The Australian Greens do not support the majority report on Social
Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017 which contains
measures that will:
Create a single job seeker payment;
Establish drug testing trials of 5000 people applying for
Newstart and Youth Allowance Payments ;
Remove existing exemptions for jobseekers experiencing drug or
Increase activity requirements for people aged 55-59;
Increase the waiting times for the start of Newstart and Youth
Establish a new compliance regime.
The measures in this Bill completely ignore the advice and evidence from
both medical professionals and social security experts.
The Australian Greens are deeply concerned by the Government's repeated
rejection of the expertise and evidence given by stakeholders in their
continued pursuit of harsh cuts to income support.
Many of these so called reforms to the social security system are
unnecessary and unwarranted and the Australian Greens share the concerns of
Anglicare who said in their submission to the Inquiry:
Australia already has one of the most targeted and
compliance-heavy social security systems in the world. It also has the second
lowest income support rates in relation to average wages in the OECD, leaving
people trapped in poverty, endlessly searching for jobs that quite simply, aren't
there. The OECD itself has reported that Australia's income support payments
are insupportably low. Indeed, the evidence that these payments are too low is
almost universally accepted, and the business and community sectors have been
calling for an increase for years. These measures not only cut funding from
people doing it the toughest in our society, they propose to punish people for
a systemic failure by government to provide jobs, viable support, and hope.
This Bill targets vulnerable people for menial savings and does so as if
in a vacuum, without acknowledging the changing nature of employment, that
long-term unemployment has tripled since the global financial crisis and that
underemployment is growing.
Drug testing and changes to claim provisions could have significant flow
on impacts resulting in homelessness and negative mental and physical health
outcomes. While the Australian Greens are most concerned about the human
consequences of such an invasive and punitive approach to people with
addiction, the overall financial costs to implementing the drug testing trials
and dealing with the negative social outcomes will be large.
This dissenting report will examine each of the measures in turn.
Schedule 1 – Single Job Seeker Payment
Schedule 1 replaces Newstart Allowance with a Jobseeker Payment from 20
At that time Newstart Allowance, Sickness Allowance, Wife Pension,
Bereavement Allowance and Widow B Pension will cease and most recipients of
these payments will transition to Jobseeker Payment, Age Pension or Carer
Payment, depending on their circumstances.
While it may be bureaucratically sound to stream line these payments and
they do reflect societal changes of women being less financially dependent,
whether single, widowed or married, the Australian Greens remain concerned that
these measures fail to address the inadequate payment rate of the Newstart
Allowance, the often harsh and punitive nature of mutual obligation
requirements and the barriers faced by older people, particularly older women
in entering the workforce, as well as the higher rates of poverty for older
Schedules 1- 7 combine a suite of allowances and pensions into one
payment – the Jobseeker Payment, paid at an allowance rate to most recipients.
Allowance rates are significantly lower than pensions and subject to lower
indexation rates than pensions and would result in many pension recipients
being worse off unless they are transferred to another pension.
The Greens share the concerns of the Australian Council of Social
Service (ACOSS) who said in their submission:
We strongly oppose any measures that would move a person
needing income support onto a much lower rate payment under the guise of 'simplification'.
The National Social Security Rights Network (NSSRN) has also expressed
reservations in this regard:
The Government has not addressed the critical issue of the
unacceptably low rate of payment of Newstart and other allowances which, among
other things, undermines the reform to support for the bereaved.
The Australian Greens would also like to note the concerns of People
with Disability Australia who said in their submission regarding Schedules 1-7:
Due to a lack of consultation with people with disability and
their representative organisations the potential implications of these changes
on this group are unknown.
The Australian Greens remain concerned by the failure of Government to provide
income support payments that reflect contemporary living costs.
Schedule 2 – Cessation of Widow B Pension
This schedule ceases Widow B Pension from 20 March 2020 which has been
closed to new applicants since 20 March 1997.
All current recipients of this payment will be age pension age by 20
March 2020 and this schedule provides for them to transfer automatically to the
Age Pension. As most recipients are overseas, the schedule also grandfathers
them, in effect, from the impact of the Age Pension's different portability
rules so that their rate of payment is not reduced.
As recommended by the Australian Council of Social Services in their
submission, and supported by Anglicare Australia, the Australian Greens believe
that transitional payments for Widow B Pension should be indexed to ensure that
no one is left worse off.
Schedule 3 – Cessation of Wife Pension
Schedule 3 ceases the payment of the Wife Pension from 20 March 2020.
The Wife Pension is a non-activity tested income support payment paid at
Age Pension rate to female partners of Age Pensioners or Disability Support
Pensioners who are not eligible for a pension in their own right.
