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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 532

Dr SOUTHCOTT (10:21 AM) —I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Employment Services Reform) Bill 2008, which outlines the compliance regime that will operate for the new employment services which will begin on 1 July this year. The opposition wish to place on record that we believe that these amendments do improve this legislation. The most substantive of the amendments is the one that was moved by Senator Xenophon relating to an independent review of the compliance regime after 12 months. This will begin on or about 1 July 2010 and it will be a useful review to inform the parliament on how the compliance regime is working.

Very importantly also, the opposition was concerned that six no show, no pay failures over a six-month period was too many and that it did leave open the possibility that someone could be slipping through the gaps and missing their obligations without any action being taken other than being docked one day’s welfare. I welcome the minister’s announcement that this will be done through legislative instrument. We believe that this goes a significant way towards improving the bill.

A remaining concern that the opposition does have is the treatment of deliberately missing a job interview which is part of someone’s obligations. I accept that missing a job interview has been treated differently under different employment service regimes over the last 15 years. Now we are moving towards a system where there will be three no show, no pay failures before a comprehensive compliance assessment is triggered. That does capture when someone deliberately misses a job interview, and would be one no show, no pay failure before a comprehensive compliance assessment. Having said that, the number of job seekers who receive a penalty for deliberately missing a job interview is quite small—of the order of about 200 per month in recent times.

We know from the updated economic and fiscal outlook that the outlook for jobs will deteriorate quite dramatically over the next 18 months. On the government’s own forecast the unemployment rate will reach seven per cent by June 2010. The numbers of Australians out of work will increase by 300,000 by June 2010. This increase will place enormous pressure on Centrelink, on employment service providers and on the job seekers themselves. It is very important for us as a parliament to make sure that we have a compliance regime which is effective but which also gives the strong message that it does not give up on job seekers and that it does make sure that, although the labour market will look quite bleak over the next 18 months, job seekers do remain actively looking for work and do not become discouraged.

None of the other amendments passed in the Senate are objectionable—the discretion for Centrelink, the timing of the penalty amount and putting the comprehensive compliance assessment in the legislation. On reflection, the severe financial hardship provisions are a good improvement. One of the weaknesses with the existing bill was that financial case management to deal with people in financial hardship had been dispensed with. In summary, the opposition agrees that these amendments do improve the bill. Having seen these amendments, the opposition will be supporting this bill.

Question agreed to.