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Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020



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ISSN 1328-8091

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BILLS DIGEST NO. 32, 2020-21 1 DECEMBER 2020

Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 Michael Klapdor Social Policy Section

Contents

The Bills Digest at a glance .............................................. 3

Purpose of the Bill ........................................................... 4

Structure of the Bill and the Bills Digest ........................... 5

Background ..................................................................... 5

Initial COVID-19 social security measures ................... 5 Coronavirus Supplement ........................................... 6

Eligibility changes ...................................................... 7

Asset test and waiting period waivers ...................... 8

Changes to the COVID-19 social security measures ..................................................................... 9

Cost of the COVID-19 social security measures ........ 10 Impact of COVID-19 on social security recipient numbers .................................................................... 10

Table 2: recipients of the main income support payments, December 2019-October 2020 ............. 12 Impact of the Coronavirus Supplement .................... 12 Extension of COVID-19 social security measures to March 2021 ........................................................... 14

Committee consideration .............................................. 14

Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee ... 14 Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills ............................................................................ 14

Policy position of non-government parties/independents.................................................... 15

Position of major interest groups................................... 16

Financial implications .................................................... 16

Statement of Compatibility with Human Rights.............. 17

Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights ... 17 Key issues and provisions .............................................. 17

Date introduced: 12 November 2020

House: House of Representatives

Portfolio: Social Services

Commencement: Division 1 of Part 1, Division 1 of Part 2 and Part 3 of Schedule 1 on 1 January 2021; Division 2 of Part 1 and Division 2 of Part 2 of Schedule 1 on 1 April 2021; Parts 4-6 on the day after Royal Assent.

Links: The links to the Bill, its Explanatory Memorandum and second reading speech can be found on the Bill’s home page, or through the Australian Parliament website.

When Bills have been passed and have received Royal Assent, they become Acts, which can be found at the Federal Register of Legislation website.

All hyperlinks in this Bills Digest are correct as at December 2020.

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Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 2

Rationale for the Coronavirus Supplement .............. 17 The adequacy of payments for job seekers .............. 19 Does the rate of the Coronavirus Supplement offer a disincentive to work? .................................... 19

Supplement design offers a disincentive ................ 20 Figure 1: JobSeeker Payment rate under different Coronavirus Supplement and income test settings (single, no dependent children) ......... 21 Figure 2: net disposable income under different Coronavirus Supplement and income test settings (JobSeeker Payment, single, no dependent children, no private health cover) ........ 22 Does the JobSeeker rate offer a disincentive? ........ 22 Figure 3: Bradbury and Whiteford analysis of JobSeeker Payment and pension rates relative to the minimum wage 1990-2021 .......................... 23

Key provisions ........................................................... 24

Part 1—COVID-19 Supplement ............................... 24

Part 2—Qualification for Youth Allowance or JobSeeker Payment—coronavirus .......................... 24

Part 3—Liquid assets test waiting period and assets test exemptions ............................................ 24

Part 4—Modifications of social security law ........... 25 Part 5—Extending the period a residence is the person’s principal home .......................................... 26

Part 6—Continuation of Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response—2020 Measures No. 5) Determination 2020 .................... 27

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Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 3

The Bills Digest at a glance The Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 (the Bill) amends the Social Security Act 1991, the Farm Household Support Act 2014 and the Veterans’ Entitlement Act 1986, and extends the operation of parts of the Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response—2020 Measures No. 5) Determination 2020 to:

• provide for the extension of the Coronavirus Supplement for Youth Allowance (Student and Apprentice) recipients from 1 January 2021 to 31 March 2021

• prevent any extension of the Coronavirus Supplement and the temporary COVID-19-related waivers from the ordinary waiting period, newly arrived resident’s waiting period and seasonal work preclusion period beyond 31 March 2021

• provide for the extension of the temporary COVID-19-related qualification rules for Youth Allowance (Student and Apprentice) to 31 March 2021

• permanently remove provisions relating to the COVID-19-related liquid assets test waiting period and assets test waivers (these waivers ended on 25 September 2020)

• allow for specific provisions of social security law to be temporarily modified by the Minister by legislative instrument in response to the economic and social impacts of COVID-19 until 31 March 2021 (or 16 April 2021 for one of the measures)

• introduce a discretionary power under the social security and veterans’ entitlements assets tests to extend temporary absence provisions used to determine a person’s principal home where an individual is unable to return to Australia for reasons beyond their control and

• allow for JobKeeper Payment information provided by the Australian Taxation Office to Services Australia on or before 28 March 2021 to be used after that date.

The extension of certain COVID-19 social security measures including the Coronavirus Supplement, waiting period waivers and eligibility requirements for JobSeeker Payment and Youth Allowance were announced by the Prime Minister and Minister for Families and Social Services on 10 November 2020. The Government also announced the Coronavirus Supplement would be reduced from $250 to $150 per fortnight for the extension period—1 January to 31 March 2021.

The Bill only provides for the extension of the Coronavirus Supplement for Youth Allowance (Student and Apprentice). The Minister for Families and Social Services already has the power to extend the supplement period for other payment categories by three-months at a time via legislative instrument. The Minister can also change the rate of the supplement via a legislative instrument.

Most stakeholder comments on the Bill have focused on the proposed reduction in the rate of the Coronavirus Supplement, although this specific change is not made via the Bill. These stakeholders are concerned about the impact of lower levels of support on payment recipients and that JobSeeker Payment and Youth Allowance rates are set to return to their pre-COVID-19 levels from 1 April 2021. Community sector organisations, academics and business groups have long considered these levels inadequate.

The Government has suggested that the level of support offered through current Coronavirus Supplement rates offers a disincentive for recipients to take-up paid work. This is disputed by social security experts and economists. The design of the supplement rather than the rate does offer a disincentive for some individuals to increase their income.

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Purpose of the Bill The purpose of the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 (the Bill) is to amend the Social Security Act 1991 (the SS Act), the Farm Household Support Act 2014 and the Veterans’ Entitlement Act 1986 (the VE Act), and extends the operation of parts of the Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response—2020 Measures No. 5) Determination 2020 to:

• provide for the extension of the Coronavirus Supplement1 for Youth Allowance (Student and Apprentice) recipients from 1 January 2021 to 31 March 2021 (Part 1 of Schedule 1)

• prevent any extension of the Coronavirus Supplement and the temporary COVID-19-related waivers from the ordinary waiting period, newly arrived resident’s waiting period and seasonal work preclusion period beyond 31 March 2021 (Part 1 of Schedule 1)

• provide for the extension of the temporary COVID-19-related qualification rules for Youth Allowance (Student and Apprentice) (Part 2 of Schedule 1)

• remove provisions relating to the COVID-19-related liquid assets test waiting period and assets test waivers (these waivers ended on 25 September 2020) (Part 3 of Schedule 1)

• allow for specific provisions of social security law to be temporarily modified by the Minister by legislative instrument in response to the economic and social impacts of COVID-19 until 31 March 2021 (or 16 April 2021 for some of the provisions) (Part 4 of Schedule 1)

• introduce a discretionary power under the SS Act and the VE Act assets tests to extend the temporary absence provisions used in relation to determining a person’s principal home where an individual is unable to return to Australia, for reasons beyond their control, within the allowable absence period (Part 5 of Schedule 1)

• allow for JobKeeper Payment information provided by the Australian Tax Office to Services Australia on or before 28 March 2021 to be used after that date (Part 6 of Schedule 1).

The main measures in the Bill—the extension of the Coronavirus Supplement, waiting period waivers and eligibility requirements for JobSeeker Payment and Youth Allowance—were announced by the Prime Minister and Minister for Families and Social Services on 10 November 2020.2 The measures were not included in the 2020-21 Budget which was released on 6 October 2020. The Bill only provides for the extension of the supplement for Youth Allowance (Student and Apprentice) recipients. No amendments are required for the extension of the supplement for other payment categories as the Minister already has the power to extend the supplement period for these payment categories by three-months at time via legislative instrument.3

The Government also announced that the Coronavirus Supplement would be reduced to $150 per fortnight for the period it was extended—1 January to 31 March 2021.4 The Supplement amount was originally $550 per fortnight for the period 27 April to 24 September 2020. It was reduced to $250 per fortnight for the period 25 September 2020 to 31 December 2020.5 The proposed

1. The payment is referred to as the ‘COVID-19 Supplement’ in the legislation but is commonly referred to as the Coronavirus Supplement in both the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill and in government publications. For example, Services Australia (SA), ‘Coronavirus Supplement’, SA website, last updated, 10 November 2020.

