured. The top government assistance level available to age pensioner couples in Australia is more than the maximum amount a refugee couple receives.

  • False - The primary claims of the content are factually inaccurate.

First published January 23, 2020, 17:08 AEDT

Updated January 28, 2020, 17:00 AEDT to add response of Department of Social Services spokesperson at 11th par of Analysis.