Senate debates

Monday, 29 November 2021


Social Security Legislation Amendment (Remote Engagement Program) Bill 2021; Second Reading

1:07 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to thank the honourable members for their contribution to the debate on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Remote Engagement Program) Bill 2021. The bill is a representation of the important strides being made by this government's reforms to employment services to support the economic recovery from COVID-19.

This program, since its introduction in 1977, has gone through many iterations, including the CDEP, the RJCP in 2013, the CDP from 2015 and now the Remote Engagement Program. For the first time, this program will be co-designed and developed with Indigenous Australians. The Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee undertook a comprehensive inquiry into the provisions of the bill.

In response to recommendation 2, the government will establish the following co-design and consultation mechanism for the Remote Engagement Program: a national co-design working group to co-design the Remote Engagement Program, which will be rolled out nationally in 2023; a local co-design working group in each pilot site, to co-design the pilot program to be trialled in each pilot site; and a national consultation process to provide an opportunity for stakeholders not directly involved in the pilots or the national co-design working group to have a say about the future of employment services in remote Australia.

In response to recommendation 3, the bill has been specifically designed to facilitate co-design in the pilot sites by setting high-level parameters, with further details to be set out in legislative instruments that will be informed by the outcomes of the co-design process in the pilot regions. The government will publish the outcomes of the co-design process, for full transparency. The legislative instruments are an important feature of the co-design process in the pilot sites. They will set the amount of the Remote Engagement Program supplementary payment and the hours of engagement in the pilot sites.

In response to recommendation 4, the aim is for the new Remote Engagement Program supplementary payment plus an eligible jobseeker's income support payment to be approximately equivalent to the minimum wage for the hours participating in the remote engagement placement. The placements will not be jobs but will aim to give jobseekers experience that will enable the transition to paid employment. The new supplementary payment will not be at a level such that people avoid taking up paid employment opportunities. Eligible jobseekers will continue to receive the supplementary payment for the whole time they're eligible to be a part of the remote engagement placement.

In response to recommendation 1, the government is monitoring the work states and territories are doing on treaties. It's important that state and territory jurisdictions take the lead on this work in their jurisdictions. The legislation is just one building block and sunsets in 2023. This bill is not the new program. The new payment that the bill enables will be one aspect that communities can trial alongside other approaches to training, skills development and non-vocational support as part of the co-design of the remote employment program. It will provide a framework for piloting new approaches to delivering employment services in remote communities, ahead of implementing the Morrison government's budget announcement that the Community Development Program will be replaced in 2023.

I'm pleased to sum up the debate in relation to the bill debate today. This bill is an important step towards closing the gap and significantly improving the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, especially those living in remote Australia. I commend the bill to the chamber.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the second reading amendment as moved by Senator McAllister be agreed to.

1:17 pm

Photo of Lidia ThorpeLidia Thorpe (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

At the end of the motion, add ", but the Senate notes that:

(a) this bill replaces the Community Development Program with a new framework piloting how employment services are delivered in remote communities, particularly communities with a high number of First Nations people;

(b) these pilot programs dishonour the Federal Government's commitment to formal partnerships and shared decision-making in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap as it is not clear how communities have been chosen to participate in the pilots or if the principles of free, prior, and informed consent were followed when working with these communities;

(c) people in these pilot programs will not be paid a living wage for work they are required to perform and they will not be given the industrial protections available to all working people;

(d) this bill is opposed by human rights organisations, Aboriginal community controlled organisations, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services; and

(e) this bill does not address the underlying issue causing under-employment or unemployment in regional, remote, and very remote areas of the country; namely, the lack of economic and job opportunities".

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the second reading amendment moved by Senator Thorpe be agreed to.

1:25 pm

Photo of Matt O'SullivanMatt O'Sullivan (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the bill now be read a second time.