Tuesday, 20 March 2018
Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017; In Committee
I need to ask the minister whether there are any calculations with respect to amendments tabled by One Nation before the Senate. One Nation has told us that they increase the amount of payments that are available under the bereavement allowance to either the equivalent of what is currently paid in a bereaved situation or more. Is that correct?
We are seeking advice as to the extent to which those amendments reinstate and improve eligibility for those allowances, and the extent to which they reinstate payments. As we understand it, the payments have been reduced to the equivalent of the jobseeker allowance, and we want to know what the One Nation amendments increase them to.
Thank you very much for that clarification. As I indicated, I should soon have the answers to what the impact of the One Nation amendment would be on those particular payments, so I'll take that on notice.
You're aware that a bereavement allowance is a payment for people whose partner has died and is paid for a maximum of 14 weeks currently at the rate of the age pension. Is that the rate that these amendments will pay the allowance at? I might also direct this question to Senator Hanson.
You have some amendments before the Senate that amend the bereavement allowance, schedule 4, which you had your colleagues vote to oppose yesterday. That vote was then reinstated when you said you would support the government. Now you've put forward amendments in this place that completely contradict your support for the government on schedule 4, because they're much closer to changing the payments. What are those payments changed to in your amendment?
Thank you very much for your question. We opposed the amendment the Labor Party put up because it wasn't as good as the amendment we have put up. In 567FB the amount of payment is seven times better for the person. Previously it was only the Newstart payment; then there was a one-off payment two weeks later. My proposed amendment is far better for the people. No-one is going to be worse off under this. Some people are going to be better off with it. The government's costing for the bereavement was $1,040,000. It will cost a little bit more to instate this, but it is important that people in bereavement be looked after. That's why we put up this amendment. I understand you are going to support this amendment, and I'm pleased to hear that.
After talking to the government with regard to this, the minister assured me no-one will be worse off and some people will be better off under the proposal I put forward, which is what I wanted to ensure. The payments they will receive will be better under this amendment.
This gives me an opportunity, Chair, to advise the Senate that the government will be supporting the amendments put forward by One Nation. It's an amendment to schedule 4. Schedule 4 of the bill closes bereavement allowance and provides support to bereaved persons through a new jobseeker payment or youth allowance from 20 March 2020. This amendment changes the formula for calculating payments to those who lose a partner, to ensure that no-one will receive less in financial support under the new arrangements than they would receive under the current system. I believe they are the people that Senator Hanson is actually referring to.
The government supports this amendment, which builds upon the government amendments to support bereaved pregnant women. This amendment ensures that no bereaved person will be worse off with the cessation of the bereavement allowance. Bereavement allowance is paid at the pension rate of payment, compared to the jobseeker payment, which will be paid at the allowance rate of payment. As the bill is currently drafted, a bereaved person claiming jobseeker payment or youth allowance will receive a one-off lump sum payment, in addition to their ongoing fortnightly payment, following the death of their partner. To ensure that no bereaved person is worse off under the new jobseeker payment, this amendment will, from 20 March 2020, change the way payments are calculated for bereaved persons to ensure that there will be no difference between what a bereaved person will receive under the jobseeker payment or youth allowance and what they would receive under bereavement allowance. Again, they are the people Senator Hanson is referring to.
I need to point out that with the removal of the potential difference in amounts between jobseeker payment and bereavement allowance, the new system provides a much better arrangement for those who are bereaved. Those who lose a partner do not have to apply for another payment as they do under the current system. Instead, they will receive an exemption from any mutual obligation requirements, to support them in their time of bereavement, and will seamlessly move into job search or other mutual obligation activities once the period of exemption ends.
Minister, I seek your advice. Senator Hanson asserted that some people will be better off under these amendments. Do the amendments to schedule 4 bring the payments up to what they are under the existing arrangements? Is anyone going to be paid more than they would currently receive under the existing bereavement entitlements?
Can you take me through the eligibility requirements for that and how it is that this amendment makes it so? What will that payment be? How much above the existing bereavement payment will it actually be?
I'm sorry; you might need to explain that to me a little more. Our understanding, from looking at this amendment, is that while some people will be better off they'll only be better off relative to the schedule as you amended it, not better off compared to the bereavement payments as they are currently paid—is that correct?
They are better off in relation to the schedule as it stands in the bill before us, but not in relation to the payments as they are currently paid if someone is bereaved today?
Thank you. That is what I wanted to clarify. So there are some people who will be better off and there are some people who will be the same as if they were on the bereavement allowance. Does this affect the changed eligibility criteria?
In terms of what is currently paid in the bereavement allowances, what are the circumstances of people who will be paid at a higher rate under this amendment than they otherwise would have been paid under the existing arrangements? By 'existing arrangements' I do not mean the schedule before us; I mean the bereavement allowances as they are currently paid.
Senator Hanson asserted that people will be better off. I want to know who will be better off. We are talking about relative to the arrangements before this parliament has legislated. No-one is better off under this amendment; it is only relative to what the government had brought to this place?
While Senator Hanson prepares to move her amendment, I want to clarify something with the government. The assertion that this amendment will make people better off is based on their being better off in relation to the schedule that is proposed in this bill, not compared to the existing arrangements for bereavement payments?
I have a question for Senator Hanson, when she's ready, but we might give her the opportunity to move her amendments. I might continue asking questions of the government while Senator Hanson prepares herself. As I understand it, the eligibility for this payment is more stringent, because it's moved from the pensions asset test to the job seeker allowance assets test. Is that correct?
I'm instructed that the figure that relates to your question is that 960 people who would otherwise have claimed bereavement allowance will be able to claim job seeker payment and be no worse off.
That is not the question. My question is about the eligibility for the job seeker payment in bereavement circumstances. The assets-and-income test for that used to be the assets-and-income test equivalent to the age pension, but that is now changing to the income-and-assets test for the job seeker allowance. Is that correct?
