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Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Page: 12317

Ms RYAN (LalorOpposition Whip) (18:54): As has already been stated, Labor agrees with the no-show no-pay principle for appointments contained in the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Job Seeker Compliance Framework) Bill 2014. However, we do have some concerns regarding a number of measures contained within the legislation.

Yesterday Melbourne experienced a wild thunder-and-lightning storm. It delayed planes from Melbourne. On-the-ground commuters faced chaos on the roads and the public transport system. Radio talkback was full of people calling in to say it had taken them an hour to travel five kilometres or that it had taken 2½ hours to get to work. There was one story of a four-hour commute. People in Melbourne were sitting in these cars waiting at bus stops and train stations. Some of them were people from Lalor—outer metro workers trying to get to their place of employment.

There would also have been job seekers from Lalor sitting in these cars and waiting on platforms—job seekers who would have been late for their appointments through no fault of their own, job seekers who currently would be able to make an explanation and hopefully be able to reschedule their appointments. I listened with interest to the member for Dobell when she talked about the fact that there would be no penalty as long as prior notice is given, and I wondered how someone sitting at a train station or at a bus stop or even in a car on the highway is going to give prior notice for not meeting an appointment. The legislators in this place always need to bear in mind personal circumstances, circumstances that do not necessarily occur to those of us here in Canberra who do not face the same problems in getting to work that those back in our electorates do.

This legislation means that next year those job seekers might have their payments suspended. A day like yesterday could mean automatic suspension of payments. Hopefully common sense would prevail and these payments would be reinstated, but even a short period with no payment means limited money to catch the train or drive the car to the rescheduled appointment. It is reassuring to hear that the provisions that already exist within the system will be maintained despite this legislation—but we will wait and see how that pans out on the ground.

Labor does believe that job seekers need to be assisted to find work. I believe that most job seekers want that opportunity. They want to work. They value not only the income but the pride in employment. Labor agrees there must be measures in place that require mutual obligation in receiving a support payment while seeking work. In government we drove policy and reforms to do just that.

Being a former teacher and school principal, and someone who spent a lot of years working at the senior end of secondary school, I have heard a lot of reluctance—

Mr Ewen Jones: Were you working or were you a teacher?

Ms RYAN: I will ignore that comment from the member for Herbert and continue.

Mr Robert interjecting

Ms RYAN: Because your wife is a teacher does not make the comment any more forgivable—by either her or me.

Over many years I have heard of students' reluctance to register for Centrelink. These might be school leavers who are reluctant to register for Centrelink—often out of pride—and who have to be told that they need to register as a job seeker. But the message from governments and the community over time is that standing in a queue at Centrelink means that, somehow, you are a dole bludger, notwithstanding that we have a system that means you need to register as a job seeker to get support to find a job. Sometimes they are reluctant because they fear the punitive measures that might occur because they have registered. This can come from family history and family knowledge.

I have had frustrated former students outline the efforts they have undertaken to find employment. As a mother of three adult sons, I have lived some of those frustrations with my children. I have seen their logbooks of job applications written—and it is not just school leavers but university graduates. Recently in my electorate I met with two recent university graduates looking for entry level work. Both were looking for entry level work in the finance sector. These men—both refugees to this country who had gone on and completed degrees—could sit there and show me their work history. Prior to entering education they had done menial manual labour, consistently worked and had found their way to university. They had a situation where they were applying for jobs and being told that they were overqualified—obviously, they had a degree and they did not want them to drive a forklift anymore. They were applying for entry level jobs and being told that they were underqualified because they did not have experience. We all know the story. We know how the job market works. What we have to bear in mind when we legislate is those people and the impact it can have when you are seeking jobs, not getting the interviews you want, not getting the positions you want—not even for menial jobs that three years previously you were successful in gaining. We have to remember the impact that can have on the individual over time.

