Senate debates

Thursday, 12 November 2020


COVID-19: Income Support Payments

5:27 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this afternoon to speak about a component of our income support system, the so-called process of mutual obligations, and our employment services. The cost of these services over the forward estimates is $6 billion or more. My argument is that we don't get good value for money for that $6 billion, which I think should be spent on providing much more tailored and supportive services.

The Greens welcomed the government pausing mutual obligations at the beginning of the pandemic and we strongly advocated that this was an opportunity to reset and take a new approach to support people looking for work, rather than punishing people already in vulnerable or disadvantaged positions while they were looking for work. We knew, with predictions coming in thick and fast, that we were going to get a huge rise in unemployment because of the pandemic. In fact, we've seen a doubling of the numbers of people on income support. We supported the increase in JobSeeker and the suspension of mutual obligations, because they were good moves. What I'm deeply disappointed about is the fact that this wasn't continued and it wasn't used to reset things—to actually have a look at how ineffective the punitive approach of mutual obligations is, how flawed the Targeted Compliance Framework is, how the demerit system under the Targeted Compliance Framework doesn't work and how it penalises people.

It was revealed at estimates, just a couple of weeks ago, that in less than 30 days of mutual obligations being reinstated on 25 September nearly 75,000 payments have been suspended by Centrelink. That's 75,000 in less than 30 days. This included 12,137 First Nations peoples, 6,334 single parents, 13,169 disabled people, 9,100 homeless people and 12,135 people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Clearly, many of these people are vulnerable. Clearly, this is disproportionately impacting those people who have a significant vulnerability. I'm absolutely at a loss to work out why it helps a homeless person find work if they are suspended from payments.

Then, what we had a couple of days ago, in this very chamber, was Minister Cash—almost bragging, I'd say—about the fact that 250,112 suspensions have been put in place in about six weeks. Let's have a look at what impact that has. It has a devastating impact when you're trying to survive, to meet your mortgage, to pay your rent, to put food on the table, particularly when $300 has just been taken out of the supplement payment. We saw today from the Taylor Fox analysis what impact that drop has made in just the couple of weeks that it's been operating. It has had a significant impact on the way people can pay their bills, because we know it has dropped people below the poverty line.

The government had a chance to reset things here, to get a system and to put employment services on track, to actually deliver value for the $6 billion that we spend in this country on those employment services. We could be offering a system that is supportive, not punitive; one that actually works with people's strengths, that actually looks at where the labour market opportunities are and that provides tailored counselling that meets their needs. What do we do? We go back to, 'Let's throw as many people off income support or suspend them as often as we can and as frequently as we can.'