Wednesday, 26 February 2020
Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Simplifying Income Reporting and Other Measures) Bill 2020; In Committee
I do have some amendments, as do others—the opposition. But first I would like to ask a series of questions clarifying the operation of the legislation. As we heard during the second reading contributions on this bill, there are still a lot of queries hanging over this legislation. While we support it, and the opposition's articulated their in principle support for this legislation, the stakeholders have indicated quite a deal of concern about the very short time frame before this is implemented. I'll come to my first amendment in a minute, which actually deals with that particular issue, but I did want to clarify some of the questions that I think still hang over this legislation. I appreciate the minister did seek, in her summing-up statement, to deal with some of those issues, but I still seek some further clarification. We know that this is supposed to start on 1 July, with the first prefilled forms coming in at the beginning of September. I would like to know, please, how many people are we anticipating that will actually be in scope on 1 September, or during that September period, for being required then to use the prefilled form through the Single Touch Payroll process, rather than just filling out their form themselves?
The September 2020 date is the earliest date that prefilling can actually commence. So prior to September 2020 there will be none. Then from September 2020 we will continue. Particularly over an intense period to 30 June 2021 we will see an increase in the number as employers come on board. On that basis, it's almost impossible to give you an answer as to the number of prefilled forms that will be available in September 2020 because we don't actually know what the uptake of employers is going to be during this period and how they're going to ramp up on it. In order to report the expanded dataset employers will have to update their payroll activities and this in turn will be dependent upon the software provider. So there are a whole heap of factors that will determine the speed with which employers take up the opportunity to be able to participate in Single Touch Payroll, and that will then have a consequential impact on the number of prefilled forms that will be available over the months from September 2020.
Thank you. Do I understand correctly that the ATO doesn't really have an idea about how many employees are going to be ready to use this by the beginning of September? Because it was my understanding that they already have a number of employers that are currently using this process, or are just about to commence on this process. Is that a correct understanding?
While I'm getting the specific figures, I also want to reiterate the fact that the prefilling will only commence once Services Australia has thoroughly tested the reporting channels, and the ATO and Services Australia are absolutely confident of the quality of that Single Touch Payroll data and how it is prefilling. I've just been advised that currently there are 11 million people covered off by Single Touch Payroll and we are anticipating that by July 2021 95 per cent of recipients will be covered by Single Touch Payroll. But I can't give you the trajectory from that 11 million people to that 95 per cent of recipients over the 10-month period.
It amplifies the concerns that I have and I think some of the stakeholders have that this level of detail is not known. How do we know how much help Services Australia will have to provide for an unknown number of people that are coming onboard, potentially, on 1 September? All of these forms haven't yet been fully tested. I took onboard what you said about talking to a range of cohorts and groups that will be using this process in the run-up to 1 July, but there's a two-step process here. As you've articulated previously, you fill in the form with what you've earned, and you have to look at a form—this is the second period where people may get caught up with mistakes. There's the transition period, which I want to come back to, and there's, effectively, a second transition period for people as they fill in a prefilled form. That's in a very short time frame around the whole process. We don't know how many people in September will transition a second time and we don't know, therefore, or we're not confident that Services Australia have the number of people onboard to help with that second transition on top of the first transition.
First of all, the purpose of the legislation here is specifically related to your first question and the first transition—that is, the transition where people go from reporting earnings to reporting payments received. That has no bearing whatsoever on how they currently report. If they report online, if they report on their phone app, if they report going into a service centre, however they currently report, the only change that we are seeking to achieve by this legislation is that they now report actual money they've received.
The second component of what you're referring to is the Single Touch Payroll interface with this change. That is when, if their employer is somebody who has interfaced with the Single Touch Payroll, they will receive a form that has partial information in it, as reflects what their employer has provided to the ATO. In the sense of us knowing how many people at any one time currently are reporting income in a period, we know that about 500,000 people report income in a payment period. We also know that about 1.2 million Australians who are on income support payments will report income during the 12-month period. So for resourcing up Services Australia to enable this legislation to come into effect, we know now exactly how many people will be impacted by this legislation. It will be 550,000 in a particular period, and over the 12 months we will interface with 1.2 million.