2. S Morrison (Prime Minister) and A Ruston (Minister for Families and Social Services), JobSeeker supplement extended to March, media release, 10 November 2020. 3. The supplement has been extended twice to date, via the Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response—2020 Measures No. 14) Determination 2020 and the Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response—2020 Measures No. 15) Determination

2020.

4. Ibid.

5. M Klapdor, Changes to the COVID-19 social security measures: a brief assessment, Research paper series, 2020-21, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2020, pp. 3-4.

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reduction from 1 January 2021 is not part of the Bill as the rate will be set in a legislative instrument.

Structure of the Bill and the Bills Digest The Bill contains one schedule in six parts with a discrete measure in each part. The Bills Digest provides general background to the Government’s social security COVID-19 measures. The Bills Digest examines issues relating to the extension of the Coronavirus Supplement and the proposed amendments in detail in the ‘Key issues and provisions’ section.

Background

Initial COVID-19 social security measures In March 2020, the Government announced two packages of measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to support those needing assistance from the social security system.

The first package was announced on 12 March 2020 and consisted of:

• a $750 lump sum payment for most social security, family assistance, farm household support and veterans’ affairs payment recipients and concession card holders

• a waiver of the one-week Ordinary Waiting Period for JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance (Other) and Parenting Payment and

• a waiver of the requirement for a medical certificate for those claiming Sickness Allowance due to COVID-19.6

The second package was announced on 22 March 2020 and consisted of:

• a Coronavirus Supplement of $550 per fortnight to recipients of JobSeeker Payment, Parenting Payment, Youth Allowance, Farm Household Allowance, Special Benefit, Partner Allowance, Widow Allowance and student payments and

• a second $750 lump sum payment, to be paid in July 2020, for those not eligible for the Coronavirus Supplement

• improved access to income support through changed eligibility criteria for JobSeeker Payment and Youth Allowance; and the waiver of the assets tests and some waiting periods for certain payments.7

The lump sum payments, Coronavirus Supplement and eligibility changes were provided for by the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Act 2020 (the CER Act). The CER Act also provided the Minister for Families and Social Services the broad power to modify provisions in social security law that relate to qualification requirements and payment rates via legislative instrument.8 The Minister could only make such an instrument where they were satisfied that the changes were in response to COVID-19. This power expires on 31 December 2020 and any instrument made using the power has no operation after that date.

6. S Morrison (Prime Minister) and J Frydenberg (Treasurer), Economic stimulus package, media release 12 March 2020; M Klapdor, ‘COVID-19 Economic response—social security measures part 2: $750 lump sum payments’, FlagPost, Parliamentary Library blog, 23 March 2020 (updated 24 March 2020); A Ruston (Minister for Families and Social Services), COVID-19 and Australia’s social security system, media release, 12 March 2020.

7. S Morrison (Prime Minister) and J Frydenberg (Treasurer), Supporting Australian workers and businesses, media release, 22 March 2020; M Klapdor, ‘COVID-19 Economic response—social security measures part 1: temporary supplement and improved access to income support’, FlagPost, Parliamentary Library blog, 23 March 2020 (updated 24 March 2020); Department of Social Services (DSS), ‘Government response to Coronavirus’, Social security guide, DSS website, last reviewed 25 September 2020.

8. Item 40A, Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Act 2020.

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Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 6

On 30 March 2020 the Government also announced a relaxation of the partner income test for JobSeeker Payment, lowering the rate at which payment rates are reduced due to partner income.9 The change was made using the instrument making power provided by the CER Act. The rate at which an individual’s payment rate was reduced for each dollar of partner income over a certain threshold was reduced from 60 cents to 25 cents.10

In response to the pandemic, the Government suspended mutual obligation requirements, such as job search requirements, for certain payment recipients until 8 June 2020.11 These requirements were gradually reintroduced in most jurisdictions from June. However, the second stage of the reintroduction was delayed in Victoria in August 2020.12 Similar requirements apply across all jurisdictions other than South Australia from 23 November 2020.13 Mutual obligation requirements were lifted in South Australia from 18 November 2020 to 29 November 2020.14

Coronavirus Supplement Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the Coronavirus Supplement as ‘supercharging the safety net’ by effectively doubling the income support available to those in receipt of JobSeeker Payment.15 The Prime Minister stated that the second package of measures was focused on those in the ‘frontline’ of COVID-19’s economic impact: ‘We'll be supporting the most vulnerable to the impacts of the crisis. Those who will feel those first blows’.16

The $550 per fortnight supplement was initially targeted at those receiving payments which support those looking for work. Recipients of student payments such as Youth Allowance (Student and Apprentice) and Austudy were initially ineligible for the supplement but this decision was reversed on 23 March.17 Recipients of pension payments such as Age Pension, Disability Support Pension and Carer Payment were excluded. Minister for Families and Social Services stated that the supplement was targeted at those expected to participate in the labour market:

The Coronavirus Supplement is a temporary support in recognition of the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which will directly impede people's ability to find employment. Accordingly, the Coronavirus Supplement is payable to recipients of jobseeker payment and other related allowances, as people on these payments are generally expected to participate in the labour market.18

The Government originally announced that the Coronavirus Supplement would be paid for six months.19 However, the CER Act provided the initial period of the payment would be for around

9. S Morrison (Prime Minister) and J Frydenberg (Treasurer), $130 billion JobKeeper Payment to keep Australians in a job, media release, 30 March 2020. 10. Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response—2020 Measures No. 4) Determination 2020. 11. M Cash (Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business) and A Ruston (Minister for Families and Social

Services), COVID-19 mutual obligation arrangements extended, media release, 27 March 2020; M Cash (Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business) and A Ruston (Minister for Families and Social Services), Gradual return of mutual obligation requirements, media release, 31 May 2020; M Cash (Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business) and A Ruston (Minister for Families and Social Services), Gradual return of mutual obligation requirements, media release, 21 July 2020. 12. M Cash (Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business), A Ruston (Minister for Families and Social Services) and S

Robert (Minister for Government Services and the National Disability Insurance Program), Supporting Victorians through the Coronavirus pandemic, media release, 2 August 2020. 13. M Cash (Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business) and A Ruston (Minister for Families and Social Services), Mutual obligation requirements return for Victorian job seekers, media release, 13 November 2020. 14. M Cash (Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business), Supporting South Australians through COVID-19, media

release, 18 November 2020. 15. S Morrison (Prime Minister) and J Frydenberg (Treasurer), Transcript of press conference: Australian Parliament House, ACT, media release, 22 March 2020. 16. Ibid. 17. J Frydenberg (Treasurer), Transcript of press conference: Parliament House, Canberra, media release, 23 March 2020. 18. A Ruston, ‘Motions: COVID-19: pensions and benefits’, Senate, Debates, 14 May 2020, p. 2436. 19. S Morrison (Prime Minister) and J Frydenberg (Treasurer), Supporting Australian workers and businesses, op. cit.

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Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 7

five months, from 27 April 2020 to 24 September 2020. The supplement was later extended at a reduced rate (see below).

The Coronavirus Supplement is designed so that the full amount is added to a person’s payment rate so long as their qualifying payment is payable in a particular fortnight. This means that a person could have their qualifying payment reduced under the income test (due to other income) to one dollar or even zero dollars in some circumstances and still be eligible for the entire $550 per fortnight amount.20

Eligibility changes The changed eligibility criteria for JobSeeker Payment and Youth Allowance (Other) were to allow easier access to income support for workers who, as a result of the economic impact of COVID-19:

• were made unemployed

• were stood down but not made redundant

• lost hours of work

• were sole traders/self-employed individuals and were force to suspend their business or who had a downturn in revenue.21

The criteria also covered those people in quarantine or self-isolation as a result of advice from a health professional or due to a government requirement and who had their working hours reduced as a result.22

The eligibility criteria for these payments generally require a person to be unemployed or be considered unemployed by Services Australia for the purposes of these criteria—which can be used to allow someone in part-time work to qualify for the payment where they are also meeting their mutual obligation requirements to look for more work or for a full-time position.23 The expanded eligibility criteria in response to COVID-19 were necessary to ensure those who were still ‘employed’, but who had temporarily lost hours of work and income, could qualify for income support.

