All submitters supported the objective of the Social Services
Legislation Amendment (Youth Employment) Bill 2015 (Bill) to address youth
unemployment in Australia. However, submitters did not support the measures proposed
in the Bill and expressed concerns that they could potentially disadvantage
unemployed young people.
The committee notes that the proposed measures outlined in schedules 1–3
of the Bill are substantially the same as those introduced in schedules 1–3 of
the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Youth Employment and Other Measures)
Bill 2015 (previous Bill). The committee notes that these measures were
examined in detail in the committee's inquiry into the previous Bill in August
The committee recognises that a number of submitters reiterated concerns
examined during its previous inquiry. In summary, these concerns included:
impact of the proposed waiting periods on vulnerable groups;
provision of emergency relief funding for those affected by the
four-week waiting period;
need for broader exemptions from the four week waiting period and
ordinary waiting period;
lack of evidence to support the efficacy of a four week waiting
impact of raising the Newstart eligibility age and associated
reduction in fortnightly benefits for disadvantaged young people.
The committee does not propose to re-examine these arguments in this
report and instead will focus on the following measures not previously
considered by the committee, namely:
the special rule relating to employment services or disability
employment services for the four week waiting period; and
the RapidConnect Plus pre-benefit activity program.
In his second reading speech, the then Minister for Social Services
(Minister), the Hon Scott Morrison MP, explained that the Bill has the same
objective as the previous Bill and should be considered in the context of the
Youth Employment Strategy announced in the 2015-16 Budget:
This is an important bill, an important measure, which is
titled the youth employment bill because it is designed, together with the
other measures in the budget—the more than $330 million we have put into the
budget—to support young people in getting into employment. They are important
measures, addressing those who suffer disadvantage and other impediments, for
them to be enabled and empowered and made capable of being able to enter the
That is what this bill was about the first time we introduced
it, in the 2014‑15 budget, that is what this bill was about when we
re-engineered it, for the last budget, and it remains about that purpose today.
This is about sending the right message to young people, about encouraging them
and incentivising them into work together with a package of measures that is
all about removing disadvantage so that young people can get into work and
choose work not welfare.
Schedules 1 and 2 – Ordinary waiting periods and age requirements
As with the previous Bill, submitters did not support the tightening of
exemption categories for the ordinary waiting period, or the raising of the
eligibility age for Newstart allowance to 25 years of age.
A number of submitters suggested instead raising the current rates of Newstart
and Youth Allowance.
2.7 The committee notes that these schedules are substantially the same as
those in the previous Bill. For an examination of these schedules, the
committee draws attention to its report on the previous Bill.
Schedule 3 – Four week waiting period
As with the previous Bill, submitters did not support the introduction
of a four week waiting period for unemployment benefits. Submitters argued that
imposing waiting periods would be unlikely to increase the youth employment
rate and risks negatively impacting on unemployed young people, especially
those from vulnerable groups.
The committee notes that the Statement of Compatibility with Human
Rights for the Bill explained that this measure seeks to address the youth
unemployment rate (at June 2015, 13.4 per cent, compared to an average total
unemployment rate of 6 per cent) by:
...establishing firm expectations for young people to accept
jobs or move into education and training rather than relying on income support
in the first instance.
The committee notes that this schedule is substantially the same as
schedule 3 of the previous Bill, with the exception of the proposed special
rule discussed below. For an examination of this schedule, the committee draws
attention to its report on the previous Bill.
Special rule for reassessment
A number of submitters welcomed the proposed amendment to the previous
Bill under proposed subsection 549CAA(7), that would allow for people
incorrectly assessed as job ready (stream A) by the Job Seeker Classification
Instrument (JSCI) and reassessed as requiring stream B or C services to be
exempt from the four week waiting period.
The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) noted the measure 'corrects a
previous fault in the Bill and provides for appropriate reinstatement of
The National Welfare Rights Network (NWRN) also welcomed the proposed special
rule. However, NWRN expressed concern that people who are reassessed following
a change of circumstances may not receive back-pay to the date their
circumstances changed. NWRN suggested that it is 'necessary to ensure that such
a person will receive back-pay to the date on which their circumstances
changed, which may be prior to the date they were reassessed'.
In his second reading speech, the then Minister noted that the measures
in the Bill aim to ensure vulnerable people would not be further disadvantaged:
There are strong exemption measures contained in this bill to
protect the vulnerable but to encourage the able to go—and not go from the
school gate to the Centrelink front door, to not choose that path—and choose
the path of work.