We are very happy that we understand the resourcing requirements that we will need to assist Australians who currently receive income to be able to report that income as part of their reporting obligations for their fortnightly income support payments.
I want to go to the period where people are filling in their prefilled forms. That is one of the areas that came in very substantially during the Senate inquiry, and I know you're aware of that, but you've just said you don't know at the beginning of September how many people will be transferring into this new form. An issue raised was if the form is wrong compared to what they've got on their payslip, or however they know what they've been paid, that's where we'll have some very serious concerns about whether people change what's in there, how they get help. One of the groups that provided advice to the inquiry—which we touched on in our additional comments to the committee inquiry—was saying they'll have a 'little pop-up' and there'll be a phone number you can ring, because people are going to be very nervous. The point is that there may be a lot of people on 1 September or a whole lot of people through September that are transitioning. And if you don't know how many people are transitioning in that period of time, how do you know how much support you need? In fact, how can we be convinced that the forms will be there and that you will have the pop-up and a phone line? I want to come back, in a minute, to the question of how people can access support services.
There are a number of responses to that. Firstly, as I said earlier, the prefilling will only occur as long as Services Australia have thoroughly tested the reporting channels and they are absolutely confident of the quality of the data that is being prefilled. I can give you that absolute commitment.
We know that 1.2 million Australians report having received income over a 12-month period. And we know that, in the period between 1 September 2020 and 30 June 2021, we will need to have provided assistance to 95 per cent of them, because that's the estimate of how many people over that 10-month period are going to transition. We will certainly make sure that there is a rump of resources available in September, as soon as we know that the prefill is working the way we want it to work. The prefill may not occur on 1 September; it will occur when we're satisfied that it's working properly. And, as soon as we're satisfied that it's working properly, we will then make sure that we will maximise the resources that are available at that time. We certainly took on board the commentary that came out of the committee that suggested that a little pop-up should come up on the screen, before you actually push the button to submit your form at the end of a pay period, that says, 'This form has been prefilled. Have you checked the data against your payroll slip? Are you comfortable that the data contained in here is truly reflective of your income for the pay period?' So people will have to actively push a button to say yes, they have checked and they understand what they're doing.
We also understand that there will be people who may seek to have more information the first time they do it. They may feel a level of uncertainty. Once again, we will make sure, when they go to submit that form, that it really clearly says, 'If you have any uncertainty about doing this for the first time or if you've got any concerns or questions, please contact this number.' In the first instance we will make sure that Services Australia is thoroughly resourced to make sure that, when people contact them, the phone lines are open and accessible and they don't have wait times. This is a transition period, we understand. It's probably not something, once people get used to it, that they're going to need to do in the future, but we clearly understand that the smoothness of the transition period, the adequacy of the information and the support that is provided to people are going to have a very big bearing on the successful initial operation of this particular new initiative.
Thank you for further articulating the resources that will be available. There are a couple of flow-on questions from that. How do you determine the system's readiness? I've heard you say clearly, 'If it's not ready on 1 September'—I take that on board and I think that's a really good clarification. But what's the process for saying, 'Yes, we do think it's ready'? Is there a consultative process? Will there be a final tick from a final test group or something like that? Secondly, in terms of assistance, will that phone line that we've just been talking about be a dedicated phone line just for this particular item?
