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Minister announces new arrangements for job seekers on unemployment benefits; discusses GST applicable to rental in caravan parks.

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PETER CAVE:  The unemployed will soon be forced to sign an agreement to undertake certain activities if they are to receive the dole. The extension of the federal government’s Mutual Obligation Scheme kicks in from July. Job seekers will have to join a Work for the Dole scheme, literacy education or work training as soon as they receive unemployment benefits.


Community services minister, Larry Anthony, joins us now; he is speaking to Fiona Reynolds.


FIONA REYNOLDS: Mr Anthony, how will your crackdown help people find jobs if they aren’t out there?


LARRY ANTHONY: Well, 500,000 new jobs have been created since this government came to power. What we’ve got to ensure though is that people who are receiving, say, Newstart Allowance, encourage them to prepare a work plan to ensure that they can provide something back to the community, or most importantly, get employment themselves.


At the end of last year I announced a Preparing for Work Agreement, which will be done within Centrelink, and that’s where there’s a greater assessment, a referral, a work plan and a follow-up to people on Newstart Allowance.


Now, as of 1 July this year, along with announcements made by Minister Abbott, we want to ensure that people will have to sign an agreement so they know their obligations for receiving social security payments, and part of that of course is ensuring that they give something back to the community, and most importantly, of course, that they are doing a Preparing for Work Plan.


FIONA REYNOLDS: So, no agreement, no dole?


LARRY ANTHONY: What it effectively means is: 1 July, you’ll have seven days to sign an agreement - that’s an agreement of course which could range from a range of mutual obligations. It could be improvements in literacy, it could be voluntary work, it could be a mutual obligation like Work for the Dole or Green Corps, and they must sign that agreement if they are to receive Newstart Allowance within seven days.


FIONA REYNOLDS: As I understand currently, they have six months in which to undertake those activities - so you’re reigning it in so to speak?


LARRY ANTHONY: Well, actually, it is still six months. It’s six months rather than waiting, let’s say, two to six weeks which is the case now - that’s for 18- to 24-year-olds; and for 25 to 34, it’s still 12 months, but the agreement will come into place immediately.


FIONA REYNOLDS: Is there an age limit on this?


LARRY ANTHONY: Well, the age limit, let’s say for Mutual Obligation, is 35; beyond that all Newstart recipients will be required to seek this agreement. And what we are trying to do is to provide an action plan for them to make a better evaluation of what they can do in their particular labour market, and also giving them those options, through the Job Network, to seek employment.


FIONA REYNOLDS: On another matter that is close to your heart, that is the caravan parks and the GST that’s applied to rental in caravan parks. Joanna Gash, a Liberal MP backbencher, has described the GST on caravan park rents as a ‘stuff-up’. Do you agree?


LARRY ANTHONY: Well, Joanna Gash is a very good member in her area, and we have got a lot of good coalition members but today, of course, the focus is on a Preparing for Work Agreement and, ultimately, that’s what’s going to be good for job seekers: to get back into work.


FIONA REYNOLDS: But you told people in your electorate, back in February, that you hope that you’d be able to come to them shortly and announce that the tax had been removed from caravan park rentals. Is that not your position anymore?


LARRY ANTHONY: Well, my position of course is that, like most members of parliament, whether they’re wearing a ministerial hat or a backbencher, is to represent their views to the government and, indeed, I’ve done that to the executive of this government. But the new tax plan is coming into place of course … the new tax system on 1 July. And most importantly, for people in mobile home parks, of course all their pensions go up by a minimum of four per cent, rental increase goes up by seven per cent. And currently, park owners have the option of either not to charge GST or to charge a concessional rate of five per cent, where they can claim back input costs.


FIONA REYNOLDS: So do you support a GST on caravan park rents - yes or no?


LARRY ANTHONY: The most important point is: are we going to see rents change substantially in mobile home parks; and if you use a concessional rate then park owners can claim back their input costs. So I anticipate that rents won’t change substantially within parks but, obviously, they have a particular issue that many other members, particularly Joanna Gash, feels strongly about.


FIONA REYNOLDS: Larry Anthony, thank you for joining us.




PETER CAVE: The community services minister there with Fiona Reynolds.