Coalition Senators appreciate the time people took to provide evidence to the committee as it considered the settings of the ParentsNext program. It is important to ensure that all Commonwealth programs are appropriately calibrated to deliver the stated goals.
Coalition Senators note that while the committee claims the stated ParentsNext program goals are unclear, the activities undertaken by participants support the stated goals of the program, that is – to assist parents to move towards their future employment goals; rather than forcing them into employment before they are ready.
We also note evidence presented to the committee which indicates that where providers have been inappropriately referring parents to activities this has been addressed by the Department and further clarification issued to all providers.
Coalition Senators note some concerning reports from witnesses with regard to provider behaviour and implementation of the program. We recognise that the Government has been taking action to address inappropriate program delivery from providers – including clarifying the requirements and current flexibility in ParentsNext, and a direction from the Minister requiring her department to proactively monitor, and sanction where appropriate, providers who are not delivering the program as intended.
We note commentary from the committee with regard to the appropriateness of certain activities but consider it is important that flexibility be retained in the settings in order for ParentsNext to cater for the different circumstances of individuals. Activities range from those which reduce social isolation and build confidence to more traditional pre-employment activities such as training and education. We also recognise that the support required by an individual may change over time as their child or children get older and they progress closer to their employment goal.
Coalition Senators note that the Targeted Compliance Framework was introduced to ParentsNext as part of the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017, which was passed with the support of a majority of the Parliament.
The committee was also presented with evidence from the Department of Jobs and Small Business that only three per cent of the caseload experience a payment delay as a result of the compliance framework, and that 98 per cent of the caseload was in full compliance with their requirements under the program.
Evidence from the pilot program shows very low voluntary engagement from those who are eligible for the program, at three per cent of the entire caseload. This is despite feedback presented in the evaluation report suggesting that participants found value in the support provided by the program once they had engaged.
We also note that evidence which was presented to the committee but failed to be reflected in the committee's report pointed to international evidence of the effectiveness of compulsory program settings in achieving outcomes.
4.5 The committee recommends that the ParentsNext program should not continue in its current form.
Coalition Senators recognise the benefits available to participants under ParentsNext.
While others on the committee may claim to be concerned about individual welfare, Coalition Senators understand that improving employment prospects is key to delivering a better standard of living for the parent and the family as a whole and improves future opportunities for children.
We know that children of parents who have a very high level of welfare dependency have a 90 per cent chance of interacting with the welfare system themselves by the age of 25.
Coalition Senators have positive aspirations for all Australians and we are not content to ignore those who can most benefit from flexible, tailored assistance in planning and preparing for their future careers.
The committee has noted in its report that there are benefits to participants from the program. It is the view of Coalition Senators that the program should continue and for that to successfully occur; a compliance framework must apply to the program.