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Tuesday, 31 May 2011
Page: 5358

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (20:52): It is with great pleasure that I follow my colleague and friend, the member for Dobell, in this debate on the Social Security Amendment (Parenting Payment Transitional Arrangement) Bill 2011 because he has made an important contribution, a devastating critique that goes to the very heart of the distinction between our philosophy and our position--how we manage the budget and how we manage the economy and how we deal with social security and welfare—and the position of those opposite. As the member for Dobell points out, as we have gone through the global financial crisis we have seen an interesting separation of views. Those opposite thought it was much more important for them to retain the political bragging points, that they could balance a government budget, than it was for millions of households to balance their budgets by retaining a job. They come in here day after day and talking about the importance of dealing with the cost of living, but there are millions of households out there who know that the most effective way to balance their household budget and deal with the cost of living is to have a job.

This legislation before the House today is a small part of our broader program to reform welfare and to reform our workforce policy. Our approach to welfare sits on three pillars. The first pillar is that we believe any good society has an obligation to assist its citizens in their time of need. The second pillar is that we believe there is an inherent benefit in work and engaging in the workforce. That is of benefit to the individual, to the economy and to society as a whole. The third pillar is that we believe that you can design a welfare system in a way that, on the one hand, provides a benefit to the welfare recipients but, on the other, builds in incentives for people to care for those whom they have been entrusted to care for, incentives for those who are receiving a benefit to actually get out there and engage with the education system--to learn and to build their skills and to re-engage with the workforce—and incentives to actually earn. A well-designed welfare system addresses each of those three points. That philosophy—that approach of those three pillars—is behind our approach to welfare, is reflected in our budget, in legislation that we have brought before this parliament and legislation that we intend to bring before this parliament and in this bill.

The Gillard government's first priority is to keep the economy strong so that we can keep families in jobs. We have a very strong record of creating jobs. There are now 750,000 more Australians in work than there were when we came to office in 2007 and we estimate that over half a million jobs will be created over the next three years. And the measures in this bill and in our recent budget will facilitate that growth and facilitate our making more opportunities for our fellow Australians.

Joblessness amongst families is a significant social and economic problem in Australia. It is associated with higher rates of poverty, poorer health status and lower educational attainment for parents and their children. In my electorate of Throsby in New South Wales, which takes in large parts of the southern Illawarra suburbs and the Southern Highlands, there are areas of intergenerational unemployment much like those described before me by the member for Dobell. We have intergenerational unemployment and intergenerational social disadvantage. That is why I am pleased that a key objective of the Gillard government is to provide opportunities to equip jobless families to train and work and to provide a pathway to better life outcomes for both themselves and their children.

I am proud that this budget is a Labor budget that gives priority to jobs and opportunities for Australians, making sure that everyone can benefit from our growing economy. We all know that long-term parental joblessness and reliance on income support is detrimental to the long-term wellbeing of children. That is why I am particularly happy that in this budget a region within my electorate, the Shellharbour local government area, which falls within the southern part of my electorate, is one of the communities that have been identified for intensive assistance to deal with long-term disadvantage. All of the social indicators for the Shellharbour local government area--for income support, unemployment and youth unemployment--are higher than the national average. They paint a picture of a region that has been missing out on employment opportunities for far too long. That is why it is great news that Shellharbour is one of the 10 sites for the trial of new measures to make sure teenage parents finish school, for us to support jobless families and for us to provide additional support for their children. I am very pleased that recently the Minister for Human Services visited the Shellharbour area to have an initial consultation with the community groups and organisations and other stakeholders that are in the front line of dealing with people at the tough end of disadvantage.

The bill before the House today reflects another step in this government's budget to make sure parents remain engaged with the workforce and are helped to get back to work sooner. Currently, single parents that have claimed income support after 1 July 2006 are eligible for Parenting Payment until their youngest child turns eight. However, at the moment, parents who were receiving Parenting Payment before 1 July 2006 were grandfathered under the Welfare to Work changes and their eligibility ceases when their youngest child turns 16, including for any children born or coming into their care after then. This bill aligns the eligibility of grandfathered recipients with those who started receiving Parenting Payment after the Welfare to Work changes, which came into effect on 1 July 2006. In straightforward terms, grandfathered single parents that have new children after 1 July 2011 will only be able to receive Parenting Payment until a child turns eight, not until that child turns 16, which is currently the case.In addition, grandfathered partnered parents who have new children after 1 July 2011 will receive parenting payment only until that child turns six, aligning it with the current arrangements for new parents on parenting payment (partnered). This initial change will, over time, mean that the same arrangements apply to all parenting payment recipients and will lead to a reduction of time spent out of the workforce.