So, Minister, when you say that no-one will be worse off, they will have the same income, but only if they are eligible to receive that income and the eligibility for a bereavement allowance or the new equivalent of it, job seeker allowance, under bereavement circumstances is now more stringent?
I understand that most bereavement allowance recipients receive payment for 14 weeks at the high pension rate. Without this amendment, the total amount of jobseeker payments over the 14 weeks, including the lump-sum payment, is estimated at around $1,300 less for bereavement allowance paid for the same period; and, for youth allowance, the difference is estimated at around $2,200. This is now rectified with this amendment put forward by One Nation.
But the opposition, with the support of the Greens, sought to rectify this yesterday by asking this place to vote against schedule 4. If we had voted against schedule 4 in this place then the existing entitlements, which means bereavement allowance paid at the age pension rate, would have been the status quo. Members of One Nation missed that vote and they came back into this place and asked for that vote to be recommitted because they agreed with the government. Now why are you moving this motion today if you agree with the government? The simple fact is: this is exactly contrary to what the government put forward yesterday and, what's more, it does not restore the entitlements for bereavement allowance to everyone who would have otherwise had it under the existing arrangements in the legislation. You should have stuck with your vote to reject schedule 4 yesterday because, had you voted it down, people would receive exactly the same rate as they do now, which is what you're seeking to do with this amendment. But what's more, your claim that no-one will be worse off is completely false, because those 30 persons a year will no longer be eligible for bereavement allowance.
by leave—I move:
That the House of Representatives be requested to make the following amendments:
(R6) Schedule 4, item 39, page 100 (line 34) to page 101 (line 1), omit section 567FB, substitute:
567FB Amount of payment
(1) The amount of the person's payment is worked out using the following formula (except if paragraph 567FA(g) applies in relation to the person):
Daily rate of person's youth allowance on the relevant day x 14 x 7
(2) If subparagraph 567FA(g) (i) applies in relation to the person, the amount of the person's payment is worked out using the following formula:
[Daily rate of person's youth allowance on the relevant day x 14 x 3] + $2,000
(3) If subparagraph 567FA(g) (ii) applies in relation to the person, the amount of the person's payment is worked out using the following formula:
[Daily rate of person's youth allowance on the relevant day x 14 x 3] + Additional amount
additional amount means the amount worked out in accordance with the following table:
(R8) Schedule 4, item 54, page 106 (lines 1 to 4), omit section 660LI, substitute:
660LI Amount of payment
(1) The amount of the person's payment is worked out using the following formula (except if paragraph 660LH(g) applies in relation to the person):
Daily rate of person's jobseeker payment on the relevant day x 14 x 4.5
(2) If subparagraph 660LH(g) (i) applies in relation to the person, the amount of the person's payment is worked out using the following formula:
[Daily rate of person's jobseeker payment on the relevant day x 14 x 3] + $1,000
(3) If subparagraph 660LH(g) (ii) applies in relation to the person, the amount of the person's payment is worked out using the following formula:
[Daily rate of person's jobseeker payment on the relevant day x 14 x 3] + Additional amount
additional amount means the amount worked out in accordance with the following table:
Statement pursuant to the order of the Senate of 26 June 2000
Amendments (R6) and (R8)
The effect of amendment (R6) is to increase the amount of a one-off payment to certain recipients of youth allowance under the Social Security Act 1991. It is framed as a request because it will increase the amount of expenditure out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund under the standing appropriation in section 242 of the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999, and so will increase a "proposed charge or burden on the people".
The effect of amendment (R8) is to increase the amount of a one-off payment to certain recipients of jobseeker payment under the Social Security Act 1991. It is framed as a request because it will increase the amount of expenditure out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund under the standing appropriation in section 242 of the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999, and so will increase a "proposed charge or burden on the people".
Statement by the Clerk of the Senate pursuant to the order of the Senate of 26 June 2000
Amendments (R6) and (R8)
These amendments will increase the amount of a one-off payment to certain recipients of youth allowance and jobseeker payment.
The statement of reasons for moving these amendments as requests advises that they will increase expenditure under the standing appropriation in section 242 of the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999.
The Senate has long followed the practice that it should treat as requests amendments that would result in increased expenditure under a standing appropriation. If that is the effect of the amendments, then it is in accordance with the precedents of the Senate that they be moved as requests.
I've got a number of questions, particularly for Senator Hanson, about this amendment. I think it is appropriate to direct them to her given that it is her amendment. I assume that this is something she's worked on very hard. My first question is simply: how is this amendment different to the amendment you voted against last night? If it refreshes your memory, last night, you, on two occasions, voted with the government to remove the bereavement allowance. We had to put the vote again because two of your senators missed the vote so they came back in and voted with the government, with the Liberal Party, to cut this allowance. I'm interested to know how it is that this amendment that you're now putting up, that you claim is about supporting the allowance, differs from the amendment that you personally voted against twice last night.
The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Senator Hanson, do you need more time?
If you look at the government's amendment, at 567FB, you see that the daily rate of a person's youth allowance on the relevant day was times 14, for the 14 weeks, and it was double that amount. Under the amendment that I have put forward, under 567FB, it would be the daily rate of youth allowance on the relevant day times 14, times seven. So the amendment that I am putting up has increased it considerably. The same is relevant to 660LI. It is the daily rate of a person's jobseeker payment on the relevant day, times 14, by two, under the government. Under my amendment, it would be the daily rate of a person's jobseeker payment on the relevant day by 14 by 4½ times. So it is a lot more for the person.
Senator Hanson, you and your colleagues have spent a lot of time today claiming that this amendment will result in many people being better off. Can you tell us how many people will be better off as a result of your amendment?
I spoke to the minister last night. I was assured by the minister that, under this, people would be better off. I don't have the resources of the Labor Party or the government to put an actual figure on the number of people that would be better off. The amendment states that it is better for the people, and I stand by that. It is the Labor Party—and you yourself, Senator Watt—trying to make political points on this, by your comments this morning. It is just the usual you. So, if you are—
All right; to the chair: as I am saying, if the Labor Party and everyone here is in agreement that this bereavement payment should not be gone, for a cost of $1,040,000, I think it's important that we do support this bereavement allowance. Hence, although the One Nation party voted the way that we did last night, on reflection this is why we have put this amendment forward today—because it should be there and we stand by that. I don't want to cause any pain or undue stress on people, especially those going through this time.