It is anticipated that there will be approximately 7,750 Wife
Pension recipients at 20 March 2020. Transition arrangements may be complex as
many Wife Pension recipients live overseas and, although the payment has been
closed for more than 20 years, some recipients are relatively young and will
not reach pension age for some time.
It is estimated that approximately 2,250 recipients will have reached
pension age by 20 March 2020 and they will automatically transfer to the Age
This schedule will also transfer around 2,400 recipients to Carer
Payment. This will be done automatically, with Wife Pension recipients who
receive Carer Allowance at the transition date deemed to be eligible for Carer
Payment. They retain automatic eligibility provided they remain eligible for
This applies whether they meet Carer Payment's more stringent care requirements
or not. This measure is welcomed by Carers Australia in their submission.
The Australian Greens share the concerns of the National Social Security
Rights Network who have reservations regarding the complexity of transitional
arrangements for the approximately 2900 remaining recipients who will transfer
to the new Jobseeker Payment. They said in their submission:
The schedule has a complex set of transitional arrangements
for this cohort. It creates a special transitional rate of the new Jobseeker Payment
for former Wife Pension recipients, so that these recipients do not suffer a
financial loss at the time of transition. Recipients who receive the
transitional rate also retain eligibility for the pensioner concession card.
However, this rate is frozen as at the date of transition (as are the
applicable pension means tests). The schedule then provides for recipients to
transition to the Jobseeker Payment rate once the rate is equal to or higher
than the transition rate for a sustained period (six weeks). The intent is to
ensure that initially Wife Pension recipients are not worse off. However, it
appears that over time the transition rate will fall relative to the rate of
Newstart Allowance/Jobseeker Payment as it is frozen rather than indexed to CPI
like the Jobseeker Payment. The Government's underlying concern may be that
some Wife Pension recipients are relatively young and may otherwise need to be
grandfathered for some time.
The Greens support ACOSS's recommendation that the 200 recipients
currently living overseas not anticipated to transition to an income support
payment continue to receive a payment in line with Schedule 2 of this Bill
which grandfathers Widow B Pension recipients from changes to the applicable
Schedule 4 – Cessation of Bereavement Allowance
This schedule ceases the Bereavement Allowance from 20 March 2020.
Currently, the Bereavement Allowance is a short-term payment for a
person whose partner has recently died generally paid for 14 weeks, depending
on the circumstances. It is paid at the Age Pension rate and subject to the
pension means test.
The allowance will be replaced by a one off payment calculated at
approximately twice the Job Seeker or Youth Allowance fortnightly rate of
payment, paid in addition to the regular payments. Recipients are also exempt
from the liquid assets waiting period, the income maintenance period, the
seasonal worker preclusion period and activity testing.
If a pregnant woman's partner dies she may be able to access the
Bereavement Allowance from when her partner died over the course of the
pregnancy or for 14 weeks, whichever is longer. While this rule will
remain, the rate of payment will be much lower; meaning that a pregnant woman
whose partner dies could lose up to around $5500.
The Greens welcome the payment of a lump sum and the exemption from
waiting periods and activity testing in a difficult time which can often result
in people falling into financial crisis.
However, we are concerned that the total level of support under this
proposal is significantly lower than typically provided through the Bereavement
Allowance due to the fact that the Bereavement Allowance is paid at the pension
rate over 14 weeks or longer.
As such the Australian Greens do not support changes which will leave
bereaved and vulnerable people worse off.
Schedule 5 – Cessation of Sickness Allowance
Schedule 5 will stop new grants of Sickness Allowance after 20 March
2020. Instead the qualification conditions for Jobseeker Payment will be
modified to allow people who are temporarily incapacitated for work to qualify
for the Jobseeker Payment.
The eligibility criteria for the new Jobseeker Payment would be made
wider than for Newstart Allowance, which cannot be received by a person who is
not unemployed. Sickness Allowance is paid at the same basic rate and under
means test for Newstart Allowance, so transitioning recipients will not be
Recipients who would have previously received a Sickness Allowance and
who will now receive the Jobseeker Payment will be subject to the activity test
Although it would be expected that most would be exempt from the
activity test on the ground of temporary incapacity, this exemption should be
made automatic in this Bill to ensure fairness and efficiency.
Schedule 6 – Cessation of Widow Allowance
This schedule closes Widow Allowance to new entrants from 1 January 2018
and ceases it from 1 January 2022. Widow Allowance is a payment for older
working age women who lose the support of a partner and do not have recent
workforce experience. It is restricted to women born on or before 1 July 1955.
It is not activity tested and paid at the same basic rate as Newstart
The transition arrangements in this schedule are unnecessarily complex
and arbitrary with one group of people treated differently depending on when
their claim was made.
