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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 7939


Senator MARK BISHOP (5:13 PM) —This amendment seeks to oppose in total schedule 1 of the Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (Australians Working Together and other 2001 Budget Measures) Bill 2002—the participation framework that the government is seeking to introduce for parenting payment recipients. If successful, the amendment would effectively retain the status quo. Whilst agreeing with the Democrats' view that the extension of participation arrangements to parents may present some problems, we are not convinced that these cannot be addressed through amendments to schedule 1. Labor therefore cannot support this amendment to wipe out this part of the bill.

Labor has considered carefully the merits of a participation framework for parenting payment recipients with older dependent children. With appropriate safeguards, as canvassed in our amendments, we believe that a participation framework is a positive reform. It is important to bear in mind that the parenting payment recipients who will be subject to the participation framework are just two years from being placed on Newstart, which will be an infinitely greater shock than the progressive frame work advanced here.

Labor's position has also been confirmed by Bob Gregory's excellent research using longitudinal data sets. These show that, while previous claims of low average length of receipt of single parenting payment—3½ years, when the maximum continuous period of eligibility in respect of a single child is 16 years—are accurate, they hide the fact that many individuals will return to payments after brief periods in employment or repartnering and then separating. Mr Gregory's work shows that around 50 per cent of parenting payment recipients end up on income support within five years of exiting parenting payment when their youngest child turns 16. Something clearly needs to be done about heading off this poverty cycle.

Labor has a strong record on parents. Labor's social security reforms of 1991 produced the JET program for people receiving parenting payments. The program is consistent with a broader approach that encourages women's participation in the work force and recognises that most parents no longer voluntarily retreat from the work force permanently upon the birth of a child. That said, the voluntary nature of JET under Labor attempted to juggle the importance of recognising the difficulty for single parents of balancing work and family responsibilities and the need to ensure that single parents were not suddenly shunted onto an activity tested payment without skills or work experience when their youngest child turned 16.

Recent pilots by the current government emphasise the success of schemes such as JET but point to the fact that take-up rates for voluntary schemes are relatively low. A 1996 evaluation of JET found that participants were almost 1.56 times more likely than nonparticipants to leave parenting payment for employment and 1.34 times more likely to earn income from employment. With the amendments Labor are proposing to schedule 1 of the bill, we are confident that the new arrangement will work fairly and equitably and will not conflict with parenting responsibilities.