The CER Act made amendments to the SS Act to provide the Minister with the power to make a legislative instrument to determine eligibility requirements for Youth Allowance (Other) and JobSeeker Payment in response to circumstances relating to COVID-19.24 To be eligible, individuals still need to be considered Australian residents or have an exemption from the residency requirements. The eligibility requirements only apply for the period that the Coronavirus Supplement is paid. The instrument providing for the eligibility requirements is the Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response—2020 Measures No. 2) Determination 2020.

The eligibility requirements only covered those who were not entitled to or receiving a leave payment in respect of the relevant period unless that leave payment, as a result of COVID-19 is lower than it would otherwise have been, or it is paid at a lower rate than the rate of JobSeeker Payment/Youth Allowance (Other) the person would receive if their claim was granted.

20. Department of Social Services (DSS), ‘1.1.N.75 Nil paid recipients, zero paid recipients (JSP, YA)’, Social security guide, DSS website, last reviewed 20 March 2020. 21. DSS, ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19) information and support: Expanding Eligibility and Qualification for Payments’, DSS website, last updated 26 November 2020. 22. Ibid. 23. DSS, ‘1.1.U.30 Unemployed (JSP)’, Social security guide, DSS website, last reviewed 20 March 2020. 24. Items 13 and 22 of Schedule 11, Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Act 2020.

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Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 8

Asset test and waiting period waivers Other temporary changes made in response to COVID-19 that affected expanded payment eligibility and allowed some individuals to commence receiving payments immediately were:

• the waiver of the assets test for JobSeeker Payment, Parenting Payment, Youth Allowance, Austudy and ABSTUDY Living Allowance—the assets test prevents individuals with asset values over certain limits from qualifying for these payments25

• the waiver of the Liquid Assets Waiting Period for JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance and Austudy—this waiting period applies to those with cash and easily realisable assets over a certain value (with the value of the liquid assets determining the waiting period)26

• waiver of the one-week Ordinary Waiting Period for JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance (Other) and Parenting Payment—applies to all claimants unless specifically exempt27

• waiver of the Newly Arrived Residents Waiting Period for JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance, Austudy, Parenting Payment, Special Benefit and Farm Household Allowance (the waiting period applies to new permanent residents and is usually four years for these payments)28 and

• waiver of the Seasonal Work Preclusion Period for JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance, Parenting Payment, Special Benefit and Farm Household Allowance—applies to those who undertake seasonal or intermittent work prior to claiming a payment (waiting period depends on earnings and period of work undertaken).29

These changes applied for the initial period of the Coronavirus Supplement—25 March to 24 September 2020. Most of these waivers were implemented via the CER Act but waivers for some payments were implemented via legislative instrument.30

25. SA, ‘Assets’, SA website, last updated 8 October 2020. 26. SA, ‘Liquid assets waiting period’, SA website, last updated 29 September 2020; DSS, ‘Government response to Coronavirus’, op. cit. 27. SA, ‘Ordinary waiting period’, SA website, last updated 19 May 2020. 28. DSS, ‘1.1.N.70 Newly arrived resident's waiting period (NARWP)’, Social security guide, DSS website, last reviewed

20 March 2020. DSS, ‘Government response to Coronavirus’, op. cit. 29. SA, ‘Seasonal work preclusion period’, SA website, last updated 15 June 2020. 30. The residency requirement waiver for Parenting Payment and asset test/waiting period waivers for Austudy were

implemented via the Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response—2020 Measures No. 1) Determination 2020.

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Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 9

Changes to the COVID-19 social security measures On 21 July 2020 Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced changes to the initial social security measures introduced in response to COVID-19 and one new measure.31 Table 1 sets out the changes to the initial measures.

Table 1: Changes to COVID-19 Economic Response social security measures COVID-19 Economic Response social security measures Changes announced 21 July 2020

$550 per fortnight Coronavirus Supplement for selected payment recipients paid from 27 April to 24 September.

Reduced to $250 per fortnight from 25 September until 31 December 2020.

Expanded eligibility criteria for JobSeeker Payment and Youth Allowance (Other) to allow stood-down permanent employees and sole traders, casuals and contract workers with reduced work to qualify. Criteria apply from 25 March to 24 September.

Remains in place until 31 December 2020.

Waiver of the assets test for JobSeeker Payment, Parenting Payment, Youth Allowance, Austudy and ABSTUDY Living Allowance from 25 March to 24 September.

Reinstated from 25 September 2020.

Waiver of the Liquid Assets Waiting Period for JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance and Austudy from 25 March to 24 September.

Reinstated from 25 September 2020. Those in receipt of a payment prior to 25 September did not have to serve any potential waiting period when it was reinstated—only new claimants from 25 September.

Waiver of the one-week Ordinary Waiting Period from 12 March to 24 September. Remains in place until 31 December 2020.

Reduction in the amount by which payment rates are reduced (the taper rate) for partner income from 27 April to 24 September.

Remains in place until 31 December 2020, but taper rate increased from 25 September 2020: from 25 cents for each dollar of partner income over $996 per fortnight, to 27 cents for each dollar of income over $1,165 per fortnight.

Waiver of the Newly Arrived Residents Waiting Period for JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance, Austudy, Parenting Payment, Special Benefit and Farm Household Allowance (the waiting period is usually four years for these payments) from 25 March to 24 September.

Remains in place until 31 December 2020.

Waiver of the Seasonal Worker Preclusion Period from 25 March to 24 September. Remains in place until 31 December 2020.

Sources: Department of Social Services (DSS), ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19) information and support’, DSS website, last updated 27 November 2020; Australian Government, Extension of additional income support for individuals, fact sheet, The Treasury, last updated 21 July 2020; S Morrison (Prime Minister), J Frydenberg (Treasurer) and A Ruston (Minister for Families and Social Services), JobKeeper payment and income support extended, media release, 21 July 2020.

31. S Morrison (Prime Minister), Press conference: Australian Parliament House, media release, 21 July 2020.

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Further to these changes, the Government announced a new measure to allow recipients of JobSeeker Payment and Youth Allowance (Other) to earn more private income before their payment rate is reduced under the income test. From 25 September to 31 December 2020, the income-free area (the amount of income a person can earn before their payment rate is reduced) has been increased from $106 per fortnight for JobSeeker Payment and $143 for Youth Allowance (Other) to $300 per fortnight. A person’s fortnightly payment rate will be reduced by 60 cents for each dollar of income over $300.32

The change allows these payment recipients to earn more income before having their payment rate reduced and increases the income cut-off point at which a person’s JobSeeker Payment or Youth Allowance (Other) rate reaches zero under the income test. This is significant because, as noted above, the Coronavirus Supplement is not included in the income-tested rate—an individual can receive the full supplement amount as long as they receive even a small amount of the qualifying payment.

These changes, including the new income-free area, were implemented by the Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response—2020 Measures No. 14) Determination 2020. Most of the measures in the determination were made under the broad instrument-making power provided to the Minister by item 40A of Schedule 11 of the CER Act. However, the extension of the Coronavirus Supplement at the reduced rate was made under separate powers provided by the CER Act which allow the Minister to extend the supplement by up to three months at time, to pay the supplement to additional payment categories, and to set a different rate for the supplement.33 As the supplement could only be extended by three months from 25 September, a separate instrument—the Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response—2020 Measures No. 15) Determination 2020—was made to cover the period 19 December to 31 December 2020.

