New migrants to Australia will have to wait four years before being eligible for welfare payments under legislation expected to pass the Senate on Thursday.
What was once called the "Social Services Legislation Amendment (Encouraging Self-Sufficiency For Newly Arrived Migrants) Bill" became the "Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Promoting Sustainable Welfare) Act 2018" as Labor agreed to some amendments with the government to support it, and save the government, or the potential Labor government after the election, $1.3 billion over four years.
The current waiting period is two years.
Labor's surprise support for the the legislation in the House of Representatives left many of the Labor speakers on the legislation saying it was not a piece of legislation Labor would have introduced.
"Labor would never have proposed this bill," Labor's shadow minister for social services Linda Burney said. "We think it is very important that the pathway to citizenship is welcoming; however, we are not in government and we have to deal with what is presented to us."
Labor MP Dr Mike Freelander said even with the amendments he still had concerns about some aspects of the legislation.
"I have major concerns as to how this will affect some of my patients who have severe disability, whose parents are newly arrived migrants. Some of these children were born in Australia. No-one chooses to have a child with cerebral palsy or Down syndrome, yet these people will be significantly affected by this new legislation. This is not good legislation. It is targeting the most vulnerable and I think it is shameful."
Burney said that Labor had agreed to amendments that would stop 66,000 families being kicked off family benefits. And that this deal would have prevented the government doing a deal with the Senate crossbench on the legislation.
When the legislation came up for debate in the Senate on Thursday, however, One Nation leader senator Pauline Hanson said no deal had been done with the government.
Enough crossbench senators were opposed to the legislation that if Labor had not agreed to pass it, it would have been blocked in the Senate.
Independent senator Tim Storer told the Senate on Thursday that Labor was more concerned about the money saved as a result of the legislation than the welfare of new arrivals in Australia.
"It seems like they're preparing for government, and having access to these savings to make possible use of in their legislative programs then," Storer said.
"The government and Labor are treating migrants like piggybanks," Centre Alliance senator Stirling Griff said in the Senate. "Both major parties should hang their heads in shame at the cynical, money-grabbing approach they have taken with this bill."
He said the bill would have been defeated with Labor's opposition.
Greens social services spokesperson senator Rachel Siewert accused Labor of making a "dirty deal" with the government.
"Make no mistake, we had the numbers to knock this off," she said in the Senate. "The only way this bill would have got through if Labor voted with the government."
Greens leader Richard Di Natale said it was a damning indictment on Labor that Hanson also supported the legislation: "You've had a ringing endorsement from One Nation and Senator Hanson. I hope you feel proud about that."
The Federation of Ethnic Community Councils welcomed the amendments to the legislation, stating the changes would protect the most vulnerable new arrivals.
Centre Alliance senator Stirling Griff spoke about the legislation. An earlier version of this post misattributed his quote.