In the sense of a new phone number, it won't be a new phone number because obviously we want people who contact Centrelink to have only the one phone number in their mind. However, two things will happen. One, obviously, is that all Centrelink phone line staff will be trained, informed and skilled up to deal with this as soon as it goes live, as a No. 1 priority. And, of course, when you contact Centrelink, the first thing that you will be asked is, 'Are you calling about this particular transition?' so that you don't have to go through a whole series of 'push 1, push 2' et cetera. But we wouldn't be seeking to use another phone number, because the confusion of having several Centrelink phone numbers is not always sensible. The customers will have access to all the services that they currently have with Centrelink, but all the staff that are in those services will obviously be appropriately trained and up to speed on all of the issues in relation to the transfer.
In terms of the specific actions around the consultation and the design and implementation that will be undertaken by Services Australia to assure ourselves that the Single Touch Payroll interface with our system is working, obviously they're operational decisions. We would be making sure that we worked with the recipients to test the system to make sure it was appropriate, and any of the issues that came out of it would be dealt with. So obviously we are going to test the system with real people before it goes live. The specifics of the operational component of it, of making sure that the information's coming through correctly, that it is easy to use and all that would be tested operationally inside the department in the first instance. We would then seek to make sure that the recipients had the opportunity to use it themselves before we went live.
I'm going to try and get this done as quickly as possible. That raises more issues for me. With the phone line, the waiting period for Centrelink is huge. There are different lines for different payments, so I don't see why you couldn't have a phone number that pops up with the form, so that they ring that number. People are going to be there with the form, wanting to fill in the form. So I'll ask again why we can't have a specific phone line that's dedicated to this particular process, given the difficulty and nervousness that people will have with this new process?
I take on board everything you are saying. The process that we need to undertake post the implementation of this legislation, when we move to the point where we interface with Single Touch Payroll, is still in the stages of consultation. There's still a lot of work that we will be doing with the ATO, with Services Australia and with the people that we are consulting with more generally who will be impacted by this. Much of what we do, in terms of the interface with the recipients and Social Services, whether it is by phone or online or in person, and how that actually works, will continue to be informed by this consultative process that we are currently undertaking. What I am saying is that much of the issue that you're asking me to commit to right now is operational and will be informed over the coming months as this is developed with the tax office. But rest assured that we hear clearly that people require the support to be able to transition through and that we have made available within Services Australia, and will continue to make available, adequate resources to address the issues as they are raised through the consultation process, bearing in mind the information that's come from your inquiry.
Thank you. I suppose that when I'm told to rest assured that Services Australia will be able to cope with this, I have to say that it's very difficult for me to rest assured on that, given the history that we've been going through with Centrelink, whether it be wait times, robodebt or the constant phone calls that we get in my office where we are constantly helping people negotiate and navigate the system. Hence my desire to make sure that we can get as much commitment as we can, through this process, that this will happen as smoothly as possible and that people will have instant access when they're nervously looking at a form; where, for example—this is off the top of my head—the employer says, 'I've paid them $1,500' and their pay slip says, 'No, we haven't; that's not what I've earned; I may have earned more or less. What do I do? I feel nervous because I've got all this other stuff happening in my head—the robodebt examples, the fact that I'm legally required to fill in this form properly—all those sorts of things.' People are going to be really nervous about it. We don't want this not to work.
First of all, can I reassure you that we are already doing user testing with recipients in relation to both the changeover to reporting payments, as opposed to earnings, as well as testing how we can then subsequently interface with Single Touch Payroll. Clearly, for this to work, adequate resources need to be made available to recipients so that they can get access to the information that they need during that transition period so they feel comfortable.
The design of the form is currently underway and has taken into account the information that we were just discussing about making sure that there are pop-ups on the screen. So that people understand: the obligation still remains on the individual to provide the information. The individual can't get into trouble for providing wrong information; all it would mean is that the information they've provided was incorrect and would have to be corrected within a period of time—much as it is now when people under or overestimate what their earnings have been in a previous fortnight and then they find, when they actually get their pay packet, that it was different to what they had put on their form. So the obligation still remains with the individual to provide that information.
But I can assure you that the suite of communications, support and information that will be provided to recipients who earn income and who are on income support payments will be extensive but will be informed by the process of consultation and user testing that is currently being undertaken.
