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Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Page: 2874

Senator McLUCAS (QueenslandParliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister) (09:53): I thank senators for their contributions to this debate. The Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Disability Support Pension Participation Reforms) Bill 2012 introduces two key reforms to the disability support pension announced in 2011-12 federal budget as part of the Building Australia's Future Workforce package of measures. These significant reforms will, for the first time, introduce new participation requirements for certain disability support pensioners and allow disability support pensioners to work more hours without having their payment suspended or cancelled. This improved support for Australians with disability will help them into work wherever possible while making sure there is an essential safety net for those who are unable to support themselves fully through work. Many people with disability are great contributors to the workforce and many more want to work. This bill contains three disability support pension measures, all effective from 1 July 2012. In the first measure, more generous rules will allow all disability support pensioners to work up to 30 hours a week without having their payment suspended or cancelled. These people will be able to receive a part pension subject to usual means testing arrangements. Since the previous government's introduction of the Welfare to Work changes on 11 May 2005, newly granted disability support pensioners can work up to only 15 hours a week before their payment is suspended or cancelled. The 15-hour rule can make it difficult for disability support pensioners to find work limited to less than 15 hours a week. People will now be able to take up work or increase their hours, if they are able to do so, and the change will help address the low workforce participation rate of people with disability. The second measure will introduce new participation requirements to encourage disability support pensioners with some capacity to work to engage with the workforce. Disability support pension recipients under the age of 35, with a work capacity of at least eight hours a week—that is an important proviso—will be required to attend regular participation interviews with Centrelink to develop participation plans tailored to their individual circumstances. Senator Siewert, I think that is an important phrase: 'tailored to their individual circum­stances', helping build their capacity. Participation plans could involve working with employment services to improve job readiness, searching for employment, or undertaking training, volunteering or rehabilitation. There will also be the oppor­tunity to connect disability support pension recipients to other services and supports that they may need to overcome barriers to participation, such as drug and alcohol rehabilitation, mental health services and other community services. Exceptions to these participation requirements will apply to disability support recipients who have a work capacity of zero to seven hours or who work in an Australian disability enterprise or under the supported wage system or who are manifestly eligible for disability support pension.

The third measure introduces new, more generous rules to allow people receiving disability support pension who have permanent disability and no future work capacity to travel overseas for more than 13 weeks while retaining access to their pension, excluding certain add-on payments such as rent assistance. Existing portability rules will continue to apply to disability support pension recipients who may have some ability to work. Other working-age payments will not be affected by these changes to portability arrangements.

In closing can I say that the government refutes absolutely the assertion that Labor is of the view that people with disability do not want to work. Of course we know that people with disability are desperate; they really want support to get into the workforce. We are of the view that these measures will certainly assist people with disability into employment. This measure is designed explicitly to support people with disability into employment and to retain employment when they have it. It is designed to remove the barriers.

We should recognise that this measure should not be viewed in isolation. This measure came as a package of measures in the previous budget and includes a range of other measures to support people with disability into employment. You will recall that our government have uncapped the disability employment services. We have increased funding into disability employment services to the total value of $3.4 billion over four years. We have introduced a range of wage subsidies that people with disability have taken up in good numbers. The National Disability Strategy is designed to encourage people with disability into all aspects of community life, including employment.

Last week I was very pleased to be at the Every Australian Counts rally in Brisbane. There were 2½ thousand people there, joining thousands and thousands of people right around the country. I observed that the loudest applause occurred when any of the speakers spoke about the fact that an NDIS could potentially assist people into employment. That is what people with disability want. They want to get into jobs, they want to retain those jobs and they want to be supported to do it, and this measure will assist in that process.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.