As I've said, the amendment ensures that no bereaved person is worse off with the cessation of bereavement allowance. As the bill is currently drafted, from 20 March 2020 a bereaved person claiming youth allowance or jobseeker payment who is not pregnant will receive a one-off higher payment following the death of their partner. To ensure that no bereaved person is worse off under the new jobseeker payment, this amendment will change the way payments are calculated for bereaved persons from 20 March 2020, to ensure that there will be no difference between what a bereaved person receives under jobseeker payment or youth allowance compared to what they would've received under a bereavement allowance. With the removal of the potential difference in amounts between jobseeker payment and bereavement allowance, the new system provides a much better arrangement for those who are bereaved. Those who lose a partner do not have to apply for another payment, as they do under the current system. Instead, they receive an exemption from any mutual obligation requirements to support them in their time of bereavement and they will seamlessly move on into job search or other mutual obligation activities once the period of exemption ends. This will make the system simpler and maintain support for those experiencing one of the most difficult moments of crisis. I have moved my requests for amendment. I hope that they get the support of this chamber and that people stop playing party politics.
I'm actually not trying to play politics; I'm just asking questions about an amendment that you've moved, Senator Hanson. As I say, Senator Hanson and her colleagues have spent the day claiming to be moving an amendment here which will make many people in Australia better off. I ask you again: how many? Surely, if you were going to make that claim, you would have some idea of how many people are going to be better off. Do you have any idea how many people will be better off as a result of this amendment, given that you've spent the day claiming that people will be?
Like I said, when someone loses their partner and is in bereavement at that time, I don't believe we have the numbers for that, because it's something that can happen to a family or anyone. So I don't have the numbers.
I also wish to direct a question to Senator Hanson, and my question is this: you maintain that you want to make bereaved people in this nation better off; is that correct? Senator Hanson, I need to ask you: are you aware that there is still an alternative amendment before this chamber that would allow us to knock out schedule 4? You voted with the government yesterday to reinstate that amendment. However, Senator Siewert still has a motion before this chamber that will knock out the schedule as drafted by the government. It will reinstate the existing eligibility arrangements. That means that those 30 people who would miss out on this bereavement payment would retain eligibility for it.
The simple fact is that the minister has clarified that, rather than your amendment making people better off, that definition of 'better off' is only relative to the regressive steps in this legislation. No-one is actually better off than the status quo with your amendment. If you truly want to make people better off, will you vote for Senator Siewert's amendment to knock out schedule 4?
I am sitting here absolutely amazed at the hypocrisy of the Labor Party. We are trying to introduce an amendment that will make people no worse off in terms of their bereavement. It is a very sad time in people's lives when they lose a loved one. It is a very difficult time in terms of partners losing their loved one, and for them to lose remuneration or pensions or allowances at that particular time would be very, very distressful. We are trying to play a fair card. We're not playing politics like the Labor Party and the hypocritical senators over there who want to score political points at every opportunity.
You can interject as much as you like; it won't concern me too much. I strongly support this amendment by One Nation and Senator Hanson, and you can bellyache all you like. In the public eye, you are just being total and absolute hypocrites, and you just do not like One Nation coming up with policies and ideas that perhaps—
Well, they don't disadvantage people. I'll take that interjection. They do not disadvantage people. It's 30 people in 25 million. I think that every decision made by parliament will disadvantage someone in some way and will not advantage 100 per cent of the population, so I support the amendment before the chamber.
I find it strange that it's being said that this is going to help everyone. There have been claims made that everybody is going to be better off under this schedule. There will be people who will be worse off. That's the point about this whole schedule. That's why we are seeking to disallow the whole schedule, to knock off the whole schedule. It is because people will be—
Senator Burston interjecting—
Don't get ridiculous!
The CHAIR: I remind senators to speak through the chair.
Sorry. Through you, Chair, I'm saying to Senator Burston: don't be ridiculous! The point is that people will be worse off under this overall schedule.
We've just heard from Senator Hanson and Senator Burston about how people in bereavement are obviously going through a really, really hard time—and they are. That is why we supported the ALP amendment last night to disallow it. At the time I said I had an amendment, too. I will be moving it because the situation with this schedule will be different if this amendment gets up. Senator Burston, you will have the chance to actually make sure nobody will be worse off because we will have the opportunity to vote down that schedule. I'm hoping you will lend support to my amendment that says: 'Let's get rid of this schedule because it is cruel to people who would have been able to access this allowance when they were in fact bereaved. They will now be excluded.' It is a fallacy to say that no-one will be worse off. It's too cute by half to say that when you are supporting a schedule that means that people will no longer be able to access this allowance.
Let's be really clear. If Senator Hanson can't provide the numbers for those who will be better off in terms of getting more money than they would have—that is what I understand Senator Hanson to have said—is the minister or the government, who have indicated support for this amendment, able to tell us how many will be better off or getting more money than they would have both under the original allowance and under the process that was passed previously by the Senate in the amendment? Does that make sense?
I think I've explained this several times in relation to different questions that have been put. The answer is 960 people annually who would otherwise have claimed bereavement allowance will be able to claim the jobseeker payment or another payment. As I've also already stated, approximately 30 newly bereaved people per year would not qualify for the income support payment due to their income, assets or other circumstances—for example, their age. In terms of what this amendment does, most bereavement allowance recipients, as I've already stated, receive payment for 14 weeks at the higher pension rate. Without this amendment put forward by Senator Hanson, the total amount of jobseeker payments over the 14 weeks, including the lump sum payment, is estimated at approximately $1,300 less than the bereavement allowance paid for the same period. For youth allowance, the difference is estimated at approximately $2,200. So what this amendment will do is ensure that under the legislation that is currently before the Senate—and the government's amendment was passed—no bereaved person is worse off with the cessation of the bereavement allowance.