I wanted to go back to the period of transition from the old system to the new one in July. The concern that was expressed during the inquiry, you would be aware, went to the double-counting issue and how we deal with that if that occurs—if people overreport or underreport—and whether the transition calculator would be available elsewhere and not just online? We know that there is a minority—I'll grant you that—of people who aren't reporting online or aren't digitally literate and don't have access to the internet necessarily. So where will that also be made available?
First of all, even as it currently occurs, anybody who doesn't have access to the internet—and obviously wouldn't have access to the calculator—has access to Centrelink services or Services SA via how they would normally interact with Services SA now. So, if somebody has difficulty in making the calculation, they can go into a Services SA or a Centrelink centre and receive one-on-one assistance in dealing with that transition period when we get the fortnights or the pay periods to line up.
Can we go back to what happens if people are double counted? What happens if people make mistakes during that transition period when they're going from the old system to the new one with wages received or earnings received?
Senator Siewert, we clearly understand that that period of transition from 1 July is the critical touchpoint that we need to focus all of our attention on in making sure that we give people as much information as we possibly can so that they make the right decision. Understanding that there are circumstances, as there currently are now, where the information that's contained in the form may not be absolutely accurate, any errors that are made in declaring income will be handled in the usual way. They just need to be corrected at a later date or as soon as they become known to the recipient. Certainly we are absolutely alive to the situation where that is the absolute one critical point in the process of transitioning to this new, better way of reporting, obviously, because people are reporting actual payments received instead of estimating what they might be receiving. Clearly that is something we need to be very alive to, making sure we have all of the resources that we possibly can apply at that point. We will make sure that people who are on income support payments who are earning income over that period of time, or the period when they first choose to move across to this and actually report income, have every resource that they currently have available to them, with staff that are trained in understanding what this particular change means.
I have some more questions on that, but I'm aware we need to keep moving and so I'll move my first amendment. I move Greens amendment (1) on sheet 8882:
(1) Clause 2 , page 2 (table item 1 ), omit the table item, substitute:
1. The whole of this Act
(a) if this Act receives the Royal Assent before 1 September 2020—1 September 2020;
(b) if this Act receives the Royal Assent on or after 1 September 2020—the first day of the first calendar month that occurs after the end of the period of 2 months beginning on the day this Act receives the Royal Assent.
I will be very brief. During the Senate inquiry it was raised by a number of stakeholders that they don't think the actual process is quite ready after the testing process—we have been through that—and also they are concerned about ensuring that people get the first transition. As I articulated earlier, there are two transitions. There is the transition on 1 July and then there's the start of the STP. What was recommended during the inquiry was that we delay the start of this. While everybody was in support of this in principle—we are all clear about that—stakeholders are concerned that mistakes will be made. So their recommendation was to delay the start. I've subsequently checked with stakeholders and, from some of them, there is still a very strong feeling that their members, the people they represent, won't be ready and the system isn't ready. So they have still maintained that this should be delayed by another quarter. That's why we seek to delay the start of the legislation to 1 September.
I have thought very long and hard about it. I understand the issues that the government has articulated in terms of how there's the potential for people to make more mistakes like robodebt, which I have some troubles sucking up given the problems we have now. The government wants people to learn and get used to using this new system. I think, then, if you look at the flip side, you have two new systems that people are going to have to learn doing it this way. If Single Touch Payroll is ready by the beginning of September and this comes in it'll be one transition period rather than two transition periods. On balance, we consider it is better to delay it by a quarter to enable the system to be much more rigorously tested before it starts.
