Tuesday, 2 September 2014
Social Security Legislation Amendment (Stronger Penalties for Serious Failures) Bill 2014; Second Reading
I find the criticisms of those opposing the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Stronger Penalties for Serious Failures) Bill to be quite extraordinary and not based on any sort of fact. What I saw during the inquiry into this bill was a regime that gives every opportunity for those genuinely seeking work to get the support they need and to continue to receive benefits. The only ones we are talking about in this bill are those who simply, after being given umpteen chances, refuse to help themselves. Those are the people we are talking about. We are not talking about people who are genuinely looking for work and genuinely complying with their obligations.
We heard from Senator Siewert, Senator Cameron and others. Senator Cameron did not address the bill in his speech. Senator Siewert at least addressed the bill. She had the right bill. Senator Cameron, the shadow minister, was talking about something completely different. I can address some of what Senator Siewert had to say in terms of those who are looking for work, those who are doing their best. The good news is that this bill does not impact on those people. It does not impact on those people in the slightest. I will read a little bit from the evidence we had from the department about who it actually applies to. I will talk the Senate through how many chances someone has to be given under this legislation before a penalty can even potentially be applied. It is important that we get these facts on the table because I think, if most Australians heard how many chances people had, they would easily dismiss some of the criticisms that we have heard from some people in this chamber and other people who appeared before the committee. Just to put people's minds at rest, I will quote from some of the evidence that we had from the department:
The bill will not impact job seekers who cannot get work despite their best efforts. It will not impact those whose failure to meet their participation requirements is beyond their control and of course it will not impact the 98 per cent of job seekers who do not incur these types of failures. Rather, the bill targets those who have received but refused an offer of suitable work without a reasonable excuse or have been found after an in-depth assessment by the Department of Human Services to have been persistently and wilfully non-compliant.
That is what we are talking about. We are not talking about people who are doing their best and we are not talking about people who make the odd mistake in their efforts to try and find a job. We are talking about people who simply refuse work when it is offered to them or who simply refuse time after time to comply with their obligations. It is absolutely critical that we get this on the record, because some of the commentary in some of the speeches has given a completely misleading impression about what we are talking about here. The coalition believes that we should support those who are looking for work and this legislation will continue that support. But it will not do what the former Labor Party did and effectively provide no penalty in the end when people persistently and wilfully do not comply with their obligations. We believe that at some point, after rigorous process, there does need to be some direct incentive.
Taxpayers deserve better than what they were given under the Labor Party. They deserve better than the statistics we have seen. I will touch on some of the statistics. This is not about the 98 per cent; it is about the two per cent who persistently and wilfully do the wrong thing. When we lump all of these people together, it undermines those who are genuinely seeking work and who are genuinely using their best endeavours to get a job in difficult circumstances. This bill does not affect them. The approach that the Labor Party are advocating is a slap in the face to those genuine jobseekers who do try to do the right thing. But there are some in our community who simply will not. They are given more and more chances and eventually we have to say, 'Well, there does have to be a penalty.' We saw the statistics and we heard from the department, who said in their evidence:
In 2008-09, the year before the introduction of waivers, 644 penalties were applied for refusing work. In 2012-13, 1,718 penalties were applied for refusing work and 1,227 of these were waived. This means that on 1,227 occasions job seekers who had been offered a job refused that job and returned immediately to income support payment. For this reason, it is intended that job seekers who refuse work should not be able to have their penalty waived and return immediately to payment. We hope that this will provide sufficient incentive for job seekers to accept work when they are offered it.
Let us look at the overall penalties when we are talking about persistent non-compliance. Again quoting from the department:
In 2012-13 there were 28,237 penalties applied for persistent non-compliance; 73 per cent of these were waived and 30 per cent of these waivers were the job seeker's second or subsequent waiver. This indicated that unlimited waivers is undermining the deterrent effect of penalties by allowing a significant number of job seekers to persist in their non-compliant behaviour without consequence.