Last night some of us crossbenchers supported the Greens and Labor in voting in favour of them. I just want to stand up and say that it's hypocritical for Senator Burston to talk about hypocrisy when last night he wasn't even here for the first vote. He was at dinner. He got back for the second vote and voted with the government. Yesterday, One Nation could have voted with Labor and with the Greens and taken care of it all. I will be voting for their amendment, but I just want to make that point that it could have all been fixed up yesterday.
Just to be really clear, Senator Cash, on these numbers, you're saying that the original proposal that was voted for last night by the government and One Nation would have transferred 960 current recipients of the bereavement allowance to Newstart or another form of payment which was a lower form of payment, so—let's just be frank—they would have been worse off. There would be another 30 who would miss out on any payment altogether, so they'd be worse off still. The result of this amendment, you're saying, will essentially maintain the payment that 960 people would have received in the form of a bereavement allowance. They might be getting something different now, but the dollars that they get in their pocket will be the same as what they would have received yesterday, the day before—is that correct?
The simple answer to your question is, as I've already stated several times: under the amendment put forward by One Nation, 960 effectively women will be no worse off compared to the current bill. In other words, it will maintain the cessation of the payment.
So last night the bill was put. It was voted for in the end by the government and One Nation and it ceased the bereavement allowance and transferred people to a new form of payment which was a lower amount of payment. What you're saying is that this amendment only takes people to the lower amount of money that they would be provided with as a result of the legislation that was voted on last night? If that's the case, they are worse off.
So let's just take a hypothetical example of someone who, a month ago, would have qualified for bereavement allowance. Let's just say, for argument's sake, they would have qualified for $2,000. As a result of the clauses that were passed last night, let's say that their payment would have fallen to $1,000. You're saying that, as a result of the amendment that we're currently debating, they will go back to the original $2,000 that they would have qualified for, so they will be no worse off?
Senator Watt, I've answered this on numerous occasions. The government is simplifying the welfare system. As part of simplifying the welfare system, there will be the cessation of the bereavement allowance. The bill has not yet passed the Senate. In relation to the cessation of the bereavement allowance, as I've stated now several times on the record, from 20 March 2020, up to 960 people annually who would otherwise have claimed bereavement allowance will be able to claim jobseeker payment or another payment. Approximately 30 new bereaved people per year will not qualify for an income support payment due to their income, assets or other circumstances.
Senator Hanson's amendment in relation to bereaved persons—and I've stated this several times—provides that most bereavement allowance recipients will receive payment for 14 weeks at the higher pension rate. Without this amendment, the total amount of jobseeker payment over the 14 weeks, including the lump sum payment, is estimated at around $1,300 less than the amount of bereavement allowance paid for the same period. For youth allowance, the difference is estimated at around $2,200. The effect of what Labor wants to do is to continue with the bereavement allowance and not simplify the system. We are committed to simplifying the system. This is what we have put forward. It is now for the Senate to determine if it agrees.
Minister, how is it simplifying the bereavement allowance if you are recalculating the jobseeker allowance and paying it at a different rate to the jobseeker allowance?
I fail to see how this reduces the number of payments. It is in effect a different payment because you have put in a fancy calculation to restore it to the equivalent of the age pension. What happens when the age pension is adjusted, relative to when a jobseeker allowance is adjusted? We've got no guarantee that the value of the jobseeker bereavement period will retain its relativity to the age pension, because you've put in a completely different formula. I fail to see how this simplifies payments or simplifies the system when we're taking a bereavement allowance that is for bereaved people and calling it a jobseeker allowance for people who aren't looking for work because they're bereaved.
Perhaps I should point out that, with the removal of the potential difference in amounts between jobseeker payment and bereavement allowance, the new system provides a much better arrangement for those who are bereaved. Those who lose a partner do not have to apply for another payment as they do under the current system. Instead, they receive an exemption from any mutual obligation requirements to support them in their time of bereavement and will seamlessly move into JobSearch or other mutual obligation activities once the period of exemption ends.
I apologise for any confusion about this, but there have been numbers given and comparisons to the current bill given. There are 960 people who, under the legislation that was considered last night, would have been worse off and who are now going to continue receiving the same amount as they would have done had this bill never been introduced. Is that correct?
By which you mean the 960, rather than the 30 who will be worse off? You're nodding that that's correct? Yes. I'm not sure if we've had an answer yet as to the claim that Senator Hanson and her colleagues have been making today, which is that their amendment will result in people being better off. Is there anyone who, as a result of this amendment, will be better off compared to the status quo?
I think you're verballing what Senator Hanson has said—and you're doing that quite deliberately, which is fine. I took what Senator Hanson said to mean that, under their amendments, there are some people who would have received less than what they are currently receiving and, because of her amendment, no bereaved person is worse off. In other words, according to Senator Hanson—and just the way she described it—there are some people who would be better off under this amendment than if the bill were to pass in its current form. That's all I took Senator Hanson to say.
Let's just make it very clear to the chamber: if this chamber wants to make sure no-one is worse off than the status quo, by all means vote for Senator Hanson's amendment, because at least we'll have some guarantee that the situation will be improved. But we still have an opportunity in this place to do exactly what Senator Hanson says and make sure no-one is worse off, and that is by supporting Senator Siewert's amendment to knock out schedule 4. By all means support Senator Hanson's amendment—we'll at least have some baseline guarantee that we won't be stuck with what the government has put forward and what this place voted for last night, including you, Senator Hanson—but the only true way that this place can claim that no-one will be worse off in terms of their bereavement entitlements is to take the opportunity to knock out schedule 4. Schedule 4 will keep the payments as they are, which is all that Senator Hanson's amendment does. In addition, by supporting Senator Siewert's amendment, we will make sure that those 30 people who would lose eligibility under the tightened eligibility criteria would not be worse off. That is the only way that this chamber can make sure that bereaved persons who need the support of the government in their time of need are supported by the government and are no worse off.
