Tuesday, 2 August 2022
Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Self-Employment Programs and Other Measures) Bill 2022
Before my speech on the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Self-Employment Programs and Other Measures) Bill 2022 was interrupted, I was talking about the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme and how important it was. It was introduced in 1985 by the Hawke government. This initiative is particularly important to mention because it relates directly to the bill we're debating now. Through NEIS, individuals can receive a package of services that helps them to establish a new business. More recently, it has also helped existing business owners impacted by COVID-19 to continue running their businesses or refocus their operations to meet new areas of demand. Since NEIS was introduced, it has helped over 198,000 people. As I was saying, there are a number of supports available through NEIS, including accredited small-business training, help to develop a business plan, personalised mentoring from an NEIS provider and, if you are eligible, NEIS allowance for up to 39 weeks and NEIS rental assistance for up to 26 weeks.
NEIS can potentially be a great option for jobseekers. If someone has a business idea they'd like to try out which is likely to be commercially viable, NEIS provides the flexibility to allow them to put their energy into pursuing that idea without having to apply for jobs in the meantime. After all, when someone is making a genuine effort to secure a regular income then why place restrictions on whether they do it through employment or self-employment? While some people are happy working for someone else, there are others who like the choice, the control and the freedom that comes with self-employment. There are many people who struggle with traditional employment but thrive in an environment where they can be their own boss.
It's interesting to note that people with disability, because of the challenges they face in having their skills recognised, are 40 per cent more likely to be self-employed than the rest of the population. Clearly, there is much more work to be done to overcome discrimination against people with disability and to recognise the valuable skills and talents they have. But I am also glad that so many people with disability have had a chance to put their skills to use in a way that also gives them freedom and control.
The success of NEIS is not just in its ability to help people establish their own business; it also helps establish businesses that survive and thrive. Three months after exiting the program, 82 per cent of NEIS participants remained in employment and 68 per cent were still running their business. The fact that NEIS has continued for 37 years through governments of both persuasions is a testament to its success and the esteem in which it is held. The Department of Education, Skills and Employment website features many success stories about how the program has helped people pursue their business ideas.
Several other success stories appeared in the booklet celebrating the 30th anniversary of the scheme. One of my favourites, because it is from my home state of Tasmania, is that of Social Circus Tasmania. Christian and Staja Florence established the business in 2012. The idea behind Social Circus Tasmania is to engage individuals, groups, families and communities in circus workshops to build teamwork, trust, determination, concentration and playfulness. A few years ago Social Circus Tasmania had a presence at a big event called 'A Day on the Beach', of which I've been patron for about a decade, although the event is now changing its name to 'A Day at the Park'. While the founders, Christian and Staja, had extensive skills and experience in circus performance, what they gained through NEIS was how to turn that experience and their passion for something they enjoyed doing into a viable business. This is the value of the business management training and business planning assistance that NEIS offers.
Some of the many other success stories include: a children's clothing business which, during COVID, pivoted to producing face masks when Melbourne went into lockdown; a former Australian Defence Force member who, through his successful career, had developed a passion for health, fitness and pushing people to their limit, and turned it into a personal training business; someone who had a unique knowledge of locations not being visited by tour operators attracted a market with her new tour company; and a theatre prop maker and scenic artist who applied her skills to a new business manufacturing wooden furniture and toys, including bespoke rocking horses. It's mind-boggling to think of the wealth of amazing stories that the thousands of people who have benefited from NEIS would have to tell.
The bill before the Senate now, the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Self-Employment Programs and Other Measures) Bill 2022 is necessary because of some recent changes to NEIS. These changes came into effect on 1 July 2022. NEIS has been replaced with the Self-Employment Assistance program throughout Australia, with the exception of Norfolk Island, where NEIS will continue to be offered. This bill updates the Social Security Act 1991, the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 and the Family Law Regulations 1984 to make it clear that the social security law, veterans' entitlement law and family law operate in the same way for the new program as they did for NEIS. It also includes some minor technical amendments and clarifications to the social security law following the recent Social Security Legislation Amendment (Streamlined Participation Requirements and Other Measures) Act 2022.