House debates

Wednesday, 17 March 2021


Social Services Legislation Amendment (Strengthening Income Support) Bill 2021; Consideration in Detail

12:54 pm

Photo of Stuart RobertStuart Robert (Fadden, Liberal Party, Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme) Share this | Hansard source

I appreciate what the shadow minister is trying to achieve but would argue that the amendment duplicates provisions that already achieve what is being talked about within current social security law; therefore, the amendments are unnecessary and not supported. In fact, we'd argue that the provisions that already exist are stronger than those being proposed by those opposite.

In setting mutual obligations, the secretary is currently required to have regard to each of the factors listed in Labor's amendments, plus more. For example, as to the JobSeeker payment, section 606 of the Social Security Act specifies that the secretary is to consider the person's capacity to comply with their requirements and their needs with specific regard to the following:

(a) the person's education, experience, skills and age; and

(aa) the impact of any disability, illness, mental condition or physical condition of the person …

(b) the state of the local labour market and the transport options available to the person in accessing that market; and

(c) the participation opportunities available to the person; and

(d) the family and caring responsibilities of the person; and

(e) the length of travel time required to comply with the requirements; and

(f) the financial costs (such as travel costs) of complying with the requirements … and

(g) any other matters that the Secretary or the person considers relevant …

In determining whether a person has a reasonable excuse for not meeting a requirement, the secretary is also required to consider a similar list of factors, including the impact of medical conditions or, indeed, caring responsibilities. Social security law already also states that jobseekers cannot be compelled to apply for or accept a job if they don't have the skills or abilities to undertake it, or if the job would exacerbate medical conditions, or if the jobseeker does not have appropriate care for their children or is unable to reasonably commute to the job—again, all the factors that are listed in the amendment that Labor have, in good faith, proposed.

A range of other administrative protections exist, ensuring that jobseekers' requirements are appropriate for their circumstances and JobSeeker payments are not affected for reasons outside of their control. These include a newly introduced two-day resolution time, allowing jobseekers time to talk to their provider about the reason they missed a requirement and/or to re-engage with their requirements before any payment suspension. Jobseekers also have the appropriateness of their requirements assessed twice before facing any financial penalty for not meeting the requirements.

I note also that the shadow minister is proposing that the exercise of mutual obligation powers must not cause annoyance or burden for employers—and, again, I accept the heart of what is being put forward. We would argue, though, that there is significant evidence that mutual obligation requirements do help jobseekers find work, meaning employers will get the workers that they need and want.


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