Senate debates

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Regulations and Determinations

Social Security (Parenting payment participation requirements - class of persons) Instrument 2021; Disallowance

4:11 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the disallowance of sections 4 and 6 of the Social Security (Parenting payment participation requirements - class of persons) Instrument 2021 and indicate that we will be supporting this disallowance.

ParentsNext is a degrading, punitive and coercive program, and it has to go. In fact, I tried to disallow this program back in 2018, and it's devastating to think of the harm that this program has caused since then. I hope this time this disallowance will be successful. Unfortunately, the program has had three years to run, and we have seen the harm that it has caused. This program disrespects women and has negative impacts on children. This motion today would abolish certain classes of compulsory ParentsNext participants. It provides us with an opportunity to listen to the community and make ParentsNext voluntary, and I urge the government to do so. Throw away your ideological obsession with mutual obligations and support this disallowance.

ParentsNext devalues the role of parenting and unpaid caring responsibilities. It overlooks the gender division of labour and the amount of labour single mothers do day in, day out. It punishes and stigmatises single mothers. It should never have been mandatory in the first place. Some ParentsNext participants are especially vulnerable. Women affected by domestic violence, those who experience mental ill health and First Nations mothers are deeply affected by this program. Women describe feeling insulted and degraded and having the joy drained out of activities that were previously meaningful to them. They describe the weight and burden of having onerous mutual obligation requirements to meet.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights found, as Senator Dodson just outlined, that compulsory participation in ParentsNext does limit human rights. This is particularly the case for people who have had their parenting payment reduced, suspended or cancelled. If ParentsNext is made voluntary then the government won't be limiting peoples' human rights. We can invest in supportive programs. The constant threat of having their payment suspended can have devastating impacts on parents' mental health. I can only imagine the impact that this then has on children, particularly when seeing their parents so distressed. People who are most likely to face payment suspension include people with intellectual disability, people with mental ill health, people experiencing homelessness or domestic violence and parents of children with high-care needs. The evidence presented to the latest inquiry, and throughout other inquiries that have been done into this program, is clear: the benefits do not outweigh the immediate and long-term harms caused by the ParentsNext program.

The women who have been subjected to this punitive program know best, and it's time to listen to them—properly listen. Interviews undertaken by Dr Elise Klein provide insight into the punitive and harmful nature of ParentsNext. One mother told Dr Klein:

… "The conditionality is like a new violent relationship – financial and psychologically abusive" …

Another woman, with a high-needs daughter, said:

It's not that I'm sitting at home watching telly on my bum. Not happening. I'll welcome you to come and watch me, see how busy a single mums life gets with no family support because it's very different to having family here where you can leave the kids with the grandma and then go or have a partner you can safely co-parent with. That's not the case.

Another woman, living regionally, talked about the stigma she'd experienced:

It is an echo chamber, but that's what happens a lot when you're a single mum … You're stigmatised into the, it's a harsh word, but the useless pile. You're never going to amount to anything, because you've ruined your whole life by not having a husband … We're societal lepers.

ParentsNext has done enough damage. The only people who are perhaps calling for this program to be compulsory are the providers, who know there is money to be made from these enforced requirements—money to be made out of participants in the program, out of single mothers. On a fundamental level, ParentsNext does not address the most significant barriers parenting payment recipients face: a payment that is below the poverty line, a lack of access to child care to facilitate work and study, and high effective marginal tax rates that provide a disincentive to re-enter the workforce by taking on part-time paid work.

The government must act now to make ParentsNext voluntary: no more punitive requirements and no more payment suspensions. I ask—in fact, I beg—the crossbench to support this motion. Parents need to be supported to raise the next generation. Parenting is so important, and this government, which, I understand, values the role of parents, undermines that with this program. Government, vote with the opposition, with the Greens, who have campaigned on this since this program began, and, hopefully, with the crossbench and make this program voluntary so it can actually do what you claim it is designed to do, which is to help parents and particularly—as the parents in this program are predominantly women—to help women. You are harming them with this program. We will be supporting this disallowance.


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