I note that Senator Hanson didn't answer my last question, which was whether she now accepted that no-one in fact will be better off as a result of her amendment. Does she want to have another opportunity to answer that question? She's looking at her papers, so I assume the answer's no. I might just also respond to Senator Cash, who accused me of verballing Senator Hanson when I said that Senator Hanson and her colleagues had spent the day claiming that their amendment was going to increase the bereavement allowance. I have in front of me a tweet from someone who used to haunt this place, Malcolm Roberts. His tweet at 4.39 pm this afternoon shared the amendment that we're currently debating and said, 'This is the amendment that is soon to be voted on in the Senate. It clearly shows an increase'—he put that in big capital letters—'in support of pensioners who are', and I think he meant to say 'who are society's most vulnerable'. Does the minister want to retract her claim that I was verballing Senator Hanson and her colleagues?
I just want to support Senator Watt. I read former Senator Roberts's comments today, and, even if I was Joe Blow, I would've read that and thought that this is a wonderful thing that One Nation are doing. Then I stopped and thought, 'Hang on a flash! Didn't they vote with the government and vote against it last night?'
I have a number of other questions that I want to put to Senator Hanson, but, before I do so, I might just try to put this debate that we're having at the moment in some context. Let's be honest about what's happening here. What's happening here is that Senator Hanson and her colleagues are now scurrying back into this chamber to try to fix the mess that they created last night. They have been shamed into coming back into this chamber to reverse cuts to pensions and cuts to allowances that they voted for only last night. In Senator Hanson's case, she voted for them twice.
This is just the latest example we are seeing from Senator Hanson and her One Nation colleagues in their ongoing campaign to sell out the very battlers that they say they are here to represent. This has been happening for so, so long, ever since Senator Hanson and her colleagues came to this chamber after the double dissolution. We've seen it on a range of workplace matters. Senator Hanson and her One Nation colleagues voted for the government's ABCC legislation. What was buried in there was that Senator Hanson—despite all of her xenophobic remarks criticising foreigners, criticising migrants—in voting, along with her colleagues, for the ABCC legislation made it easier for construction companies to bring in temporary overseas workers to replace local workers. If that's not selling out the battlers that she says that she represents, I don't know what is.
In voting for the ABCC legislation, Senator Hanson and One Nation also voted to cut apprenticeships in the construction industry. They've actually cut the floor out from underneath the young battlers who they say that they are here to represent, by reducing the number of apprenticeships that are available to young people in the construction industry. In voting for that ABCC legislation, Senator Hanson and her One Nation colleagues also made it a hell of a lot easier for construction companies to bring in labour hire and keep people in insecure work. These are the people that Senator Hanson and her colleagues say that they are here to represent—people in regional Queensland, in particular, and outer suburban areas who are really struggling to make ends meet, who are on labour hire rather than permanent work, who are in casual employment rather than permanent work, who are struggling to get an apprenticeship. Through Senator Hanson's own votes, she is actually making it harder still for these people, by removing what opportunities they do have.
Who can forget that we've seen them do it as well on penalty rates? There have been a number of occasions now when we on the Labor side have given One Nation and Senator Hanson the opportunity to stop cuts to penalty rates from going ahead. But over and over again they vote with the government to let these penalty rate cuts go through, to cut money out of the pockets of the battlers that they say they're here to represent. We've seen them do it on child care, by voting with the Liberals to cut childcare payments to low-income families. We've seen them do it again on labour hire, by refusing to back amendments that Labor moved that would have held host employers liable for underpayments to workers made by labour hire firms.
These people are the biggest bunch of hypocrites this Australian parliament has ever seen. They spend every day out there, particularly in regional Queensland, claiming that they're the friends of battlers, claiming that they are going to come down here to Canberra and sort out the major parties, and, at every single chance they get, they line up and vote with Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals to cut money out of the pockets of the very people they say that they represent. I'm actually surprised that it's only about 85 per cent of the time that Senator Hanson and One Nation vote with the government. You would think it is 100 per cent. They might as well just go and join the Liberal Party today, which is where Senator Hanson came from in the first place. If you're going to come down here and continue voting with the Liberals to hurt battlers, to allow more 457 visas into construction sites, to cut apprenticeships, to hurt labour hire workers, to cut child care to low-income families and now to cut bereavement allowances, why don't you just go back and join the Liberal Party? You might as well do that since you're voting with them all the time.
Here again, on this very bill, we're seeing yet again Senator Hanson and One Nation sell out the battlers that they say they represent. They might sit there and smirk about it. It is actually not funny. It's not funny that you get out into regional Queensland and tell people that you're going to protect them and you come down here and leave them in the lurch by voting with the Liberal Party over and over again. It's not funny; it's dishonest, and you should be ashamed of the fact that you keep on doing it. These people have a right to be represented in the way that you say that you're going to, not sold out every time you come down here to Canberra.
On this bill, let's just cut through the nonsense that we've been seeing from Senator Hanson and her colleagues all day today and here tonight. They're trying to proclaim this as some massive win that they've been able to engineer for pensioners. What has actually happened here is that they've been caught out yet again selling out the battlers that they say they represent.
Last night we had the farcical situation in this chamber where two of the three One Nation senators weren't here for a vote. The vote, for a Greens amendment, I think, that was backed by Labor to try to protect this bereavement allowance, was put. The Greens voted to protect bereavement allowances. Labor voted to do so. Senator Hinch mentioned that he did. I'm not sure about some of the other crossbenchers. All of us were standing up for the battlers that you say you represent. Senator Hanson came over here, sat with the Liberals and voted to cut the bereavement allowance altogether, and two of her senators couldn't even be bothered showing up. We then had this pathetic situation where those two senators came into the chamber. One said he was detained inadvertently and one said he was in the toilet. Not only did they vote to cut this bereavement allowance once but they demanded that it be put to the vote again so that they could get the numbers up and guarantee this bereavement allowance could be cut once and for all.