Cost of the COVID-19 social security measures In the Economic and Fiscal Update released on 23 July 2020, the Government set out the total cost of all the social security measures announced in response to COVID-19, including the changes described in Table 1 and the new income test arrangements: $18.8 billion.34 The two lump-sum payments of $750 to certain payment recipients are estimated to have cost an additional $9.4 billion.35 These measures, combined with an increase in the number of payment recipients (see next section), have contributed to an estimated $46 billion in new expenditure in the social security and welfare expense category in 2019-20 and 2020-21.36

Impact of COVID-19 on social security recipient numbers The economic impacts of COVID-19, and the measures to expand access to social security described in the previous sections, have seen a massive increase in the number of people receiving income support payments, particularly those payments aimed at people of working age. Table 2 sets out the number of recipients of the main social security income support payments at different points in time from December 2019 onwards. The introduction of the JobKeeper Payment from March 2020 will have reduced the number of people likely to have claimed social security

32. S Morrison (Prime Minister), J Frydenberg (Treasurer) and A Ruston (Minister for Families and Social Services), JobKeeper payment and income support extended, media release, 21 July 2020 33. Sections 504, 557, 646, and 1210B of the Social Security Act 1991—all inserted by Schedule 11 of the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Act 2020. 34. J Frydenberg (Treasurer) and M Cormann (Minister for Finance), Economic and fiscal update: July 2020, pp. 160-162. 35. Ibid., p. 163. 36. Australian Government, Budget strategy and outlook: budget paper no. 1: 2020-21, p. 6-2. For further information on this

expense category and its components see M Klapdor, ‘Social security and welfare’, Budget review 2020-21, Research paper series, 2020-21, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2020, pp. 130-134.

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payments by providing income to eligible individuals who have been stood down or who have had their working hours reduced, as well as subsidising the wages of businesses facing a downturn in revenue.37

On 20 March 2020 the main unemployment payment for those aged 22 or above, Newstart Allowance, was merged with Sickness Allowance and Bereavement Allowance to form a new payment: JobSeeker Payment.38 The introduction of the new payment was not related to COVID-19 and had been legislated in 2018.39 Between December 2019 and June 2020, the number of recipients of these payments increased by 96.4 per cent. The number of recipients of the main unemployment payment for people aged 16-21, Youth Allowance (Other), increased by 102.9 per cent over the same period. Other payments such as student payments and Parenting Payment Partnered have also seen a significant increase in recipient numbers as a result of COVID-19.

37. Morrison and Frydenberg, $130 billion JobKeeper payment to keep Australians in a job, op. cit. 38. D Arthur, JobSeeker Payment: a quick guide, Research paper series, 2019-20, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 13 March 2020. 39. Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Act 2018.

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Table 2: Recipients of the main income support payments, December 2019-October 2020

Payment 27/12/2019 27/03/2020 26/06/202 0

25/09/202 0

30/10/2020

ABSTUDY Living Allowance*

7 595 8 207 9 806 10 463 10 596

Age Pension 2 515 388 2 529 617 2 556 017 2 567 221 2 571 596

Austudy* 27 634 33 000 41 391 45 298 45 141

Carer Payment

284 252 290 121 294 272 294 465 295 372

Disability Support Pension

751 773 752 191 754 181 752 833 752 534

Newstart Allowance (combined)— JobSeeker Paymenta*

733 704 797 941 1 441 293 1 399 858 1 346 890

Parenting Payment Partnered*

68 087 67 552 92 022 94 171 95 413

Parenting Payment Single*

228 606 230 702 243 433 243 994 242 252

Special Benefit*

6 709 7 162 9 638 10 523 9 803

Youth Allowance (Other)*

85 316 93 399 173 125 166 416 151 874

Youth Allowance (Student and Apprentice)*

134 456 168 997 225 483 234 288 231 177

* Qualifying payment for the Coronavirus Supplement from 27 April 2020. (a) Newstart Allowance, Sickness Allowance and Bereavement Allowance were merged to form JobSeeker Payment from 20 March 2020. The December data is the combined total of the three merged payments and JobSeeker Payment data includes any recipients of Sickness Allowance and Bereavement Allowance yet to transfer to the new payment.

Sources: DSS, ‘DSS Payment Demographic Data’, December 2019, March 2020 and June 2020, data.gov.au website, last updated 7 September 2020; DSS, ‘JobSeeker Payment and Youth Allowance recipients monthly profile: September 2020’, data.gov.au website; DSS, ‘Income support payment data by state and statistical area level 2 and by earnings and partner earnings as at 25 September 2020’, provided to Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 on 7 October 2020 (Additional information item no. 36); DSS, ‘Income support payment data by state and statistical area level 2 and by earnings and partner earnings as at 30 October 2020’, provided to Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 on 9 November 2020 (Additional information item no. 36)

Impact of the Coronavirus Supplement The Coronavirus Supplement has significantly improved the incomes of eligible recipients. The maximum rate of JobSeeker Payment for a single person with no children increased from $574.50

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Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 13

per fortnight (including Energy Supplement) to $1,124.50 per fortnight.40 This meant that JobSeeker Payment went from being the equivalent of 61 per cent of the maximum pension rate ($944.30 per fortnight including Energy Supplement and Pension Supplement) to 119 per cent.41

Modelling undertaken by Ben Phillips, Matthew Gray and Nicholas Biddle at the Australian National University’s Centre for Social Research and Methods examined the impact of the Government’s COVID-19 economic response measures on poverty.42 They found that the social security measures, combined with the JobKeeper Payment policy, significantly reduced the number of people in poverty and the depth of poverty when compared with the pre-COVID-19 period.43 The researchers found that pre-COVID-19, around 67.3 per cent of households whose main source of income was Newstart Allowance or Youth Allowance were in poverty. The introduction of the Coronavirus Supplement and other social security measures almost eliminated poverty for these households: only 6.8 per cent of households with income from these unemployment payments were in poverty in June 2020.44

Modelling commissioned by the Australia Institute think tank also found that the Coronavirus Supplement had a dramatic impact on poverty rates.45 The modelling estimated that around 425,000 people were no longer in poverty as a result of the new supplement.46

A survey of recipients of the Coronavirus Supplement conducted by the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children reported many positive impacts of the supplement including reduced stress, the ability to cover bills, the ability to purchase healthier food and reduced family conflict.47 A similar survey by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) found that 80 per cent of respondents stated they were ‘eating better and more regularly’, 70.7 per cent said they were able to catch up on bill payments and 67.8 per cent of people said they were able to pay for medicines or health treatments.48

The Australian Bureau of Statistics included some questions on the Coronavirus Supplement in its survey of the household impacts of COVID-19. In mid-September 2020, around 10 per cent of Australians reported receiving the supplement. Of those receiving the payment, 32 per cent reported mainly using the payment on household supplies such as groceries and 28 per cent reported mainly using it for mortgage or rent payments. Of all uses of the supplement (not only the main use), paying household bills was the most commonly reported use (71 per cent of respondents) followed by household supplies (67 per cent).49

40. SA, ‘JobSeeker Payment: How much you can get’, SA website, last updated 25 September 2020; SA, ‘Energy Supplement: How much you can get: Payment rates on a pension or an allowance’, SA website, last updated 20 September 2020; DSS, ‘Government response to Coronavirus’, op. cit.

41. Ibid.; SA, ‘Age Pension: How much you can get’, SA website, last updated 12 November 2020. 42. The poverty line used was 50 per cent of the median equivalised household income. Equivalised here means adjusted to take account of different household sizes including the number of children in a household. 43. B Phillips, M Gray and N Biddle, COVID-19 JobKeeper and JobSeeker impacts on poverty and housing stress under current and

alternative economic and policy scenarios, ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods, Australian National University, 29 August 2020, p. iv. 44. Ibid., p. 10. 45. M Grudnoff, Poverty in the age of coronavirus: the impact of the JobSeeker coronavirus supplement on poverty, Discussion paper, Australia Institute, Canberra, July 2020. 46. Ibid., p. 1. 47. Anti-Poverty Week, ‘The impact of the $550/fortnight Coronavirus Supplement: 500 Reasons to Smile survey results’, Anti-Poverty Week, September 2020. 48. Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), ‘If it wasn’t for the Supplement, I’ve no idea where I’d be’, ACOSS, Sydney, September 2020, p. 1. 49. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), ‘Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey: September 2020’, ABS, Canberra, 13 October 2020.

