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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 7941


Senator MARK BISHOP (5:33 PM) —I move opposition amendment (1) on sheet 2791:

(1) Page 2 (after line 11), after clause 3, insert:

4 Evaluation

(1) The Minister must conduct an evaluation of the measures contained in Schedules 1 and 5 of this Act.

(2) Without limiting the generality of subsection (1), the evaluation must include the following:

(a) the numbers of parenting payment (single) recipients and parenting payment (partnered) recipients required to enter into participation agreements and the number of such recipients granted an exemption;

(b) details of expenditure on ancillary assistance provided to those affected by the measures such as expenditure on job network and training;

(c) employment outcomes of parenting payment (single) recipients, parenting payment (partnered) recipients and newstart mature age recipients targeted by the measures compared to the employment outcomes of these groups prior to the implementation of the measures;

(d) details of average earnings of the target population affected by the measures compared to earnings of the target population prior to the implementation of the measures;

(e) details of compliance with the activity agreements for parenting payment (single) recipients, parenting payment (partnered) recipients and newstart mature age recipients, including the numbers for each group in situations where a breach penalty was applied, and the reasons for applying a breach penalty;

(f) details of total savings resulting from breach penalties applied to parenting payment (single) recipients, parenting payment (partnered) recipients and newstart mature age recipients required to enter into activity agreements;

(g) an assessment of the impact of the measures in Schedule 1 on children of parenting payment recipients;

(h) a cost benefit analysis of the new participation measures applying to parenting payment (single) recipients, parenting payment (partnered) recipients and newstart mature age recipients.

(3) The evaluation must be completed and tabled in each House of the Parliament by 30 June 2005.

This amendment will require the Minister for Family and Community Services to conduct an evaluation into the measures in schedules 1 and 5 for new participation arrangements for parents and the mature aged. It will require detailed information on the success or otherwise of the measures. The amendment proposes detailed consideration of the changes including, but not limited to, numbers affected, expenditure on ancillary assistance to help parents and the mature aged comply, employment outcomes under the new measures compared with the existing arrangements, earnings of those affected before and after the changes, compliance with agreements and the numbers affected by penalties, dollar value of penalties, impact on children of parents required to participate and a cost-benefit analysis of the measures.

As drafted, the evaluation will have to be completed within 2½ years from the commencement of the measures. This amendment is essential. Too often in this policy area changes are made without comprehensive evaluation of their effectiveness. Labor recognises that the government would prefer that the detail of the evaluation should not be included in the legislation—that an undertaking by the minister in the Senate should be adequate. Labor would be happy to accept this approach except for the fact that undertakings have been given in this place previously by Senator Newman in relation to shared care changes for family tax benefits but have not been followed through. There are also instances where evaluations have been commissioned but the government has not made them public. A recent example is the evaluation of the pension bonus scheme.

Australia is a leader in social research. This amendment will strengthen our understanding of measures to assist people into work. As I said at the outset, this amendment requires a minister to conduct an evaluation of measures in schedules 1 and 5. Schedule 1 outlines proposed new arrangements for people receiving the parenting payment, and schedule 5 establishes a new participation requirement for those formerly receiving mature age and partner allowances and also establishes new participation requirements for those who would have received prior allowance now going onto Newstart. The requirements are now more flexible and broader and essentially establish a new regime. The requirements are more flexible than for other Newstart clients and will be extended to Newstart recipients over the age of 50. There is a new modified breach regime proposed. Activity agreements will be more flexible, with a more flexible report period.

The total of the changes we suggest is neither gradual nor incremental. The two groups most affected, essentially single parents with parenting responsibility and unemployed persons over the age of 50, are potentially the two most disadvantaged groups within our community. One group still has parenting and family responsibilities and the other group is really a product of significant structural change in the economy over the last 20 years. So, whilst flexibility and change might be warranted, the opposition is of the view that caution and responsibility with respect to these changes are also equally valid principles.

Accordingly, the aim of this amendment is to seek information on aspects of the new scheme, to determine the impact and outcomes on the two particular groups and to analyse and evaluate the new regime. The ALP says changes without proper and substantial evaluation of new critical measures being introduced are potentially counterproductive. Hard evaluation after two or three years provides up-to-date information; it enables comparison between past assertion and current reality. It can be a signpost for future governments who need to continue down the path of welfare reform, and it provides empirical data upon which current reform can be analysed and future reform can be progressed. For those reasons, the opposition urges passage of the amendment as moved.