The Australian Greens reaffirm the committee's recommendation in the majority report that the ParentsNext program should not continue in its current form.
The Australian Greens are deeply concerned that the ParentsNext program is causing anxiety, distress and harm for many of its participants. We are particularly concerned by the number of ParentsNext participants who have received a payment suspension and reports of parents requiring emergency relief.
We support providing appropriate pre-employment and parenting supports for those parents who experience barriers to re-entering the workforce or seek assistance with parenting support. However we do not support the compulsory and punitive approach of the current ParentsNext program.
The Australian Greens strongly believe that, in addition to the recommendations made in the majority report, further changes are required to ParentsNext and its approach.
Abolishing the Targeted Compliance Framework
The Targeted Compliance Framework is a tool that was designed for employment services as a way to ensure job seekers comply with mutual obligations in order to receive their social security payments.
The parents of young children are not job seekers; they are some of the hardest working people in our society, putting in long, unremunerated hours to raise the next generation. For the majority of ParentsNext participants, this is done without the assistance of a partner.
Participants in ParentsNext, who already face the significant financial stress of raising their children on the limited income provided through Parenting Payment, live with the constant fear of their payment being cut off under the Targeted Compliance Framework. Payment suspensions, although designed not to be punitive in the same way as financial penalties, are a penalty in and of themselves for these parents. Any delay in receiving their Parenting Payment limits their ability to feed their children, pay their bills or their rent, or fill the car with petrol to get to the very activities they are required to attend in order to keep receiving their payment.
The Australian Greens are of the view that attaching punitive compliance requirements, including temporary payment suspensions, to a pre-employment program such as ParentsNext defeats its supportive, person-centred aim. Instead of assisting parents working towards education and employment goals, the application of the Targeted Compliance Framework places the focus of ParentsNext on the completion of activities for compliance's sake.
Furthermore, the Australian Greens note that there is no evidence that a strict compliance framework is needed in order to achieve the aims and objectives of the program and that the flexible compliance measures used during the ParentsNext trial resulted in better outcomes and relationships for providers and participants alike.
The Australian Greens believe that the Targeted Compliance Framework is not an appropriate tool for the administration of ParentsNext.
The Australian Greens recommend that the use of the Targeted Compliance Framework for recording and reporting participation in ParentsNext be ceased immediately and not included in any future redesign.
Voluntary, not compulsory, participation
ParentsNext is a program which targets women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with the objective of improving their workforce participation in the future, but does not seek to address the underlying reasons why their workforce participation is low.
The identification and referral of Parenting Payment recipients who have high levels of disadvantage means that ParentsNext also has a very high proportion of participants from vulnerable backgrounds or with particular needs, including survivors of domestic and family violence, people with disability and people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
ParentsNext in its current form does not allow parents to make their own decisions about whether they would like pre-employment support and what forms that support should take.
Many parents already have clear employment and education goals or plans to re-enter the workforce when their children start school and do not require the type of assistance offered by ParentsNext. These parents should not be forced to participate in a program which only adds an administrative burden to activities they are already doing.
We also believe that for participants who request support with parenting, this support should be addressed outside of a pre-employment program and instead be delivered through parenting support programs funded by the Department of Social Services.
The Australian Greens recognise that, for some current participants, ParentsNext may offer the pre-employment assistance that they require. However, given the significant proportion of parents from vulnerable backgrounds referred to the program, and in the absence of any clear evidence that the program has been designed to meet the needs of those people, the Australian Greens strongly believe that referring people for compulsory participation in ParentsNext is totally inappropriate.
Furthermore, the Australian Greens have serious concerns about the number of participants who have legitimate reasons for exemption—such as medical issues, personal crises, and domestic and family violence situations—and have still been referred to ParentsNext by Centrelink or required to participate by their ParentsNext provider.
The Australian Greens recommend that the compulsory referral to ParentsNext of any eligible person receiving Parenting Payment be ceased immediately.
The Australian Greens recommend that participation in ParentsNext be made voluntary for all current and future participants.
With these recommendations in mind, the Australian Greens have chosen not to make any specific recommendations of changes to the eligibility criteria for ParentsNext, and are of the strong opinion that by eliminating mandatory referral and participation, the concerns raised about the eligibility criteria will also be eliminated.
The Australian Greens recognise that some parents identified through the ParentsNext eligibility criteria, such as early school leavers, parents of children about to return to school, and parents with very high levels of disadvantage, may find benefit from pre-employment support.
The Australian Greens consider that, rather than requiring these parents to participate in a compulsory program, they should be contacted by Centrelink and informed about ParentsNext and what it offers. They should then be allowed to make their own decision about whether volunteering to participate in the program is right for them and their family.
The Australian Greens note that it may be appropriate to revise the eligibility criteria for parents who are contacted about ParentsNext and that this could be considered as part of a broader redesign of the program.