The Greens share the concerns articulated by the National Social
Security Rights Network in their submission:
From 1 January 2018 Widow Allowance will be closed to new
entrants. Women who are under age pension age may claim Newstart Allowance
instead and, if eligible, are exempt from the activity test. In effect, these
women are in the same position as if Widow Allowance continued. However, women
who are over age pension age who could have claimed Widow Allowance before 1
January 2018 are ineligible for Newstart Allowance and must test their
eligibility for Special Benefit. Special Benefit is paid at the same basic rate
as Newstart Allowance, but is subject to a much more stringent means test
including a general assets cut off of $5000 in liquid assets and a dollar for
dollar deduction for any income. This means that many recipients of Special
Benefit in fact receive less than the equivalent rate of Newstart Allowance and
some women who may have previously received Widow Allowance will be ineligible
for Special Benefit entirely despite having low incomes or little savings.
This will put a cohort of older women with little workforce experience
at risk of poverty. The Greens will not support a measure that will result in
older women being put at risk of poverty.
Schedule 7 – Cessation of Partner Allowance
This schedule ceases Partner Allowance from 1 January 2022. Partner
Allowance was an income support payment for certain partners of income support
recipients without recent workforce experience. It is not activity tested. It
was closed to new entrants in 2003. By 1 January 2022, all Partner Allowance
recipients should have reached pension age and transitioned to Age Pension.
The Australian Greens do not have concerns regarding this schedule.
Schedule 8 contains a rule-making provision for the Minister
The amendments in Schedule 8 are intended to allow the Minister to make
rules of a transitional nature in support of the amendments and repeals made by
Schedules 1–7 of the Bill.
Any rule changes must be given due process and considered by the
Parliament thoroughly, not waived through by a single Minister, particularly
one who is part of a Government that has repeatedly and relentlessly attacked
those on income support.
The Australian Greens do not support Schedules 1-8.
Schedule 9 – Change to the activity tests for persons aged 55- 59
Schedule 9 imposes a new activity test on Newstart Allowance and certain
Special Benefit recipients aged between 55 and 59.
Currently, job seekers aged over 55 years satisfy their mutual
obligation requirements by undertaking at least 30 hours per fortnight of
approved voluntary work, paid work (including self-employment) or a combination
of the two. This measure seeks to make it compulsory for a vulnerable cohort of
jobseekers to find 15 hours of paid work per fortnight.
As report after report has shown, there are simply not enough jobs for
the number of people seeking work in Australia.
Older people in particular face significant barriers to finding work
which is why our social safety net is so important.
As Anglicare Australia's Jobs Availability Snapshot shows, the shortage
of positions available for low-skilled job seekers runs at six jobseekers for
every position advertised.
Anglicare outlined in their submission that this measure goes nowhere in
terms of helping to fix this problem:
Forcing people aged 55 to 59 to complete Work for the Dole or
Search for Work programs will not create any new positions or reduce
discrimination against older workers. It also devalues and dismisses the value
of the voluntary work completed by people in this age bracket in terms of its
value to our community, and as an appropriate means of lifting skills,
providing meaningful community work and engagement, and potentially finding
employment derived from volunteering.
While we do not want to devalue the contribution of or discourage people
aged 55 – 59 from finding employment, as Council of the Ageing outline in their
Placing more stringent activity test demands on older
unemployed workers does not in itself change the labour market in which older
people find themselves, both in regard to the overall numbers of jobs available
and their comparative chance of gaining them.
These changes fail to recognise the valuable contribution volunteers
make to our society and economy, with 31 percent of the adult population
engaging in volunteering, making an estimated economic and social contribution
of $290 billion.
Volunteering gives people a sense of well-being and belonging in their community
as well as an opportunity to develop skills for future employment. These
changes do not account for the impact on the social service sector which relies
on volunteers to complete a significant portion of their service delivery.
Volunteering Australia told the Hearing into this Bill:
If you look at who is actually volunteering, it is that older
cohort. If you remove that, you're looking at 30 hours a fortnight, so you're
cutting it in half. That's going to impact on volunteering support services'
and volunteer-involving organisations' service provision and workforce
capacity. It has an impact. There are flow-on effects that are going to affect
the amount of staff they hire and that are going to affect volunteering in the
wider sector in communities. Imagine the effect on SES, for example, or Meals
on Wheels. I don't think that that is being considered. You can just look at
it, in the small run, as a volunteer who is only doing reception duties or
something like that, but that's one volunteer who's no longer engaging in
reception duties. You need to find somebody to fill that position. So I just
think, in the grand scheme of things, that people aren't really considering what
this is actually going to do.
Volunteering is also an important way for people from disadvantaged
backgrounds and people with disability or mental illness to gains skills and
confidence to reenter the workforce.
These changes will disproportionately affect older women, a category of
jobseeker particularly disadvantaged in the labor market,
who also make up the majority of the volunteer workforce.
