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Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Page: 12313

Mrs McNAMARA (Dobell) (18:39): I stand in this parliament representing the 10,000 job seekers from Dobell on the Central Coast. The majority of job seekers are genuine in their attempt to secure employment. They do the right thing. They understand that obtaining employment will lead to a more prosperous future and fulfilled life, a life with choice and opportunity. Unfortunately, there are some members of our community who appear uncommitted to finding employment, with many failing to fulfil their mutual obligation whilst receiving income support. This government encourages job seekers to be active in seeking long-term employment. This government also understands that job seekers should have access to a reasonable safety net when not engaged in employment in order to assist them in their genuine search for work. This said, looking for a job should be a full-time job.

This government is committed to building a more robust, efficient and effective employment services system, which assists more job seekers to obtain and secure employment. We are also committed to protecting the integrity of our income support system to ensure that it is affordable and sustainable in the long term. To achieve these outcomes, we require a strong job seeker framework which ensures compliance and includes appropriate incentives and sanctions for those presently receiving income support. This is necessary if we are to facilitate and encourage widespread change in job seeker behaviour, to promote a more efficient employment services system and to enhance the integrity of our social security system.

The Social Security Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Job Seeker Compliance Framework) Bill 2014 strengthens the incentives for job seekers to honour their scheduled appointments with employment service providers and ensures penalties are applied where a job seeker fails to meet their obligation without reasonable excuse. The measures contained within this bill build upon our commitment to reinforce mutual obligation for job seekers who receive income support in addition to reducing red tape for employment service providers. As part of their mutual obligation, a job seeker is required to attend monthly scheduled appointments with their employment service provider to discuss their job search progress and available options in regard to obtaining employment. This enhances and assists opportunity for people to move from welfare to work. Currently job seekers are required to attend one appointment per month. This bill seeks to ensure that job seekers fulfil their obligation whilst in receipt of income support.

From 1 January 2015, if a job seeker fails to attend a scheduled appointment with their employment service provider without a reasonable excuse, their income support payment will be suspended until they actually attend a rescheduled appointment. Only when they attend the rescheduled appointment will the suspension on their income support be lifted with back pay provided for the period of non-compliance. This improves the present arrangement where back pay is paid for simply just rescheduling an appointment and not necessarily attending it.

From 1 July 2015, this bill will further strengthen compliance arrangements by ensuring that if a job seek has income support suspended as a result of failing to meet their obligation, they will not be entitled to back pay for the period the payment was suspended due to non-compliance. By allowing the immediate application of penalties and removing loopholes by which job seekers can fail to attend appointments with employment service providers without consequence, we are making the application of compliance measures more effective and efficient. These changes are necessary to ensure that those receiving income support are fulfilling their obligation and requirements to earn, learn or participate in Work for the Dole.

In 2013-14, 12.75 million appointments were scheduled for job seekers and 4.47 million of these appointments were missed, representing a non-attendance rate of 35 per cent. Alarmingly, 2.7 million of these appointments were missed without the provision of a legitimate reason. In 2013-14, 280,000 people—that is, more than one in five job seekers—who receive activity tested payments had a participation failure against their name for missing a scheduled appointment. This simply is unacceptable and undermines the integrity of our income support system and social responsibilities. Furthermore, the failure of job seekers to meet these requirements is a significant waste of taxpayers' money and the resources of employment service providers. It is estimated that changes within this bill will result in $106 million of savings by removing the need to back pay job seekers who fail to uphold their mutual obligation requirements. I would like to emphasise that these changes will not impact—I repeat: will not impact—upon those who fail to attend a scheduled appointment due to circumstances beyond their control—for example, someone who has taken ill or has an urgent carer's obligation. Provided prior notice is given, and their appointment is rescheduled, no penalties will be imposed.

The previous speaker mentioned safeguards for vulnerable job seekers. Current safeguards for vulnerable job seekers will not be affected by this bill. Additional safeguards are in place for vulnerable job seekers. Vulnerable job seekers are identified on the IT systems used by employment providers and Centrelink by a vulnerability indicator which ensures that providers and Centrelink staff are aware that the job seeker's personal circumstances may impact on their capacity to meet their requirements. Data indicates that job seekers with vulnerability indicators do have a poorer attendance rate than the general job seeker population—that is 62 per cent, compared to 65 per cent—and are more likely to be reported for noncompliance. Forty-two per cent had at least one report in 2013-14, compared to 32 per cent of the general population. However, they are no more likely than any other job seeker to incur participation failures for nonattendance at appointments. This shows that the safeguards are working.

This government believes that job seekers need to be proactive in meeting their obligations. This includes informing their provider beforehand when they are unable to attend a scheduled meeting and providing a legitimate reason for failure to attend. If they fail to provide legitimate advice or a reason they should be held accountable for not meeting their obligations. These changes are about job seekers doing the right thing. We want to see these job seekers take responsibility for their actions and participate as conscientious members of society. This government is implementing a suite of measures designed to assist job seekers and diversify employment opportunities. We owe this much to the 10,000 men and women on the Central Coast—3,900 of whom are aged below 24—who are presently searching for work.