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Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 14

Extension of COVID-19 social security measures to March 2021 On 10 November 2020, the Prime Minister and Minister for Social Services announced the extension of the Coronavirus Supplement to the end of March 2021, paid at a reduced rate of $150 per fortnight.50 The Government also announced that it would extend a range of other COVID-19 social security measures until the end of March 2021:

• the expanded eligibility criteria for JobSeeker Payment and Youth Allowance

• the waiver of the one-week Ordinary Waiting Period, Newly Arrived Resident’s Waiting Period and the Seasonal Work Preclusion Period

• the September 2020 changes to the income test for JobSeeker Payment and Youth Allowance (Other)

• the September 2020 changes to the partner income test for JobSeeker Payment and

• special arrangements for pensioners temporarily absent from Australia, Mobility Allowance transition arrangements and temporary self-declaration arrangements for members of a couple assessments.51

The Government announced it would also extend the special nil-rate period arrangements which allow social security recipients who have a zero-rate of payment due to employment income to not have their payment cancelled. Usually, a person can have a nil-rate period of up to six fortnights before their payment is cancelled.52 The Government initially allowed for any nil-rate periods that ended after 22 June 2020 to end on 2 August 2020.53 This end date has been extended multiple times and is currently 31 December 2020.54 The Government has announced that it will extend the end-date of any nil-rate periods that had reached their six-fortnight maximum after 22 June 2020 to 16 April 2021.55

Committee consideration

Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee The Bill was referred to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 27 November 2020. The Committee received 35 public submissions. Some of the submissions are detailed in the ‘Position of major interest groups’ section of this Bills Digest. Details of the inquiry are available at the inquiry homepage.

The Committee tabled its report on 27 November 2020.56 The Committee recommended the Bill be passed.57 Australian Labor Party senators made additional comments to the report and the Australian Greens issued a dissenting report—see ‘Policy position of non-government parties/independents’ section for details.

Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills At the time of writing, the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills had not yet considered the Bill.

50. Morrison and Ruston, JobSeeker supplement extended to March, op. cit. 51. DSS, Submission to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, Inquiry into the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020, [Submission no. 26], 19 November 2020, p. 3. 52. Services Australia (SA), ‘Nil payment period extended until 16 April 2021’, SA website, last updated 16 November 2020. 53. Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response—2020 Measures No. 11) Determination 2020. 54. Items 5 and 6 of Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response—2020 Measures No. 15) Determination 2020. 55. DSS, Submission, op. cit., p. 3. 56. Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus

Support) Bill 2020 [Provisions], The Senate, Canberra, 27 November 2020. 57. Ibid., p. vii.

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Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 15

Policy position of non-government parties/independents In their Additional Comments to the Senate Community Affairs Committee’s report on the Bill, Australian Labor Party senators stated: ‘It is a missed opportunity for the government to deliver a permanent increase to the rate of JobSeeker Payment.’58 The Labor senators were concerned about the amendments in Part 1 of Schedule 1 of the Bill which will repeal provisions relating to the Coronavirus Supplement from 1 April 2021. Their Additional Comments stated that ‘the government should not be ending the Minister’s ability to provide additional Coronavirus support, without at least legislating for a permanent increase to the base rate of unemployment payments’.59 Labor called on the Government to deliver a permanent increase to the base rate of unemployment support and ‘ensure continued beneficial support for people impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic and the recession’.60

Previously, Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services Linda Burney had stated that Labor wants the Coronavirus Supplement rate to be maintained at the current rate of $250 per fortnight until the end of March 2021 and that there should be a permanent increase in the rate of JobSeeker Payment.61

The Australian Greens Dissenting Report to the Senate Community Affairs Committee’s report on the Bill stated:

The Australian Greens reject the majority committee view that this bill will adequately support people as they re-engage with the workforce. The overwhelming evidence received by the committee clearly demonstrates this bill will cause harm by further cutting the rate of the coronavirus supplement and dropping people on income support payments further below the poverty line.62

The Greens recommended the Government announce ‘a permanent and ongoing increase to JobSeeker Payment’; the reinstatement of the $550 per fortnight rate of the Coronavirus Supplement; and, the reinstatement of the waivers of the Liquid Assets Waiting Period and assets test.63

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert had previously criticised the proposed reduction in the Coronavirus stating:

This decision is purely ideological. It is not fair and does not make economic sense and it is extremely harmful for our communities.

Let’s be clear, the Government is making the decision to push over a million people into poverty.

Short-term measures and cuts in the middle of a recession and a pandemic leave people in limbo, increasing their anxiety and stress and affecting their capacity to plan for the future.64

At the time of writing the position of other non-government parties and independents on the Bill was unclear.

58. Labor Senators, ‘Additional comments’, Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 [Provisions], The Senate, Canberra, 27 November 2020, p. 15.

59. Ibid., p. 16. 60. Ibid., p. 18. 61. L Burney (Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services), Transcript of interview with Fran Kelly: ABC RN Breakfast, media release, 10 November 2020.

62. Australian Greens, ‘Dissenting Report’, Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 [Provisions], The Senate, Canberra, 27 November 2020, p. 19. 63. Ibid., pp. 21-22. 64. R Siewert, 150 reasons why $150 is not enough, media release, 10 November 2020.

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Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 16

Position of major interest groups In its submission to the Senate Community Affairs Committee inquiry into the Bill the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) stated it was opposed to the proposed reduction in the Coronavirus Supplement rate (not included in the Bill) and the Bill’s proposal to end the supplement from 1 April 2021 without an increase in JobSeeker Payment and Youth Allowance rates.65

The Council of the Ageing (COTA) Australia recommended the Coronavirus Supplement be replaced with a permanent increase in the rate of JobSeeker Payment:

The supplement has delivered a much-needed boost to both individual hip pockets and the wider economy. Looking forward, there is a need to replace the Coronavirus Supplement with permanent increases to the Jobseeker rate and to the maximum rate of Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA), and to the indexation of both.66

COTA Australia’s submission also recommended the Government reverse its decision to reinstate the Liquid Assets Waiting Period on 25 September 2020, at least for unemployed mature age workers.67

In its submission to the Senate Committee inquiry into the Bill, the Australian Human Rights Commission stated: ‘while the measures in the Bill are a step in the right direction, they are insufficient to protect our most vulnerable communities, our children, and those people on temporary visas, from poverty and associated harms’.68 The Commission was concerned at the proposed reduction in the Coronavirus Supplement rate and a return to previous rates of income support from 1 April 2021. The Commission also recommended that eligibility for social security be extended to certain groups currently excluded, particularly temporary visa holders.69

A range of other submissions from community sector organisations, peak bodies and groups representing social security payment recipients also made submissions to the Senate Committee inquiry raising concerns with the Government’s proposed reduction in the rate of the Coronavirus Supplement and the return to pre-COVID-19 social security payment rates from 1 April 2021.70

Financial implications According to the Explanatory Memorandum, the Bill will allow for the extension of certain temporary social security policies: ‘The instrument making power will deliver the policies at a cost of $3.2 billion to 2024-25’.71

65. ACOSS, Submission to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, Inquiry into the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020, [Submission no. 16], 19 November 2020. 66. Council of the Ageing (COTA) Australia, Submission to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, Inquiry into the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020, [Submission no. 9],

19 November 2020, p. 2. 67. Ibid.,p. 1. 68. Australian Human Rights Commission, Submission to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, Inquiry into the

Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020, [Submission no. 8], 19 November 2020, p. 1. 69. Ibid., pp. 3-5. 70. See, for example, the submissions by Anti Poverty Week; Economic Justice Australia; Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union and Mission Australia. Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, ‘Submissions’, Inquiry into the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020, The Senate, 2020. 71. Explanatory Memorandum, Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020, p. 1.

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Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 17

Statement of Compatibility with Human Rights As required under Part 3 of the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011 (Cth), the Government has assessed the Bill’s compatibility with the human rights and freedoms recognised or declared in the international instruments listed in section 3 of that Act. The Government considers that the Bill is compatible.72

Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights had no comment in relation to the Bill.73

Key issues and provisions The key issue being raised by stakeholders in relation to the Bill is the extension to the period that the Coronavirus Supplement can be paid to—from 31 December 2020 to 31 March 2021—and the Government’s proposal to reduce the rate at which it will be paid during this period from $250 to $150 per fortnight. The Bill does not actually provide for the extension of the supplement or the rate reduction, however, some amendments are proposed to ensure Youth Allowance (Students and Apprentice) recipients can continue to receive the supplement during the period January to March 2021.