Don't pretend that you're in here trying to help battlers or trying to protect the bereavement allowance. What you're actually doing is coming in to fix the mess that you created last night by voting with the Liberals not once but twice. The only reason this has happened is that you have been shamed into it. I and a number of other people were out on social media very loudly last night pointing out what you did. And I notice, Senator Hanson, that you spoke to the minister about this amendment last night. I bet that was after you had been exposed for being a fraud yet again and for selling out the battlers that you say that you represent again. I see you nodding there. Is that correct?
The CHAIR: Senator Watt, I remind you to direct your remarks to the chair.
I see Senator Hanson nodding there, so I'd be interested to know if it's correct that she only actually bothered to talk to the minister about this after her selling out of battlers yet again had been exposed.
It's bad enough that we get this One Nation crowd coming down to Canberra and repeatedly voting with the Liberals to sell out the battlers that they represent, but then to spend the entire day lying about why they are moving this amendment just makes it even worse. Just be honest. Be honest and admit that you made a mistake, you sold out the battlers that you represent, you got it wrong, you've seen the error of your ways and now you're trying to rectify it. Don't get Malcolm Roberts in his tinfoil hat out there trying to pretend something different; just be honest for once. Admit you got it wrong. Admit that you're actually going to stand up for the battlers that you say you represent and you're going to vote with Labor, just like you should have done in the first instance. And maybe you should make a habit of it and vote with Labor on a whole range of other things to protect the battlers that you say that you care about.
The claim that you are in here today because you care about pensioners and you want to save people is an out-and-out lie. I'm glad that you've been found out for it and I'm glad that you've come in here and moved an amendment. But as we've heard, despite this amendment, there will still be 30 people a year whose partners will die and they will need support. We're not talking about rich people. Thirty low-income Australians a year are going to die and their partners, who would have once qualified for a bereavement allowance to help them pay for a funeral and get back on their feet—they might not even have a job—will be actually worse off still because of the vote that you cast last night. Why aren't you fixing that? Why aren't you making sure that every single person you sold out last night is going to be no worse off? Why are you still leaving 30 people a year in the lurch?
Now that you have seen the error of your ways in relation to the cuts to the bereavement allowance that you voted for last night, what I want to know is: have you got other amendments ready to go now to try to reverse the other cuts that you voted for last night? This was not the only cut to low-income Australians that One Nation voted with the Liberals to get through last night. One Nation last night also voted to cut the wife pension, the widow allowance and the partner allowance and to make people older than 55 now stop volunteering in order to qualify for the dole and make them go out and look for work instead.
There are a whole range of other cuts that One Nation voted with the Liberals last night to put through. There are thousands of low-income Australians, battlers who One Nation say they care about, who are still going to be worse off as a result of all these other cuts that you voted for last night. Are you going to move amendments? Are One Nation going to move amendments to reverse the other cuts that you voted for last night or are you still going to leave out thousands of people who once got a wife pension and won't anymore, who once got a widow allowance and won't anymore and who once got a partner allowance and won't anymore? Are they going to be fixed up or are you going to leave them to be hung out to dry with less money in their pocket facing a much harder existence?
This is not the only sellout that you committed last night. I really hope that you have other amendments to make up for the sellouts to a range of other people that you committed last night as well. Don't think you get off the hook by fixing one problem when you created many. We are onto you and we are going to keep exposing you for the lies and fraud that you keep on committing every single time you come down here and vote with the Liberals.
I just want to add to that contribution. Senator Watt, I still have amendments on the grey where One Nation can support them to actually address some of those very issues, so they can knock off schedule 4. They can support our amendments on the wife pension in terms of overseas portability. There are a range of amendments that, if One Nation really cares about the most vulnerable members of our community, they can still support. Then we will see that we don't just pick out one particular group of people—and of course it's those who are bereaved, and we are all deeply concerned about the cuts to those that are bereaved, which is why we sought to knock that particular schedule off. But there is still an opportunity to knock that off. It's 30 a year, don't forget. It is not just 30 people but 30 a year.
The overseas portability of the wife pension is still there. I also asked about the amendments that we sought to move and Labor supported that addressed the issue around that transition rate for the wife pension so that those on the wife pension aren't worse off. So there is a whole range of amendments that are still on the grey that can be supported so that we can make this awful bill just that little bit better.
So, again, I would like to pursue this question of clarification around the claims that some people on the allowance will be better off. Does that refer to the 960? They'll be better off than what the government has on the books, but they won't be better off than they were originally under the allowance. That's correct, isn't it?
I've got a technical question about the amount of payment. I can see the amendment to the schedule in front of me which substitutes section 567FB and puts in a calculation of a person's youth allowance, for example, times the 14 weeks times the seven days to get it up to our 14 weeks. So I want to ask, technically, how it then gets topped up to the equivalent value of the age pension. I am trying to work out the extent to which it's now a lump sum paid in addition to those regular payments and exactly how that's calculated.
Will that lump sum, in terms of the difference, maintain its relativity with the age pension or its relativity with the bereavement allowance as it currently stands?
I will try to be clear. The intention of this amendment being put by One Nation, as I understand it, is to maintain its relativity with the current rate. Now, that current rate is the rate of the age pension, so you must have done something that helps you arrive at the equivalent of the age pension rate. I can see how you would do that by calculating the amount of the youth allowance or the jobseeker payment, and then adding on the difference over the 14 weeks of what it otherwise would have been under your age pension. Is that how you've calculated it?
Yes, I understand that that payment can change because it's the payment that relates to your daily rate and your 14 weeks times seven days. I understand that that component of it will decrease and increase, according to how that payment is calculated. What I don't understand is how the gap payment is calculated. I think you're asserting that it also has a relativity to the jobseeker payment, but I thought the relativity was to the age pension so that you could top it up to the equivalent amount.
If the argument is that the multiple of the jobseeker payment rate plus the daily rate over the 14 weeks is the equivalent of the age pension over the same period of time, how are you calculating the multiple of the jobseeker rate to equal the current age pension?
