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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 10215


Senator MARSHALL (Victoria) (12:28): Senator Siewert's passion on these issues is there for all to see. I certainly commend her advocacy in these areas. I know she is very genuine and takes a very active and constructive role in the committee's deliberations.

I would like to commend the report that Senator Back has tabled today and thank him for his chairmanship of that committee. As always, we have striven to reach consensus, and in the bulk of the report we have achieved consensus. It is a report which Labor senators absolutely endorse, even though we have included some extra comments and recommendations because we believe there are issues not dealt with comprehensively enough in the report. We do support all the recommendations that are in the report.

Whilst the recommendations in the committee's report go some way to addressing the immediate concerns of Labor senators, it is plain that the Newstart allowance is too low, particularly for single recipients. For this reason, Newstart allowance single should be increased, taking into account other potential increases consequential to recommendations made in the committee's report.

Labor senators believe that indexing arrangements for Newstart need to be reviewed and that consideration be given to whether, like pensions, the payment should not decrease in real terms.

Labor senators note that recommendations 4, 5 and 6 in the committee's report are targeted at increasing incentives for Newstart recipients to engage with the workforce as they transition away from the payment. These recommendations are a good beginning. However, Labor senators believe that it is more appropriate that the income-free threshold for Newstart allowance recipients should be increased to the equivalent of eight hours per fortnight at the minimum wage. That, in effect, is half a shift per week before people lose payments. We believe that is a good incentive to get people into the workforce. Hopefully, half a shift a week will then lead to more hours, more days and will build confidence in an experience and skill base that people require in the workforce before people start to lose payments. We recommend that.

We also note and refer to Senator Back's comments about the enormous complexity that the committee was confronted with on how different payments intersect with different circumstances that people are in. It was very difficult to get our head around many of those issues. While I have the greatest respect for Senate committees, we effectively write reports based on evidence presented to us. Unfortunately, in this instance we neither had the time nor the ability to actually drive down and do any investigative work ourselves to look at some of the ways that the policy might need to be changed to deal with some of the enormous complexity.

It has been 12 years since the last significant review of the payment system. In the last 12 years the nature of work has changed quite dramatically. We believe that 12 years on from the last review, the McClure review, it is timely to conduct another comprehensive review with a particular focus on allowance payments. The SenateEducation, Employment and Workplace Relations References Committee had neither the capacity nor the time to do that. Such a review should consider indexing arrangements; adequate payment rates; participation requirements; incentives and support to work; supplements such as rent assistance; job support services, including the Job Services Australia incentives framework for providers; and the changing nature of the labour market.

The review should also consider how tailored assistance can be better provided to people who face particular barriers to employment—for example, young people, sole parents, people with a partial capacity to work and people who have been unemployed for more than a year. Newstart is designed to transition people from unemployment into work. Unfortunately, because of a whole range of reasons, Newstart allowance is the only support for a significant number of people in our community. So let me again say that, as far as Labor senators are concerned, the payment is too low. Labor senators have recommended, in addition to the good recommendations in the bulk of the report, which we agree with, that the government increase Newstart allowance single, taking into account the relationship with the base rate and other payment design changes already recommended by the committee.

Labor senators also recommend that the government review the indexing arrangements for Newstart allowance and other allowance payments. We also recommend that the government increase the income-free threshold for Newstart allowance recipients to the equivalent of eight hours work per fortnight at the minimum wage. Labor senators recommend that the government commission a comprehensive review of Newstart allowance and other allowance payments.

Let me thank the secretariat. They always produce reports of the finest quality for us. This report is no exception. I know that a power of work went into getting a report that the whole committee signed onto. Again, I want to thank not only Senator Back but also the secretariat for achieving a unanimous report. I recommend the report to the Senate and I recommend the additional comments and the additional recommendations of Labor senators. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.