Ms Toohey, CEO of Albury Wodonga Volunteer Resource Bureau told the
Hearing into this Bill:
With our Skillsbank database, which would identify that, it's
probably about 80 per cent of the cohort that we are speaking about. In my
experience, it's generally a female, and it could be after the loss of her
husband or moving into town from the farm. I'm not saying men aren't there, but
the women absolutely want to get out there and reinvent themselves.
These changes will have negative outcomes for both the social services
sector (and other sectors that rely on volunteers) as well as the people
seeking employment. Unemployment is often an isolating experience and
volunteering is an important way for people to stay connected to their
communities. Cutting down volunteering hours to compel people to look for jobs
that are simply unavailable is nonsensical.
Unemployment requires a multi-pronged and faceted approach rather than
punitive measures that result in jobseekers being financially penalised for
being unable to fulfil activity requirements due to the unavailability of jobs.
The Australian Greens do not support this schedule.
Schedule 10 – Start date for Participation Payments
This measure will make the start day for Youth Allowance (other) and
Newstart Allowance payments the day the applicant attends their initial
appointment with their employment services provider, unless an appointment is
not able to be scheduled within two business days, rather than the date on
which the claim for payment was made.
The Australian Greens oppose this measure. It will result in vulnerable
people waiting longer and being paid less in their first payment, and even if
they comply with these changes, long Centrelink processing times will
exacerbate the delay.
As outlined in the submission of the NSSRN, this measure will affect the
most vulnerable and it
Serves no useful purpose, and simply reduces the level of
support to an unemployed person at a time when they need the support the most.
This measure is estimated to make savings of $198 million.
It is once again clear that the Government is seeking to make savings off of
the backs of those with the least.
The Australian Greens do not support this schedule
Schedule 11 – Removal of Intent to Claim Provisions
Schedule 11 removes the current deemed claim provisions that allow a
claimant to receive payments from the date on which they initially contacted
the Department of Human Services and indicated that they are intenting to
The rationale for the amendments is that the deeming provisions were
introduced at a time when claim forms were mailed to claimants, completed and
then returned to Centrelink by mail, allowing people time to gather the
required documentation and receiving back pay to the date they contacted Centrelink
once the claim was approved. With the progressive rollout of online services,
the Government is seeking to make savings by deeming these provisions no longer
The Australian Greens do not support this punitive measure as firstly,
many low income people face barriers of literacy and access to online services
due to the costs involved in maintaining both a computer and internet service,
thus relying on the postal method of lodgment. Some older Australians often
struggle with using online services. As well as these barriers, we need only
look at the so-called robo-debt debacle as an indication of how online services
Whether or not applications are delivered to Centrelink via postal
service or online, social security claim forms are long and complex and require
a significant amount of supporting documentation (particularly claims for
disability support) that can take a lengthy period of time to locate and
collate, particularly for people who are vulnerable.
This measure will particularly disadvantage those with disability,
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, women and children escaping
domestic violence, people in hospital and those in rural and remote areas.
As outlined by Anglicare in their submission there is no ethical
justification for this measure:
The Government's assertion that the digitising of information
makes claiming through Centrelink 'easy' are completely inaccurate, flies in
the face of the growing digital divide, and show a profound lack of care and
understanding for the individual circumstances of people seeking assistance
when they are often at their most vulnerable. There is no ethical justification
for this measure.
The Australian Greens oppose this measure.
Schedule 12 - Establishment of a drug testing trial
This measure will introduce a two year trial in three regions of
mandatory drug testing of 5,000 new recipients of Newstart Allowance and Youth
This measure fails to understand, and indeed actively ignores the
medical nature of addiction and the complex biological, psychological and
social underpinnings of drug addiction.
Placing people on income management or withholding payments for people
who test positive to illicit drugs if they don't comply will not help them to
recover from addiction or to stop using drugs, but rather further isolate and
There is a distinct lack of any evidence to support the efficacy of drug
testing income support recipients. Such measures have failed in the US and
proposals have been abandoned in the UK and Canada.
Representatives of the health, mental health and addiction sector have
unanimously expressed significant and deep concern about the impacts these
trials will have on income support recipients, and called on the committee to
reject this schedule. Doctors and health academics have repeatedly stated and
provided long term evidence showing that the best way to treat drug addiction
is through the health system. Addiction specialists stated that substance
addiction involves loss of control and involves impairment of motivation. The
Committee was repeatedly told by the experts that those with substance
addiction would be unlikely to fulfil the requirements set out in schedule 12,
and that in their opinion this measure would have little to no positive impact,
and crucially may have adverse consequences such as pushing people into crime.
