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Wednesday, 29 June 1994
Page: 2267

Senator CROWLEY (Minister for Family Services) (12.13 p.m.) —I noted Senator Patterson's comments and have only one comment to make in response. I think that these things are a matter of judgment. I disagree with Senator Patterson's comments but do not go so far as Senator Lees went in her contribution.

Senator Patterson —Don't go too far, Senator.

Senator CROWLEY —I was about to say that I did not agree with Senator Patterson's suggestion that the government has done nothing to assist people into employment over the past 11 years.

Senator Patterson —I did not say the government had done nothing.

Senator CROWLEY —Certainly it is a slight exaggeration. I could go through examples of what the government has done, but I do not wish to take up the committee's time. The government has been committed in stages and phases. This is another phase. It is important that we admit the importance of making sure, as does the white paper, that there is a commitment to every citizen in this country, that nobody is forgotten and that everyone can have a claim on assistance.

  From Senator Lees's perspective the government is sometimes too harsh and that was her assessment of these amendments. Therefore, the Australian Democrats have proposed an amendment that there be a warning to the clients that a deferment period will apply, with continuation of the payment until that period is completed. On technological grounds the Democrats' amendment cannot be supported. I am advised that it would not achieve the intended effect in all cases. As drafted, it would require in some cases payment to people who would no longer qualify for jobsearch or newstart allowance. That could create a precedent for other recipients and would have severe financial implications for the Commonwealth.

  However, the government is sympathetic to the principle underlying the proposed amendment—that is, to give notice of impending non-payment to a client. The government is willing to consider administrative measures to achieve this and, if necessary, legislative amendments in later sittings. The minister has advised that he has asked officials to work very closely with those concerned with welfare rights.

  This issue was fairly well canvassed during the committee proceedings last week and points raised by senators during those proceedings were appreciated. I hope that Senator Woodley has noted the sympathetic way in which the government treated the issues raised by the welfare rights representative and indeed by Senator Woodley himself. It is a matter of balance. There has already been considerable investment by the government in seeking to assist people who are long-term unemployed to get a job and to retain it. Certainly by these amendments the government wants to make clear to people the seriousness of its commitment to encourage people into employment and for them to stay there.

  Obviously I appreciate, as does the Minister for Social Security, Mr Baldwin, expressions of concern in this area. We wish to make clear that the government is serious in its intentions to assist people. We also wish to ensure that the principle involving the giving of notice of impending non-payment will be treated sympathetically. Although we will not accept the proposed amendment today, I hope my contribution will have met the points raised by Senator Woodley.