Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Social Security Legislation Amendment (Family Participation Measures) Bill 2011; Consideration in Detail
Bill—by leave—taken as a whole.
by leave—I move amendments (1) and (2) together as circulated in my name:
(1) Schedule 1, item 8, page 3 (line 28) to page 4 (line 12), omit the item.
(2) Schedule 1, item 9, page 4 (lines 13 to 32), omit the item.
The coalition's position is that while we support this bill and recognise that it does introduce an element of mutual obligation for the two cohorts of job seekers which it seeks to target—teenage parents and jobless families—it does not quite go far enough. We need a system that has enough clout to promote compliance, and it is for this reason that the coalition moves these amendments.
The amendments seek to ensure that, where a parent is in receipt of parenting payment and this payment was made on the basis of their eligibility for parenting payment yet they have failed to adhere to an employment pathways plan, there should be a realistic penalty. With rights come responsibilities, and we have to make this clear. We need the capacity, where there is a blatant and deliberate disregard for a job seeker's obligations, to impose a meaningful penalty. Our amendments seek to reinforce the importance of compliance in a manner which will encourage appropriate behaviour.
We certainly recognise that these are vulnerable families and that there are vulnerable children involved, and the coalition is comfortable that the necessary safeguards are in place to ensure that the welfare of children and vulnerable families will be looked after. At the same time, we do need an, if you like, reserve power to enforce compliance and to explain to those involved in the trials, particularly the jobless families, 'This is serious business—we expect you to turn up, we expect you to enter into an undertaking and we expect you to follow through to the best of your ability even while we recognise the difficult circumstances that you face.' I commend the amendments to the House.
The government will not be supporting the opposition amendments. We believe this bill already strikes the right balance between creating opportunities for teen parents and jobless families to access services that will assist them to finish their education and enter the workforce and requiring responsibility through the threat of income support suspension.
Anything further than the proposed bill before the House, we believe, would be too harsh. The government also opposes the amendments because formal interviews with teen parents will occur only every six months and therefore a penalty amount might become very large over a period of time. Teen parents are already a vulnerable customer group and already have complex and multiple barriers, such as the risk of homelessness, few life skills and small resources to draw upon in many instances.
The purpose of the trial is to provide assistance and support to families, not to further entrench them in financial difficulties. It is important to note that these arrangements are a trial and that most of the teen parents in the trial will not have had any requirement to do the activities before now. In addition, it is important to note that not all teen parents will be in the trial so that imposing a threat of debt on some parents but not others does not raise equity concerns. For those reasons we continue to commend the bill to the House and oppose the opposition's amendments.
Bill agreed to.