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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 7996


Senator MACKAY (9:51 PM) —I seek leave to have speeches on the second reading by Senators Denman, Stephens and Buckland incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

Senator Denman

I rise to add my comments to the Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (Special Benefit Activity Test) Bill 2002.

This Bill will affect people on a Temporary Protection Visa, who are granted the Special Benefit payment after 1 January 2003. The current number of TPV holders receiving the Special Benefit payment is 4,262 and these people will not be affected by this legislation unless they need to re-apply for the Special Benefit payment after 1 January 2003. This Bill proposes that after 1 January, TPV holders receiving the Special Benefit payment, will be subjected to an `activity test' and mutual obligation requirements, similar to those that apply to unemployed job seekers on Newstart allowance and Youth allowance.

The Explanatory Memorandum explains that the aim of this Bill is to, `encourage social and economic participation by treating workforce age holders of TPVs `in a similar way to Australian nationals of work force age: that is by requiring them to be self-reliant and to fulfil a mutual obligation to the Australian community'.

Currently, Temporary Protection Visa holders are required to submit fortnightly forms showing that they are looking for work, and their payment can be cancelled for failing to submit the fortnightly forms. Under this legislation, additional activities will be necessary such as `Work for the Dole', requirements to maintain a jobsearch diary, and employer contact certificates. TPV holders will be subjected to the full penalty process including administrative breaching.

On 16 October 2002, in light of concerns including access to English tuition, Centrelink's ability to cater to the special needs of TPV holders, and the high possibility of TPV holders with low English skills being `breached' by Centrelink; this Bill was referred to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, of which I am a member, for inquiry and report. A public hearing was held on 14 November. The Committee reported on 2 December 2002. My colleague, Senator Claire Moore and I made some additional comments outlining our concerns on this Bill and these comments are contained in the Labor Minority Report. I would like to thank the Committee members and secretariat for their assistance in meeting the rather tight schedule. The Committee received 52 submissions from various organisations and individuals.

I do want to make a general comment on our welfare system, before I speak specifically about this Bill. Labor supports the principle of `mutual obligation'; we consider that it is fair and reasonable to ask unemployed people to participate in an activity such as job search, that will improve their job opportunities and make a contribution to their community, in return for financial support. However, bearing in mind the circumstances of TPV holders, any mutual obligation activity must be framed for clients of; no or low English skills, of a low financial position, and with sensitivity to the fact that they are not likely to have a social network established.

The principle of `mutual obligation' is not in dispute, in fact I think it is important to remember in this discussion that people on TPV's want to work, they want to be financially independent, and make a contribution to their community. At the public hearing on this Bill, the Refugee Council of Australia commented, `refugees have a very strong desire to work but people on temporary protection visas have multiple obstacles to gaining access to the workplace'.1 And this brings us to the inadequacies in this Bill.

During the inquiry into this Bill, it was clear from evidence given to the Committee that TPV holders are not treated in a similar manner to Australian nationals. TPV holders receiving the Special Benefit Payment are subject to harsh restrictions. For instance, if free accommodation is given to a TPV holder by an agency or member of the community, their Special Benefit Payment is reduced to two-thirds of the rate of the Youth Allowance or New Start Allowance. Also, their Special Benefit Payment is reduced dollar-for-dollar for any paid work they may undertake, making the Special Benefit Payment the only income test that has no income free area or taper. These kinds of restrictions make it extremely difficult for TPV holders to `get ahead', or establish a less stressful lifestyle.

The central theme of many of the submissions including: the National Welfare Rights Network, the Australian Council of Social Service, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, and the Refugee Council of Australia was not an objection to the principle of `activity testing', but rather that, Temporary Protection Visa holders are not treated in a manner that provides them with the necessary support and assistance to realistically meet their obligations, as outlined in this legislation. Support and assistance, that is currently made available to Permanent Protection Visa holders.

Unless adequate support and assistance is provided to TPV holders to meet their obligations, the Labor Party considers that this Bill is significantly lacking.

