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Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Page: 2412

Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongMinister for Financial Services and Superannuation and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) (11:03): I am not sure I have appeared in front of you, Mr Deputy Speaker Lyons, so congratulations. We are a government animated with ideas and policies for the future to strengthen our economy, to prepare ourselves for the challenges and opportunities ahead, to back our people and to build our workforce of tomorrow and beyond.

As part of Building Australia's Future Workforce package announced in the 2011 budget, the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Income Support and Other Measures) Bill 2012 will amend the Social Security Act 1991 and Social Security Administration Act 1999 to give effect to important income support reforms. These reforms will provide greater incentives for young Australians to engage in education, training and employment, while encouraging parents to re-engage in the workforce.

We know that many Australians find it tough to make ends meet but we also know the best thing to ease cost-of-living pressures is to have a decent-paying job. Putting in a place a system that ensures fairness at work is therefore important, but we also need to do everything we can to encourage, prompt, stimulate and inspire people into work. The Gillard government wants to ensure that all Australians are able to share in the vast opportunities available in our strong economy. It is an economy that, despite some of the softness, is still one which many countries abroad are very envious of; an Australian economy that is expected to grow solidly and become even more prosperous, more fair, more skilled and more creative.

The reforms to income support payments for young people and parents represent a significant and continued investment by the Australian government in education skills and the future of Australia's workforce. This reform package will also provide greater incentives and support for young unemployed people to engage in education, training and employment. By delaying access to Newstart allowance from 1 July 2012, all eligible 21-year-olds will receive the same rate of youth allowance whether they are unemployed, in training or a student. This, along with the extension of the earn or learn participation requirements, will encourage study and help overcome structural incentives which currently exist to discourage employment.

Be in no doubt: we believe that structural disincentives to getting a job do need to be addressed. From 1 July 2012 there will be a more generous income-free area of $143 a fortnight, instead of the current $62, and a larger working credit limit of $3,500 compared with the current $1,000. We will reward young people who take up part-time work as a stepping stone to full-time employment. Young jobseekers receiving youth allowance will be able to earn more and still retain their payment.

This reform package also amends a number of payments and supplements to align the ages at which a person will cease to be qualified for youth disability supplement, sickness allowance and the long-term income support payment rate for students. These amendments will ensure that all young people aged 16 to 21 years of age who are under similar circumstances are in receipt of the same income support payment.

To provide greater incentives for parents of school age children to re-engage in the workforce, and to make eligibility more consistent for all parents, regardless of when they first claim parenting payment, the government is phasing out the grandparenting arrangements for parent payment recipients for a youngest child aged 12 to 15 years to enable those single principal carer parents who may qualify for Newstart allowance to see greater benefits from their participation and to earn up to $400 more per fortnight before losing their eligibility for payment.

A more generous income test will be introduced from 1 January 2013. Affected parenting payment recipients will have access to a range of additional assistance to ensure that they have the support they need to build their skills, to re-engage in the workforce and to provide their families with greater financial security and a positive future.

This reform package will also simplify the compliance framework. Announced as part of the Building Australia's Future Workforce package, daily penalty amounts for jobseekers failing to attend an interview with an employment services provider will be aligned with the penalty for failing to attend an activity or job interview, which is one-tenth of a person's fortnightly rate of participation payment. This change will ensure jobseekers are not penalised because a weekend happens to fall before they have the opportunity to re-engage with an employment services provider.

Finally, this reform package will amend the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act 2000 to provide the appropriation to fund the 12-month extension of the student education trusts measure as part of the extension of the Cape York welfare reform trials announced by the Minister For Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs in 2011. Parents and caregivers in remote Indigenous communities in Far North Queensland will continue to be supported in saving for the costs of their children's education, a key element in Closing the Gap targets in Indigenous education.

Let me say again that we know that many Australians do find it really tough to make ends meet. We are a Labor government fighting for Labor values and looking out for ordinary, everyday people who pay the mortgage or the rent and the bills at the end of the month and do not have much left over. We do get it that things are not easy out there for many. But the best way to deal with cost-of-living pressures and to make ends meet is to have a decent-paying job. These reforms will help get more of our fellow citizens into work and into a job, and able to reach out to their future.

I thank members for their contributions as I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time. Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.