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Wednesday, 29 May 2013
Page: 4232


Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongMinister for Financial Services and Superannuation and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) (10:14): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Social Security Amendment (Supporting more Australians into Work) Bill 2013 will support the participation of unemployed Australians and parents with caring responsibilities by increasing the amount they are able to earn and keep, smoothing the transition to paid work and providing extra assistance to undertake study and training.

The Gillard government believes that everyone who is able to work should be able to benefit from the economic security and dignity that having a job brings, which is why we are introducing this bill to help more unemployed Australians to transition into work.

Having a job is essential in ensuring that all Australians can share in the benefits of Australia's economic strength and receive the promise of a long, good life that comes with being an Australian.

In particular, we want to avoid the entrenched disadvantage that can arise from long periods of joblessness.

Because the longer a job seeker has been unemployed the more likely their skills will be outdated, their confidence can be eroded and as such it gets harder to find and keep a job.

It is important to recognise that long periods of unemployment do erode people's self-confidence.

There is also emerging entrenched poverty and intergenerational welfare dependence when parents are jobless for long periods of time.

In short, this is about helping job seekers being able to fulfil the potential which exists in all Australians.

Australia's income support system has been analysed extensively through the recent Senate inquiry into the adequacy of the allowance payment system which considered the appropriateness of the allowance payment system as a support into work and the impact of the changing nature of the labour market.

In particular, the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Committee's report contained complex and diverse recommendations, covering payment design, administration of payments, employment services and additional social services.

On behalf of the Gillard Labor government I would like to thank the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations References Committee for their report. The amendments included in this bill follow consideration of the recommendations of the Senate inquiry.

On this basis the introduction of the Social Security Amendment (Supporting more Australians into Work) Bill 2013 will allow around hundreds of thousands of Australians on parenting payment partnered, Newstart Allowance, and widow, sickness or partner allowance to earn $100 per fortnight, $38 more per fortnight than they currently can, before their income support is reduced.

The Gillard government will invest $258 million over the next four years to lift the income-free area.

This is the first increase in more than a decade.

In addition, the income-free area will, for the first time in Australia's history, be indexed by CPI from 1 July 2015 to ensure the real value of this increase is maintained over time.

From 20 March 2014, income support recipients currently earning more than $62 per fortnight can look forward to an average increase in their payments of $19 per fortnight or an average of $494 per year.

This practical investment will give people more incentive to stay in or re-enter the workforce while they are on income support by allowing them to keep more of what they earn and helping them build and maintain the skills, confidence and contacts they will need to eventually transition into paid work.

This increase to the income-free area supports a majority recommendation from the Senate inquiry into the adequacy of the allowance payment system.

Joblessness among families continues to be a significant collective social and economic challenge facing our homeland.

Australia has relatively low levels of unemployment compared to other First World nations, this is true, but there are distinct and real pockets of disadvantage, including when parents with dependent children are jobless for longer periods of time.

This bill also seeks to continue the government's commitment to provide incentives and support for single parents so that they and their families can share in the benefits of paid work.

From 1 January 2014, all single principal carer parents receiving Newstart allowance who take up approved study will be eligible to receive the pensioner education supplement (PES), gaining extra assistance for study and training.

The supplement is paid at a rate of $62.40 per fortnight or $31.20 per fortnight for a concessional study load.

It is expected that at least 25,000 additional single parents will take up the pensioner education supplement over the next four years.

Getting relevant skills and education supports pensioners and single parents to increase their job-readiness and gives them a better chance of leaving income support and returning to the workforce, which is the goal of nearly all pensioner and allowance recipients.

Currently, only those single principal carer parents who were in receipt of PES at the time they move from parenting payment single to Newstart allowance are entitled to receive PES until they finish their current studies. But because of this government, from 1 January 2014, all single principal carer parents receiving Newstart will have access to this additional study assistance.

Single parents will also receive additional support through this bill through the extension of access to the pensioner concession card.

From 1 January 2014 single parents who become ineligible for the parenting payment due to the age of their youngest child and who do not qualify for any other income support payment due to their earnings, will retain their pensioner concession card for up to 12 weeks.

The pensioner concession card allows holders and their dependants to receive benefits including bulk-billed GP appointments, reduced out-of-hospital medical expenses and medicines listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme at the concessional rate, in addition to concessions offered by state and territory local governments.

Currently access to benefits under the pensioner concession card ceases for these parents immediately once they no longer receive parenting payment.

This amendment will smooth the transition off income support and into paid work for around 2,000 single parents a year.

In combination, the measures contained in this bill amend the social security law to provide around $300 million to improve the incentive for income support recipients to work, support them in the transition to work and provide extra assistance to engage in study and training.

This package, which I support wholeheartedly, represents the very strong advocacy of government MPs, including the member for Canberra, the member for Page, the member for Chifley and the member for Throsby, amongst many others. I also acknowledge the advocacy of the council of single mothers.

This package delivers on the Gillard government's commitment to support single parents who are moving off parenting payment so that they and their families can share in the benefits of paid work once their children become older.

The Gillard Labor government believes that everyone should benefit from the dignity, challenge, experience, social acceptance and camaraderie that come from having a job, especially people who have been trapped in a cycle of entrenched disadvantage for too long. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.