At this point, I would like to note that a recent Queensland government report into TPV holders found that the lack of settlement services provided, helped contribute to `social isolation' and `significant mental health difficulties' amongst visa holders. 2

Before I speak about our concerns with this Bill I do want to acknowledge two praiseworthy initiatives contained in this Bill—English tuition and better access to education.

The National Council of Churches estimates that 90 per cent of people on a Temporary Protection Visa are from Iraq and Afghanistan.3 When queried at the public hearing, DIMIA were unable to provide figures on the number of TPV holders who are able to speak some level of English— although other submissions suggested they are likely to have `limited or non-existent English language skills'.

A constant theme of many submissions and at the public hearing, was how essential English tuition was to TPV holders satisfying an `activity test' and their mutual obligation requirements. Being able to understand and speak English is vital to initially finding work; to being able to challenge any penalty or breach; to being able to protest to sub-standard wages and conditions, and also to ensuring that they are not penalised for declining inappropriate work.

The Labor Party is very pleased that the legislation addresses this critical issue. Currently, TPV holders are denied accessed to DIMIA's English courses because apparently these English courses are part of the settlement program geared towards permanent entrants—which TPV holders are not. However, this legislation very importantly provides for specific access to the Department of Education, Science and Training's English training. Information provided as a response to a question on notice to the Committee compared this English to the DIMIA program. The proposal appears effective and `designed to help remove a major barrier to employment or pursuit of further education and training.' English training will now be able to form a vital part of `activity agreements'. This does not entirely satisfy the observation, already made by my colleague, Senator Mark Bishop, over the ability for TPV holders with poor or no English language skills to initially enter into `activity agreements'.

The other good news in this legislation is that it provides for access to tertiary education. Under this legislation it will now be possible for TPV holders to undertake full time study without losing their entitlement to the Special Benefit Payment. As TPV holders are not permanent residents they do not have access to HECS, so they would need to have the funds to be able to pay the full fees for overseas students; which given their situation is unlikely. So while the issue of access to education is addressed in this Bill, in reality the financial barrier will probably continue to prevent TPV holders gaining education.

I now want to move on to our concerns with this Bill.

A number of submissions commented on an inadequacy of this Bill being that TPV holders will not be given access to the Job Network Service, `Intensive Assistance'; one of the very programs designed to assist disadvantaged job seekers. This service provides one-on-one support to assist individuals `get and keep a job'. While TPV holders are denied access to the `Intensive Assistance', they are given access to the job matching service—which is a list of job vacancies on display in English in the Centrelink and JobNetwork agencies. The job matching service requires that TPV holders are able to read English and are confident using touchscreen technology. These are big presumptions, and neglect to take into account the vulnerable position of TPV holders. The Labor Party considers access to the Job Network Intensive Assistance would be a more practical arrangement to assist TPV holders find a job.

As the name suggests, the Temporary Protection Visa is intended to be temporary. The visa entitles the holder to stay in Australia for a period of 30 months. At the end of the 30 months the visa holder is supposed to be reassessed to see if his or her refugee claim still remains. If the person is still assessed as a refugee then he or she will be entitled to a permanent protection visa. However, experience shows that some people do remain on the TPV for longer than 30 months. To be granted a TPV, a person must have been found to have fled their home because of persecution. If they have not been able to prove that, they would not have been granted a TPV. These are genuine refugees.

It is difficult for a TPV holder once released from detention to establish themselves and their families, let alone navigate our social security system with limited support and assistance. In its submission, the National Council of Churches in Australia commented:

`More alarming is the way they are `released' from detention with little money or support. After being locked up, often for years, in remote camps at Port Hedland, Curtin and Woomera, TPV refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan are bussed thousands of kilometres and then virtually abandoned in the cities, a practise that is extremely disorientating and stressful :4