Witness after witness to the Committee highlighted the significant lack
of appropriate drug and alcohol services across the country. This schedule
forces users into mandatory drug treatment despite the fact that many treatment
options are simply not available. Alcohol and other drug treatment services in
Australia are chronically underfunded and overstretched, despite compelling
evidence of their cost effectiveness.
The Royal College of Australasian Physicians told the Inquiry:
The funding currently provided for alcohol and other drug
treatment services is not commensurate with the needs of the population. For example
in NSW, mental health treatments receive approximately 10 times the funding of
alcohol and drug treatments, despite the fact that these conditions account for
similar amounts of the total burden of illness. A review in 2014 found that
alcohol and other drug treatment services in Australia met the need of fewer
than half of those seeking the treatment. The RACP and the AChAM note that
additional funding was provided to the drug treatment sector to support the
National Ice Action Strategy, however this funding has not generally addressed
the key needs of the drug and alcohol sector as its use is restricted under the
terms of the funding agreement. The severe shortage of drug and alcohol
rehabilitation services and specialists around Australia persists.
It is deeply concerning that the Government is not only spending money
on measures that the evidence suggest will be ineffective at manageing alcohol
and drug dependence, they are ignoring the fact that fewer than half of people
seeking treatment in Australia can find it. If the Government is serious about
helping people out of substance addiction they must drastically increase
funding to high quality treatment services.
The Law Council pointed out that there are considerable concerns
regarding procedural fairness and the employment of a third party contractor.
Despite the fact that two thirds of overdose deaths in Australia arise
from prescription opioids, this Bill excludes these pharmaceuticals, creating
concern that people may further abuse legal but dangerous prescription opiates
in order to circumvent these tests.
Drug testing will demonise and isolate people struggling with drug
addiction and has been overwhelmingly rejected by drug and alcohol addiction
Mr Noffs, CEO of the Ted Noffs Foundation described these measures as
The way that Australians frame a drug user is that they are a
person who uses drugs because it was their bad choice. That's not what the
evidence says. The evidence says it's poverty or trauma—or all of these other
scientifically validated reasons why a person becomes addicted to drugs. We
still have a large percentage of our population that believes that a person
addicted to drugs is addicted because they're a bad person. We know that's not
the case, but I can't convince everyone.
What Dr Wodak is saying is that there are probably people in
the government—members—who believe that, if the person is not bad but have made
a few bad choices, we can correct them. We can simply tell them to say no to
drugs and quarantine their money, which is an extension of saying: 'Look. I'm
going to stop you being able to spend your money like that so therefore you're
going to change your ways.' As I pointed out before, it simply won't work. It
would make it worse.
His point is that there might be some people who think they
can win some points by doing so and jumping onto the wagon of penal
populism—that's what we call it in criminology. Penal populism is the notion
that we do want to see sometimes. We do want to kick someone in the pants and
say: 'Pull yourself together.' I raise that. I'm a bleeding-heart leftie, but I
would say this: in the idea of fairness, if we are going to drug test a person
on the taxpayer's dollar, we should do it evenly and not just the poor people.
We should drug test every politician and every bureaucrat as well. As I said in
that op-ed that Senator Singh mentioned before, while ice use has plummeted,
the only drug that's gone up a little bit is cocaine. Who uses more cocaine
than anyone else? Canberrans. So I think that, if we did drug test across the
board, we'd have some very interesting results. I don't think that's the way to
go. I'm not into penal populism—and I wish the rest of the country wasn't—but
what we do know is that this country, despite the idea of sometimes being a bit
punitive in its approach, is a fair country and we'll find our way with this.
Even if it does end up being legislation, like other countries who have
abandoned this, I think we will turn around and say, 'That was a bad mistake.'
What we were doing before was working, and we need to be augmenting that.
Addiction is complex health issue closely related to poverty and trauma
and we must treat those suffering with compassion through the health system.
Schedules 12-14 contain compulsory treatment provisions which, as
outlined by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre in their submission,
is a complex issue:
There is a large and complex literature on compulsory
treatment: which arises largely because of the variety of models or types that
are being referred to. We identify five different types of compulsory treatment
approaches, which are 1) diversion programs (including police and court
programs) which seek to divert an offender away from a criminal justice system
response and into a treatment/health care response; 2) civil commitment
(involuntary commitment for health and safety reasons); 3) centre-based
compulsory rehabilitation as practised in many Asian and South East Asian
countries; 4) quasi-compulsory treatment provided in Europe; and 5).
incarceration-based treatment (in-prison treatment programs). In Australia, we
have comprehensive diversion programs, a number of civil commitment programs
(such as the NSW IDAT program), and prison-based treatment. Despite the
popularity of all these models of compulsory or coerced treatment, the only one
for which there is comprehensive research showing positive effects is the
diversion programs4 (which apply only to offenders, and provide a forced
choice). For other forms of compulsory treatment, there is evidence that they
do not achieve the outcomes being sought.