But you've calculated it for this point in time for the purposes of Senator Hanson being able to state that people won't receive a cut. You've calculated those payments plus the multiple of the jobseeker rate to somehow equal that gap in the existing point in time.
In the most simplistic of terms—just to take you through how it is all calculated—the bereavement allowance is paid at the pension rate of payment compared to the jobseeker payment, which will be paid at the allowance rate of payment. We've established that. As the bill is currently drafted, a bereaved person claiming jobseeker payment or youth allowance will receive a one-off lump sum payment following the death of their partner, in addition to their ongoing fortnightly payment. To ensure that no bereaved person is worse off under the new jobseeker payment, the amendment that we are currently looking at will change the way the payments are calculated for bereaved persons from 20 March 2020 to ensure that there will be no difference between what a bereaved person receives under jobseeker payment or youth allowance compared to what they would have received under the bereavement allowance.
In terms of the amounts, as I've already stated, most bereavement allowance recipients receive payment—as we've gone through in terms of the formula—for 14 weeks at the higher pension rate. Without this amendment, the total amount of the jobseeker payment over the 14 weeks, including the lump sum payment, was estimated by the department to be approximately $1,300 less than the amount of the bereavement allowance paid for the same period. In relation to the youth allowance, the difference is estimated at approximately $2,200. They will now receive that additional payment, which takes them back to what they would've received.
Thank you. I am now some way towards understanding what you're doing here. It goes back to the top-up payment, as it was attached to the daily rate of a person's youth allowance plus the top-up, which is not as much as it would've been over the equivalent time. So you have calculated a top-up that is relative to the age pension as it stands currently, but it will maintain its relativity to the original payment, not to the age pension?
Over time, we've seen increases to pensions, but we haven't seen increases to youth allowance or to Newstart, which is now the jobseeker allowance. We've seen an increase of just 50 cents announced this week. Will there be no ongoing relativity of the bereavement allowance to the age pension?
But we have more chance of predicting what the increase in the pension will be over time than we have with poor students and poor jobseekers who've been dudded in their daily rates over time. So, if you're bereaved—you might have a casual job and be working full time when your spouse dies and you need time off work to organise yourself but you don't have access to any leave and you don't have access to any other kind of payment, because you're a casual—you're essentially now saying that you will be paid as a jobseeker, even though you're not a jobseeker, instead of at the bereavement allowance rate, which was otherwise equivalent to the age pension.
I think we're now just going round in circles. It's actually quite a simple amendment, and I've already answered this question a number of times. The potential difference between the amount of the jobseeker payment and the amount of the bereavement allowance will be removed. The new system is actually a much better arrangement for those who are bereaved, because those who lose a partner will not now have to go through the process of applying for another payment. They have to do that under the current system. The system that is proposed is streamlined and simplified, and they receive an exemption to support them through their time of bereavement. They then seamlessly move into job search or other mutual obligation activities once the period of exemption ends.
The example I gave was of someone who is unable to work because they are bereaved but who otherwise has a job. It is my understanding that people would currently have eligibility for a bereavement allowance because they can't work because they are bereaved. Is that correct?
You have said you're simplifying these payments. Now, I understand that you're trying to argue that people don't need to reapply if they're already eligible as jobseekers. But the simple fact is that your schedule, amended or unamended, does away with the whole category of bereavement as a separate category; it rolls it into a jobseeker allowance. It seems reasonable that the expectation there would be that people are actually jobseekers. The simple fact is that this is the social safety net for people who are bereaved. It's not that they're necessarily looking for a job. It is simply that they are without a job at that moment in time precisely because they are bereaved. They don't have access to other employment entitlements that see them through that period of bereavement.
Question agreed to.
I move Greens amendment (1) on sheet 8260:
(1) Schedule 15, item 1, page 209 (after line 14), after section 42AS, insert:
Division 3AB—Compliance with participation payment obligations: review
42AT Independent review of the participation payment obligations compliance framework
(1) No later than 6 months after the commencement of this section, the Minister must cause an independent review to be undertaken by an eminent person with expertise in social services or employments services of the operation of Divisions 3AA and 3A of Part 3 of this Act and instruments made for the purposes of those Divisions.
(2) The review must:
(a) assess the effectiveness of those laws in enabling people to undertake activities or take action to gain employment; and
(b) assess whether any provisions of those laws should be amended or repealed to increase the effectiveness of those laws in enabling people to undertake activities or take action to gain employment; and
(c) consider any other matters specified by the Minister.
(3) Before completing the review, the person undertaking the review must be satisfied that any consultation has been undertaken:
(a) that is considered by the person to be appropriate; and
(b) that is reasonably practicable to undertake; and
(c) that drew on the knowledge of persons having expertise in fields relevant to the operation of the participation payment obligations compliance framework; and
(d) that ensured that persons affected by the operation of the participation payment obligations compliance framework, and any other interested members of the public, had an adequate opportunity to comment on its operation.
(4) The review must be completed, and a report of the review must be prepared, before the end of 12 months after the commencement of this section.
(5) The person undertaking the review must give the report of the review to the Minister.
(6) The Minister must cause a copy of the report to be tabled in each House of Parliament within 15 sitting days of receiving it.
42AU Independent annual reviews of the participation payment obligations compliance framework
(1) The Minister must cause annual independent reviews to be undertaken of the operation of Divisions 3AA and 3A of Part 3 of this Act and instruments made for the purposes of those Divisions.
(2) An annual review must be undertaken by an eminent person with expertise in social services or employment services.
(3) An annual review must assess the matters mentioned in subsection 42AT(2) and any other matters specified by the Minister.
(4) A person undertaking an annual review must be satisfied, before completing the review, that consultation of the kind mentioned in subsection 42AT(3) has been undertaken in relation to the review.
(5) An annual review must be completed, and a report of the review must be prepared, before the end of 24 months after the commencement of this section, and before the end of each subsequent 12 month period.
(6) A person undertaking an annual review must give a report of the review to the Minister.
(7) The Minister must cause a copy of the report to be tabled in each House of Parliament within 15 sitting days of receiving it.