The National Council of Churches in Australia also stated that 80 per cent of refugees have been the victims of torture or trauma.5 It is likely these are people who have probably had unpleasant experiences with bureaucracies in their own countries—to say the least. They are new to Australia, and not familiar with how our agencies work. Yet despite their disadvantaged position, TPV holders will be subjected to the full impact of the administrative breaches and penalties for not complying with an `activity test'. One of the ironies of this Bill is that one of the defences to being `breached' by Centrelink for not complying with an activity test is that you should have a reasonable reason. However, ACOSS commented that TPV holders suffering from torture and trauma are unlikely to open up and talk about their traumatic experiences.6 It is likely they do not have the skills to convey to Centrelink staff a reason such as stress suffered from they trauma and torture that may have prevented them from being able to attend an interview or satisfy their activity agreement. Labor does have concerns about applying penalties to a group of people who are already deeply traumatised and disadvantaged.

The Labor Party considers that we cannot have it both ways. If we want to apply an `activity test' to the Special Benefit Payment for TPV holders, then we must make the process fair. It makes sense to provide the necessary support and assistance to TPV holders—these are people who want to work but face significant difficulties when finding a job. Without assistance, they will remain trapped on welfare. We cannot say that we will treat TPV holders in a similar manner to Australian nationals without taking into account the vulnerable position of TPV holders. We must acknowledge that TPV holders need assistance to place them closer to the `starting mark'. The provision of English tuition and allowing access to education are praiseworthy initiatives in this Bill. However, the Labor Party notes the major concern by welfare groups of extending the full penalty process including administrative breaching to TPV holders. Also, while this Bill proposes to treat TPV holders the same as Australians on Newstart or the Youth Allowance; the Special Benefit Payment is a lesser financial payment than either Newstart or Youth Allowance. TPV holders are also not given the support made available under the Jobsearch Intensive Assistance program. The Labor Party is moving amendments to this Bill which address these inadequacies, and ensure Special Benefit recipients are treated fairly—our support for this Bill is contingent on the success of these amendments.

1 Committee Hansard, 14 November 2002, p. 8

2 Mann, Renae, 2002: Temporary Protection Visa Holders in Queensland, Dept of Multicultural Affairs

3 Sub. No. 36, p.3

4 Sub. No. 36, p.4

5 Sub. No. 36, p.4

6 Committee Hansard, 14 November 2002, p. 5

—————

Senator Stephens

Mr President, this is an important piece of legislation for Temporary Protection Visa holders who are in a unique and difficult situation. They are unsure of how long they will be able to stay in Australia, and they are not eligible for family reunion. By definition, they are fleeing persecution, and many have suffered torture or trauma. Often they have little English, and what job qualifications they do have may not be recognised here. They do not want to live off government handouts, but experience considerable obstacles to building a life and career for themselves when they know their family may not join them here, and they may be repatriated in 3 years time.

This group is at a significant disadvantage to other humanitarian visa holders. TPV holders are provided with Special Benefit and access to family assistance, but are not entitled to any of the range of special settlement services that are provided to people granted permanent humanitarian visas or who enter Australia with a visa and subsequently apply for asylum. TPV holders do not have the right to travel, to attend English classes, to undertake other studies, or to access the more intensive services of the job network. They also have no right to family reunion.

If these people are to participate actively in our communities, they are going to need some help. The alternative is welfare dependence, systemic poverty and social isolation. Concerns have been raised by many groups about the creation of an `underclass' of TPV holders, who are highly dependent on volunteer and community welfare, and who have few means of participating in Australian society. This is not a good outcome for Australia, and not a good outcome for those who come here seeking asylum.

There is conflict at the heart of this government's policy regarding Temporary Protection Visas. In providing the vast majority of them with no stability for the future, with no hope of ever settling their families here and little access to settlement services, this policy has made it very difficult for TPV holders to support themselves. At the same time the government does not want to live up to its responsibilities and foot the bill to support them.

Under Labor, Temporary Protection Visas would be a truly short term measure. When the TPV expires, the conditions in the person's source country will be re-assessed. If matters have not changed, the person will be granted a permanent protection visa, with full access to family reunion rights. While on the TPV, people will also be entitled to access the full range of job network services, as well as English language classes. Unlike the Howard government, Labor will provide people assessed to be refugees with the transparency of process, and settlement support, that they need to begin rebuilding their lives.

