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Wednesday, 29 June 1994
Page: 2265

Senator PATTERSON (12.06 p.m.) —The coalition will be supporting the government's amendments to strengthen the obligations placed on the unemployed to accept a job or undertake reasonable activities that improve their job prospects. We see this not so much as a punitive measure but as a positive step in the direction of achieving a balance of carrots and sticks to assist the unemployed back into the permanent paid work force.

  Currently, if a person fails to comply with the requirements of the activity test, a jobsearch or newstart activity agreement et cetera, the person cannot be paid the jobsearch allowance or newstart allowance for a deferment period, and the length depends on how many breaches are committed within a three-year period.

  The government now considers with the introduction of the jobs compact that it is more appropriate to base deferment periods on the length of unemployment as well as the number of breaches. The new approach also draws a distinction between activity test breaches and administrative breaches. The penalties that attach to administrative breaches will largely remain unaltered. However, a new non-payment period structure will apply to activity test breaches.

  These changes are once against modelled on the ideas contained in the coalition's policy at the last election. The government has been content up to now to leave people on the dole to the detriment of both those who are experiencing long-term unemployment and the community. We believe the government has finally realised that the long-term consequences to our country of high levels of unemployment, especially long-term unemployment and youth and senior unemployment, are both socially and economically disastrous.

  People need to work, not only for the money to lift them out of poverty and break the cycle of long-term welfare dependency, but also to participate fully in our society for social contact, personal development and feelings of self worth. The government is hopefully becoming serious about getting the unemployed into jobs and keeping them there after really 11 years of soft pedalling on unemployment.

  The coalition will support the amendments, but I also wish to say that it will be supporting a Democrat amendment to allow a period of time for DSS to contact those unemployed who have incurred a penalty before their entitlements are suspended. We are not in a position to support the amendment moved by the Democrats to defer the start-up date of the penalty amendment from 4 July 1994 to 1 July 1995. The Democrats have not given us any convincing grounds for delaying the start-up date of the enhanced reciprocal obligations except for some vague statement that the start-up date should coincide with the rest of the white paper initiatives. We do not accept that this is a sufficient reason to interfere with the government's start-up date.

  As I stated before, after 11 years of not really dealing adequately with the issue of unemployment the government is hopefully becoming serious about getting the unemployed into jobs and keeping them there. The commencement of these measures to enhance reciprocal obligations on the part of the unemployed are in the government's timetable, and the coalition will not be supporting the Democrats in delaying the start-up date.