Schedule 4 – Rapid activation activities
The committee notes that the key difference between this Bill and the
previous Bill is the introduction of a rapid activation measure under proposed
schedule 4. The Department of Employment submitted that the rapid activation
...is aimed at ensuring that those job seekers who are required
to serve a four week waiting period also undertake pre-benefit activities as
part of a new programme, RapidConnect Plus. RapidConnect Plus will require job
seekers to complete pre-benefit activities during their four-week income
support waiting period before they can begin receiving income support payments.
Submitters expressed concern that under the proposed measure, job seekers
would be denied access to income support if they did not complete the
pre-benefit activities during the four week period and could not demonstrate a
For example, Orygen National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health expressed
concern that the additional activity requirements may be 'additionally
challenging to fulfil without income support' and 'potentially place more
vulnerable young people (including those with undisclosed mental ill-health) at
risk of extended periods without any income support'.
ACOSS expressed particular concern about proposed subsection 549CAA(2A)
that provides that if a person is not found to have completed the activities
within the four week period and then reapplies for Youth Allowance, they would have
to serve another four week waiting period, 'with the effect that young job
seekers who do not meet requirements could be perpetually required to serve the
wait period and therefore unable to obtain income support'.
The EM notes that the effect of proposed subsection 549CAA(2A) would be:
...where the Secretary has determined that income support is
not payable to a job seeker because they have not complied with their
pre-benefit activities (and they have no reasonable excuse for not complying)
and the job seeker then makes a further claim for income support, even if that
claim is within six months of their original claim, that job seeker will be
subject to a further income support waiting period.
The committee notes that the determination of pre-benefit activities,
including the number of job searches required, would be negotiated between the
job seeker and the job active provider and would take into consideration 'the
job seeker's capacity and/or the state of the job seeker's local labour market'. The EM notes
that the pre‑benefit activity requirements are 'designed to assist young
job seekers who are job ready to prepare for and find work as soon as possible'.
The Department of Employment further clarified that where a job seeker
could demonstrate a 'reasonable excuse' for not complying with their pre-benefit
activities, the Secretary 'must not make a determination that income support is
A job seeker who has a reasonable excuse for not complying
with their pre-benefit activities will be treated in the same way as a job
seeker who complies with their pre-benefit activities.
In his second reading speech, the then Minister noted that the pre-benefit
activities outlined in the Bill 'have a strong similarity to measures that have
been introduced in New Zealand with great success':
In New Zealand, they found that around 40 per cent of people
who registered for pre-benefit activities did not go onto payments at the end
of those four weeks. That is 40 per cent who as a result of those measures went
onto a pathway of work rather than on a pathway of welfare. That is the sort of
measure that we need in this country. These are the sorts of measures which
help people choose work and get into work rather than staying on welfare.
Particularly from a young age, the New Zealand experience
also extends to the high proportion of those who are on a lifetime of welfare.
Their investment approach analysis showed that these people entered the welfare
system at a young age. That is the point at which we can have an intervention.
That is the point where we can change the course of a life—onto work and not
At the 2015 Supplementary Budget Estimates, representatives from the
Department of Social Services clarified that while the New Zealand model
differs from the measure outlined in the Bill, it demonstrates the positive
impact of pre‑benefit activities in helping job seekers transition from
income support to work. The department further noted that similar results were
also observed in the Netherlands.
The committee acknowledges the concerns raised by submitters about
schedules 1–3 of the Bill, noting that these concerns were examined in detail
in the committee's inquiry into the previous Bill.
The committee maintains its support for these measures as outlined in
its previous report. The committee considers that these measures are
strengthened by the inclusion of provisions that allow job seekers incorrectly
assessed as 'job ready' to be reassessed.
The committee acknowledges the concerns about the proposed RapidConnect
Plus pre-benefit activities. The committee considers that these activities will
assist young people who are job ready to find work as soon as possible and is satisfied
that the range of pre-benefit activities will take into consideration the job
seeker's individual circumstances. The committee is satisfied that the Secretary
of the Department of Employment would be granted sufficient authority to
determine when a 'reasonable excuse' for not completing the activities may be
demonstrated to ensure vulnerable job seekers are not further disadvantaged.
The committee recommends that the Bill be passed.
Senator Zed Seselja
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