The aim of this Bill, according to the government, is to encourage social and economic participation by nominated visa holders. This is a valid and important aim. In order to achieve it, however, the mutual obligation framework must also provide TPV holders with the opportunities to successfully gain employment. As it stands, this Bill will subject TPV holders to activity testing without giving them the assistance they will need to fulfil it. If this bill is to really help TPV holders to enter the workforce, it must grant them access to intensive employment assistance.

It is unfair to require mutual obligation whilst denying access to services that may be necessary for full participation in the job market, particularly full Job Network services. These services are available to others who are subject to such mutual obligation—without providing them to Temporary Protection Holders on a special benefit, we are further disadvantaging an already disadvantaged group.

These measures were part of the Unauthorised Arrivals in Australia Package in the 2000-2001 Budget, and were aimed at reducing the incentives for unauthorised arrivals.

Special Benefit is different from other benefits, as its guidelines are not set out in the Social Security Act but approved by the Secretary—as such, it is relatively discretionary, compared to other benefits under the SSA, as it aims to allow flexibility of provision, to recognise the different circumstances of those who do not otherwise qualify for payments under the SSA but are suffering hardship and in need.

For the first time, a significant amount of detail about the payment conditions attached to the provision of Special Benefit is being placed into the SSA. Provision of payments will be far less at risk of challenge or variance by courts or tribunals if it is supported by legislation, as opposed to guidelines attached to legislation.

Currently, Special Benefit recipients are required to look for work but do not have to meet additional requirements, such as completing job search diaries and employer contact certificates and participating in mutual obligation programs such as work for the dole.

This legislation will involve a more complex administrative system, with a higher level of interaction between Centrelink and its clients, involving those on Special Benefit in similar mutual obligation frameworks as apply to those on the Newstart allowance.

There are serious concerns regarding the ability of nominated Special Benefit recipients to comply with activity agreements, considering likely language barriers, the settlement challenges faced by TPV holders, and the frequent mobility of this group. These restrictions must lead us to question whether this bill is really going to be successful at increasing social and economic participation of this group of visa holders.

Many people in this group are severely disadvantaged in the job market, which means that if the government wants them to participate, it must take measures to support them to gain the requisite skills. If it does not, the only real objective of this bill will be punitive. These people will be set up to fail.

What we are beginning to see with this bill and the proposal to force those on disability pensions onto Newstart is a mutual obligation framework where the government is expecting more from the most disadvantaged people, whilst offering them less support. It is not helping people to be self-sufficient or build capacity, and it is not addressing the root causes of poverty.

Mutual obligation works well in a level playing field. TPV holders are, however, seriously disadvantaged compared to others who are subjected to the same level of activity testing, such as those on Newstart.

A more sensible approach would be one which aims to increase the self-sufficiency of TPV holders in the community, to help them gain jobs and participate on a more equal level. A recent study into TPV in the Queensland community recommends exploring a capacity-building approach to service delivery. The report also found that:

`the current model of service delivery was, of necessity, welfare based and that service providers needed to move to a community development approach to engender TPV entrants' self-sufficiency within the community ... Developing the capacity of TPV entrants as individuals and as a group to cope with TPV settlement demands is a key task. TPV entrants require an opportunity to organise themselves and to have a voice or a structure that works alongside service providers.'

The two key obstacles to self-sufficiency among TVP holders at the moment are the lack of involvement in the workforce and, of course linked to this, poor English skills.

TPV holders cannot access free English classes through the Adult Migrant English Program if they do not have the functional English required in pretty much every workplace in Australia. Under this framework, they will for the first time have access to free English classes provided by the department of Education, Science and Training.

The Queensland study found that `the denial of English language tuition by the Commonwealth was a major barrier to TPV entrants' participation in society and was likely to cause people to remain dependant of welfare.' It also found that `the capacity of TPV entrants to obtain employment was severely affected by their lack of English language skills and the Commonwealth's denial of employment assistance.'