The primary change we are introducing is a more generous income test for single principal carer parents. This provides a strong incentive for single parents to take on part-time work. As part of a $178.9 million initiative, working single parents on Newstart allowance with a youngest child between eight and 15 will be able to earn almost $400 a fortnight or up to a total of $1,346 per fortnight before they lose eligibility for Newstart allowance.

The grandfathered group's eligibility for parenting payments will cease when their youngest child turns 12, or 13 from January 2013. This will give affected parents at least 18 months to prepare for the change. As a transition, parents whose youngest child is already 13 years old before 1 January 2013 will not be affected by the change.

We also make sure that parents have the right support and services to get the skills to go back to work. For example, the government will provide over $80 million for additional training places for single and teenage parents so that they can gain get the skills they need to get a good job when they return to the workforce. In addition, there is $19 million for additional community based support for parents, like playgroups and mentoring, through the Communities for Children program and $4 million for access to career counselling through the Jobs Services providers. This career advice will be available to grandfathered parents in the year before they move on to the Newstart allowance so they can start to plan their return to work and access the training needed.

This is in addition to the support that we are providing through the new teen parents initiative. That assistance will ensure not only support, life skills and education opportunities but also generous childcare support, allowing every support possible to give these people the opportunity to re-engage with education and re-engage with the workforce to provide them with greater life opportunities.

In mining boom mark 2 we cannot allow whole regions to be left behind as they were during mining boom mark 1. It is notable that we have heard very little from the Leader of the Opposition on these new measures since the budget two weeks ago. Indeed, he continues to be all opposition and no leader. This budget has focused squarely on jobs. It has focused on education and training to ensure that the benefits of the mining boom make it into every corner of Australia, including some of our most disadvantaged communities.

In our new location based approach welfare recipients will have greater responsibilities to participate, but they will also have extra help. Centrelink is going to have dedicated case workers for the most disadvantaged jobseekers. These case workers will work closely with, and in many cases under the same roof as, financial counselling services, drug and alcohol counselling services, housing and homelessness services and other types of services to help long-term unemployed people back into the workforce by overcoming all the barriers that have kept them unemployed and unengaged with the workforce or education.

All of the initiatives outlined in the budget are designed to couple intensive support with increased obligations, to give that extra help that people need to get them into work and to make sure that they too are able to share in unprecedented economic opportunities. The Gillard government understands that as our economy strengthens there will be some parts of the nation that are leaping ahead and some that will fear that they are at risk of being left behind. That is what we know as Australia's patchwork economy. This is why the Gillard government is so determined to make sure that, as we spread the opportunities that this phase of economic growth gives us, we do it in a way that provides opportunities for all to get a trade and the skills that you need to get your first job—and so that, as the Prime Minister has said, when you get that first job the opportunity is there to move on, hopefully to an even better job.

That is why, even in a tight budget, we have made sure that $3 billion is available to invest in skills, because if we do not do that not only will we be leaving people behind and running the risk of further entrenching disadvantages but we will be building economic bottlenecks in our economy that lead to an increase in inflationary pressures and decreases in our capacity to take advantage of the opportunities that are available in the mining regions—available to us as Australia is located in the go-ahead region of the world—and of opportunities that are available to us from the boom in the services economy. We are not willing to sit by and allow that to occur.

There is a stark contrast. It is a contrast between the approach of those on this side of the House and those opposite. We understand that there is an obligation on a government in a good society to provide both a helping hand but also an incentive through the welfare system to ensure those that have often been left behind or ignored in welfare traps can find their way out of those poverty and welfare traps and to ensure that they do not hand down intergenerational disadvantage from mother and father to child, from one generation to the next. We understand that engaging in work has inherent benefits for the individual, for an economy and for a society. We understand that a well-designed welfare system provides benefits to the individual but also builds in incentives to care, to learn, to be educated and to earn. I commend the legislation to the House.