Can I be really clear, Senator Siewert, about why we don't agree with your amendment. The changeover to the change of assessment reporting model that we have before us at the moment is a point in time. It will occur all at once in people's requirement or ability to report actual money earned as opposed to projected earnings. The Single Touch Payroll interface with this is something that will start at a point in time from September 2020 onwards and it will be an ongoing thing, depending on a number of factors, not the least of which is when we are absolutely comfortable the system's ready to operate and also when employers become involved in the system, which then reflects back on the employees. They are two completely different things. You can't just say by doing it once it will all happen at one time, because it won't. There will be one time when this comes into play, but there is not one time when the other one comes in.
So, as I've articulated to you outside of this chamber, we think that the longer period of time that we can give people to understand that they're now reporting actual money received before they start going to the new prefilled form is actually a good thing and will assist in the transition, allowing the recipients a level of comfort as they're moving through. So we fundamentally think the argument that there would be some benefit in delaying it is flawed.
We also would point out that, if people underestimate the amount of money that they are receiving, it does have a significant impact on the amount of overpayments that people receive and therefore the debts that they possibly can accrue. We know that about three per cent of the 550,000 people who report income every fortnight are likely to make an error, and most likely they will make an error in underestimating the amount of money that they receive. So we think that, if we are able sooner to give them the comfort of being able to report actual money received and to reduce that three per cent of the 550,000 people who will make an error in their assessments when they put their forms in, that is something that is good. We wouldn't like to delay the opportunity for them to have access to that beneficial change in how they're reporting.
There are a couple of questions, Minister, that I would like some answers to. Can you explain exactly what steps are going to be taken to consult with remote First Nations communities about the implementation of these changes? How will the government make sure First Nations peoples know about these changes? Are you using interpreters? Are you translating this material into a format that will be familiar for people to understand that? Can you tell me what you will do at Warburton?
Thank you very much, Senator Dodson. I will take on notice exactly what we're intending to do at Warburton and get back to you; I don't actually have those details. But we are very sensitive to the fact that there are a number of cohorts in our population that are going to require both targeted and tailored assistance in providing them the information in relation to the change and also making sure that they have the support, particularly through that transition period, when they move from reporting as they currently do to reporting as we're asking them to do into the future. It's not just Indigenous Australians who are in remote areas; it could be culturally and linguistically diverse communities or people with low digital literacy. There are a number of Australians who will be affected by this change, and we need to make sure that we have specialist and targeted communications and services available to them: for example, making sure that our fact sheets are translated into appropriate languages—and I acknowledge the fact that there are a lot of first languages for Indigenous Australians—and making sure that the messaging is targeted by, for instance, using Indigenous radio, because I know that a lot of people in remote communities use digital radio or radio broadcasts as a way of getting their information.
We also understand that, in many communities, the best thing to do is to actually have remote servicing units go out to those communities and speak to them in person, one on one, about what those changes might mean. So we'd be using community engagement officers and making sure that we have financial service officers available to people but also making sure that we use the Indigenous support officers that exist within community to make sure that we are tailoring and targeting the information and assistance to transition. We understand that not every community is the same and that there will need to be a very tailored and targeted focus on particular communities.
The question of jobs is one that fascinates me. Given the comments that the minister's made and that I think you've made about the dignity of work, what will this bill do to bring jobs to the regional and remote communities in Western Australia, such as Balgo, Fitzroy Crossing, Halls Creek, Warburton and Meekatharra? What will it do to bring jobs into those sorts of places?
Thank you, Senator Dodson. You raise an issue that I know is very close to your heart. The purpose of this legislation is to simplify and improve the way that people who earn income and are also on working-age payments report into the social services system. It is a change to take the guesswork out of how people report income when they are also receiving social service working-age payments. That is clearly the purpose of this legislation—nothing more, nothing less.
I understand that, Minister, but it's related to work, and that's the nexus that I'm interested in. I also have some questions specific to the transition matters and the estimations of income and so forth. As you know, in many of these places there are a lot of people who have turned their back on the social services schemes and simply don't have any income. They're a problem. I'm not sure whether this scheme is going to help those people. You talk about a cohort who are registered, but in these communities there is another cohort who aren't registered and are a problem or a difficulty or are suffering poverty. I'm not sure whether this does anything to relieve that. I'm sure it doesn't, given your previous statement.