There are already strong incentives for TPV holders to participate in the workforce. As the Refugee Council notes: They want to feel that they are making a contribution; employment gives them status in the community; they need the income to support family members overseas. By all indications finding work is the highest priority for them—there are however multiple obstacles to them doing so.

Approximately 90% of TPV holders are either Afghan or Iraqi. Iraqi asylum seeker are typically highly educated people who have run into problems as a result of their opposition to the regime in Iraq because of their employment, eg doctors, lawyers, academics, politicians, scientists, etc. Skills recognition is difficult, however, without a high level of English language competence, and so in many cases the skills and knowledge of TPV holders are going to waste. TPV holders are also not eligible for the National Office of Overseas Skills Recognition loan scheme, which supports bridging training for overseas trained professionals.

For Afghan TPV holders, intensive employment assistance is particularly necessary, as the majority of this group have come from rural backgrounds and have little formal education.

The process of gaining employment in Australia is in no way simple; this legislation opens the way for TPV holders to be breached because they are not given a chance to participate. For example, TPV holders are not eligible for Job Search training, which helps with application writing and interview skills. They are not eligible for Intensive Assistance, which is targeted one-on-one help for those who are likely to experience difficulty in getting a job. This can include vocational training, work experience, language and literacy training, help in job search techniques and support after finding a job. This is exactly the kind of assistance that would best help a TPV holder to enter the workplace. The job matching that they are eligible for is both insufficient and inappropriate, as it is simply a `billboard' style of job assistance, a list of vacancies—in English.

The Refugee Council of Australia argues that the lack of promised safety nets, like Job searching assistance, is a serious concern. As their submission to the Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry into the bill states;

`Because of their limited English skills, unfamiliarity with the Australian environment and other factors disadvantaging them in securing employment, significant numbers of TPV holders will not be able to comply with the complex mutual obligation requirements. Consequently they will be breached, in other words, lose their sole source of income. Unlike people established in the community, they have neither savings to fall back on nor a network of family and friends from whom to seek help.'

The risk of unintended breaches is particularly high considering the documented mobility of TPV holders as a group. The Community Affairs Committee, in its minority report, notes that:

`the Department provided evidence of support services available to TPV holders... however we share the concern about extending a penalty based system to people who are refugees and already affected by significant residential and financial restrictions.'

Margaret Piper, head of the Council, has also expressed concern that if this legislation were to pass unamended, the high number of TPV holders being breached could be used by a Minister or other politician to suggest that the refugees are of bad character and are undesirable people to have in this country. We have already seen enough vilification of refugees from this government.

There are also questions as to the administration of the measures outlined in this legislation.

There are limited safeguards in the bill, to ensure that people are not unfairly breached. Centrelink has recently reviewed its complaints handling procedures, but as was clear from the Commonwealth Ombudsman's report this year, people have not in the past been given sufficient opportunity to show reasonable cause as to why they have not met obligations; and have thus been breached unfairly. As TPV holders are a group who will be particularly vulnerable to unintended breaches, we need to know that the process will be fair.

It is also difficult to know how Centrelink will be able to effectively formulate and police activity agreements, particularly considering that the vast majority of TPV holders live in small areas of Melbourne and Sydney. The pressure will be on a few Centrelink offices.

There was a considerable delay in putting these measures into place. They were announced in the 2000-01 budget, reannounced in 2001-02 budget, and are to commence 1 Jan 2003. This delay is probably due to detailed and complex arrangements necessary for the involvement of non-legal resident TPV holders in all of the activities and programs they could be potentially exposed to under activity testing and mutual obligation.

TPV holders tend to settle in large centres, Melbourne and Sydney. Concerns have been raised about the unwillingness of such people to settle in regional areas. A large part of this unwillingness is due to the lack of support services. TPV holders depend almost entirely on church and community groups—the support services that have developed, in the absence of government assistance, are based in the cities.

