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Thursday, 23 June 2011
Page: 3772

Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (16:50): We are looking at yet another example of this government's complete inability to manage any sort of legislative program. It is incredible that they cannot seem to get anything organised when it involves timing. What is particularly serious in regard to this particular piece of legislation is the very severe vulnerability of the people that it affects. As Senator Fifield pointed out, we will not be opposing this legislation—it is a government budget measure—but we will be watching very carefully. It is a small example of how poorly this legislation has been thought through, developed and put into parliament that the government's own members of the Community Affairs Committee which had a speed-read—you could not call it an inquiry—of the bill recommend that '… an Advisory Group engaging community organisations be established to work with government on the implementation of the DSP changes.' What a great shame that they could not quite manage to set up an advisory group to look at implementation of DSP changes before they put this legislation through, before they ended up with so many ridiculous and possibly very serious unintended conse¬≠quences which will come from this legislation. Every one of the seven submitters to our inquiry on this legislation made the point that it had been rushed through, that there was no time to put together a real submission, and raised questions about what was proposed. In fact, some demonstrated a misunderstanding of what was proposed—not because they do not have expertise in the field but because of the complete lack of information from the government on the point. We even had the very bizarre situation of Minister Macklin writing to a witness, after the inquiry—the speed read—had finished, to try to correct some of the information. This is the information that should be in regulations. It is information that should be available to people. We went through some of the most ridiculous inquiries, and all we have ended up with is, 'Take it on faith from me,' says Minister Macklin about a number of issues that are very, very concerning to a lot of people in this area.

One of the smaller areas of effect is the 25,000 sole parents with children aged between 12 and 15 who will now lose up to $56 a week for each child due to the changes. Can we think about these people. Firstly, they have been grandfathered since 2006. They are sole parents. There is a requirement on them already that they seek to work for up to 15 hours a week. They have all been in this situation since at least 2006. Let us think about why these 25,000 parents might not yet be employed for up to 15 hours a week. I do not think it is going to be because they have not tried to get a job. Could it be because there are not jobs available to suit their skills? Could it be because they have a disability or a dependant with a disability? Could it be because of a chronic illness? We have a system that has encouraged these sole parents into work. They are supposed to be working up to 15 hours a week; they are not. So what does this government do? They do not go out and try to find out why; they just change the rules for people who have been grandfathered. Fifty-six dollars a week is a significant amount of money for those sole parents. Every OECD survey and every other survey sees sole parents with young children as the most impoverished people in our communities, and yet this happens without any investigation whatsoever.

We also have the cuts of $43 a week for young unemployed people aged 21. I must admit that I have to agree with Senator Siewert that so many of these measures just seem to be a 'Quick, what's a way to save some money.' From July, these young people would lose access to Newstart and stay on youth allowance for a year after their 21st birthday. They are anticipating that over four years they will save $184 million with this, but it is a cut of $43 a week for young unemployed people living independently of their parents. It is just bizarre that yet again we have another very vulnerable group who have been targeted by this government to achieve some savings. The learn or earn requirements certainly are something that we would espouse. It is something that has been espoused and has been applied, but the sudden change in age and the sudden requirement that this move up: what is it designed to do? Send young unemployed young people who are not at university back home? Gee, that is great, if they have got a home to go to. Did we think about some of the reasons why this group in particular might be people who are not living at home? There have got to be other issues here, as there are in the area of the sole parents who have had a requirement to work since 2006 and yet have still not made it.

Then we come to the most bizarre measure of all, and that is the requirements regarding the disability support pension. I would like the government to seriously consider whether they can delay the introduction of this measure until they have had a look at the impacts of it and any potential benefits. Senator Siewert talked a little about the figures on how much this is going to save the government and that it seems quite strange. They seem to be not only quite strange but also quite cruel. The government talks about encouraging people into work by providing programs of support, but let us look at the way this scheme has been engineered to work. You apply for a disability support pension. According to various figures, between 6,000 and 18,000 people a year who apply will be told, 'No, you cannot have disability support pension. Give us evidence about your capacity to work.' The way to get the disability support pension, of course, is to fail in having a capacity to work. This is a fantastic way to talk about creating dignity for people by giving them jobs. Instead of setting up a system that allows people to work to the best of their ability and receive a disability support pension depending on the level of work that they can achieve and their costs, what we have here is the appalling and disgusting situation of people being set up to fail. You apply for the disability support pension. You get knocked back. You are encouraged to undertake a program of support—whatever the heck that is, because no definition has yet been provided, although some ideas about what it might be were given to us during the speedy inquiry. You undertake this program of support. If you fail the program of support, then you can reapply for the disability support pension. And that is exactly what the figures that the department has given us are supposed to demonstrate: that they are expecting a high failure rate on capacity to work.

As I understand it—as Senator Siewert said earlier, we have seen several lots of figures—the government is expecting that between September this year, the new early start date, and January 2012 there will be 6,000 people rejected for the disability support pension. But, over the subsequent 12 months, 3,400 of those 6,000 will end up being eligible for the disability support pension. More than half of them will have gone through the little hoops and jumped into whatever program of support they have been told to go to. And then they will be told, 'Sorry, you don't have a capacity to work. You can reapply for a disability support pension.' All this does is save the government $128 a week.

One presumes that this more than 50 per cent case is based on the current impairment tables which will be used between September and 1 January, when the new impairment tables, which no-one has yet seen, will come into force—another brilliant move on the part of this government. What allegedly will happen in 2011-12 is that nearly 15,000 people will be initially rejected, and almost 3,000 of those will end up on DSP. And these figures continue to go up. But what is particularly worrying is that in 2013-14 and 2014-15 we will end up with 7,500 people eventually going onto DSP, despite the fact that around 18,000 people will have applied. So in the last two years of this estimates period, one-third of the people who apply and are rejected the first time will get the little badge the second time—after they have failed programs of support—according to the figures that we have been given. As I said, I am appalled that such a program could have been engineered in this way, to set people up for failure.

As Senator Siewert also mentioned, there is the extremely worrying issue that there are no time frames whatsoever within this. We are told that the longest job building capacity program goes for 18 months. I think the suggestion was that that is some sort of an end figure to put on it. But these figures suggest people are coming on and off within 12-month periods. We are told there are 13-week courses. There is nothing here that would suggest that you could not be sent from one program of support to another program of support and to another program of support by the government. If we have people rushing around on wheels, why not put them on several wheels and see what happens?

The coalition absolutely supports the principle of assisting everyone to work to their abilities—to have a job and to be supported into that job. But this piece of legislation—which has been brought forward, which is being rushed through, of which there is no detail and which appears to have been engineered simply to save money and hurt vulnerable people at the same time—is not worthy of anybody who would call themselves a government in this country.

I am disgusted by it and I very much join Senator Fifield in making the point that we, along with every organisation that assists people on income support and people with disabilities in this country, will be watching this like hawks. The unintended conse­quences of it could be horrific. We will be there. I hope we do not get the chance to say, 'I told you so,' but I am less than confident that that will not be the case.