I have a question. If a person is paid on a monthly basis but they work only one week in that month, will the money they earn be averaged forward over the fortnight or over the month? How will the secretary make a decision about the way income is averaged forward to make sure it is fair and reasonable to the social security recipient?
You raise a very important point, Senator Dodson, on why we are keen to make sure that the payment period, as defined by the legislation, leaves maximum flexibility. We understand that, whilst the majority of Australians are paid either weekly or fortnightly, there are situations where people get paid monthly or, alternatively, get paid at the end of a work period—for example, as a job lot once a contract has been finished. There will be situations where people are receiving an amount in a period that is reflective of money that has been earnt over other periods.
I will give a specific example. If a person works, as you say, for one week and their employer pays them monthly, their employment period would be a week and their income would be attributed evenly over a 14-day entitlement period. If, for instance, the funding they had received was for a period of a month, the recipient could then amend their form to make that one week's payment over that month period which they received that income. That is why we have been very clear about saying that we need to retain flexibility over the definition of 'a period' so, with examples like you referred to over a month, people can actually make sure that their forms reflect the period that they actually did the work in.
I think in an answer you gave to Senator Siewert you indicated that there would be some button pressed somewhere to indicate to the recipient to check their earnings. I didn't hear you say—and you may well have—and I didn't pick it up in the bill that there would be a human being within the service that actually checks the validity of the income prior to the button being pressed by the recipient. Can you clarify that?
The responsibility still remains with the recipient to validate and authorise the submission of the form. That still sits with them. They're in total control. There's no other being that comes in and tells them they are right or wrong. The responsibility remains with the individual.
In the second stage of this—when Single Touch Payroll interacts with this change of assessment model—the information that has been provided to the ATO by the employer will prefill the form. The individual then gets a pop-up, which I was discussing with Senator Siewert. When the recipient goes in to submit their fortnightly form, they will be asked to make sure that they are happy with the information contained in the form. They will be asked: does this reflect what is on your pay slip? Are you comfortable that the information that has been prefilled into this form is accurate, as far as you are aware? That then gives the opportunity to the recipient to look at it and say: 'There's been a mistake made here. My pay slip says that I earned this much. That's how much money went into my bank account.' They then have the capacity to go in and change that.
The responsibility still remains with the individual. Nobody's going to override that, because it is obviously the right of the individual to make that determination. However, if, when the person goes to do it, they're concerned—they see that $1,000 is written on the prefill and their pay slip says it should be $600—that's when we would suggest that they make contact, either by phone or by going into an agency, to seek a clarification. Obviously, at that point, they would have a discussion with an individual in Services Australia about the appropriate way for them to then report what they actually received. In most instances it would, possibly, be due to an error in the system.
Coming back to an amendment that I think Senator Siewert moved on amendment sheet 8882, are you able to clarify that the change could restrict the ability of the secretary to average income over the period that would be beneficial to the social security recipient? For example, if a person were paid monthly but only worked in one week, would it prevent the secretary from averaging the income over just one fortnight or cause them to have it averaged across a whole month?
I'm not quite sure I clearly heard what you asked me and I don't want to mislead you with my response. But, if I'm correct in hearing it, the amendment that the Greens have put forward in relation to the meaning of 'employment' would limit the flexibility to apportion income for the benefit of the recipient, because it could only be apportioned over the period for which it was earned. The proposed amendment refers to income earned. That is what is problematic, as we are very clear about the reporting being what is paid and we're very clear that we don't want any confusion around the terminology that's used here—'earned' is not 'paid', necessarily. We want to be very clear that we're talking about money paid to an individual and the discretion of the secretary to be able to apportion the amount of money that a person has actually received over the appropriate period in which it has been earned. I hope that made sense.
