Labor Senators substantially agree with the findings of the majority report, but have additional comments and further recommendations to make.
Labor Senators were instrumental in establishing this Senate Inquiry following concerns raised about the Government's implementation of the ParentsNext program.
The evidence presented to the Senate inquiry revealed significant distress amongst the cohort of people that ParentsNext is intended to assist.
The source of the distress appears to be the manner in which the program has been implemented, including substantial compliance obligations imposed on participants.
Though the government sought to undertake an evaluation of the program prior to the national expansion in July 2018, this evaluation was based upon the ParentsNext trial which was significantly different from the program that was rolled out nationally.
In any program where parents are the participants, the interests of children must be paramount.
The interests of children are not well-served if their parents are facing higher incidences of income suspensions, even if back payment occurs after the suspension has been lifted.
Given the importance of increasing workforce participation, there is utility in providing a program that supports parents to prepare for later paid work.
It is critical to ensure that the program supports parents to prepare for a future entry or re-entry into the workplace, rather than taking a punitive approach.
Activities for the sake of activity should not be imposed upon parents. Story time and swimming lessons are important, but failure to attend these activities should not trigger the imposition of a financial suspension by the Commonwealth.
Reporting requirements should not be excessive, intrusive or unreasonable.
In supplementation to the majority's considerations regarding participation by women who are victims of domestic or family violence, Labor senators find that multiple points of entry into referral to domestic violence services and multiple opportunities for disclosure are important. At the same time, every door must be the right door.
Accordingly, we make the following recommendations:
For participants, the first appointment with a ParentsNext provider should remain mandatory.
Participants who miss the first appointment should be given the opportunity to address their failure to attend before any suspension is imposed.
Continued participation in the program, following the first appointment, should be by agreement between the provider and the participant. Compliance obligations should not apply to activities undertaken by agreement.
Providers' staff should be trained in recognising disclosures of domestic and family violence and in referring victims and survivors to specialist services.