Senate debates

Tuesday, 2 August 2022


Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Self-Employment Programs and Other Measures) Bill 2022; Second Reading

1:02 pm

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak in support of the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Self-Employment Programs and Other Measures) Bill 2022. The new employment services model Workforce Australia was developed by the previous coalition government over a number of years and commenced on 4 July 2022. The new model seeks to build on the success of jobactive and give jobseekers the best opportunity to find opportunity through a tailor-made approach. The former coalition government spent a number of years working with jobseekers, providers, peak bodies and employers on developing a model that works for all and supports a pathway for Australians off welfare and into work. It will eventually become a one-stop shop for Australians and Australian businesses to find work, retrain and find access to other government initiatives in employment and skills. This bill will continue to realise that and will ensure the good intentions continue.

The main amendments in this bill, in schedule 1, will make it clear that the family, social security and veterans entitlements laws operate in the same way in relation to self-employment assistance payments as for other niche payments, because of the name change. The New Enterprise Incentive Scheme, known as NEIS, has helped almost 200,000 people start their own businesses since it commenced, many of whom might otherwise have continued to rely on Social Security payments or veterans entitlements payments. The program helps people move off income support by creating their own job. In turn, many of these businesses have created work for additional people.

The Self-Employment Assistance program commenced on 1 July 2022 to replace NEIS assistance throughout Australia, other than on Norfolk Island, where NEIS will continue because we have an existing deed that does not expire until 2023. It is important that we continue this work, and the bill does this. These changes are primarily in sections relating to the treatment of entitlements, and they clarify in legislation that the self-employment assistance payments are to be treated in the same way as NEIS payments. For example, the Family Law Act 1975 defines 'income tested pension, allowance or benefit' as a pension, allowance or benefit prescribed by the family law regulations. For that purpose, those regulations refer to payments made under NEIS so that such payments are included within the definition. This must be changed to reflect the Self-Employment Assistance program. That is appropriate, as self-employment assistance is similar to other NEIS assistance, the difference being that self-employment assistance participants will have much more flexibility in choosing and accessing support that best suits their circumstances.

Schedule 1 also means that, if self-employment assistance is given a different name, the family, social security and veterans entitlements laws will continue to operate in the same way—provided that the employment secretary makes a notifiable instrument giving notice of the change—without the need for a future bill. This is worthwhile because it means that we can spend less of the chamber's time on bills like this and focus on other measures to support employment in Australia.

The former coalition government's investment in Australia's workforce has worked to move people from unemployment and into jobs. Prior to the pandemic hitting, it had reduced Australia's level of welfare dependency to the lowest level in 30 years. The former coalition government successfully brought Australians through the pandemic, bringing Australia's historically low unemployment rates with it. The unemployment rate of 3½ per cent is a testament to that. From when we were elected to government in 2013, we were determined to put in place the strong economic policies and labour market programs that allow the economy to recover and support Australians into work. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the coalition's strong economic management had supported the creation of over 1.5 million jobs. The economy was growing, Australia had record labour force participation, the unemployment rate was 5.2 per cent in March 2020 and, for the first time in 11 years, the budget was in balance.

Our former employment services programs have played an essential role in supporting economic recovery by increasing labour force participation and helping workers transition to new jobs. These programs, including jobactive, Youth Jobs PaTH, Transition to Work and ParentsNext, are working and have ensured that we bounced back from COVID-19 and continue on the pathway of getting more Australians into work. These programs have assisted hundreds of thousands of Australians to improve their employability and gain employment, with jobactive having supported over 2 million job placements since its introduction in 2015.

To assist Australians back into work after a once-in-a-century pandemic, we built on this record and improved services for our most affected regions and our most disadvantaged jobseekers. We put boots on the ground across 25 regions to support employment through our Local Jobs Program. Employment facilitators developed local jobs plans in 25 regions, in collaboration with local stakeholders, employers and training organisations.

The new employment services model, known as Workforce Australia, is now in place and is providing more personalised services to better target jobseeker needs, investing in those jobseekers who need it and making greater use of digital technology. Workforce Australia was the biggest reform to employment services since the Howard government's reforms in the 1990s, showing our commitment to helping Australians into work and modernising one of the biggest expenditure areas of government. The coalition are proud of this record and continue to work where we can on improving employment opportunities, even if that means now from opposition. We commend this bill to the Senate.


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