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Wednesday, 10 March 2010
Page: 2097


Mr CLARE (Parliamentary Secretary for Employment) (9:07 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The government’s bill addresses the problems encountered by many parents who are income support recipients in meeting activity requirements.

According to the OECD, Australia has relatively low employment rates for mothers of school-age children compared to other OECD countries, particularly for single mothers.

The government is committed to supporting the economic and social participation of both partnered and sole parents.

Participation requirements associated with receipt of income support are part of this commitment. However, such requirements need to better take into account important and different circumstances associated with caring responsibilities.

The aim of the changes within the bill is to make income support more effective by helping parents balance their parenting responsibilities with their participation requirements.

In May 2008 the government established the Participation Taskforce to consider whether there were better ways of balancing the participation requirements of carers and parents with their family and community responsibilities.

The feedback the task force received from carers, parents and peak groups representing them was that some participation requirements add no value to their efforts to find work.

The task force also found that the current participation rules are often counterproductive to their efforts to gain skills and find work.

The task force reported to government in August 2008.

The bill is a response to that report.

The bill, together with a legislative instrument and changes to the Guide to Social Security Law, will implement the 2009-10 budget measure ‘More flexible participation requirements for parents’.

It will achieve our aim of creating more opportunities for parents to get skills, qualifications and work by providing flexibility in the activities that parents can undertake to meet their participation requirements.

The bill and the legislative instrument support the government’s productivity and education agendas by making education, training and relevant volunteering opportunities more readily compatible with caring responsibilities, including on a part-time basis and through a combination of these activities.

Parents on income support whose youngest child has reached school age will still be required to undertake 30 hours of a suitable activity each fortnight to meet their requirements.

What this bill means is that parents with participation requirements will be able to combine activities such as part-time study and part-time paid work to fully meet their participation requirements.

The legislative instrument and changes to the Guide to Social Security Law will replace ‘one size fits all’ participation requirements.

This bill provides for new and extended exemptions for sole and partnered parents on income support payments to make them more responsive to individual family circumstances.

The home schooling, distance education and large family exemptions will be extended to parents with older schoolchildren in secondary education and will not cut out when the child turns 16 even though the parent has higher caring responsibilities.

This bill provides support for all job seekers who provide emergency or respite foster care placements, by providing a new exemption to them while a child is in their care and for a period of time afterwards to support their availability for subsequent placements.

A new exemption will be introduced to support a relative who is caring for a child through a kinship care arrangement, where a care plan is in place that has been prepared or accepted by the state or territory government.

This will support many people, particularly women who provide care that is not formally recognised through a court order, including women in Indigenous communities in Australia.

Victims of domestic violence will be further supported through this bill. Parents may receive a 16-week exemption regardless of whether they have left the violent relationship, recognising that for many women this is difficult.

Voluntary work will also be able to be used to meet participation requirements in some situations where a parent is connected to a Job Services Australia provider, particularly in areas of the country where the labour market is poor, there are limited training opportunities and where voluntary work will help build a parent’s skills.

Parents will be able to take a break from their part-time participation requirements over the Christmas/New Year fortnight, giving certainly and flexibility at a time when caring and other family responsibilities are greater.

Parents who have term-time work will also be afforded more flexible arrangements over the long school holidays when their caring responsibilities are also greater.

If they have a job to return to at the beginning of the new school year and they are unable to work through an employer initiated shutdown, such as a parent who is a casual schoolteacher, they will not have to job search or connect to a Job Services Australia provider over the long school holidays.

In addition, all parents, regardless of the payment they receive, will be able to participate in New Incentive Enterprise Scheme training on a part-time basis.

A further component of the budget measure will provide more flexible methods for parents to report their earnings and participation efforts to Centrelink through expanded access to existing facilities such as telephone-based integration voice recognition and web-based channels.

The measure will reduce the need to come into a Centrelink office for face-to-face reporting.

The measure also supports communication of these changes and the exemptions available to parents, through Centrelink.

The government believes that parents should have the flexibility to develop skills and find employment through individual pathways.

It also believes that caring responsibilities should be better recognised and participation in family and community life should be supported.

This bill provides a balance between the role of parents on income support as carers, their participation in paid work, their skill development and their support of their local communities.

It provides for an individually tailored approach for parents to gain skills and employment through many pathways while maintaining participation requirements.

We also recognise that parents have caring responsibilities that they are constantly balancing as well.

This caring load can change depending on many factors and the government recognises and has responded to this.

This bill provides parents with flexibility and support for meeting their responsibilities to children, as community members and through participation in education, training and employment.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Andrews) adjourned.