The Minister for Families and Social Services can extend the supplement period for payments other than Youth Allowance (Student and Apprentice) for three-months at a time via legislative instrument.74 This instrument can also set the rate of the supplement. The Department of Social Services included a draft of the proposed instrument to extend and reduce the supplement, and to extend various other COVID-19 social security measures, with its submission to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation inquiry into the Bill.75

Part 1 of Schedule 1 of the Bill does propose to repeal all provisions relating to the Coronavirus Supplement from 1 April 2021. This will mean that the supplement cannot be extended beyond 31 March 2021 without further legislation.

As the extension and reduction of the Coronavirus Supplement is the key issue relating to the Bill, this section focuses on the main issues relevant to public debate over the supplement before providing a brief analysis of the key provisions of the Bill.

Rationale for the Coronavirus Supplement It is difficult to determine the specific rationale for the Coronavirus Supplement but establishing the rationale is important to assess the policy decision to both extend and reduce the rate of the payment.

The Prime Minister described the payment as ‘supercharging the safety net’ and that it formed part of a package of measures to ‘cushion the economic impact of the coronavirus and help build a bridge to recovery’.76 The payment was initially limited to payments related to unemployment such as JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance (Other) and Parenting Payment (student payments were not included in the package as announced). These are the ‘safety net’ payments for those who lose work and act as an economic stabiliser, automatically offering support for those whose

72. The Statement of Compatibility with Human Rights can be found at pages 14-18 of the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill. 73. Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, Report, 14, 2020, 26 November 2020, p. 56. 74. Sections 504, 557, 646 and 1210B, Social Security Act 1991. 75. DSS, Submission, op. cit., [pp. 5-24]. 76. Morrison and Frydenberg, Transcript of press conference, op. cit., 22 March 2020; Morrison and Frydenberg, Supporting

Australian workers and businesses, op. cit.

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Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 18

income is affected by economic downturns. The decision to ‘supercharge’ this safety net suggests some possible rationales:

• the existing safety net offered inadequate support

• COVID-19 and/or the economic downturn was likely to significantly increase costs for income support recipients

• additional financial support provided to social security recipients was likely to act as an economic stimulus and boost confidence in the economy

• new claimants of unemployment payments required a different level of support compared to existing recipients and/or

• the nature of COVID-19 restrictions meant that any temporary additional support would not act as a disincentive to labour market participation (but that this would change with the easing of restrictions).

Appearing before the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 in April 2020, Treasury Secretary Steven Kennedy suggested that the additional support was intended to stabilise the economy following the shock of COVID-19 and to boost confidence:

In my view, it was important—as much as it is appropriate for me to say; it was certainly my advice—to get the safety net in place first, the COVID-19 supplement that the government announced in the enhanced safety net, because, in this type of disturbance, with this type of shock, it's not just a question of the economic stabiliser; there's a stabiliser that, in my view, needs to go underneath the community for it to have confidence through a period of really very significant disruption.77

This suggests the rationale focused less on the specific needs of recipients or the adequacy of existing payment rates and more on the need for fiscal stimulus and a desire to boost confidence in the economy. This also matches with the rationale provided by the Minister for Families and Social Services, Senator Anne Ruston, for the reduction of the supplement at the end of September 2020:

The decision that was made in the July economic fiscal update to extend the supplement past the end of September, which was the original period of time in the decision made by the parliament back in March, was a reflection of the lifting of restrictions that had taken place in the intervening period. In the states and territories, with the exception of Victoria, we were seeing restrictions lifting and jobs becoming available again. But we also recognised that there was a shallowness in the jobs market. We remain in a shallow jobs market, as you would concede. But, at the same time, we also wanted to make sure that we were providing appropriate incentives for people to seek to re-engage with the jobs market.78

Here, the improving labour market provides the reason for a reduction in the rate of supplement suggesting the payment is intended primarily as an economic stimulus, not as addressing any concerns regarding costs of living or the adequacy of the payment rate.

Some of the criticisms of the reduction in the Coronavirus Supplement directly relate to this rationale. For example, the Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services has argued that the payment is helping to stimulate economic activity and sustain jobs, and that a lower payment rate will see job losses.79 Other criticisms of the reduction in the supplement have focused on the issue of the adequacy of social security for job seekers—building on a long-running campaign from

77. S Kennedy, Evidence to Senate Select Committee on COVID-19, Australian Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, 28 April 2020. p. 4. 78. Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, Official committee Hansard, 28 October 2010, pp. 7-8. 79. L Burney (Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services), Release Treasury JobSeeker modelling: how many jobs will be lost

when JobSeeker is cut?, media release, 24 September 2020.

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Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 19

community groups and others to have payment rates increased on an ongoing basis (see next section).

The adequacy of payments for job seekers The Government’s decision to both reduce the Coronavirus Supplement rate for the September- December 2020 period and again for the January-March 2021 period has attracted criticism from the community sector, the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens. These same groups have been calling for an increase in the basic rates of the payments for job seekers, including JobSeeker Payment and Youth Allowance. These criticisms portray the Coronavirus Supplement as a relief from the inadequate level of support offered to certain social security recipients and that the reduction in the Coronavirus Supplement, and the eventual withdrawal of the supplement, will mean these recipients are returned to an inadequate payment rate.80

For over a decade, policy experts, community sector advocates and business groups have raised concern over the level of payments for job seekers.81 These same groups applauded the introduction of the Coronavirus Supplement but have expressed concern at the withdrawal of the support and that the Government has not committed to any permanent increase in payment rates for job seekers.82

Ben Phillips, one of the ANU researchers who modelled the impact of the COVID-19 response measures on poverty (see ‘Impact of the Coronavirus Supplement’ section above), has estimated that the proposed $100 reduction in the rate of supplement in January 2021 will increase the number of people below the poverty line by 330,000 to 3.82 million.83 Had the supplement remained at $550 per fortnight, Phillips estimated there would be around 2.66 million people below the poverty line.84

Does the rate of the Coronavirus Supplement offer a disincentive to work? Another reason offered by the Government for reducing the rate of the Coronavirus Supplement—linked to an improving economy—is that the higher rate poses a disincentive for payment recipients to find employment. Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated in an interview on 29 June 2020:

What we have to be worried about now is that we can't allow the JobSeeker Payment to become an impediment to people out and going doing work, getting extra shifts. And we are getting a lot of anecdotal feedback from small businesses even large businesses where some of them are finding it hard to get people to come and take the shifts because they're on these higher levels of payment.85

Evidence for this disincentive is limited. In June 2020, Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash cited a National Skills Commission survey in which some businesses had reported a lack of applicants.86 However, a media report which examined the data found that only around six per

80. See ACOSS, Raise the rate for good, fact sheet, ACOSS, [Sydney], July 2020; R Siewert, Senate to debate JobSeeker Bill, media release, 9 November 2020; L Burney (Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services), Minister refuses to guarantee JobSeeker won't return to old Newstart rate, media release, 29 September 2020.

81. See D Arthur, ‘The adequacy of jobseeker payments’, Parliamentary Library Briefing Book: Key Issues for the 46th Parliament, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2019. 82. For example, ACOSS, op. cit.; B Bradbury and P Whiteford, ‘Unemployment support will be slashed by $300 this week. This won't help people find work’, The Conversation, 21 September 2020; J Westacott (Chief Executive, Business Council of

Australia), Transcript of interview with Tom Connell: Sky News Sunday Agenda, media release, 12 July 2020. 83. L Henriques-Gomes, ‘Covid welfare cut will cast 330,000 more Australians into poverty, analysis shows’, Guardian (Australia), 18 November 2020. 84. Ibid. 85. S Morrison (Prime Minister), Transcript of interview with Ray Hadley: 2GB, media release, 29 June 2020. 86. G Chambers, P Commins and J Kelly, ‘Jobless opt for dole over work’, The Australian, 30 June 2020.

