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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 8009

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) (10:14 PM) —The Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (Special Benefit Activity Test) Bill 2002 aims to encourage social and economic participation by temporary protection visa holders. In the areas of mutual obligation and activity testing, we propose to allow special beneficiaries to undertake full-time study without losing their entitlement. We are also formalising the current administrative arrangements for introducing activity tests on certain recipients of a benefit. In the area of a TPV holder's ability to meet mutual obligation requirements, it is important to note that the government will provide extensive support to those people affected, by providing access to a language, literacy and numeracy program as one of the activities they can undertake as their mutual obligation.

The proposed policy for this measure is that, where language is a key barrier to participation, that will be addressed as a priority in forming an activity agreement. It is a generous provision that allows access to a minimum of 400 hours English language training. Centrelink will ensure that special benefit activity agreements include activities that are appropriate for individual customers' needs and capacity. Centrelink's multicultural services, including translation with on-site and telephone interpreter services, provide a comprehensive support service to people with low English skills.

In regard to Job Network assistance, from 1 July 2003 TPV holders will have access to Jobsearch support services, including development of a vocational profile and resume to be matched to employment opportunities in the Jobsearch database. As for the impact of breaching, I reiterate that, in circumstances where a customer has not complied with their activity test requirements, the reasons for the failure to comply will be assessed. If they have a reasonable excuse—taking into account their particular circumstances—no penalty will apply. That is what currently happens with other activity tests of customers. The bill will treat work force age TPV holders in a similar way to Australian nationals of work force age. The limitation on Job Network services recognises the temporary nature of their residency status, but in all other respects this measure provides a very significant increase in assistance to find employment—assistance that we believe the customer group will welcome.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.