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Wednesday, 1 September 2021
Page: 9074

Mr WYATT (HasluckMinister for Indigenous Australians) (10:28): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The government is reforming remote employment services, and the reforms will be co-designed and piloted in partnership with a number of remote communities ahead of implementing the new program.

The Social Security Legislation Amendment (Remote Engagement Program) Bill 2021 creates a new supplementary payment for jobseekers in remote engagement program pilot communities who volunteer to participate in a placement that is like having a job. The placements will build participants' skills in roles that will deliver goods or services to the benefit of local communities and provide a pathway for jobseekers to find a job. The new payment will be one aspect that communities can trial alongside other approaches to training, skills development and non-vocational support as part of the co-design of the new remote employment program.

Over many decades, governments have tried different approaches to delivering employment services in remote Australia. We have learned that what works in our cities and more densely populated regions may not work in remote areas. We have also learned that we have to continuously adapt and evolve to better meet new and existing challenges.

There is more to be done to continue to develop an approach that empowers the people, many of them Indigenous people, living in our remote communities to develop their skills and engage in economic opportunities in a way that is both tailored to their specific needs and beneficial to their communities.

This bill supports collaboration with communities to develop an appropriately flexible program that will build the skills and vocational capabilities of people in remote communities. Many of the more detailed aspects of the approach will be set out in legislative instruments and policy guidance, allowing the flexibility to adjust as lessons are learnt and communities' ideas change over the course of the pilots.

Achieving sustainable change in remote communities can only be done by working together, including by listening to Indigenous experience and expertise to develop a new approach. Working in partnership to pilot innovative approaches, learn and review, and develop the new program will be key to our future shared success.

Rewarding and sustainable employment opportunities are transformational for individuals, families and communities. Jobs contribute to financial and economic security and to self-determination and wellbeing.

Australians living in remote communities face complex employment challenges, different from those experienced in regional and urban areas. Remote areas cover 75 per cent of the Australian landmass. However, there are fewer jobs available in remote areas, with less than two per cent of actively trading businesses located there.

The measures in this bill recognise the lack of employment opportunities that people, including Indigenous Australians, face in some of the most remote parts of Australia. The opportunities and circumstances in remote Australia are unique and different from urban areas, and this will continue to be the case. We've heard what communities and stakeholders have said about current and previous remote employment services. We know that remote communities want changes so that future employment services better match place based economic circumstances and labour market opportunities.

This bill supports the reforms to the government's suite of employment services and programs to ensure they remain fit for purpose, make the most of technological advances and support Australia's economic recovery from COVID-19.

These reforms include the government's 2021-22 budget announcement to pilot a new remote engagement program to trial approaches in advance of replacing the Community Development Program (CDP) in 2023. Initially, we estimate that around 200 eligible jobseekers across the pilot sites will volunteer to participate in placements in work-like roles across their community and receive the payment.

We want to collaborate with stakeholders to develop a new remote engagement program that will better enable jobseekers to contribute to the goods and services that will strengthen the economic, social and cultural life of communities and build in-demand skills and, at the same time, create a pathway for these jobseekers to build skills to find local jobs.

When implemented, the new program will contribute to the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, which includes targets to close the gap on employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

The new payment is one possible design element of the new program we would like to co-design with communities as part of the pilots. We will also work with communities during the pilot phase to explore:

how to provide better support to jobseekers who have the skills and experience to work, but are having difficulty finding work;

vocational training options for jobseekers that will lead to real jobs in their communities;

how to provide the right support, at the right time, to jobseekers with acute or complex needs; and

the best ways to engage with and support jobseekers to meet their mutual obligation requirements.

This bill makes changes to the Social Security Act 1991 and the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 to create a new supplementary payment that will be paid at a fixed rate between $100 and $190 per fortnight. The new payment will be paid in addition to an eligible jobseeker's primary income-support payment and other supplements. The new payment will not be subject to the income test.

This bill proposes that an eligible jobseeker's income support plus the new supplementary payment will be approximately equivalent to the minimum wage for the hours participating in work-like activities. Eligible jobseekers will voluntarily participate in a role in government services or community organisations for between 15 and 18 hours per week building important skills and experience. The payment will be designed not to discourage people from taking up paid employment opportunities. The pilots provide an opportunity to test the level of incentives.

The bill defines an eligible jobseeker as someone receiving a qualifying income support payment, who receives employment services from a remote engagement program service provider and who has agreed to participate and is participating in an eligible placement, with a host organisation, for at least 15 hours per week.

Eligible jobseekers will be considered to be fully meeting all their mutual obligation requirements by participating in the scheme. Eligible jobseekers can voluntarily choose to leave the placement at any time.

To give effect to this commitment of working in partnership, this bill proposes further detail about qualification criteria and the rate of the payment be set out in legislative instruments. These legislative instruments will be informed by the outcomes of a co-design process with communities in the pilot sites. We will take the time to work together and listen to communities in the pilot sites about what they think could work in relation to the amount of payment to be provided, the hours of engagement to be undertaken in return and what eligible jobseekers are required to do to continue to receive the payment. This approach will also enable adjustments during the pilots as lessons are learned.

This bill provides that the payment will not be payable after 30 June 2024.

While the bill will have no impact on arrangements for current CDP participants outside the pilot sites, learnings from the pilots will inform the design of the new program.

The bill also proposes amendments to repeal or omit provisions of the Social Security Act 1991 and the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999relating to the former Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) Scheme. Removing these obsolete provisions will assist with modernising and streamlining the social security legislation.

It is important that we take this opportunity to work with Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in remote communities. Sustainable change can only be done by working together, including by listening to Indigenous experience and expertise to develop a new approach. An approach that empowers individuals to gain skills and find a job. And an approach that enhances employment pathways for jobseekers in remote Australia to realise aspirations. For themselves. For their families. And for their communities.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.