One concern raised by the Community Affairs committee when considering this Bill was in regards to the perilous financial situation of those on Special Benefit, particularly considering the high effective marginal tax rate they are subject to. The National Welfare Rights network and ACOSS note in their submission the income testing arrangements for Special Benefit:

`Any amount or earnings is directly deducted from entitlements with no free areas applying. This means that a Special Benefit recipient, who earns $50, has $50 deducted from their fortnightly Special Benefit entitlement. As the deduction is the amount of gross rather than net income, this means that the Special Benefit income test is the only income test that not only has no income free area or taper, but is also unique in that it leaves a person with earnings worse off financially than if they relied totally on the benefit payment.'

Clearly such a high EMRT poses another difficulty for people on very limited benefits trying to enter the workforce.

The committee also notes that this mutual obligation framework will allow TPV holders for the first time to continue accessing the Special benefit whilst carrying out full-time study. This is an important gain—but it is also worth noting significant challenges to TPV holders accessing fully time study, as they are not eligible for HECS and are required to pay full fees as overseas students. This is well beyond the financial reach of most TPV holders.

TPV holders are a bit of a conundrum for this government. The government does not appear to want them to stay here, but does not want to have to support them financially. The Government want them to be able to participate in the community only in so far as they can start to pay for themselves. In this, the government shows a lack of understanding as to the desire of TPV holders, who are refugees and have fled persecution, for some stability, and some sense of a future.

TPVs are acting not as a deterrent but as a push factor due to lack of right to family reunion. This has effectively created a subclass of people with uncertain status, who cannot make a life for themselves in Australia. The loss of social networks and separation from family are factors that compound psychological trauma experienced by many who arrive here as refugees.

By not allowing them to settle and bring their families, and providing limited assistance to them while they are here, the government is creating a situation whereby TPV holders have no choice but to be welfare dependant. It is denying them the opportunity to participate in and contribute to our nation, and it is denying Australians the benefits of their contribution.

The aim of this bill is a valid one. If it is amended to provide TPV holders with access to the services they need to participate fully in the workforce, it will be in a better position to achieve its aim. If the government wants to seriously enable TPV holders to participate in the Australian community, however, it should follow the leadership of the Labor party on this issue and abolish the system of rolling Temporary Visas, and really give these people the opportunity to rebuild their lives.

—————

Senator Buckland

I rise to speak today on the Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (Special Benefit Activity Test) Bill 2002.

The rationale behind this bill is to incorporate into the Social Security Act 1991 (SSA) the activity test and mutual obligation requirements, that are currently applicable for unemployed jobseekers on newstart allowance (NSA) and youth allowance (YA).

The key aim for doing this is so that it can also include specified Special Benefits (SpB) recipients.

Those SpB recipients that are accountable to the activity testing and mutual obligation requirements are the ones that possess a Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) issued for temporary protection, humanitarian or safe haven purposes.

This measure was part of the 2000-2001 Budget. That was three budgets since the Government announced a package to address the issue of unauthorised arrivals in Australia. It is evident to all that it has been quite some time since this bill was last in the limelight.

This particular Bill gives a legislative outcome for one of those measures outlined in the Government's 2000-2001 Budget.

As it stands, from 1 January 2003, specified recipients of special benefits who have a visa, of a type that has been issued for temporary protection, humanitarian or safe haven purposes will be subject to an activity test regulation that is comparable to the one that is currently in existence for the newstart allowance. This notion is not new.

The process will involve the new special benefit activity test, for nominated visa holders a mandatory requirement to search for work, participate in vocational training, participate in Work for the Dole programs and other prescribed activities. They will also be required to enter in to a Special Benefit Activity Agreement. Additionally they will be answerable to compliance testing, including fortnightly reporting requirements, and subject to penalties for non-compliance with the activity test or with the terms of their Special Benefit Activity Agreement.

Labor has been concerned that the Government, through this particular bill, will fail to provide the necessary mutual obligations criteria for this group of job seekers. This will occur by not providing the appropriate assistance and support to ensure recipients make a successful transition to work.

