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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 7947

Senator NETTLE (5:51 PM) —The Australian Greens will be supporting these Democrat amendments. We oppose the punitive mutual obligation regime that fines and breaches people in receipt of income support who are subjected to activity test requirements. The Pearce review of the breaching regime concluded that the requirements and the way that they are implemented were causing considerable hardship. We acknowledge that the government has implemented administrative changes that have reduced the number of breaches, but the Australian Greens say that this is insufficient.

The Pearce review recommended that breaching penalties not exceed 25 per cent if the fines were fully recoverable, or 15 per cent if they were not. Clearly, the report's recommendations provide flexibility for the government but that does not mean that the breaching rates need to rise, as Labor is proposing in its amendments. We suspect that this rise in the rate is the price that Labor has been prepared to accept in reaching an agreement with the government to permit changes to the breaching regime. For its part, the government, no doubt, will point to a higher breaching rate to argue that it has not `gone soft on welfare compliance', to use its own turn of phrase.

The financial impact of the changes Labor is proposing will mean less hardship than under the current regime. The fines will be lower and most of the money may be reinstated if the person undertakes certain activities. For these reasons, the Australian Greens will support these Labor amendments in the event that the Senate declines to support the Democrat amendments, which we believe are superior because they substantially lower the breaching rate and shorten the period. We will not, however, support this bill, even as amended, because the consequence of these measures becoming law is that the punitive breaching regime will be extended to many more Australians. This is no way to address long-term unemployment and chronic disadvantage, and it is no way to encourage and assist people to undertake paid work, even if that is available and suitable to their personal circumstances. These problems can be addressed and should be addressed without the threat of depriving people of the modest income support that we, the privileged members of our society, provide to them to ensure that their basic needs can be met and that they can live in dignity.