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Thursday, 12 November 2015
Page: 8448

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (13:15): I rise to make a contribution on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (More Generous Means Testing for Youth Payments) Bill 2015. The bill contains measures that, from 1 January next year, remove the family assets test and the family actual means test from the youth allowance parental means test arrangements; from the same date next year, align parental income test exemptions for youth allowance with existing arrangements for family tax benefit part A; from the same time next year, remove maintenance income from the youth allowance parental income test assessment; and, from 1 January the following year, apply a separate maintenance income test for the treatment of child support like that currently applying to family tax benefit part A. Furthermore, from July next year, where a family has a dependent child who receives an individual youth payment that is parentally income tested and younger siblings who qualify for FTB, the family pool for the youth parental income test will include all the FTB children.

There should be systems in this country that support our students and young people. The Australian Greens support measures that encourage rural and remote young people to access higher education. We also support measures to simplify the system where there are changes that are fair and reasonable. We will be supporting this bill through the Senate, but we do have a few concerns, which I will articulate here and are why I will be moving a second reading amendment.

The key concern raised during the inquiry was that removing the family and personal assets test for youth allowance for dependent young people could enable wealthier families to manage their wealth so as to access a payment intended for lower income families. This is not just an unsubstantiated fear; in the past we have, in fact, seen this happen. The Australian Greens propose a review of these measures in two years, to ensure that there are not adverse outcomes as a result of removing the family and parental assets test. The Australian Greens also share submitters' concerns that the removal of the family and personal assets test is not the best approach to address the issues raised by farm assets in assessing income support payments, and that this issue should be looked at across the whole of the social security system. As ACOSS put it in their submission:

If there are anomalies in the assets test treatment of farms, these should be resolved across the social security system rather than by exempting one payment.

The Greens recommend that a review of the effect of these measures be carried out in two years to see if, in fact, they are working and having the desired outcomes. The Greens second reading amendment is that at the end of the motion we would add:

… but the Senate recommends the government establish an independent review of the effect of the measures implemented under this legislation and it be undertaken no later than two years after the commencement of this legislation.

The bigger issue is that this bill fails to address the inadequacy of our youth payments and our approach to young people in this country. The bill does not address this huge issue of the inadequacy of the youth allowance payment—an issue that I have brought countless times to this chamber. This was noted by the Australian Council of Social Service and the National Welfare Rights Network in their submissions to the inquiry. The National Welfare Rights Network noted:

In our opinion, inadequacy of the youth allowance rate itself, and the extremely narrow criteria for independent status are the main social security issues affecting access to education. If spending of youth allowance is to increase, it should be to increase rates of payment, make the criteria for independent status more flexible and increase access to the payment for lower income families rather than high income and asset families.

Increasing the payment amount should be an urgent priority for the government—along with other income support payments such as Newstart.

I also suggest that, if the government were interested in helping young people, it would not have a bill in parliament that does not allow young people to go onto Newstart for what is, basically, five weeks—extending the one-week wait period by four weeks to make it a five-week wait period. These young people are expected to live on thin air, it seems, for five weeks before being able to access some form of income support. The government really needs to display some consistency here when it is addressing issues like support for young people—whether it is access to university, access to TAFE and vocational education, or access to income support while they are trying to find work. We really do need a much more consistent approach. This government has repeatedly tried to push this type of nasty measure of kicking young people off income support for weeks at a time. We saw the previous attempt, where it was for six months; it was going to be rolling six months on, six months off for anybody under 30. Thank goodness that never saw the light of day in this chamber. Although it was introduced, the government knew very well it could not get that particular measure up. So the repeated attempts to get that legislation up were not successful and the government changed its tack, but it is still attacking young people—reducing the age from 30 to 25 and still trying to keep people off income support.

Whether it is six months or five weeks, the community overwhelmingly does not accept that keeping young people off income support will help them gain employment. The Senate confirmed this sentiment when it rejected the previous attempt to keep them off for five weeks. The Senate also supported a motion by the Greens that condemned that particular approach. The government really should be taking a new approach under its new leadership and use the new leadership of Prime Minister Turnbull to change tack on supporting young unemployed people, rather than pursuing punitive measures that would entrench poverty. The jobs simply are not there for young people at the present time. Our training system is not up to the job yet to support people. There are viable alternatives instead of keeping young people off income support and making their life more difficult.

Having said that, we are pleased that the government is, in some areas, helping young people, as this measure does. I have articulated the Greens concerns about some elements of these measures. Having said that the Greens will be supporting this particular bill but with a second reading amendment. I move:

At the end of the motion, add "but the Senate recommends that the Government establish an independent review of the effect of the measures implemented under this legislation, to be undertaken no later than 2 years after the commencement of this legislation".