Labor's concerns have been noteworthy and properly founded. Our concern that this group of special benefit recipients, subject to the changes outlined in this bill, could possibly be denied access to English Language tuition as well as a full range of job network services is valid.

It would not be uncommon for a lot of these recipients to have minimal or no language skills, which would be a necessity to satisfy the obligations placed upon them.

The Bill was referred to the Senate Community Affairs Committee, in order to scrutinize a range of concerns surrounding this issue.

These concerns in addition to what I have already referred to included access to Job Network Services and Centrelink's ability to effectively impart the essential information required by TPV holders to assist them with their obligations for their activity testing requirements. The ability of TPV holders with poor language skills to fulfil their obligations under the activity test requirements makes them vulnerable to situations that place them at risk of incurring an activity test breach.

Accessibility to English Language tuition must be seen as a Government obligation.

During the course of the Senate Committees Inquiry, over 50 submissions were lodged for deliberation on this bill.

As the Committee progressed, it was further outlined that TPV holders receiving Special Benefits, currently subject to a range of activity test requirements, would under the new changes proposed be required to do additional activities such as Work for the Dole and be obliged to maintain a jobseeker diary and employer contact certificates.

Labor's concern that the mutual obligation requirements of special benefits recipients did not compare or balance out to the existing arrangements was addressed through this hearing.

The fact is that TPV holders were denied access to DIMA/ AMEP English Language Tuition. A very valid concern.

It would therefore come as no surprise those TPV holders without language skills on special benefits struggle with activity testing requirements such as jobseeker diaries. Particularly as these diaries are in English.

It was for this reason that the Government has had to clearly outline the measures they would take to fulfil their responsibilities, not only to the recipient but also to the taxpayer, in order to provide appropriate and effective assistance.

If the Government's aim is to make these recipients self-sufficient then it is only logical that they should be providing them with the necessary assistance, especially with language and literacy tuition.

It was, however, noted during the committee hearing that TPV holders subject to the requirements contained in this Bill would have access to language training. This was very reassuring.

It was further mentioned that language training would be provided by the Department of Education, Science and Training's Language, Literacy and Numeracy Programme (LLNP) rather than through the DIMIA program.

LLNP would provide basic English language, literacy and numeracy training for eligible job seekers whose skills are below the level considered necessary to secure sustainable employment.

LLNP would also be able to provide advanced English language training in order to remove major barriers to the employment and/or the quest for further education or training.

The criteria allowed recipients with any skills below National Reporting System (NRS) Level 3 to be eligible for assistance.

It was also expressed during the Senate Committee that the LLNP program would be a central part of most TPV holder's activity agreements.

Labor is still concerned as to how those with marginal language skills will manage to negotiate their activity requirements.

This is the issue that is at the centre of Labor's amendments. In summary they seek to limit mutual obligation activities to the English language course itself until such a time as the special benefit recipient could be reasonably expected to fulfil additional activities.

This is a serious issue and motivation behind our insisting on these amendments for the Bill to pass.

It is also important to take into consideration that the measures will only apply to TPV holders granted Special Benefits after 1 January 2003. In saying this, 4262 TPV holders who currently receive SpB will be unaffected by the changes in this bill.

Those TPV holders who could lose access to Special Benefits through, for example, earnings made from working and who then reapply for Special Benefits after 1st January 2003 may be affected.

Another concern I have is that TPV holders will have access to Job Matching only from the Job Network.

Labor believes the government should provide full access. The reason they don't provide full access needs to be addressed.

As the Bill currently stands it does not match obligations with supports.

The Government says that the group affected by this Bill should be treated the same as any other job seeker.

If this is to be the case then why do they not have access to the full range of job network services?

In assisting all people on benefits, the primary aim of government should be to get them into the labour market as soon as possible.

Mutual obligation should be precisely that, a two way street.

If the situation remains as it is, people will stay trapped on welfare benefits.

As it stands, Labor will be moving amendments to this Bill to ensure that Special Benefit Recipients are treated fairly. Labor will support this bill on the proviso that the amendments are successful.