Wednesday, 17 March 2021
Social Services Legislation Amendment (Strengthening Income Support) Bill 2021; Second Reading
That this bill now be read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The speech read as follows—
Social Services Legislation Amendment (Strengthening Income Support) Bill 2021
Australia has experienced the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.
The Government has acted decisively, in the national interest to cushion the blow for households and businesses. We have provided $251 billion in direct support to households and businesses.
The Government has been successful at containing the Coronavirus. The economy and labour market are recovering and the vaccine rollout has begun.
The Reserve Bank Australia has forecast that the unemployment rate will fall to 6 per cent by the end of 2021, to fall further to 5.5 per cent by the end of 2022, and fall again to 5.25 per cent by mid-2023.
The key to improving people's living standards and reducing welfare dependency is job creation and having the right incentives to ensure there is a workforce ready to take those jobs.
Australia's social security system has served Australians very well and will continue to do so into the future. Prior to the Coronavirus crisis, the proportion of working age Australians reliant on working age payments was at the lowest levels in more than 30 years at 13.5 per cent. Unemployment was down to 5.1 per cent with more than 1.5 million jobs created over six years.
This Bill responds to our economic recovery and balances the need to ensure income support payments encourage and enable workforce participation with the need for the welfare system to be fiscally sustainable for future generations by increasing the rate of working age payments by $50 per fortnight, commencing on 1 April 2021. This rate increase is in addition to the usual indexation of payments taking effect on 20 March 2021.
The $50 per fortnight increase will apply to JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance, Youth Disability Support Pension, Parenting Payment, Austudy, Special Benefit, Partner Allowance and Widow Allowance.
This increase will flow on to ABSTUDY (Living Allowance), Farm Household Allowance and payments made under the Department of Veterans' Affairs Education Scheme.
The Bill also permanently increases the income free area to $150 per fortnight for JobSeeker Payment and Youth Allowance (other) from 1 April 2021, allowing people to keep more of what they earn as they reconnect with the labour market.
The Bill extends the waiver of the Ordinary Waiting Period for Parenting Payment, JobSeeker Payment and Youth Allowance, for a further three months until 30 June 2021.
The Bill also extends to 30 June 2021, expanded access to JobSeeker Payment and Youth Allowance (other) for persons who find themselves having to self-isolate or care for someone who is self-isolating due to the pandemic.
It also extends the portability period for certain Age Pensioners and recipients of the Disability Support Pension (for severely disabled persons) until 30 June 2021. This means pensioners unable to return to, or depart from, Australia within 26 weeks due to travel restrictions resulting from COVID-19 will have their entitlement maintained until 30 June 2021, as if they had been able to return home as planned.
The policy delivered by this Bill carries a cost of approximately $9 billion to 2024-25, including approximately $700 million in 2020-21.