I understand the importance of flexibility in the situation, and no doubt my colleagues in the Greens will determine what that all meant! I have two more questions. One is in relation to resources. You mentioned that there would be ample resources to get all of this done. Can you give us an indication of the quantification of what that is? How much is being committed to the implementation and the transition for this to work in a way that can give us some comfort that we're not reverting to robodebt?
I'll be really clear: this legislation is about how people report. It's not an income compliance measure at all. It is about how people report and trying to improve the level of accuracy about how people report. A statistic, Senator Patrick, that's worth noting is at the moment we have close to $120 billion a year paid in payments, and the level of accuracy of reporting is about 95 per cent. And five per cent is a lot of money. What we're seeking to do by this is to increase the level of accuracy of reporting and, therefore, increase the level of accuracy of payments so that we make sure that people are receiving what they should receive.
In relation to the resources that are being committed to assist in the transition from reporting earnings to reporting payments, every person in Centrelink or Services Australia—sorry, I should be clear; it's all frontline personnel—who interfaces with the constituents or the recipients will be trained to understand what this change actually means, what needs to occur, what the recipient must do, and assist them as they would assist them in any other inquiry to Services Australia to make the changes necessary to report payment.
In addition to that, Services Australia have an additional $30 million for specific, targeted facilitation and consultation and are particularly focused, in many instances, on those cohorts of people that may require additional assistance because of remoteness, language barriers et cetera.
I did indicate that I had one more question, Minister. There are probably millions of others, but I'll try and be as efficient as Senator Siewert was with her questioning. The last question is really in relation—you said you tested this. Was any of that testing in remote or regional locations and, if so, what lessons were learnt that may be adapted in the implementation process?
The user testing that's occurred so far—I couldn't specifically tell you where it's occurred. But I can tell you that some of the user-experience testing over the coming months, as we get ready for the change, will be undertaken in all of the diverse communities that we interface with, which will include rural and remote communities.
We won't be supporting the amendment. While we understand the reasons for this amendment, it is up to the government to make sure that they invest in getting the transition right. All that the minister said seems to indicate that that's the intention. The outcome, obviously, will be something else. There's still more than four months until the changes occur, and if the government gets out and consults, in the coming days and weeks, it's possible to get it right. Whether or not there is a delay in the commencement of the provisions, there is no certainty the government won't stuff it up in the implementation, as they've done so often before.
The government is on notice by Labor, and by others, no doubt. They have the resources to get it right. The minister's given an indication of that. The question is not if they have the time; it's if they have the will, the will to do something for people who are completely dependent on the systems here. For this reason, Labor will not be supporting the amendment.
I want to move on to the issue around the review of the legislation. I will reflect that I'm disappointed we didn't delay it because I don't think, with the best will in the world in fact, that you can ensure that this is going to rollout as the government foresees that it will. That's why stakeholders expressed to us that they thought it should be delayed. I am disappointed. It also makes the need for review even more essential. While I did hear the government say that they're going to review this, I think, and the Greens believe, that the matter needs to actually be in the legislation itself. That's why we've circulated an amendment, to ensure that the implementation of this process—because it is new. We all know it's important, but we want to make sure that it's right, that it's working properly, that people aren't disenfranchised and that it hasn't adversely hurt people. We need to have the review of the legislation. It needs to be public. It needs to be independent. It needs to start as soon as practical after the 12 months of operation of the act.
I heard what the minister said about time limit. The review we're proposing is six months, and it needs to report and needs to be tabled in parliament. We believe this is the best way of ensuring that the review is undertaken and that it's independent.
I move Greens amendment (2) on sheet 8882:
(2) Page 2 (after line 14), after clause 3, insert:
4 Public and independent review of this Act
(1) The Minister must cause an independent review to be conducted of the operation of the amendments made by this Act.
(2) The review must start as soon as practicable after the end of 12 months after this Act commences.
(3) The persons who conduct the review must give the Minister a written report of the review within 6 months of the commencement of the review.
