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Thursday, 13 September 2018
Page: 6327


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (12:37): I move:

That the Social Security (Parenting payment participation requirements - classes of persons) Instrument 2018 (No. 1), made under subsection 500(2) of the Social Security Act 1991, be disallowed [F2018L00238].

This relates to a disallowance on the Social Security (Parenting payment participation requirements—classes of persons) Instrument 2018 (No. 1). This instrument specifies two classes of persons—specifically, the targeted participant and the intensive participant. These two classes of persons correspond with the two program streams—specifically, the targeted stream and the intensive stream—under the national expansion of the ParentsNext program in all non-remote areas of Australia that commenced on 2 July this year. This instrument supports the expansion of the ParentsNext program. This is about the ParentsNext program.

This exemption will impact 68,000 parents annually. Approximately 96 per cent of participants will be women, and 10,000 of these women will be First Nations peoples. ParentsNext is a pre-employment, compliance based program for parenting payment recipients with young children—mostly women—with the aim, supposedly, of helping them with their education and training or employment goals. Ultimately, the program is designed to increase the work readiness of parents by the time their youngest child is six and to increase female participation in the workforce. The national expansion of the program follows a trial in 10 locations from 4 April 2016 to 30 June this year. By 31 May this year, 24,109 people had participated in the trial.

As I mentioned earlier, this expanded program has two streams. The intensive stream will be operating in the 10 existing trial locations and in 20 additional locations that have a high proportion of First Nations peoples who are receiving the parenting payment. Those who are still participating in the trial of the program at the rollout date will have been transitioned to the intensive stream of the expanded ParentsNext program. The targeted stream will be delivered in jobactive employment regions across the country, except in the locations that the intensive stream will be operating in. In the instrument, two classes of persons are set out for those two streams; for each, it specifies that the parent must: have a child under the age of six, have been receiving the parenting payment for at least six months and have not been receiving income from employment in the last six months. I want you to remember that point about not receiving income for the last six months, because I'll come back to that matter later; it is one of the issues that we have with the program.

In addition, for a parent to be within the scope of the intensive stream, they must either be an early school leaver, where their youngest child is at least six months old—inother words, predominantly women, by far, are expected to be participating in this when their youngest child, their baby, is six months old—or be highly disadvantaged, where their youngest child is at least six months old or they have a youngest child aged five years of age. For a parent who was within the scope of the targeted stream, they must also be an early school leaver, where their youngest child is at least one; be highly disadvantaged, where their youngest child is at least three; or be from a jobless family, where their youngest child is at least five or they have a youngest child aged five years of age. In other words, they are trying to capture anybody who is on the parenting payment whose youngest child is aged at least five. Basically, any parent receiving the parenting payment for more than six months without receiving income from employment will be subjected to this program when their youngest child turns five. Many, though, will be subjected to it much earlier, with two of the three additional criteria for the intensive stream requiring parents to commence when their youngest child is six months old—remember that. It's when their baby is six months old.

The criteria for the intensive stream participants, which I mentioned above, differ from the criteria used for the trial. Previously, parents receiving the pensioner education supplement in the three months immediately prior to the addition to the parenting payment were not within the scope of the criteria for the trial. The government removed this additional exemption when drafting this instrument that we are discussing today. This is one of the issues that we have with this instrument. This means that those already undertaking education—such as year 12, certificate III or higher education—will be included in the scope of the eligible parents for both streams, even though they are already studying. In other words, even though they are already doing the thing that the government wants them to be doing, they are subjected to this trial. This makes you wonder why the government is including them when they are already studying.

There are also limited ways for participants to exit the program, specifically: when their youngest child turns six, if they cease receiving the parenting payment, if they move to a remote area or if they gain stable employment. Notably, taking up study is absent from this list. The definition of 'stable' is questionable, because I know, or I've heard from, people who have employment who are included on this program. If they're in employment, they shouldn't be included in the program; but people are being caught up in the program even when they're working.

Those who fall within the classes of persons for the two streams are required to engage with their choice of ParentsNext provider and create a participation plan with this provider that they then must adhere to. Because the participants of the rolled out program are also going to be subject to the targeted new compliance framework, which passed through the Senate earlier and came into effect from 1 July this year, they will receive payment suspensions if they do not meet a requirement—for instance, if they fail to agree to a participation plan, fail to attend an appointment or fail to comply with their participation plan. If they do not have a reasonable excuse for failing to meet a requirement they will receive a demerit point. Once they accrue five demerit points they will be subject to financial penalties for each subsequent demerit point they accrue, up to eight. As of the—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Ketter ): It being 12:45, we now move to government business orders of the day. Senator Siewert, you will be in continuation when we get to item 18 on the order of business later this afternoon.