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Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 20

cent (139) of businesses surveyed reported difficulties in recruiting and just over half of those (72) cited a lack of applicants as a reason.87 More recent data produced from a different survey conducted by the National Skills Commission (covering a broader range of businesses than the earlier survey cited by Minister Cash) found that around 43 per cent of employers who were recruiting in the period 19 October to 13 November 2020 reported difficulties. Of those with difficulties, just under 40 per cent cited one reason was a lack of applicants. However, this translates to 110 businesses reporting a lack of applicants out of 1,360 contacted for the survey (around eight per cent).88

Supplement design offers a disincentive The Coronavirus Supplement has offered a significant disincentive to earn more private income, but primarily for those close to the point at which no JobSeeker Payment (or other qualifying payment) is payable. As noted in the Parliamentary Library Research Paper, Changes to the COVID-19 social security measures: a brief assessment, this is not due to the high rate of the supplement, but the fact it is excluded from the income test and does not gradually taper off as private income increases.89 For example, this means that a person who moves from qualifying for one dollar of the basic JobSeeker Payment rate in a fortnight under the income test to qualifying for zero dollars loses the entire Coronavirus Supplement amount (currently $250 per fortnight). Figure 1 demonstrates this disincentive by showing the dramatic drop to zero income support at the point where private income means an individual is no longer eligible for the Coronavirus Supplement. This is compared to the non-COVID-19 settings where income support gradually tapers down to zero as other income increases.

87. D Hurst, ‘"Deeply hurtful" claims of Australian jobseekers turning down work are based on scant evidence’, Guardian (Australia), 30 June 2020. 88. National Skills Commission, ‘Recruitment experiences and outlook snapshot’, National Skills Commission, 20 November 2020. 89. Klapdor, Changes to the COVID-19 social security measures, op. cit.

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Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 21

Figure 1: JobSeeker Payment rate under different Coronavirus Supplement and income test settings (single, no dependent children)

Notes: JobSeeker Payment rate includes Energy Supplement and the applicable Coronavirus Supplement rate (but excludes Rent Assistance and other supplementary payments payable in some circumstances). ‘Without COVID-19 measures’ excludes the Coronavirus Supplement and the changes to the income test from 25 September 2020. Source: Parliamentary Library estimates.

The effect of the sudden-death Coronavirus Supplement cut-off means that some individuals can have a lower overall-income as they earn more private income. Figure 2 shows how the design of the supplement interacts with the JobSeeker Payment income test and income tax by comparing net disposable income under the different COVID-19 settings. Figure 2 shows that a disincentive to earn more private income applies at certain points under each of the Coronavirus Supplement rate settings but the effect for the proposed $150 per fortnight rate will not be as strong and will affect a more limited income range compared to the April-September and September-December settings.

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Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 22

Figure 2: Net disposable income under different Coronavirus Supplement and income test settings (JobSeeker Payment, single, no dependent children, no private health cover)

Notes: JobSeeker Payment rate includes Energy Supplement and the applicable Coronavirus Supplement rate (but excludes Rent Assistance and other supplementary payments payable in some circumstances). Disposable income is total private and social security income minus any income tax or Medicare levy. ‘Without COVID-19 measures’ excludes the Coronavirus Supplement and the changes to the income test from 25 September 2020. The full-time minimum wage is $753.80 per week from 1 July 2020. Source: Parliamentary Library estimates; Fair Work Ombudsman, ‘Minimum wages’, Fair Work Ombudsman website, n.d.

Does the JobSeeker rate offer a disincentive? Social security researchers Bruce Bradbury and Peter Whiteford have argued that ‘Australia is in no danger of creating a disincentive for people to seek work because of higher JobSeeker payments’.90 Their analysis found that those on Newstart/JobSeeker Payment have experienced a steady decline in their position relative to the minimum wage over the last two decades: the rate of payment for a single adult with no children has fallen from around 50 per cent of the minimum wage in the 1990s to under 40 per cent at the start of 2020—well below the poverty line (half of median equivalised household income for the non-self-employed). Bradbury and Whiteford found that with the introduction of the Coronavirus Supplement, payment rates were still well below the adult minimum wage (76 per cent, or 82 per cent if shared accommodation Rent Assistance is included).91 Figure 3 is taken from Bradbury and Whiteford’s submission to the Senate Community Affairs Committee inquiry into the Bill.

90. Bradbury and Whiteford, ‘Unemployment support will be slashed by $300 this week’, op. cit. 91. Ibid.

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Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 23

Figure 3: Bradbury and Whiteford analysis of JobSeeker Payment and pension rates relative to the minimum wage 1990-2021

Source: B Bradbury and P Whiteford, Submission to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, Inquiry into the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020, [Submission no. 21], 19 November 2020, p. 3.

University of Melbourne economist Jeff Borland has also published a paper setting out evidence that the Coronavirus Supplement, or an increase in the JobSeeker Payment rate, does not offer a disincentive to search for and take up paid work.92 Borland argued that payment recipients would gain a significant financial advantage from taking up paid work even with an increase in the JobSeeker Payment rate of $250 per fortnight.93 Borland also highlighted non-monetary benefits of moving from unemployment to employment (such as health impacts) but did not factor in the loss of some social security supplementary benefits such as concession cards. Borland’s analysis suggested that the Coronavirus Supplement had not affected the speed with which vacancies are being filled nor has it created labour shortages. Borland argued that main drivers of labour supply

92. J Borland, Labour market snapshot #71, Jeff Borland @ University of Melbourne website, 19 November 2020. 93. Ibid., [p. 4].

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Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 24

in Australia since the onset of the pandemic have not been social security payment rates but macroeconomic conditions and the direct effects of COVID‐19.94

Key provisions

Part 1—COVID-19 Supplement Item 1 amends subsection 557(1) of the Social Security Act 1991 with effect from 1 January 2021 so that students and apprentices are not excluded from eligibility for the Coronavirus Supplement for Youth Allowance. This exclusion was included in the original CER Act but its operation was overridden by the Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response—2020 Measures No. 1) Determination 2020.95 However, this determination will no longer operate after 31 December 2020 so the amendment is required if the Coronavirus Supplement is to be extended for Youth Allowance (Student and Apprentice).96

No amendments are required to extend the Coronavirus Supplement for other payment recipients as the CER Act did not place an end-date on the Minister’s power to extend the supplement (but the Minister can only extend the supplement by three months at a time).97

Items 3-29 remove all provisions relating to the Coronavirus Supplement from the SS Act and the Farm Household Support Act 2014 with effect from 1 April 2021. This has the effect that the supplement will not be payable to any payment recipients after March 2021.

Part 2—Qualification for Youth Allowance or JobSeeker Payment—coronavirus Item 30 repeals paragraph 540BA(1)(b) of the SS Act so that students and apprentices are not excluded from the special COVID-19 eligibility criteria for Youth Allowance (currently set out in Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response—2020 Measures No. 2) Determination 2020).98 This exclusion was included in the original CER Act but its operation was overridden by the Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response—2020 Measures No. 1) Determination 2020.99 However, the No. 1 Determination will no longer operate after 31 December 2020 so the amendment is required if the special eligibility criteria are to continue to apply for Youth Allowance (Student and Apprentice) claimants.100

Items 32-35 remove all provisions relating to the special COVID-19 eligibility criteria for Youth Allowance and JobSeeker Payment with effect from 1 April 2021. This has the effect that claimants will not be eligible for these payments under these criteria after March 2021.

Part 3—Liquid assets test waiting period and assets test exemptions Items 36-43 repeals all provisions in the SS Act relating to the liquid assets test and asset test exemptions that applied to Youth Allowance, JobSeeker Payment and Parenting Payment for the period 25 March to 24 September 2020. The Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response— 2020 Measures No. 14) Determination 2020 and the Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response—2020 Measures No. 7) Determination 2020 ceased the operation of these provisions

94. Ibid., [p. 1]. 95. Clause 7 of Schedule 1 to the Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response—2020 Measures No. 1) Determination 2020. 96. Item 40A of the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Act 2020. 97. See, for example, subsections 557(2) and (3) of the Social Security Act 1991. 98. Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response—2020 Measures No. 2) Determination 2020. 99. Clause 2 of Schedule 1 to the Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response—2020 Measures No. 1) Determination 2020. 100. Item 40A of the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Act 2020.