The flaws in this schedule are vast and numerous and the Australian
Greens strongly oppose this measure.
Schedule 13 – Removal of exemptions for drug or alcohol dependence
This schedule removes temporary exemptions from mutual obligation
requirements due to an income support recipients drug or alcohol dependence or
crisis relating to it. Currently those with activity requirements may receive
an exemption of up to 13 weeks, for health issues relating to addiction.
It is unclear how it will be determined whether a crisis, injury or
illness was attributable to drug or alcohol use and it could further demonise
and isolate an already vulnerable group who require medical support.
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians said in their submission:
The RACP holds that it is inappropriate for formal medical
documentation (and the expert medical opinion contained within) to be rejected as
valid evidence in support of an exemption, particularly where an individual has
suffered a significant addiction-related health episode requiring
hospitalisation or medical treatment. This selective approach to the
consideration of medical documentation, whereby certain health conditions are
excluded from recognition within reasonable excuse provisions, is highly
concerning. It is also likely to lead to legal challenges on the basis of
infringement of rights and arbitrary discrimination.
This measure is cruel and punitive to those suffering medical and health
The Australian Greens oppose this measure.
Schedule 14 - Changes to the reasonable excuses
Where a job seeker's abuse of, or dependence on, alcohol or drugs has
been considered a reasonable exemption from activity requirements or mutual
obligations, it will not be taken into account for a second or subsequent
compliance failure. The job seeker will be given the option of participating in
alcohol or other drug treatment. If the job seeker refuses to participate in
treatment and fails to meet their mutual obligations again, then drug or
alcohol dependency will not be considered a reasonable excuse, and sanctions
may be applied.
Schedule 14 gives broad power to the Secretary to determine by legislative
instrument 'declared program participants' and to modify social security law to
apply to all people so declared, the intention being that this would be how CDP
Participants would be excluded from being subject to changes to the reasonable
excuse exemptions. However, the details will not be clear until we see the
legislative instrument and the Greens hold deep concerns in regards to this
exceptionally broad power which goes far beyond what is necessary to achieve
the stated purpose.
This measure singles out alcohol and drug addiction as a single barrier
to employment rather than addressing underlying issues and need for service
Many factors such as physical and mental health problems,
lack of job skills, perceived discrimination, and lack of transportation are
major barriers for employment. A disproportionate emphasis on drug use as a
factor for not obtaining employment could be ineffective if these other factors
are not addressed as well.
This measure fails to understand the complicated process of recovery and
will only cause harm to vulnerable members of society.
The Australian Greens do not support this measure.
Schedule 15 – Mutual Obligation Requirements
Schedule 15 introduces a new compliance process based on a 7 demerit
point system where demerit points are lost for non-compliance with payments
suspended for each demerit point after the 4th demerit point.
The Australian Greens have long advocated for an overhaul to mutual
obligation requirements and the compliance processes, however, we have deep
concerns about this measure.
Australia already has one of the most onerous and compliance-heavy social
security systems in the OECD.
This measure removes the discretion of Employment Providers to take into
account the real impacts of a suspended payment on a person's wellbeing and
financial vulnerability before they issue a breach for noncompliance.
It is expected that up to 80,000 people would lose at least one week's
payment if this measure were to go ahead and harsh compliance systems similar
to this proposal in other countries have resulted in increased homelessness and
negative mental and physical health outcomes.
Discretion is incredibly important in supporting vulnerable people to
find employment as outline by ACOSS in their submission:
The proposed system relies very heavily on drawing a clear
distinction between people who are willing to comply but face difficulties, and
people who wilfully and repeatedly avoid activity requirements. Our experience
is in fact more blurred, people's circumstances do change, and many
vulnerabilities go unreported. Discretions to tailor responses to
non-compliance is essential to ensure that any compliance system remains
A key concern in this measure is that while the total loss of payment is
reduced from the current eight weeks to four weeks, this penalty cannot be
waived as it can be currently (nor will payment continue if the person is
challenging the correctness of the decision to impose it, unlike the current
National Social Security Rights Network said on the waiver and hardship
Making suspension the only sanction for most recipients has
the potential to be fairer and less harsh than the current system, where a
penalty may be imposed for any infraction in the provider's discretion. The
proposal recognises, correctly, that suspension is a significant sanction for
low income and effective. However, it then undermines its own insight by
combining this with nonwaivable loss of income support. The proposal to limit
the sanctions for most job seekers to suspension also has great potential to
simplify the system and reduce its administrative inefficiency. Currently, a
significant amount of an employment services provider's time is spent
administering the compliance framework. As noted above, this involves
significant inefficiency, with the complexity contributing to a situation where
up to half of rejected provider reports are rejected because of procedural
Any changes to the compliance framework must be done in conjunction with
stakeholders and job seekers as well as employment providers, as outlined by
the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children at the Inquiry:
The compliance regime just doesn't work. There is an
imbalance in power. Because of that we have actually seen organisations and
support networks develop around the unemployed person as they go to seek
contact with a job provider. Ten years ago you would see your job provider, or
the old Job Network, as a place where you could go to talk about your
employment and get assistance, and, hopefully, agree on a plan and move forward
with that plan. I think all this support is around the compliance—how hard it
is and how easy it is to breach it inadvertently. Most importantly and most
definitely, the compliance is too challenging, it's too hard and it's too
difficult. I do support a more sensible approach that the welfare rights have
put up. I also think we're missing a real valuable insight in that we just
don't ask jobseekers what would actually work for them or for their opinion.
