Senate debates

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Bills

Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Simplifying Income Reporting and Other Measures) Bill 2020; Second Reading

11:25 am

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

The Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Simplifying Income Reporting and Other Measures) Bill 2020 changes the way employment income is reported and assessed for the purposes of determining income support payments. From 1 July, income support recipients will report gross income that has been paid to them by their employer rather than estimate the amount of income that they have earned. It is a change that will affect about 1.2 million income support recipients who report earnings each year, so it is critical that we get these changes right.

While the Greens support this bill in principle, we are seeking to resolve a number of issues identified through the Senate committee process and are looking at putting a number of amendments. We are disappointed that there was an incredibly limited consultation phase for stakeholders to consider this bill. It is a sad hallmark of many of these inquiry processes that the government seem to give only the shortest possible window to people to give their feedback on very complex policy areas.

It is clear that the success of this bill rests on the quality of its implementation by Services Australia, and there are serious questions about the capacity of Services Australia to deliver this. Staffing, organisational and technical capacity have all been flagged as issues and are of concern to us, particularly in relation to Services Australia's ability to implement this before 1 July 2020. It is absolutely essential, in our view, that Services Australia communicates the changes effectively to people and that people are also able to ask questions in person, on the phone and online.

We all know, sadly, the consequences when automation and data matching goes wrong. The absolute failure of robodebt offers salient warnings about the harms that arise when we rely on algorithms and remove the human element. After every failure and scandal that we've seen from the government in this area—from robodebt to My Health Record and everything in between—a little bit of me does think that this is an administration that has proven over and over and over again that it has lacked the capacity or the understanding to pull off these types of changes.

I very much agree with the concerns that have been echoed by other senators in regard to this and also with the warning that has been given of the potential negative impact that this change could have. We in the Greens strongly hope that the government has learned from the disasters of robodebt and is implementing those learnings before implementing further automation processes within the wider social security system. While they're at it, we also personally hope that they take time to reflect upon and consider the mentality that they bring to these discussions. In our politics today there is far too much discourse and belief which places poverty and the creation of poverty upon those living in poverty. There's far too much normalisation of a thought process which blames people who are struggling that struggle. It's as though they've done something wrong morally, fundamentally. That's got to go, particularly when we sit here in a chamber which, thanks to the government and some members of the crossbench, finds it necessary, at regular intervals, to doll out millions, in fact billions, in fact hundreds of billions, to their corporate mates.

At the request of Senator Siewert, I move:

At the end of the motion, add:

", but the Senate calls on the Government to:

(a) come clean on the robodebt disaster;

(b) provide all legal advice relating to the robodebt program to the Senate; and

(c) use the savings generated from this bill to compensate robodebt victims".

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