Senate debates

Monday, 12 November 2018

Regulations and Determinations


7:32 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | Hansard source

Labor supports these disallowances. Senator Siewert has outlined in great detail the issues around this disallowance motion. We support both the disallowances: on reasonable excuse and on job search. On reasonable excuse, the determination implements the 2017-18 budget measure to tighten the reasonable excuse of drug and alcohol misuse or dependency for people looking for work outside of the Community Development Program. The government's determination is likely to adversely affect people who are dealing with drug or alcohol dependency. The determination limits the use of drug or alcohol dependency as a reasonable excuse for missing an appointment or other mutual obligation requirement to one occasion only. If the person participating in the program chooses to undergo treatment, that could satisfy all or part of their obligation requirements. However, if a person seeks treatment and then relapses before the treatment is completed, it seems they could be breached for failing to meet their mutual obligations.

According to ACOSS, in the UK stronger sanctions on income support recipients who had a drug dependency resulted in greater disengagement and harmed efforts to address drug dependency. It was also found that the increased use of sanctions was likely to fail in improving employment rates of people with drug dependency in the absence of intensive support and demand-side interventions.

Labor opposed the measures when they were introduced as part of the welfare reform bill in 2017. Labor is open to considering genuine attempts to help people into treatment. We don't believe that income support should be used to support drug habits. But this determination will adversely affect people with serious illness, pushing them into serious financial hardship and crime. It will not identify or genuinely help those in need of treatment. We are open to working with the government on genuine attempts to help people battling addiction, but not blatant attacks on the most vulnerable in our community with no basis in evidence.

I want to just deal with that issue of people with drug or alcohol dependency. Unless you have seen a family member or you have drug or alcohol dependency yourself, it's really difficult to make these judgements. It's really difficult for someone who has never experienced this—and many in the government wouldn't have experienced it—to make these judgements. I know that the argument and the position the government continually takes is that the best form of welfare is a job. I think the public are over this nonsense and these slogans being used to attack some of the most disadvantaged people in our community—some of the people who need help more than most in our community. If there were a job for everybody on social security payments, it would be fantastic. But there is not. There are not jobs for everyone who seeks a job. It is made even more difficult if you have a health issue or if you have alcohol or drug addiction.

As someone who is an alcoholic—someone who hasn't taken any alcohol for about 40 years—I know how difficult it is. I don't understand how simply having these positions adopted that say that someone with an alcohol problem should be forced into a position of having no income can work in any practical sense. I certainly don't understand how forcing someone into abject poverty helps their drug or alcohol addiction. I was lucky. I had a family that supported me. I had a wife who did everything she possibly could to help me. I maintained my job during the period of alcohol addiction. If you don't have that, this proposition only makes matters worse for people. It is just crazy to actually propose this when you're dealing with someone with an addiction problem.

As I said, I've got some experience of being addicted to alcohol. I was really lucky. Many people are not so lucky as to be in the position I was in and get the support I needed at the time to stop drinking alcohol. But I'll always be an alcoholic; I can't drink alcohol. I just don't get it that anyone who has any basic understanding of this problem of both alcohol and drug addiction could put them in poverty, making them more vulnerable and more determined to actually keep drinking because they have no other options. It is just not a reasonable approach. On that basis, not only do I support this disallowance from a personal perspective; certainly, the opposition support this on the basis of listening to people, understanding the issues and actually wanting to do something about it.

The other aspect of this disallowance motion is the issue of job search. Labor opposed many aspects of the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Act that came into force this year, including the targeted compliance framework to which this measure relates. Labor moved an amendment to retain waivers and discretion for employment service providers when assessing the merits of financial penalties but opposed the targeted compliance framework measure when the amendment wasn't successful.

Community sector stakeholders said the changes introduced as part of the targeted compliance framework were 'punitive' and could 'increase the risks of people becoming homeless and have negative outcomes for their physical and mental health, self-esteem, relationships and engagement with the labour market'. The targeted compliance framework requires that individuals looking for work must meet a number of mutual obligation requirements or they may have their welfare payments suspended, reduced or cancelled. One circumstance that might see someone commit a mutual obligation failure is where the employment service provider is not satisfied that the individual looking for work has undertaken adequate job search efforts in accordance with their employment pathway plan. This determination is unnecessarily prescriptive for both the individual looking for work and also the employment service provider. It imposes additional compliance burdens without any clear benefit to people seeking work. Employment service providers should work with unemployed people to help them apply for the right job for their situation. A one-size-fits-all approach is unnecessary and is not the proper way to help people find secure, decent work.

One of my areas of shadow portfolio responsibility is homelessness. I talk to homeless people on a regular basis and I talk to the agencies who are trying to help people in homeless situations. They say that stability is how you fix these issues. Putting a roof over someone's head, dealing with health problems, dealing with alcohol addiction problems, dealing with drug problems and having wraparound support for people are how you deal with these issues. It just beggars belief that this government is still in the last century in its thinking in relation to these issues. Penal provisions against people with addiction, penal provisions against people that need help and support and penal provisions against those that will only get worse if you penalise them are not modern approaches to dealing with these issues.

This government is so out of touch in so many areas. This, in my view, epitomises how out of touch this government is with the approaches that will help people that have got drug addiction, people that are homeless and people that are on social security. People on social security should not be used as a political battering ram by this government. The government should be supporting our fellow Australians who are doing it tough and our fellow Australians who need support with their drug addiction, their alcohol addiction and their health problems. Going down this path is last century's thinking. It's about time this government actually came into the modern day with its thinking on these issues and stopped looking at every person on social security as someone to give a kick in the head to. That's what this government is doing.

The sooner we have an election and the sooner we get a government that can actually understand the health issues, the addiction issues, the housing issues and the unemployment issues and how we deal with them in a sophisticated way, the better. This rabble of a government, whose own Prime Minister described them as 'muppets' are showing how they are muppets in relation to this. They are like M&Ms—one minute they are muppets the next minute they are mad. It is just awful how this government tries to deal with social security issues and vulnerable people in this country. It is about time it stopped. It's about time the government listened to the experts and the people that are helping people with drug addiction and alcohol addiction and have not only a compassionate approach but also an effective approach on this. Their approach is not effective; it will only make matters worse. Labor supports these disallowances.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.