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Wednesday, 29 June 1994
Page: 2266

Senator LEES (Deputy Leader of the Australian Democrats) (12.10 p.m.) —I cannot let a couple of the comments made by Senator Patterson go unanswered. She seems to think that the government's current or past policies on the unemployed are soft. I assure Senator Patterson that if we look around the OECD countries and countries of the western world, we find that we have some of the most rigorous requirements for people to access some sort of income support. If evidence of this is required, one has only to talk to the Brotherhood of St Laurence, St Vincent de Paul and the Salvation Army. They will say that there are enormous numbers of people who are either serving out waiting periods or undergoing various requirements under the Social Security Act and who are simply unable to access what Senator Patterson appears to believe is a soft system.

  Under these new provisions I argue that the people who will be caught out are those with a mental illness as opposed to a physical illness—an illness that is not severe enough to provide them with a disability support pension or an illness that is not of a long term nature and therefore does not allow them to qualify for any sort of sickness benefit. These provisions will catch out those people who have poor social and communication skills. They will catch out the people who do not have an advocate to speak on their behalf. They will hit young people without parents to keep an eye on them and ensure they have replied to letters, kept forms up to date, met various requirements and so on. I see these punitive measures as another step backwards. I do not think they contain anything that can be called reciprocal obligations because of the limited number of job opportunities out there.

  Senator Patterson spoke about getting the long-term unemployed into jobs. However, first and foremost the jobs must exist. Surely the best thing this government can do is to start encouraging people, assisting the long term unemployed, people who are totally demoralised. That is a preferable course to offering such people little more than bigger and bigger sticks and pushing people to the point at which many will have to fall back on charities. Will the minister make available additional moneys to our charities to offset these amendments the government is now pushing through? It will be the charities that will have to carry the families of those who under these provisions will be cut off from unemployment benefits.