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Wednesday, 30 March 2022
Page: 553

Senator STOKER (QueenslandAssistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Assistant Minister for Women and Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations) (19:41): I table a revised explanatory memorandum relating to the bill and I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

This Bill modernises and streamlines social security law to support a new employment services model, which will change the way that employment services are delivered from 1 July 2022. The new model offers job seekers who are more job-ready the opportunity to self-manage their pathway to work using a digital platform, while providing more intensive, tailored face-to-face support for those who need or want it.

The new model builds on evidence from the New Employment Services Trial and Online Employment Services Trial. The new model will make better use of digital technology to support job seekers to find work and aligns with recommendations made by the Employment Services Expert Advisory Panel's report, I Want to Work: Employment Services 2020.

A key feature of the new model will be job-ready job seekers being able to self-manage their requirements through Digital Services and having more choice in how they meet their requirements through the Points Based Activation System. While job search remains a core element, job seekers will have greater agency to determine and access the activities they undertake on their pathway to employment and will be rewarded for their active effort and engagement.

This Bill will enable job seekers to self-manage their requirements through Digital Services and access more flexibility and have greater control over how they meet their requirements.

The amendments to modernise social security law will better support online servicing and Points-Based Activation. This includes consolidating and streamlining Job Plan and exemption provisions, which are currently duplicated across four payment types, and clarifying that mutual obligations for unemployment payments can be met by complying with a Job Plan.

This Bill also makes a range of other improvements to the social security law which are consistent with current Government policy and practice.

The Bill removes the use of 'must' in provisions relating to the Targeted Compliance Framework and instead refers to circumstances in which a person 'may' be subject to compliance action, to better reflect operational policy.

The Bill also places in the social security law the legislative authority for employment programs to help job seekers find and keep paid work, making the authority more transparent and accessible. The Bill will enable more agile responses to pandemics and other emergencies, ensure that employment services assistance is not counted as income under social security law and clarify arrangements for job seekers who study as part of their requirements.

Schedule 1 of this Bill will facilitate the use of technology to enable job seekers to manage their own mutual obligations and pathway back to employment using online services.

The Government began trialling online employment services in July 2018 and significantly expanded these services in response to COVID-19. Departmental evidence shows that online servicing is effective, with over 400,000 referrals to online employment services between 20 March 2020 and 31 January 2021 exiting and not returning to employment services.

Current social security law does not, however, adequately enable the best use of technology, as most of it was drafted decades ago.

This Bill will allow job seekers to choose their own Job Plan requirements, within departmental guidelines, and to manage their Job Plans online.

The amendments in this Bill do not mean that computers will be delivering employment services to job seekers or approving Job Plans.

Human oversight and assistance will remain an integral part of all employment services. At any time, a job seeker can contact a person in the Digital Services Contact Centre for assistance or opt out of online employment services and agree their Job Plan with a human delegate at an employment services provider of their choice.

And all the existing protections will be retained. The Bill ensures that a delegate must always take a job seeker's circumstances into account and that a delegate cannot require a job seeker to enter into a Job Plan that contains unsuitable requirements.

The Bill also streamlines and modernises social security law. This is because much of the social security law relating to mutual obligation requirements was written several decades ago and has not kept pace with changes to payments, employment services or mutual obligation requirements. For example, the Bill will remove the unnecessary phrasing of the 'activity test', which was introduced 30 years ago in 1991, at a time when unemployment payments and employment services were very different. In practice, job seekers meet their mutual obligation requirements by complying with the terms of their Job Plan and this will be more clearly reflected in the legislation.

This Bill will remove approximately 130 pages of superfluous social security legislation. The changes streamline and reduce the complexity of social security law to better support understanding and administration of existing mutual obligation policy.

Current policy and protections for job seekers will be maintained, while duplicated and redundant provisions are reduced to ensure the legislation is fit for purpose now and in the future.

Schedule 2 of the Bill places legislative authority for Commonwealth expenditure on employment programs within the responsibility of the Employment Minister and department. This is more appropriate than current arrangements involving regulations administered by the Finance Minister, and will enhance the transparency and accessibility of the legislative authority while maintaining usual processes, including that funding for the programs will still need to come from annual appropriations.

Schedule 3 more clearly supports the intent of the Targeted Compliance Framework to encourage job seekers to comply with their mutual obligation requirements and re-engage when they have failed to meet a requirement. The Bill ensures that sanctions need not be imposed when recipients of participation payments have a valid reason for failing to meet their requirements, or immediately re-engage, consistent with current practice and with the objectives of the Targeted Compliance Framework.

Schedule 4 of the Bill ensures that payments from government employment programs to assist job seekers with finding work - for example, Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job - do not need to be declared as income to Centrelink and do not reduce a job seeker's payment. This means payments from employment programs can be used as intended by the job seeker and therefore improve the effectiveness of the programs, consistent with current practice.

Schedule 5 of the Bill clarifies an administrative process for declarations of approved programs of work. The Bill provides Parliamentary oversight by stating that such a declaration is a legislative instrument, meaning that each declaration will be registered and tabled. The amendments do not affect current declared programs or the supplements associated with these programs.

Schedule 6 of the Bill consolidates four provisions and makes a minor amendment to better clarify the existing policy that certain Commonwealth workplace laws do not apply in relation to a person's participation in Commonwealth employment programs, including where a person may be doing so as part of points requirements.

Schedule 7 of the Bill makes clear in legislation the long-standing policy and practice that young people who are participating in full-time study as part of a Job Plan are considered job seekers and not students for the purposes of the Youth Allowance income free area. Young people participating in approved full-time study can still choose whether they study as a full-time student or under a Job Plan, as they have always been able to.

Schedule 8 of the Bill includes amendments supporting the 2021-22 Budget measure to align payment commencement for job seekers referred to online employment services with those who are referred to a provider.

This Bill will remove an inequity whereby job seekers who are referred to a provider are paid from a later date than those who are self-managing their requirements in online employment services.

From 1 July 2022, job seekers will be paid income support starting either from the date they attend an appointment with a provider or the date they agree to their online Job Plan. The amendments in this Bill will also encourage job seekers who are referred to online employment services to connect quickly and maximise their likelihood of finding work.

All existing protections for job seekers will be maintained, which means that when job seekers who self-manage their job search are unable to agree to their Job Plan within a reasonable timeframe, for reasons outside their control, they will not have their payment delayed.

This could be the case, for example, when a job seeker experiences illness, accident, or inability to access IT services.

Some job seekers may also be exempt from the measure, consistent with existing arrangements. This means they will receive their payment immediately after their claim has been processed, backpaid to their date of claim.

These exemptions cover, for example, job seekers who are transferring from another payment; are exempt from mutual obligations; or have been referred to Disability Employment Services or further assessment at time of claim.

Job seekers who are using online employment services can contact the Digital Services Contact Centre if they need assistance with agreeing to their Job Plan or meeting their requirements.

Schedule 9 of the Bill repeals spent provisions relating to ceased programs, with no impact on job seekers or current policy.

Schedule 10 makes minor contingent amendments.

This Bill will support the new employment services model by streamlining and modernising social security law. This will improve the way job seekers manage and meet their mutual obligation requirements and support job seeker agency in determining their own pathway to employment.

I commend this Bill to the chamber.