House debates

Wednesday, 28 November 2018


Social Services Legislation Amendment (Encouraging Self-sufficiency for Newly Arrived Migrants) Bill 2018; Second Reading

11:05 am

Photo of Ross HartRoss Hart (Bass, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

We have before us the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Encouraging Self-sufficiency for Newly Arrived Migrants) Bill 2018 and related legislation. The bill acts to increase the newly arrived resident's waiting period—the NARWP—which is the period of time that new Australian residents must wait before being entitled to claim certain benefits and concessions. Currently, there is a two-year waiting period for carer payment, youth allowance, Austudy payment, Newstart allowance, sickness allowance, special benefit bereavement allowance, widow allowance and parenting payment.

The government had originally proposed to increase these waiting periods to four years—four years, a wholly unreasonable period—and to increase four-year waiting periods for family assistance, the Paid Parental Leave scheme and dad and partner pay. Thankfully, following extensive negotiations with Labor, the government has agreed to reduce many of these proposed waiting times. However, let me make this clear: Labor would never have proposed this bill and the measures contained within this bill. And we certainly would not have countenanced the government's policy in its original form.

The application of across-the-board, four-year waiting periods for many permanent residents would cause too much hardship—hardship for vulnerable people, vulnerable families and children. But in agreeing not to oppose the significantly reduced waiting periods proposal put forward by the government we have been pragmatic, because the alternative was to leave the entirety of this proposal in the hands of the Senate crossbench and, of course, the One Nation party. It would be deeply irresponsible to allow that party—One Nation—to determine policy in this area. We've done this to ameliorate the harshness of these measures and to limit the impact of this change as much as possible.

We've also achieved the best outcome we possibly can to protect vulnerable people. Labor has secured major concessions to protect vulnerable people, families and children, including: no waiting period for family tax benefit part B; no increase in the waiting period for carer payment; a one-year waiting period for family tax benefit part A; a one-year waiting period for carer allowance; a two-year waiting period for paid parental leave and dad and partner pay; New Zealanders, orphan visa holders and remaining relative visa holders are excluded from these changes; and there is expanded access to special benefit when people's circumstances change, including, it should be noted, in the case of domestic and family violence. Importantly, exemptions to waiting periods for people who become lone parents will also remain, and people on refugee and humanitarian visas, as well as those who become citizens, are exempt from these changes.

The government's four-year waiting periods would have caused great hardship for thousands of families and their children. By securing these amendments, Labor has ensured that 49,000 families and 107,000 children will be protected from the family tax benefit waiting period each year, and that 21,000 people will avoid the impacts of waiting periods for other payments.

When the minister introduced this bill to the House in its original form back in February he said that the measures in the bill were designed to promote financial independence and self-sufficiency for newly arrived migrants. Of course, it is important that new Australian show that they can support themselves financially whilst they settle in Australia. Indeed, the experience is that most migrants quickly secure work and that they do not need to access social security. This is something that I've seen firsthand through the work of an organisation called The Tasmania Opportunity, TTO, in my electorate of Bass.

TTO is a community think tank based in Launceston. It is operating an 18-month pilot scheme called Refugee Employment Pathways, REP, to demonstrate the viability or otherwise of finding full-time employment for previously unemployed Afghan Hazara men in Northern Tasmania. TTO has consulted with the local Hazara community, the Tasmanian government, local councils, the agricultural and construction sectors, community groups and the migrant sector. It works, in my experience, in an open and collaborative manner. In its first nine months, Refugee Employment Pathways have successfully found agricultural employment for six men near Deloraine, a fantastic outcome that indicates such programs can be successful in securing employment for migrants.

This is important, because research indicates that there are five key areas for successful relocation of migrant communities into regional or rural areas—that is, housing, jobs, education services, health services and, most importantly, social inclusion. Once migrants have been supported through the early stages of their settlement journey, they are not only self-sufficient but contribute enormously to our economy and to our community. They do contribute. They add economically and they enrich our communities in many ways. However, we also know that life happens in its sometimes unpredictable ups and downs. People's circumstances can change, and it is important that support is available when that happens.

This conservative government—'liberal' in name only—has tried to make it harder for new Australians at every turn. They've tried to push through unfair changes to our citizenship and antidiscrimination laws. They also wanted to require new migrants to have university level English in order to gain citizenship. And now they were pushing for extended waiting periods for social support, despite there being little evidence that there is a sound public policy justification for this change. In order to reduce the impact of the government's proposed new resident waiting periods, Labor has agreed to support an amended version of this bill. These decisions have been made to protect those on lowest incomes, their families and their children. They're not easy decisions and Labor would not have proposed these extensions to resident waiting periods. Thank you.


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