Australian Greens’ Dissenting Report
The Social Security Legislation Amendment (Stronger Penalties for
Serious Failures) Bill 2014 is one piece of the Government's cruel attacks on
people who find themselves in need of income support. This legislation is harsh
and will punish the most vulnerable people. A decision to take away all of
someone's income is serious and can have catastrophic impacts on people’s
All witnesses to the hearing on the 18th August 2014, apart
from the Department, were not only concerned about the devastating effect that
this Bill would have on people’s lives, but were also concerned that the Bill
would be counterproductive to the aim of supporting jobseekers into work.
The main aim does not seem to be to get people into employment.
I feel it can be counterproductive. It could prevent people from getting
employment, because they will be sanctioned even if they try to re-engage in
This Bill discourages people from re-entering the system quickly which
we know is vitally important for positive outcomes. The Bill is unnecessary,
ineffective and punitive.
The Australian Greens are concerned with several assumptions and
consequences of the Bill. The Bill assumes that everyone who wants a job can
get one, that deterrence will result in positive outcomes for job seekers, and
that there is a problem with radical increases in non-compliance that need to
We are also deeply concerned with the cumulative impact that this Bill
will have together with a range of other proposed budget measures. We are also
concerned with the Governments reliance on charities to respond and solve
crises knowingly caused by their own policy and legislation.
More jobseekers than jobs
While the Government perpetuates the myth that people have to be forced
into work witnesses stressed throughout the inquiry that people wanted to work.
“As opposed to the set of assumptions that this legislation is predicated on,
people do want to work and they love the opportunity to meaningfully participate
economically and socially”.
The truth of the matter is that jobseekers far outnumber the jobs available,
“we have approximately 150,000 job vacancies for around 1.5 million unemployed
and underemployed people in the labour market.”
My experience, as well as in the research evidence suggests,
that people are highly motivated to build independent lives. They actually do
not, for the most part, want to be reliant on income support; they want to
build independent, sustainable lives.
The problem we have is not a behavioural issue, but a structural one. We
need solutions that are structural, not punitive measures that drive people
Achieving negative outcomes
These reforms will have negative impacts and are counterproductive to
supporting job seekers into work. We have evidence that this approach does not
and will not work.
Our network opposes the introduction of the Bill before you,
fundamentally on the ground that we question the purpose of the Bill—whether it
is actually to punish people or to help people into paid work. We would think
that we would all be united in the view that helping a person who is unemployed
into paid work should be the goal, and we do not believe that this Bill will
achieve that goal—in fact, we think it will be counterproductive. That is based
on our casework experience with the heavy penalty system introduced in 2006 and
the many changes to that system since that time.
If the aim is to get job seekers to comply with requirements and move
into employment, it seems unwarranted to punish people once they have complied
or intend to comply.
Worse than ineffectual, the policy is likely to be
counterproductive because, once a person is sanctioned, they have no incentive
to meet requirements, whereas in the current regime, where payments are
recommenced upon compliance, there is a strong incentive for a sanctioned
person to quickly meet requirements.
Increase in numbers of non-compliance
One of the stated reasons for the Bill is that there has been a surge in
non-compliance. While there has been a higher number of non-compliance in not
accepting a job, this is due to a number of factors, which do not justify this
A very small percentage of jobseekers incur serious failures –
approximately 2%. In
June quarter last year there were over 25,000 cases of non-compliance reported
with over 18,000 of these being waived. Of the 25,000, only 1718 were penalised
for refusing a suitable job. This is a very small number.
Those small numbers—small relative to the total number of job
seekers in the system in any given year—suggest that the system is providing
deterrence. We believe the relatively low rate of eight-week penalties applied
is a sign of success, not a sign of failure, and that the removal of protections
against those eight-week penalties is unnecessary.
While the numbers of non-compliance are still low, the increase is due
to a number of factors including a dramatic increase in the numbers of people
on Newstart, and a drop in the numbers of appeals, due to changes in the
administration of penalties.
If you look at the number of appeals, the appeals also
dropped. Our casework experience was that people were getting penalties but
they stopped appealing because it was a much faster, better route for them to
just re-engage and do a compliance activity.
Greater burden for charities
An important safeguard in the current system is the waiver of a payment
penalty, if withholding payment will trigger serious financial difficulty. The
removal of this waiver will mean that people barely surviving could find themselves
on no payments for eight weeks. This will result in charities carrying a
greater burden, at a time when they are already stretched to capacity.
This Bill needs to be considered as part of a number of other proposed
changes to the social security system; not least of all is the six-month
waiting period for unemployment benefits for job seekers under 30.
It is clear that the Government is more interested in its ideological
agenda than it is in helping job seekers find work. “There are so many reasons
why people find themselves on the pathway to despair instead of the pathway to
This government is not interested in the barriers and experiences of people
relying on income support, it rather seeks to punish and humiliate them at
every opportunity in the hope that it can deter people with this cruel and
The Greens are concerned with many of the proposed changes, including
the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Stronger Penalties for Serious
Failures) Bill 2014. This Bill will not assist jobseekers into work, it will in
fact make finding work harder for people. That is why the Greens will not be
supporting the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Stronger Penalties for
Serious Failures) Bill 2014.
That the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Stronger
Penalties for Serious Failures) Bill 2014 not be passed.
Senator Rachel Siewert
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