Have I also known young people who disengage from the workforce with no sense of purpose? Of course I have. But it is not like the old days where they could collect payment with no obligation. Those days are long gone. I have equally sat with people over 50 in my electorate office when they have come in with those same logs that they are presenting to Centrelink and those same frustrations. What worries me about this piece of legislation is that there is not built into it protections for vulnerable job seekers. And I mean vulnerable job seekers: those people suffering from mental illness that could in fact have been brought on by this process—if you are out there looking for a job every day for 12 months it is going to impact on your mental health; those people who are drug affected; those people who might be homeless—and in my electorate of Lalor couch surfing for young people is a serious problem; those people who have limited English; those people who may in fact be finding it difficult to find work because the barrier to them fighting work is prejudice. I hear that from various support services locally, where job seekers come back time and time again to people and say, whether it be true or not, that they feel that they are not being successful in getting a position because of their English, because they come from somewhere else. It happens.

I hear from those supporting people with mental illness. I hear from those supporting the homeless. These services have expressed deep concern for their clients, our most vulnerable job seekers, and their capacity to cope if the government seeks to disadvantage them further. So I have issues with this piece of legislation is. I want to see some provisions in there that guarantee me that those people will not be further hurt by this legislation. Of course, the Centrelink figures back up those concerns. There were over 13,000 no show, no pay penalties to job seekers with known vulnerability indicators in 2013. We know that. And we know that in the current system there were things in place that would ensure that they had recourse if they missed an appointment.

What concerns me most is that we get up and we make fine speeches about the impact of mental illness in this chamber and the chamber upstairs and we wax lyrical about the debilitating impact of depression. We point out the compounding effects of community stigma and a lack of understanding and then we fail in our legislation to ensure that we do not live what we say. This is an opportunity, I think, to fix that.

It really is important. In my electorate of Lalor, unemployment in Melbourne's west, of which we are a part, is at 8.1 per cent. For youth in Melbourne's west the unemployment levels are at 13 per cent. So it is okay for us to say that we have mutual obligation; it is okay to say that there should be no show, no pay. But if the jobs are not there then we risk punishing people who have been in that system, who are suffering from lack of work, suffering from a lack of opportunity, and we risk putting them into a cycle where we know full well standing in this place that the members do not stack up but we will put in punitive measures anyway.

The Werribee Centrelink is the busiest in Victoria. I suppose that goes to our youth unemployment. We have job support agencies just about on every corner around my electorate office. We have an enormous number of young people. Unemployment is hard. Seeking employment is hard. The longer it takes to get that job the harder that gets. This has been made harder by the attitude of this government in its attitude to creating jobs—that all we have to do is somehow cut spending and jobs will magically be created. I do not believe they will be.

On top of that the government's current policies are driving up the cost of living for families and they will be having an impact in my electorate. The $7 GP co-payment is estimated to have, if it comes into being, an $11 million impact on our local economy. Families tightening their belts are not going to spend the way they did. Families are not going to do that carport, they are not going to build that pergola. It is clear what happens in this cycle: people lose jobs. Our unemployment queues will certainly not get shorter with a contracting local economy. It will all lead to reduced employment opportunities.

I am concerned mostly about the elements in this piece of legislation where job seekers are made to comply with measures that do not actually lead to an outcome, where they then get disheartened. They will disconnect. They will stop looking for support. This and other changes to Newstart eligibility and plans to leave under 30s with no support will all work seamlessly to disengage our young people. Aside from the human costs in terms of mental illness—and that will take us to the health budget, and that is a whole other story—this will mean, I believe, when children start to disengage, young people stop attending, stop applying, stop going to Centrelink to register as a job seeker, that the data for our unemployment will be obfuscated. Then no-one will know what is happening out there.

These measures are about savings. The budget indicates that. It calculates what they think the savings will be. My conclusion is the government expects to breach a large number of job seekers to achieve this savings. That is my reading of the situation. I will be happy if someone can demonstrate to me that that is not true. I find really disheartening the thought that we could have a government that was consciously planning to save money because people were going to breach this, knowing full well what the implications of those breaches would be long term for those individuals and for the system. I find that really alarming. So we expect to breach them.

I want to finish on another important point: whether or not the JSA should be handed the responsibility of dealing with this compliance issue given that they do not currently have the skills and given that, if it is the government that wants this done, it is Centrelink and the department, not JSAs, that young people and their families should hold responsible. For me that is a solid argument.

The fact is that the legislation on this has been late, that the work for the dole coordinators have been late, that in Werribee there is no sign of the Werribee rehabilitation project that we were promised. What is the government's penalty? Where is the compliance here? Do we need a JSA to come into the chamber to hold those of us here to account when we are late and do not show up for a very important appointment?