Wednesday, 30 March 2022
Social Security Legislation Amendment (Streamlined Participation Requirements and Other Measures) Bill 2021; Second Reading
The Social Security Legislation Amendment (Streamlined Participation Requirements and Other Measures) Bill 2021 certainly did need revising, but Labor is now in a position to support it. It seeks to streamline social security law in relation to JobSeeker payments under the new employment services model, taking effect from the beginning of the new financial year. Labor was very concerned that the savings attributed to this bill over the forward estimates were really going to come off the back of jobseekers and their access to social security payments. However, that has now been fixed in the House of Representatives along with a number of other key issues. We were at that time very concerned that the government was wanting to rush this through parliament without proper consultation and scrutiny. I can now report that there has been a great deal of pressure on the government, and as a result the bill has now been amended. According to ACOSS and those who have sought to influence the government, we're now better off passing this bill rather than objecting to it.
We note that last year the Education and Employment Legislation Committee had a very limited opportunity to inquire, and at that time it was rightly identified that shifting the start date for when payments were made to 10 days later on average, in conjunction with the shift to online services, would see a massive cost to the hip pocket of jobseekers, hitting Australians when they are most vulnerable. That schedule—schedule 8—has now been removed, and, by virtue of a number of other amendments—which have involved the Australian Council of Social Service, who I thank very much for standing up for the interests of Australians who, at various times in their life, rely on government social services payments—the bill has now been successfully changed in the House of Representatives.
It's clear that, from the outset, the government very much mishandled this bill. There was no rush for the legislation last year and, as Labor highlighted earlier, the introduction of the new employment services model, which this bill supports, now takes place in July this year. The government previously attempted to rush it, but it could not get its legislative agenda together. Now, at the death knell, right before an election, we're finally in a position to pursue this bill. The important changes in this legislation deserved better consideration. The government did come to the conclusion that significant changes needed to happen to this legislation, and the government finally acted in the lower house.
We in the Labor Party support an employment services system that is fair and that also makes the most of technology to support jobseekers, employers and employment service providers, but we need to do more to get Australians into work, especially those who find themselves in long-term unemployment. Despite what you might say about unemployment figures, long-term unemployment—that is, the number of Australians who have been looking for work for more than 12 months—has actually increased under this government. This is a key challenge that this government is failing to address. More than four out of five of those who receive unemployment benefits are now classified as long-term unemployed. These Australians need more support. Of those Australians who are on unemployment benefits, 82 per cent have been on income support for more than a year.
Labor is pleased that this bill has changed as supported by ACOSS, and we support the bill as amended. The Labor Party can be trusted to ensure that no jobseeker is left behind.