This would amend item 1 of schedule 15 and provides for a review. I'm aware of the government's comments on review in 18 months of the legislation, and I want to come back to that, but this would be a quite detailed process. In relation to the compliance focused amendments of schedule 15, as you can see, there's a detailed outline of an independent review of the participation payment obligations compliance framework. That's one part of the amendment. The second part relates to independent annual reviews of the participation payment obligations compliance framework. Again, it goes into quite a bit of detail about how that independent review would be undertaken. Again, I touched on this last night, and I also talked about it in my second reading contribution in December. We also had a second reading amendment about it.
We're deeply concerned that these changes have been brought in before a full review of the compliance framework was completed. We agree with the government that the compliance process at the moment is outdated. It's also very punitive and it's not producing the results that are effective in terms of helping people to find work. We believe that, in setting up this process and changing the compliance framework—and I think there is pretty universal agreement that we do need to change the compliance framework—we didn't undertake that full independent review. So we thought it was really important, given that that wasn't done. Even though we had a second reading amendment about it being done, that wasn't going to happen before the government brought on their legislation. That's why we feel very strongly that there needs to be an independent review carried out of the operation of the framework, and we also believe it's important that there are more independent annual reviews.
That's the outline of this particular set of amendments on sheet 8260. The government articulated and the minister articulated again yesterday some aspects around the review. I'd like to ask some more detailed questions about the nature of that review and whether the government is prepared to put anything more formal to the committee about how the review is going to be carried out, whether it is going to be independent and on what basis that review will be undertaken.
The CHAIR: Just before we go on, may I remind the committee that, last year when this bill was under consideration, the committee agreed to incorporate into Hansard the statement of reasons accompanying the requests.
Thank you, Senator Siewert. Your amendment would require the minister to commission annual independent reviews of the jobseeker compliance framework with the first to be completed within 12 months of the targeted compliance framework commencing. The government will be opposing this amendment. As I have already stated, the government has already committed to a review of the targeted compliance framework 18 months after the commencement. This review would, of course, look at the effectiveness of the framework and any unintended adverse effects, taking into account the views of relevant experts and stakeholders. There is no need to legislate a review requirement, and legislating the personnel, terms of reference and timing removes flexibility to focus on particular issues, should it be necessary at that particular point in time.
Further, a core role of the Public Service is the continued evaluation of the programs and policies which they are responsible for implementing, as well as staying informed about various stakeholder views. The targeted compliance framework was developed in full awareness of the views of all of those with an interest in this matter, including welfare sector organisations, employment service providers and jobseekers. It was also based on detailed analysis of the administrative data, utilising expertise drawn from three government departments. Going to your question on the review, as I've stated, the effectiveness of the framework and any unintended adverse effects will take into account the views of relative experts and stakeholder groups. That's the information I'm able to provide.
In other words, it's not going to be independent. The concern here is the need for independence of the review, particularly given that this is operating 18 months after the process started. We haven't had that initial review process. I heard what the minister said about consultation beforehand. It's a bit of a different story from what I heard during the Senate inquiry into this legislation. There was a lot of criticism and concern from stakeholders around the way this compliance process is going to operate, so I am deeply concerned to ensure that the review is independent of the department.
The other concern there is that the department undertakes a number of reviews and then we don't see them for a long time—or, in fact, we don't see them. If we were to have an independent review process with annual reviews carried out independently, I'm more confident that we would be able to see the reviews, and I think it would give the community a sense of security that the review is independent. They would, quite frankly, have more faith in the review. I'm trying not to malign the department, but they are reviewing the system that they oversee. We need that to be independent. So I express deep concern around the fact that it's not independent and I seek a guarantee from the government around the time frame of the review—that it will be released to the public and that it will be released in a timely manner.
As I've said, the government has already committed to review the targeted compliance framework 18 months from commencement. That commitment has been given. As I've also stated in general terms, the review will look at the effectiveness of the framework and any unintended adverse effects, taking into account the views of relevant experts and the stakeholders. It is the government's position that it will be the department conducting the review. We have full faith in the department and its ability to do this. At this point in time, I'm unable to provide any further information. That's the current position.
I want to indicate to the chamber the Labor Party's support for the Greens' amendment. We are very keen to see that such a review is independent, that it is completed in a timely fashion and that it is also made public.
That is not reassuring at all. Here we have an internal departmental review of the most significant changes that have occurred to the compliance framework and process for a long time. The community is quite concerned about that, and I've expressed concern about that here. The government have not agreed to changes from ourselves and from the Labor Party that I think would have made the system better. The government designed this framework. They're now going to review it internally, and there is no commitment that this will be made public. Will this review be worth the paper it's written on, if we can't see it? Surely the government can commit to making the review public. I find it hard to believe that the government expects the Senate to accept that they're doing an internal review that won't be made public. How is that satisfactory, when people don't have confidence in such major changes to the compliance framework? Surely you can commit to it being made public.
The CHAIR: The question is that amendment (1) on sheet 8260, as moved by Senator Siewert, be agreed to.
I would now like to move to the set of amendments on sheet 8254. However, it gets a bit complicated because I have a number of clauses there. Those amendments relate to schedules 1, 2, 5 to 8 and 15. I understand that the ALP want to vote on the item relating to schedule 15 separately. We oppose schedule 15 in the following terms:
(30) Schedule 15, page 194 (line 1) to page 220 (line 23), to be opposed.
I will come back to the other items, because there's an indication that certainly the ALP want to vote differently on this than on the other items.
As anticipated. We sought to amend schedule 15 to improve schedule 15. Those amendments have not been supported, hence we don't support schedule 15. As I've articulated on numerous occasions, we are deeply concerned that schedule 15 and the compliance framework as it stands is going to hurt those seeking employment. However, we do agree that there needs to be change; we just can't support the current, unamended schedule 15 as it stands, because it hasn't been amended to deal with some of the more grievous concerns.
The CHAIR: The question is that schedule 15 stand as printed.