Anglicare Australian told the Inquiry:
Anglicare Australia strongly believes that the mutual obligation
and compliance framework for people who are unemployed needs to be overhauled,
but that the new approach proposed in Schedule 15 are going to exacerbate the
problems not improve them. One of our key concerns with the Schedule is that it
removes the ability of Centrelink and employment service providers to respond
to individual circumstances that may be affecting non-compliance. While the
Explanatory Memorandum notes the 88% waiving of compliance threat measures as a
problem, we would argue the opposite: the very high level of compliance within
the system plus the high rate of waiving enforcement measures suggests that the
problems in the system are from a command and control response leading to undue
hardship, and an overzealous approach to a problem that is largely not there,
that is then corrected through waiving of harsh and unproductive punishments in
most cases. These matters should be explored through an independent review,
including looking at evidence from overseas of effective systems for assisting
people back into work.
A concerning example given at the Inquiry by the Department of
Employment was the case study of a Job Provider refusing a sick child as an excuse
for missing an appointment:
If there's a decision about what's reasonable, that's not
about a waiver; that's about whether the decision about whether there was a
reasonable excuse or not is valid. So it goes to the question of the
reasonableness. For example, a jobseeker might say, 'My child was sick. I had
to take them to the doctor, so I missed the appointment.' And the jobactive
provider was to say, 'No, we don't believe that was reasonable. You should have
told us in advance.' It's entirely possible for the jobseeker to call the
Department of Employment at any point and say, 'I don't think they've listened
to my excuse.' And we can contact the jobactive provider and ask them to look
at the reasonableness of the excuse again. So at any point they can ask that.
It's about the reasonableness of the excuse.
It is not clear from this example what would be considered a reasonable
excuse and how that decision would be made by a job provider and applied
consistently across the sector. It is also unclear how a jobseeker would become
aware that they have the right to complain to the Department of Employment,
what the processes are for a complaint and how long it should take to be
resolved. Such a complaints process would require a jobseeker to have
significant negotiation skills.
The Australian Greens oppose this punitive approach to the compliance
framework and support an independent public review into the compliance system
for people who are unemployed before any reform of the existing compliance
Schedules 12-15 and the Community Development Program (CDP)
The Australian Greens are deeply concerned by how Schedules 12- 15 in
this Bill will impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and
Communities particularly those participating in the CDP and share the concerns
regarding the issues raised by the Human Rights Law Centre at the Inquiry.
Those on the Commonwealth Development Program are not specifically
excluded from the measures proposed in Schedules 12: drug testing and income
management trials and Schedule 14: changes to the use of drugs or alcohol
dependence as a reasonable excuse.
The Bill does however exclude people participating in the Community
Development Program from schedules 13 and 15—the removal of temporary drug or
alcohol dependence exemptions for activity requirements and the targeted
This "exclusion" is facilitated by giving the secretary an
exceptionally broad power to determine by legislative instrument that remote
Work for the Dole program participants are declared program participants and
also to modify how social security law will apply to them.
This is an extraordinary power to give an unelected Government official
as Ms Walters, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre
The power to be given to the secretary is far broader than
what is necessary if the purpose is only to exclude remote participants from
schedules 13 and 15 of the bill. The power allows the secretary to modify how
social security laws will apply generally, including after a person has left
the program. More fundamentally, it delegates far too much legislative power in
an unelected government official with only limited parliamentary scrutiny,
including a power to create different classes of social security recipients
subject to different conditions. This extraordinarily broad power to be given
to the secretary would create a dangerous precedent and render it easier for
future governments to alter access to basic social security entitlements and
protections for remote Aboriginal communities or to other classes of people
determined to be declared program participants.
We are deeply concerned by the extraordinary powers of this provision
and cannot support it.
Schedule 16 - streamline of tax file number collection
The amendments in Schedule 16 repeal existing provisions of the Social
Security Act 1991 which empower the Secretary to request a person to
provide their tax file number; and allow the person 28 days in which to do so.
