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Wednesday, 1 April 1987
Page: 1866

Mr ALLAN MORRIS —Is the Minister for Social Security aware of media reports describing the case of a Newcastle man who turned down a job because he estimated himself to be better off financially on the dole? How does the social security system deal with claims that wages are not enough for an individual to go off the dole?

Mr HOWE —I thank the honourable member for his question. People who are receiving unemployment benefit are legally required to accept suitable work if offered. Suitable work clearly relates to award wages. In a case such as the one which has been mentioned, where someone is offered a job paying an award wage, he is expected to take it. In such cases, following the Commonwealth Employment Service advice that the job has been refused, payment of benefit is suspended for between two and 12 weeks and eligibility is reviewed.

The Department of Social Security is placed at a considerable disadvantage in cases which are drawn to the attention of the media or in cases where someone appears on the media making assertions about what has occurred in relation to his situation with the Department of Social Security. In the Social Security Act there is a provision for confidentiality. The Department simply is not able to respond in many of the cases that have appeared in the media without there being some breach of confidentiality. In some cases this means that the facts are presented in a heavily distorted way. Often they are not presented in a complete way.

For example, a person appeared on national television recently and described the attitude of the child of the marriage towards work and the unemployment benefit and proceeded to give the child something of a lambasting. I was subsequently written to by the other partner in that marriage and a totally different picture was painted. If an individual case is exploited by the media it is often quite damaging to the people concerned, and certainly it places the Department of Social Security in an invidious position.

Turning to the example that was referred to last night, I simply make the point that the Government introduced, with the support of the Opposition, the family income supplement scheme. In fact, I think that the scheme was initiated by the Opposition. With the significant rises that have occurred in the supplement we are talking-over and above the facts that may have been presented last night-about eligibility for a payment of up to $17 a child. According to Press reports, the person concerned was not aware of eligibility for family income supplement, and the facts were not presented in a complete way.

The Government is concerned about the integrity of the social security system. It is concerned to ensure that the work test is properly administered. The facts, as I have suggested, are that people who fail to accept appropriate work at award wages are taken off benefit for a period by the Department. The Department intends to pursue the question of the work test in a rigorous way.

No government, certainly in recent years, has administered the unemployment benefit more rigorously than this Government. In the period since high unemployment began, no government did less than the Fraser-Howard Government. I cannot think of a single measure that was successfully carried through by the Fraser-Howard Government in the administration of the benefit. I can think of a very large number of measures which were deliberately lifted under the administration of the Fraser Government when it lost control of the number of the unemployed in the period 1982-83 when we had a massive blowout and all of the systems in the Department of Social Security were placed under massive stress.

It is very difficult to discuss particular cases. To do so is not helpful to the public climate and the climate of development of public policy in this country. I hope that in the debate in this Parliament we will steer away from such individual cases.