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Friday, 19 April 1985
Page: 1264

Senator TATE —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security. Is it a fact that receipt of the unemployment benefit is put in some jeopardy if a person performs more than a few hours of work for a voluntary organisation or community group or undertakes study for more than a few hours per week? Does the Minister agree that this situation continues the isolation and shutting out from the community of those who receive the benefit? Will the Government give an assurance that it will undertake a review of the guidelines and their operation in this regard to try to ensure that those who receive the unemployment benefit are brought back into a relationship with the community whereby they maintain their social skills and feel that they are part of the whole Australian community?

Senator GRIMES —The problem presented by Senator Tate is one that was often brought to me in opposition and when I was Minister for Social Security; it is a problem which has had to be wrestled with by Ministers for Social Security for some time. I, like Senator Tate, have a good deal of sympathy for unemployed people who want to use their time constructively until they can obtain employment, either by improving their qualifications or, for example, as he said, by providing some community services. As a result of the efforts of the Australian Labor Party in Opposition, and to some extent as a result of a couple of decisions by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and later the Federal Court of Australia, the rigid application of a set number of hours of day time study was modified some years ago so that when there was a doubt about people's capacity to work each case was considered on its merits.

I must also say, though, that I have considerable sympathy for social security officers who have to try to administer this difficult area, particularly in recent times when some tertiary institutions have adjusted the hours of study and the nature of courses to try to fit people's courses into the social security system rather than program the courses on an educational basis.

Basically it has been this Government's policy not to discourage some interim study when we are satisfied that the person is looking for work and able to accept work that is offered, but I do not believe that the unemployment benefit should be a top-up or even a substitute for educational allowances where students are committed to full time courses. If we allow that sort of procedure to be followed, people who cannot pass the tertiary education assistance scheme income test or people who do not go near the TEAS income test, as happens frequently, can then substitute the unemployment benefit for the tertiary education allowance.

In the same way, I do not believe that the Government is too hard on unemployed people looking for work and putting some time into a voluntary organisation until work is found. But, again, we do not see the unemployment benefit as a salaried subsidy to a full time employee in a voluntary organisation, and neither did the previous Government. I will refer the matter to my colleague the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Youth Affairs to see whether it is being considered at the moment in the youth income support area. Although I will refer the matter of the administration of the legislation to the Minister for Social Security also, I do not believe that that has changed in recent years.