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Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Page: 2269

Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (11:28): I rise to make some brief remarks on the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Disability Support Pension Participation Reforms) Bill 2012, in particular on schedule 2, which deals with participation requirements for disability support pensioners. The bill introduces a requirement for disability support pensioners under the age of 35 with a work capacity of at least eight hours a week to attend an initial participation interview at Centrelink and make a participation plan. These requirements may not appear overly onerous, but they deal with a group of very disadvantaged people who have not been subject to participation requirements before. These measures are new; consequently, it is essential that, at a minimum, appropriate and sensitive safeguards are built around them. My electorate of Melbourne includes almost 6,000 people who rely on the disability support pension. These people are some of the most disadvantaged in our society. We should encourage them to participate, rather than punish them if they do not. I note that the bill does include the possibility of exemptions from the participation requirements in some circumstances, namely prenatal and postnatal relief, supported employment, illness or accident and special circumstances. These last two exemptions, illness or accident and special circumstances, are at the discretion of the secretary. It remains to be seen how these exemptions are exercised. I urge the minister and the department to ensure that they are used appropriately.

My colleague Senator Siewert has noted that there are already concerns from people on the disability support pension who worry that they will be chucked off their pensions when these measures take effect on 1 July this year. These fears are due to the government not making it clear what the changes will do and who they will apply to, and this legitimate fear must be addressed. At a minimum, a comprehensive information campaign is required to ensure that people are properly informed about how these measures will affect them. There is lack of knowledge and there is concern amongst many recipients of the DSP. There also needs to be flexibility when these measures are implemented to ensure that people can attend appointments at a time and a place that is appropriate to their needs. I also question why there is such a measure targeting people under 35 years old when it is the number of people over 45 years old on disability support pensions that is increasing.

Unfortunately, the measures do appear to be part of a wider attempt to limit the disability support pension. The Greens do not support this approach and we never will. The DSP is now harder to get than ever before. Except for those with a severe disability, everyone is required to engage in participation requirements for up to 18 months before being given access to the disability support pension. During that 18 months they must exist on the lower Newstart allowance—up to $128 per week less than the disability support pension. This bill will create even more participation requirements. The Greens do not believe this is the right approach. What we need is proper assistance and support for people living with a disability to enter the workforce if they are able. We do not need punitive broadbrush measures. If they do pass in their current form, I urge the government to take a sensitive and flexible approach to the implementation of the measures outlined in this bill.