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Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Page: 13590

Mr CREAN (HothamMinister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and Minister for the Arts) (13:02): I present the explanatory memorandum to this bill and move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill will introduce amendments by giving effect to the teenage parent and jobless families trials which were announced in the Building Australia’s Future Workforce package in the 2011-12 budget. This is an important bill because it will address social inclusion, lift educational attainment and also increase workforce participation. The bill will be accompanied by a legislative instrument which will outline limited circumstances where a parenting payment recipient with a youngest child aged less than six years can be required to attend interviews and develop a participation plan with the Department of Human Services. For teenage parent trial participants, parents can also be required to do the activities set out in the participation plan. Trial participants who do not meet these requirements can have their income support payment suspended until they do.

Joblessness among families is a significant social and economic problem in Australia, and we have one of the highest proportions of children living in jobless families in the OECD. There are currently some 257,000 jobless families with dependent children who are on income support and who have no reported income over the last year or more. Being in a jobless family where no adult has a job for a significant period of time is associated with higher rates of poverty, poorer health status and lower education attainment for both parents and their children.

There are around 11,000 teenage parents currently on parenting payments in Australia. The vast majority of these parents have not completed year 12 and over a quarter only have primary school as their highest level of attained education. That said, there are some teenage parents who do very well for themselves and their children. However, there is also very clear evidence that becoming a teenage parent carries with it a greater risk of poor life outcomes for both parents and children.

This bill, therefore, will provide new services and new opportunities and will require new responsibilities to boost the educational attainment and job readiness of the parents, the wellbeing of children and the functioning of families with young children in some of the most disadvantaged locations in the country. By introducing requirements for trial participants—which means they must access local services and attend activities if they want to continue to receive parenting payment—the government is sending a very clear message that it is the responsibility of the parent to make the most of the opportunities available to them.

The trial participants will be teenage parents in the 10 locations who do not have year 12 or equivalent, have children who are not yet six years old and are in receipt of parenting payment. There will be some 4,000 teen parents in total participating in the trial. The government is sending a very clear message to parents in the jobless families trial that attending Centrelink interviews and workshops and developing a participation plan are important steps towards being work-ready once children start school. There will be some 22,000 parents a year participating in the jobless families trial. The two trials require that selected parents in the 10 locations must plan to use the services available to their local communities whilst they are on parenting payment and before they are required to look for work. The specific and additional focus for teenage parent trial participants is that the parent must work towards attaining year 12 or equivalent whilst also spending time doing child-centred activities. Of course, some teen parents have dropped out of school even before becoming pregnant, so going back to their old school might not be an attractive or even possible option for them.

Each of the trial locations will have specially tailored opportunities for teen parents to re-engage with education, including options for studying without having to put their children into child care. There will be people who can help the teenage parents to navigate the variety of services available, including, for example, helping them enrol in a course or go along to an activity for the first time. The government has invested in ensuring that there are extra services (such as Youth Connections and Communities for Children) in the trial locations to make sure parents get the help they need to participate.

The bill will make necessary changes to the social security law so that parents subject to the new requirements do not lose entitlement to other non-participation payments (such as family tax benefit) due to failure to comply with the new requirements. Parents in the trials will not be subject to the jobseeker compliance framework.

Parents who are particularly vulnerable will be assessed by Centrelink and offered more intensive support via case coordination. This new approach helps Centrelink better identify a parent's needs and allows them to provide more appropriate referrals and better services at the time that they are needed most. This support may also extend to exempting the parent from certain aspects of the trial for a period of time. This is worthy and vital legislation, and I commend the bill to the House.

Leave granted for second reading debate to continue immediately.