Wednesday, 4 March 2015
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services, Senator Fifield. Yesterday the Prime Minister said that the GP co-payment is dead, buried and cremated. However, the future of one of your other budget measures, the 'earn or learn' provisions that would see young people denied social security payments for up to six months of the year, is still unclear. Is 'earn or learn' dead and buried too? When will you admit that this policy has been roundly rejected by expects and by the Australian community and announce that it has been taken off the table?
Colleagues will recall that there were two budget measures that impact on young people under the age of 30, and they are commonly referred to as 'earn or learn'. We approached the last budget with the intent of doing everything we possibly could to assist younger Australians into work. That is what motivated and informed the budget measures to which Senator Siewert refers. It is clear that the government has not secured passage of those through the parliament but, as Minister Morrison has made clear, all the social services budget measures remain on the table. He has extended an invitation to all colleagues: if they want to engage in a discussion in relation to those budget measures, he is very happy to do so. But what he encourages, and what the government encourages, is for those who want to discuss to bring something to the table themselves. Bring a proposition to have a point of departure for a discussion.
I can confirm that those measures do remain on the table, but let me reiterate Minister Morrison's invitation to sit down, to talk. If colleagues in this place or colleagues in the other place think they have a better idea or an alternative idea as to how to achieve the objective of seeing more young people in work, then please do so, because the government is very willing to talk.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I heard Senator Fifield reiterating Minister Morrison's comments at the press club from last week that anybody with an idea should put something on the table. Have you seriously, as a government, got no other idea about how to help young people into work than denying them income support for six months? Have you got no other idea? How about case management for a start?
I thank Senator Siewert for her supplementary question. Clearly, case management is at the heart of many of the government's employment programs. But, Senator Siewert, this budget proposition is not the only thing that the government has put forward to create an environment that is more conducive to seeing more young people in work. We also want to see the economy growing stronger. I have no doubt that the measures that we have in the next budget will be focused around increasing growth in Australia. We all know that when the economy grows strongly and when there is an environment that is conducive to business and conducive to small business, the employment opportunities for young people are increased. We have a ceaseless focus on seeking to improve the growth rates of Australia.
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. At estimates last week, the department confirmed that they are in fact still working on implementation plans for earn and learn. Has the government considered taking them off working on that and putting them to work on better provisions that will actually support young people into work and that do not kick them off income support for six months?
The staff in the Department of Social Services, not surprisingly, work on preparing to give effect to the policy of the government of the day—policy as expressed in bills that have been introduced into the other place. But that does not in any way, shape or form prevent them from also working on other propositions. It is part of the core business of the Department of Social Services to work on propositions to improve employment prospects for young people. It is core business for the Department of Social Services to be working on policy alternatives. Senator Siewert, I would not want you to think for a second that the Department of Social Services cannot walk and chew gum at the same time.