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Monday, 21 November 2011
Page: 8955

Senator THISTLETHWAITE (New South Wales) (11:36): The purpose of the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Family Participation Measures) Bill 2011 is to allow for the conduct of participation pilots for teenage parents. The amendment delivers on a commitment made by the government in the last budget. During the budget, the government announced the introduction of these participation pilots for teenage parents. We did not simply announce this participation pilot; we have also backed it up with encouragement, support and incentives for greater education for teenage parents. The form of that support came in the budget through expenditure of $80 million over four years to provide additional training places for single and teenage parents in receipt of income support. I do not believe it is fair at all to characterise these reforms in isolation as punitive measures.

The bill will implement a commitment made by the government in the last budget. It will implement what is known as 'the teenage parents' trial from 1 January 2012 and what is known as 'the jobless families' trial from 1 July 2012. These trials, which will occur at 10 disadvantaged locations throughout the country, were announced in the budget as part of the Building Australia's Future Workforce package. The trials will provide for new services, opportunities and responsibilities to boost the educational attainment, job readiness, child wellbeing and functioning of families with young children in some of the most disadvantaged locations throughout the country.

Specifically, the basic elements of the teenage parents' participation pilots are that parents on income support will be required to attend six-monthly interviews with Centrelink once their child turns six months of age. Once the child is 12 months old, the purpose of the interview with Centrelink will be to develop a participation plan aimed at improving the educational outcomes of the parent by focusing on their most basic needs. No. 1 amongst those needs is an adequate education. The plan will focus on school completion, on foundation skills or certificate level qualifications as well as the health, safety and education of the child. Support for the participation plan will continue until the parent achieves year 12 completion or the child turns six years of age.

The bill recognises that there is no greater benefit that we can give our kids in modern day society than an education. A basic year 12 education is a passport to employment and participation within society. We need to ensure that we do all we can to encourage and provide an incentive for teenage parents to ensure that they complete that basic passport to participation and employment in our society. Under the trial, teenage parents will need to work towards obtaining their year 12 qualification or its equivalent whilst continuing to engage in a range of activities focusing on the health and wellbeing of their child. Parents in the jobless families trial will need to develop a plan outlining how they will move towards being job ready once their youngest child starts school and how they will prepare their child to be ready to go to school.

The teenage parents trial is funded at $47.3 million over four years; the jobless families trial is funded at $71.1 million over four years. Currently, only parenting payment recipients with children aged six or seven years of age have participation requirements and can be required to comply with the terms of an employment pathway plan. A failure to meet some of those requirements can—not necessarily will—result in sanctions being imposed under the job seeker compliance framework. But, as I stressed earlier, it is important to note that these reforms are coupled with additional spending in this area to provide the necessary encouragement, support and incentive for those who may be subject to this trial to gain basic qualifications and a pathway to employment.

The amendments in the bill broaden the participation requirements and compliance sanctions for parenting payment recipients with children under six who are part of the 'teenage parent of jobless families' trials operating in those 10 disadvantaged locations throughout Australia. The bill is designed to create new opportunities for the 4,000 single parents who reside in those 10 trial locations. In my state those locations are Bankstown, Wyong and Shellharbour—areas where there are lower socioeconomic indicators and lower levels of educational attainment amongst certain age groups and areas where there are difficulties in some locations related to entrenched poverty and the cycle of poverty.

These reforms are aimed well and truly at trialling in these areas new ways to ensure that members of our community who otherwise may have been susceptible to being driven into that ongoing cycle of poverty—the poverty trap, intergenerational poverty—are provided with a circuit-breaker. That circuit-breaker comes in the form of support from Centrelink and government through those additional funds focusing on teenage mothers and ensuring that they continue to pursue basic educational outcomes.

For teenagers who do become parents, this bill will provide guidance and support to enable them to learn life skills, to get and finish a decent education and to give their child the best start in life. Being a parent is tough for anyone, and no-one disputes that. There are additional burdens and difficulties that come with being a teenage parent and that is why this government is committed to providing the support and guidance that these young parents need to develop their skills and work readiness, helping them to provide a better future for themselves and their children.