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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1284

Senator SIEWERT (2:51 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Senator Wong. I refer to recent media reports that the rules on welfare payments to single mothers will be overhauled by this government. I draw the minister’s attention to the experiences of single mothers being placed under pressure to withdraw from further education due to the participation requirements of Welfare to Work. Furthermore, the restrictions on the Jobs, Education and Training Child Care program, commonly known as JET, to only one year of childcare subsidy are leading single mothers to abandon university degrees before completion, particularly in areas where skill shortages are rife such as teaching and nursing. Given the government’s commitment to meaningful workforce participation and its acknowledgement of the link between education outcomes and meaningful work, does the government agree that current Welfare to Work rules relating to single mothers are unfair? How is the government intending to overhaul the Welfare to Work rules for single mums?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —The government is aware of a range of views that suggest that the previous government’s Welfare to Work policies reduced the incentives for parents and also people with a disability to move into work. We are aware of a recent NATSEM analysis reported perhaps less than a week ago which looked at some of these issues. We also believe that it is critical, if we are to move people from welfare to work, that they be provided with the training and skills they need to move into sustainable and meaningful jobs. That is why the government is investing in the Productivity Places Program to provide 175,000 places over the next four years for people who are currently outside the workforce. We clearly understand that, for parents and those with a disability who want to move into work, we need to ensure that they are assisted to gain the skills they need to gain meaningful, lasting and sustainable jobs.

As I have previously indicated in this place to senators, Minister O’Connor has announced a review of employment services to ensure that employment services are properly designed to develop job seekers’ skills and to help the most disadvantaged Australians. This review will focus on early intervention to minimise long-term welfare dependency and to create better and stronger links between people with a disability and employers and also to look at the ways in which parents can be better assisted. This government absolutely recognises that having a job is one of the best routes to social inclusion and wellbeing. A key goal of the government’s social inclusion policy is to help those who are on the margins of the workforce and who have the capacity to contribute to employment. I do not have any information on one of the specific questions Senator Siewert asked in relation to parents. I will see if I can provide anything further at a later date.

Senator SIEWERT —Mr President, I thank the minister for her response and ask a supplementary question. Would the minister also outline whether the government will guarantee that single mothers can access childcare subsidies through the JET program to enable them to access and complete their higher education courses?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —I can inform Senator Siewert that the JET program is amongst the programs that Minister O’Connor has announced a review in relation to. We want to look at the suite of employment services funded by the government to ensure that both taxpayers and the people accessing those services are getting the best and most efficient services possible. I am advised that JET is one of those programs. This government is very aware of the importance of increasing the participation of parents in the workforce and the importance of child care. That is why, prior to the election, we announced a range of childcare policies to deal with these issues. As I said, we are very conscious of this issue and I am sure that these issues will be fully canvassed in Minister O’Connor’s review.