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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 8125

Senator MARK BISHOP (6:03 AM) —This has been a protracted and somewhat difficult debate for all parties who have been involved in these discussions for many months, if not years. The Labor Party acknowledged at the outset, has continued to acknowledge during the discussions both privately and publicly, and continues to acknowledge that the government's total package had a range of measures which it is fair to describe as very consistent with longstanding Labor Party philosophy and practice in this area. Put briefly, it had a range of beneficial measures that would have assisted a lot of welfare-dependent people and working people, into the future. We have also made the point quite clearly that in our view a range of the amendments that were rooted in the Pearce report, and then later reviewed by the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, went to matters of the heart and of critical importance as far as the Australian Labor Party is concerned. We have continued to monitor developments as we have participated in the debates, and have reviewed our attitudes. But at this stage we have not been persuaded of the merits of departing from our original position.

Labor has been and is mindful of the need for progress on this bill. We certainly do not want to see a situation where the bill is stalled for any more time than is absolutely necessary, and we certainly do not want to be in a situation where there is a gridlock or deadlock on this critical bill. In that respect, we say to the government that the amendments that were moved and passed in this chamber some hours ago—arising out of the Pearce report in terms of the breach rate for parents and Newstart, the breach duration applying to parents and Newstart-Youth Allowance and the restitution amendments arising out of the Pearce report which apply already to parents, Newstart and Youth Allowance—are critical. We are not minded at all to depart from those and we will continue to insist that those amendments that I identified will progress. However, we do acknowledge that progress can only occur when all parties engage in meaningful dialogue and make some contribution to that process.

Accordingly, the Labor Party is not minded to insist on early amendments relating to the accumulation period in respect of parents and Newstart and also in respect of housing affordability relating to Newstart and Youth Allowance.

The CHAIRMAN —Senator Bishop, could you identify the numbers of those amendments?

Senator MARK BISHOP —I will. Thank you for that advice. Labor will not pursue amendments relating to the accumulation period and housing affordability. Those are the amendments on the Senate schedule which are numbered: (4), (21), (23), (25), (26), (27), (33), (35), (38), (41), (57), (58) and (60). Labor will also not be a party to insisting upon the Democrat amendments relating to Austudy, numbered (44) to (46), (48), (51) to (53) and (55), as these amendments are not consistent with the package which Labor is pursuing. This, as I said, leaves the remainder of the amendments, which we insist upon in the Senate. Those amendments seek to have a reduction in the breach period from 26 weeks to eight weeks, coupled with an increase in the breach rates from 16 per cent to 20 per cent, 18 per cent to 20 cent, and 24 per cent to 25 per cent. The other key group of amendments relates to the waiver of the remaining portion of the breach period when a job seeker remedies their error. I ask that the question be divided in respect of amendment numbers (18), (22), (24), (37), (39), (40), (42), (43), (61), (63), (64), (65), (74), (75), (76) and (77).