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Wednesday, 11 May 2011
Page: 3514


Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (09:20): by leave—We hear a lot in this place and elsewhere about evidence based policy, and indeed I think it was the member for Fraser who moved a motion to that effect which was passed in this House. But, if there were ever any proof needed that evidence based policy gives way to political imperatives every time, it was this inquiry process and this bill. As we have heard, the effect and the purpose of the bill is to impose sanctions on job seekers up to and including losing part of their pay that they will never get back. During the course of the inquiry, almost everyone who fronted up to the inquiry, either in the form of a written submission or to give us evidence in person, said that this was the wrong approach.

Last year there was an independent review commissioned by this government into the compliance framework for the social security system. That review was chaired by Professor Julian Disney. There were a number of recommendations. Prior to the introduction of this bill, the government had not responded to the recommendations, but it is basing its bill on the review and says the review by Professor Disney gave support to the move to impose financial sanctions on job seekers. The only problem with that is that Professor Disney fronted up to the inquiry and gave evidence that he thought that, at best, this bill was premature and was in effect ill judged. He said that he only included a note about that in his independent report because it was raised by other parties during the course of the federal election. He did not think it was a good idea and it was not one that he would have generated himself. It was an idea he felt obliged to raise because it was circulating in public debate. In his recommendation that refers to this proposal, he said that at the very least we should give all the other measures that he has recommended a year to bed down before we embark on something as punitive as suspending people's payments he reasons for that are clear. They were relayed to the committee by job agency after job agency who came before the committee to say that people find the social security system bewildering and that you cannot proceed on an assumption that the reason people miss appointments is that they are somehow seeking to work the system. In fact, evidence was given to the inquiry that the people who want to work the system are precisely the ones who will turn up to every meeting because they know what is required. The people who are going to be hit by this bill are not the ones who are rorting the system but, according to the evidence, the ones who are confused by the system and who potentially find it difficult. That is why the No. 1 recommendation of the independent review was that there be a plain language reworking of all materials associated with job seeker compliance, because until we are sure that job seekers understand their obligations we cannot punish them for failing to meet them.

The second implicit rationale in the bill is that job seekers are somehow not turning up for so-called illegitimate reasons. The problem with that, if we are serious about evidence based policy, is that you would imagine that someone would have been able to come to the inquiry and tell us why it is that people are missing appointments. No-one could do that. The department could not do that and none of the very small number of people who supported the submission could do that. What we do know from the figures is that 20 per cent of people who miss appointments are Indigenous Australians and that 47 per cent of the people who miss appointments are young people. No-one could explain why that was and no-one could explain why it was justified that there should be a disproportionate impact on those people of these harsh penalties.

What almost everyone who appeared before the inquiry agreed with was that we should go back to basics. First of all, let us find out why people are missing these appointments—find out whether it is because they do not have good transport options, find out whether it is because they do not understand the system, find out whether they knew this was necessary in order for continued payment—and then develop programs that are tailored to that. In fact, that is going on. The inquiry heard that the Centrelink working group is looking at that at the moment; its work is not yet complete.

That is why the Greens have put in a dissenting report. We cannot support the passage of this bill. We propose that time be given to allow the recommendations of the independent inquiry to go ahead, to allow the Centrelink working group to do its job of gathering a proper evidence base about why so many young people and so many Indigenous Australians are missing appointments, and to not take the approach that is more stick than carrot and potentially put some of our most disadvantaged job seekers, who are without an income, even further into dire straits.