This government is ensuring that all Australians on income support have the opportunity to find and secure employment. Under this government's reinvigorated Work for the Dole program, job seekers are provided opportunities to develop the skills and experience needed to move from welfare to work and contribute back to their community. Earlier this year, I welcomed the Assistant Minister for Employment, the Hon. Luke Hartsuyker MP, to Dobell to officially launch the government's new Work for the Dole program. Since my election as the member for Dobell I have strongly advocated the need for the reintroduction of an effective Work for the Dole program. Job seekers benefit from Work for the Dole activities by developing on-the-job skills, demonstrating abilities to potential employers, obtaining references from work experience employers, participating in training, staying connected to the workforce and, importantly for some, developing a strong work ethic. Importantly, programs such as Work for the Dole provide the long-term unemployed the opportunity to enhance their confidence and self-esteem while developing skills to enable them to enter into employment.

In addition to Work for the Dole, another incentive introduced by this government for long-term young unemployed Australians is the job commitment bonus. This bonus will provide a payment of $2,500 to eligible young Australians aged 18 to 30 who have been on Newstart allowance or youth allowance as job seekers for 12 months or more if they find and keep a job, and remain completely off welfare, for a continuous period of 12 months. Eligible young people will receive a further payment of $4,000 if they remain in a job and off welfare for a continuous 24-month period. As of March 2014, there were 5,425 recipients of Newstart allowance and 1,014 recipients of youth allowance (other) in the Dobell electorate. The job commitment bonus will provide approximately 2,000 eligible recipients in Dobell with a real incentive to obtain long-term paid employment. I am proud to be part of a government that is committed to ensuring positive outcomes for our youth on the Central Coast.

Finding a local job can be a challenge. Information released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicates that as of August 2014, approximately 148,000 people on the Central Coast were engaged in some form of employment. Currently we see 26 per cent of our workforce—that is, approximately 38,000 people—commute out of the region for employment every working day. While this government continues to build a stronger economy that can support more local jobs, it remains true that not every region has the capacity to host the appropriate amounts of employment opportunities for job seekers; therefore, when required, job seekers will be supported and encouraged to look beyond their local area to find work. This government has introduced a Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job program, which provides practical and financial assistance to job seekers who require assistance to relocate in order to take up ongoing and sustainable employment. Eligible job seekers may be entitled to be reimbursed up to $3,000 if relocating to a capital city or $6,000 if relocating to a regional area; and an additional $3,000 if relocating with dependent children. Relocation assistance is flexible and can be used for a range of relocation costs. Relocation assistance may also be paid up-front to job seekers displaying financial hardship. This government is providing practical and feasible solutions to help Australians find work and build better lives.

This government also wants to see senior Australians have access to employment opportunities. This bill also introduces amendments so that job seekers who are aged 55 or older, who have a full-time mutual obligation requirement, will no longer meet this requirement simply by undertaking part-time voluntary or paid work. The aim of this amendment is to ensure job seekers aged 55 to 59 who are currently engaged with Job Services Australia are encouraged to continue looking for full-time work. We have an ageing population and the ratio of working-age people to people aged over 65 years will fall from the current five to one to three to one by 2050. In order for us to increase mature-age workforce participation, we need to actively engage with employers and work with them to develop opportunities for mature Australians. This government's Restart program offers a wage subsidy of up to $10,000 for employers willing to hire job seekers aged 50 or older. Under the scheme, eligible employers would receive $3,000 if they hire a full-time, mature-age job seeker who has been unemployed and on income support for six months, and employ that person for at least six months. Once the job seeker has been working for the same employer for 12 months, the employer receives another payment of $3,000. The employer will then receive a further $2,000 once the job seeker has been with them for 18 months, and another $2,000 at 24 months. This amounts to $10,000 over two years. Restart will benefit as many as 32,000 mature-age job seekers every year and assist them in finding ongoing employment. This government acknowledges that Australians aged 50 or over have a great deal to contribute to their community and country and that they are often overlooked in the labour market. It is also difficult for mature workers to find work after losing a job. This is despite qualities such as reliability, experience, initiative, skills, stability, insight, leadership and a lifelong work ethic. The Restart program will benefit not only the economy but also mature Australians as they continue to enjoy the benefits of working.

This government is committed to assisting and supporting people to obtain long-term employment. We do this because we are conscious of the benefits of work not only to an individual but to their families and the broader community. Australians are known worldwide for their generosity. We are always willing and ready to put our hands in our pockets and help those in need. This government strongly believes in a hand-up not a hand-out. We are always there to give a hand-up. What we need to ensure is that we do not fall into the trap of giving unsustainable hand-outs without receiving anything in return.

The measures within this bill are not unreasonable. We are asking those individuals looking for work and receiving income support to fulfil their mutual obligations. We are asking them not only to honour the Australian taxpayer and the role of employment agencies but to help themselves by increasing their chances of finding work. This legislation is not about penalising those genuinely requiring a helping hand during difficult times. It is about making sure the right thing is done by those receiving income support and them doing the right thing for themselves, their families, their self-esteem, their community and the Australian taxpayer. I commend this bill to the House.