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Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 25

from 25 September 2020.101 The proposed amendments in Part 3 will permanently remove the relevant provisions from the SS Act.

Part 4—Modifications of social security law Item 44 inserts sections 1261-1263 into the SS Act to provide the Minister for Families and Social Services with the power to amend specific provisions of the SS Act via legislative instrument. Any amendment made by a legislative instrument made under proposed section 1262 cannot have effect after 31 March 2021 unless the amendments relate to subsection 23(4A) or 23(4AA) of the SS Act, in which case they cannot have effect after 16 April 2021. Subsections 23(4A) or 23(4AA) allow for ‘nil rate periods’ to be determined which allow a person to be treated as a social security payment recipient despite receiving a nil-rate due to the effect of employment income under the income test.

The proposed instrument-making power is not as broad as that provided under item 40A of the CER Act but still grants considerable scope to the Minister to override the operation of the SS Act via a legislative instrument. Such powers are referred to as Henry VIII clauses. The Senate Scrutiny of Bills Committee generally draws attention to such clauses as they ‘impact on the level of parliamentary scrutiny and may subvert the appropriate relationship between the Parliament and the executive’.102 The powers provided under the CER Act were considered necessary given the uncertain circumstances at the beginning of the pandemic, particularly around parliamentary sittings and whether legislative amendments would be able to made in response to unforeseen impacts of COVID-19. In the current situation, the Government has made clear its intention to extend existing policy settings for three months. Some of the provisions specified will not require any further changes to extend the COVID-19 arrangements as they are linked to the Coronavirus Supplement payment period (for example, the waiting period waivers and COVID-19 qualification rules). It is unclear in this instance why the relevant amendments cannot be made via legislation without the need for a Henry VIII clause.

The specific provisions the instrument-making power will apply to are:

• the nil-rate period provisions (subsections 23(4A) and (4AA) of the SS Act)

• the qualifying residency requirement for Parenting Payment—which has a similar impact as the newly arrived resident’s waiting period that applies to other payments (paragraph 500(1)(d) and subsections 500(3) and (4) of the SS Act)

• the newly arrived resident’s waiting period and seasonal work preclusion periods for JobSeeker Payment, Parenting Payment, Youth Allowance, Austudy and Special Benefit, and the ordinary waiting period for JobSeeker Payment, Parenting Payment and Youth Allowance (sections 500WA, 500WB, 500X, 500Y, 500Z, 549CA, 549CB, 549D, 549E, 553C, 575D, 575E, 575EA, 620, 621, 623A, 623B, 633, 739A and 745M of the SS Act)

• the special COVID-19 qualification rules for Youth Allowance and JobSeeker Payment (subsections 540BA(4) and 593(8) of the SS Act)

• provisions relating to working out whether a JobSeeker Payment is a member of couple (in Parts 2.12 and 3.6 of the SS Act)

• the income free area and taper rate components of the rate calculators for Youth Allowance (Other) and JobSeeker Payment (at sections 1067G and 1068)

101. Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response—2020 Measures No. 14) Determination 2020; Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response—2020 Measures No. 7) Determination 2020. 102. For example, see Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills, Scrutiny digest, 2, 2018, 14 February 2018, p. 48.

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Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 26

• the rules relating to pension eligibility while a recipient is absent from Australia—known as pension portability (at section 1216, Division 3 of Part 4.2 and clause 128 of Schedule 1A of the SS Act)

• the continuing qualification rules for Mobility Allowance (section 1046 of the SS Act) and

• the rate calculator for former Wife Pension recipients who have transitioned to JobSeeker Payment (subsection 654(3) of the SS Act).

Proposed subsection 1262(3) provides that the Minister ‘must be satisfied’ that any determination made to vary the above provisions is ‘in response to circumstances relating to the coronavirus known as COVID-19’.

Proposed subsection 1262(5) provides that the determination may specify that a person is taken to have done a specified thing before the determination commences—that is, any modification to the provisions listed above could have a retrospective effect.

Item 45 is a transitional provision that provides that any determination made under proposed subsection 1262 of the SS Act modifying Module G of Benefit Rate Calculator B in section 1068, in relation to working out the rate of Jobseeker Payment, is disregarded for the purposes of working out if an individual meets the Health Care Card income test at section 1071A. The Health Care Card income test is linked to the JobSeeker Payment income test and any modification of the income free area or taper rate for JobSeeker Payment could affect Health Care Card eligibility.

Part 5—Extending the period a residence is the person’s principal home The social security assets test excludes the value of a person’s principal home.103 The definition of ‘principal home’ allows for temporary absences from that home for up to 12 months. The home will be included in the assets test following an absence of more than 12 months except where an extended exemption period is granted. Extensions only apply in situations where the home has been lost or damaged and specific criteria are met.104

Item 47 inserts proposed subsection 11A(9B) into the SS Act to provide the Secretary of the Department of Social Services with the discretionary power to extend the allowable absence period where an individual:

• is absent from Australia

• the absence is temporary and

• the person is unable to return to Australia before the end of the 12-month period or an extension period granted under the existing provisions due to circumstances beyond the person’s control.

No limit is placed on the length of the absence period the Secretary can set.

International border closures and limits on overseas travel resulting from COVID-19 are given as reasons for these amendments but the discretionary power could be used in circumstances that are not related to COVID-19.105

The application provision at item 48 enables the amendments to apply on or after commencement; or, in situations where the period of absence overseas commenced prior to

103. DSS, ‘4.6.3.10 General provisions for assessing the principal home’, Social security guide, DSS website, last reviewed 11 May 2020. 104. DSS, ‘4.6.3.60 Exempting the principal home - temporary vacation of property’, Social security guide, DSS website, last reviewed 11 May 2020. 105. Explanatory Memorandum, Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020,

p. 11.

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Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 27

commencement and the allowable absence period (12 months or an extension granted under existing provisions) ends on or after 11 March 2020.

Similar amendments are made by items 49-51 to the VE Act in order to provide a discretionary power to the Repatriation Commission to extend the allowable temporary absence period from a principal home. This will enable recipients of asset-tested veterans’ payments such as the Service Pension to have their absence period extended when they are overseas and unable to return to Australia due to circumstances beyond their control.

Part 6—Continuation of Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response—2020 Measures No. 5) Determination 2020 The Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response—2020 Measures No. 5) Determination 2020 is an instrument made under item 28 of Schedule 2 to the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus (Measures No. 2) Act 2020 (CER No. 2 Act). The determination amends section 204A of the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 (the SS Admin Act) to allow the Secretary of the Department of Social Services to obtain information on JobKeeper Payment and entitlements to JobKeeper Payment from the Commissioner of Taxation.

The Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response—2020 Measures No. 12) Determination 2020 modified the No. 5 Determination to also allow for the disclosure of protected information under the SS Admin Act to taxation officers for the purposes of administering the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Act 2020 or rules made under that Act (the Act and Rules provide for the payment of JobKeeper Payment). The No. 12 Determination also added additional purposes for the sharing of JobKeeper Payment information with the Secretary of the Department of Social Services including research, statistical analysis, policy development, and service delivery to ensure correct payment entitlements.

Subitem 28(4) of Schedule 2 to the CER No. 2 Act provides that any determination made under item 28 has no operation after 28 March 2021. Subitem 28(5) repeals the item at the end of 28 March 2021. Subitem 52(1) reverses the effect of these subitems to allow item 1A of Schedule 1 to the No. 5 determination to continue to operate after 28 March 2021. That item modifies section 202 of the SS Admin Act, which sets out how protected information may be obtained and dealt with, by providing that a person may disclose protected information to a taxation officer for the purposes of administering the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Act 2020 or rules made under that Act. No time limit is placed on the continued operation of the modified provision.

Subitem 52(2) allows the continued use of information provided to the Secretary by the Commissioner of Taxation in relation to entitlement to Jobkeeper, including tax file numbers, before 29 March 2021.

Subitem 52(3) allows the continued use, disclosure and publication of aggregated information produced from information provided to the Secretary by the Commissioner of Taxation in relation to entitlement to Jobkeeper. The Department of Social Services has not published any detailed statistics using this data to date.

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