House debates

Wednesday, 17 March 2021


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

12:49 pm

Photo of Linda BurneyLinda Burney (Barton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I move the amendment circulated in my name:

(1) Schedule 1, page 22 (after line 18), at the end of the Schedule, add:

Part 6—Mutual obligation

Social Security (Administration) Act 1999

40 At the end of Subdivision A of Division 3AA of Part 3


42ABA General principles

  (1) The Secretary must exercise his or her mutual obligation powers consistently with the following principles:

(a) the purpose of the powers is to help persons to get:

     (i) jobs; or

     (ii) the skills necessary to get jobs;

(b) the powers are intended to be used as part of a mutual arrangement in which the Commonwealth undertakes a reciprocal obligation to help the persons to find work;

(c) in exercising the powers in relation to a person, the Secretary must take into account:

     (i) the availability of suitable jobs; and

     (ii) the person's skills and abilities; and

     (iii) the person's personal circumstances including caring responsibilities, access to transport, medical conditions and disability;

(d) the exercise of the powers must not cause unnecessary annoyance or burden for employers.

(2) The Secretary'smutual obligation powers are his or her powers under:

  (a) this Division, to the extent it relates to mutual obligation failures; or

  (b) a provision mentioned in section 42AC (mutual obligation failures).

42ABB Employment pathway plans

An employment pathway plan in relation to a person must state what the Commonwealth will do to help the person secure employment.

Labor believes in mutual obligation. The government's proposed changes to mutual obligation will only make those requirements more punitive. They have always been punitive under this government. Mutual obligation should be about keeping workers engaged with the workforce. It should be about assisting workers to get back into jobs. But mutual obligation has been weaponised by this government to punish workers looking for work. The government believes the worst about Australians. Labor believes the best about Australians. Labor believes Australians just want good, decent and secure jobs. The government believes Australians choose unemployment. The reality is that there are seven Australians on JobSeeker for every job vacancy. There are 60 Australians on JobSeeker for every entry-level job. The government's punitive changes to mutual obligation won't create a single job, and their idea of a jobs plan is a hotline to dob in people looking for work.

The member for Corio has outlined in detail what my amendment on principles around mutual obligation seeks to do. The amendment would require mutual obligation rules to help people get a job or the skills to get a job. It would take into account the availability of suitable jobs and a person's skills. It would take into account a person's personal circumstances, including caring responsibilities, access to transport, medical conditions and disability. It would not be an unnecessary burden or annoyance for employers. Under the government's plan, there would be at least 141 applications for every single vacancy.

We know from speaking to employers that, in many cases, there are hundreds or even thousands of applications for some jobs. It simply annoys employers—and why wouldn't it. They are forced to wade through hundreds and hundreds of applications from people who don't have the right skills and experience but have to go through the motions of applying for jobs, even if they're inappropriate. There has to be a better way. Punitive mutual obligation does not create jobs; it just wears people out—the unemployed and employers.

Labor does not intend to stand in the way of the bill, as I stated yesterday. An increase is an increase, as many people have indicated. We will not play chicken with this bill and jeopardise this increase to those who need it most. We won't cruelly give false hope with futile amendments that will only function to unnecessarily delay, even jeopardise, the increase. We will not stand in the way of this bill. But my intention, in moving this mutual obligation amendment that sets out a set of principles, is truly about people looking for work. It is truly a way of being humane but also being incredibly sensible about what mutual obligation stands for. 'Mutual' is the word that people need to focus on. There should be reciprocity at the base of mutual obligation. People who are receiving government payments do have an obligation and a social contract, but so does the government, back to those people. That is what this set of principles seek to establish.

Our social security system should always be accessible and available to those who need it when they need it. In every budget, a Labor government will make helping those in need, those in poverty, a priority.

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.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the amendment be disagreed to.