(4) The persons who conduct the review must consult:
(a) income support recipients impacted by the amendments made by this Act; and
(b) any stakeholders considered relevant by the persons who conduct the review.
(5) The review must provide for public submissions as part of the review.
(6) The Minister must cause a copy of the report to be tabled in each House of the Parliament within 15 sitting days of that House after the report is given to the Minister.
(7) In this section, Minister means the Minister administering the Social Security Act 1991 .
[public and independent review of amendments]
(3) Schedule 1, item 37, page 8 (after line 32), after subsection 1073A(6), insert:
(7) To avoid doubt, in this section, employment period means the period of time over which the employment income was earned.
The government accepted the recommendation of the committee report to review the implementation. We've given an undertaking—and I've given an undertaking both in my response to that report and here in this chamber—that we, as the government, give a commitment that we will commence a report and review within 12 months, and that review will be tabled in this place.
It is not common practice to embed statutory times for reviews within the primary legislation. We would also point out that setting a hard date for the commencement of the review is particularly restrictive given that this particular piece of legislation, and its rollout, is contingent on another agency and another piece of activity in the rollout of the Single Touch Payroll. Until we actually see the full level of take-up from employers on 1 July 2021—we would be statutorily required to undertake a review at a particular time and your six-month time frame would prohibit the accuracy and the wholeness of that review. What I'd say to you, Senator Siewert, is you have absolutely got the commitment of the government. I made the statement here and in other places that we would commence the review within 12 months.
The Greens' amendment is pretty similar to the one we've got on the notice sheet so we'll be supporting the Greens. The changes in this bill will impact 150,000 people a fortnight. It's critical that they work fairly and efficiently. This amendment will require an independent review, and I'm glad the minister's agreeing to that in this amendment, that consults experts and social security recipients. It's been requested by the stakeholders and it's a reasonable request. That comes through in the Senate inquiry. Indeed, government senators have recommended a 12-month review in this report into the bill. I know the minister has indicated that the government will conduct a review, and I'm glad that she's now agreed to this being an independent one. I'm glad that we've found some common ground. But let me say that this trade-off is that the security must be offered, and there's got to be an ironclad commitment to the time frame and to the independence of the review.
I'm casting no aspersions on this minister, but, I've been in this place for quite a significant period of time now and reviews that have been committed to in other areas have, in fact, not been delivered, or have certainly not been delivered in a timely manner. I didn't hear the minister say that the proposed review that the government is undertaking will be independent. I apologise if the minister did say that, but I didn't hear it.
I didn't hear a commitment to the other requirements that we have in this amendment—for example, that the income report recipients must be consulted and that the government would report in a timely manner. There's no time frame for when it would start or when it would report. The fact is, this legislation will have been working for 12 months before the review. The review will start as soon as practical after 12 months of operation, so it will, in fact, cover people who are taking part in and using the Single Touch Payroll system and those that aren't. The fact is that people may be adversely affected by this for 12 months, so I don't accept that we should leave it even longer. It's absolutely imperative, given the nature of these changes, that we ascertain whether they're working. This amendment makes it a requirement that it happens. Quite frankly, I don't care if it's setting a precedent. I know we don't usually embed it in primary legislation, but these are changes that have significant ramifications, hopefully positive, for income support recipients, but we don't know. We need to find out if it is working, and, if it isn't working, we need to make those changes as soon as we can, to make sure it is delivering for all those income support recipients who will be required to use this system.
Senator Siewert and Senator Dodson, I take no issue in your desire for a fulsome, wholesome review of the system. I simply say to you that we will do that within 12 months of the commencement, and that the review will be tabled in this place. For flexibility, I am merely seeking, given the interface with the Single Touch Payroll, that we commence the review at the most appropriate time. We currently cannot give you that time, but I will absolutely commit that it will be within 12 months of the commencement of this particular bill, should we be successful in passing it.