Instead a request to provide a tax file number and/or relevant thirds party's
tax file number will be part of a claim for social security payment or senior's
health care and to prevent payment or provision of a health card until the
request is satisfied.
The Australian Greens do not oppose this measure.
Schedule 17 - Information Management
This schedule makes changes to the legislative framework for the
Department of Human Services (DHS) information gathering powers with three
This schedule contains provisions which repeal the privilege against
self-incrimination, subject to immunity in relation to the use of the
information or documents.
The Greens share the concerns of the National Social Security Rights
Network who recommend that this change needs separate and thorough
consideration and should be removed from this bill:
It is accepted that social security law does not abrogate the
privilege against self-incrimination. DHS officers investigating suspected
fraud advise people of their right to silence in standard letters. The
provisions in this bill abrogate that privilege in relation to the exercise of
the information gathering power in s 192. The explanation given for this is
that this power is used to obtain information from third parties. It is correct
to say that, as a matter of practice, the power in s 192 is generally used to
obtain information or documents from third parties. This is partly because DHS
has other powers specifically directed at current recipients and which authorise
them to suspend a person's payment if they do not comply. However, there is
nothing in the words of s 192 to prevent it being used in relation to current
or former social security recipients who are the target of an investigation and
therefore potential defendants in a criminal prosecution.
This type of significant change requires careful consideration by
criminal law experts. It should not be dealt with as part of this Bill and the
Australian Greens do not support these measures.
Schedule 18 – Changes to the Disability Discrimination Act
Schedule 18 amends the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 to align
Social Security and disability discrimination law.
The Greens share the concerns of People with Disability Australia:
While this change probably does not change the material
situation for people with disability, we do have reservations about what this
change could mean in the future and question the need to the exemption in the
According to the Human Rights Committee:
It should be noted that section 45 of the Disability
Discrimination Act already exempts special measures "designed to assist
people who have a disability to obtain greater equality of opportunity or
provide them with benefits to meet their special needs". An exemption
therefore is not required in order to pay benefits to people with disabilities,
but would be required for measures which negatively impact people with a
disability, such as reducing or suspending payments to those who fail to meet
mutual obligation requirements due to their disability where that disability is
a drug or alcohol dependency.
The Greens are concerned that an exemption is required for measures
which negatively impact people with a disability, such as reducing or
suspending payments to those who fail to meet mutual obligation requirements
due to their disability where that disability is a drug or alcohol dependency
or to impose mandatory drug testing.
The Australian Greens do not support this measure.
This Bill targets vulnerable people; those with serious health problems,
those who have recently lost loved ones, young people and people already living
below the poverty line.
The Government is yet again targeting vulnerable people while continuing
to prop up corporations, the wealthy and big business.
It is disturbing to see the Government introduce such harmful measure,
ignoring the overwhelming evidence of a wide range of experts and stakeholders.
As Professor Reynolds told the inquiry, these drug testing measures are
Addiction is a disorder that's described by the WHO and in
the DSM-5—the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—as
involving impairment or loss of control; the continuation of use,
notwithstanding harm to the individual; and compulsions and cravings, alongside
the physiological changes of tolerance and withdrawal. We know that there are
structural and functional brain changes that are increasingly identified in the
literature. There's work being done through the National Institutes of Health
in America. This is not something that is amendable to simply saying, 'We're
going to manage your income.' It is, really, magical thinking, or at least it's
uninformed thinking. We're quite gobsmacked by this idea that we have a value
system that says we want people to behave well and not spend their money on
unhealthy commodities. As a doctor, I wish that the entire Australian community
would spend less on unhealthy commodities.
The evidence to the Senate inquiry has been very clear; these measures
will not work and are likely to have a detrimental effect.
We cannot afford to erode our social safety net.
This Bill will not only have dire consequences on the lives of
vulnerable people, it will affect the economy, costing the tax payer more in
the long term because it will push people into poverty increasing inequality.
It widely accepted that inequality has an overall long term negative impact on
economic growth and productivity.
The Australian Greens have long campaigned for an increase to the
Newstart and Youth Allowance rate, we share the concerns of submitters in
regards to the low rate of Newstart exacerbating the already high poverty rate
in Australia and increasing inequality.
The Australian Greens have always stood for vulnerable people and cannot
support a Bill that stigmatises people with health conditions, makes savings
from people who have recently lost a loved one and forces low income people to
wait longer to receive a payment.
Given the extensive evidence presented to the inquiry on the real world
impacts of these measures we cannot support this Bill.
The Australian Greens recommend that the Senate not pass Social
Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017.
There be an independent public review
into the compliance system for people who are unemployed before any reform to
the existing framework.
Senator Rachel Siewert
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