Terms of reference
On 26 June 2012 the Senate referred the following matters to the Senate
Education, Employment and Workplace Relations References Committee for inquiry
and report by 1 November 2012:
The adequacy of the allowance payment system for jobseekers
and others, the appropriateness of the allowance payment system as a support
into work and the impact of the changing nature of the labour market.
(a) the adequacy of the allowance payment system for
jobseekers and others, with particular reference to the adequacy of the
Newstart Allowance payment as an income support payment for jobseekers and the
adequacy of all other allowance payments that support a range of recipients who
study or provide care;
(b) the appropriateness of the allowance payment system as a
support into work, with particular reference to:
(i) the effectiveness of the payment as an incentive into
(ii) the effectiveness of the allowance payment system in
facilitating transitions between working and other activities, such as
studying, caring and retirement, or in the event of illness or disability, and
in helping or hindering recipients to overcome barriers to employment, and
(iii) the impact of the differences between pensions and
allowances on the transition between working and other activities; and
(c)the impact of the changing nature of the labour market,
particularly the rise of insecure work and decline of unskilled jobs, on the:
(i) nature and frequency of individual interaction with the
allowance payment system, and
(ii) over and underpayment of allowances to recipients.
Conduct of the inquiry
Notice of the inquiry was posted on the committee's website and
advertised in The Australian newspaper, calling for submissions by 3
August 2012. The committee also notified a number of stakeholders of the
inquiry and invited submissions. The committee received a total of 78
submissions, as listed at Appendix 1. This appendix also includes information
on answers to questions on notice and documents tabled by the committee during
the course of its hearings. A number of submissions were redacted prior to
their publication to protect personal details.
The committee conducted a number of public hearings: one in Melbourne on
27 August 2012, two in Canberra on 28 August and 17 September 2012
respectively, and one in Sydney on 24 October 2012. A list of witnesses who
gave evidence before the committee is at Appendix 2.
Copies of the Hansard transcript from the committee's hearings can be
accessed online at http://aph.gov.au/hansard.
Note on references
References in this report are to the proof Hansard. Page numbers may
vary between the proof and the official transcript.
The committee extends its gratitude to the large number of individuals
and organisations who made submissions to this inquiry, and to witnesses who
offered their time to give evidence at public hearings. Both contributed
greatly to shaping the committee's deliberations and report.
Structure of the report
Guided by evidence received over the course of the inquiry, this report
focuses primarily on Newstart Allowance and the measures in place designed to create
incentives for people to work.
This chapter offers a background to the inquiry by considering the
economic outlook and past reviews, including the key recommendations emerging
from Australia's Future Tax Review.
Chapter 2 provides an overview of the allowance payment system,
outlining the allowance system broken down by payment type.
Chapter 3 focuses on Newstart Allowance, and examines whether the
payment is fit for purpose.
Chapter 4 provides an analysis of how unemployed Australians are given
incentives to find employment and the support provided through Job Services
It is important to consider the allowance payment system in the context
of economic conditions such as inflation and cost of living. The Joint Agency
Submission states that in simple terms, the Australian economy is strong, and
unemployment and inflation are comparatively low.
Nonetheless, the committee notes that the 2012–13 budget forecast a rise in
Employment is forecast to grow 1.25 per cent through the year
to the June quarter of 2013 and 1.5 per cent through the year to the June
quarter of 2014 (Australian Government 2012). The unemployment rate is forecast
to drift up to around 5.5 per cent by the June quarter of 2013. It is then
expected to remain broadly stable through to the June quarter of 2014.
Added to this, the stability of national economies globally is uncertain
and Australia must prepare itself to respond to challenges in the future
arising from an aging population.
Increases to cost of living, as measured by the Consumer Price Index,
The cost of living in Australia, as measured by CPI, has
moderated over the past year. Headline CPI is 1.2 per cent higher through the
year to the June quarter 2012, down from 1.6 per cent through the year to the
March quarter 2012....
Both the underlying and headline inflation rates are then
expected to ease to the middle of the RBA target band at 2.5 per cent through
the year to the June quarter of 2014.
Wages continue to increase, but not at the same rate as previous years,
and growth is uneven across the economy. Wages growth is forecast to be modest
over the next two years and will be offset by increases in unemployment and
Wages growth is currently below trend, and is expected to
remain modest over the next two years in line with the tick-up in the
unemployment rate and moderation in inflation. In the 2012-13 Budget, the
Government forecasts WPI growth of 3.75 per cent through the year to the June
quarter of both 2013 and 2014, with continued strong wages growth in resources-related
industries expected to be offset on average by more modest wage increases in
other parts of the economy.
It is important that the cost of the allowance payment system is
sustainable into the future. The Joint Agency submission refers to a 2010 study
[Real] GDP growth per person is projected to grow at an
average of 1.5 per cent per year over the next 40 years, compared with 1.9 per
cent over the previous 40 years. At the same time the number of traditional
working age people to support each retiree is expected to fall from 5 people in
2010, to 2.7 people in 2049-50.
The committee notes this evidence, but observes that the Joint Agency
Submission has overlooked increases to cost of living that are not accounted
for by the CPI. Increased cost of living pressures are also discussed in
Chapter 3, in the context of the adequacy of income support payments.
Recent reviews of allowance payment rates
In October 2011, the National Tax Forum highlighted the low rate of
income support payments as a key reason for increasing poverty and hardship
across marginalised sectors of the community. Representatives from the business
sector called for increasing allowance payment rates.
The Harmer Review
The Pension Review Report (the Harmer Review) was completed by Dr Jeff
Harmer in February 2009. The review looked at the Age Pension, Carer Payment
and Disability Support Pension with a view toward strengthening the financial
security of seniors, carers and people with a disability. The review operated
within the following terms of reference:
- the appropriate levels of income support and allowances,
including the base rate of the pension, with reference to the stated purpose of
- the frequency of payments, including the efficacy of lump sum
versus ongoing support; and
- the structure and payment of concessions or other entitlements
that would improve the financial circumstances and security of seniors, carers
and people with disability.
The review concluded that the single pension rate was too low by
international standards, and urged reform.
The Henry Tax Review
Established in 2008 to examine Australia's tax and transfer system,
including state taxes, Australia's Future Tax Review made recommendations
designed 'to position Australia to deal with the demographic, social, economic
and environmental challenges of the 21st century.'
This section outlines the key elements of the final report which pertain to the
The final report defines the primary objective of income support systems
as 'poverty alleviation through the provision of a minimum standard of living
to people unable to support themselves through work, savings or other means,'
and describes three avenues open to policymakers: negative income taxes, social
insurance and category-based mean-tested social security.
Most countries, including Australia, provide assistance through
category-based systems, the two main models being social insurance and general
revenue-financed, means tested support payments. The Australian system centres
on category-based, means-tested financial assistance payments which are
supplemented by private superannuation, including a mandatory component (the
superannuation guarantee), industrial entitlements (such as sick leave) and
workers' compensation schemes administered by state and territory governments.
Systems involving social insurance are based on income-related
contributions and income-related benefits for individuals. Although the report
does not rule out a major policy change in the future which would see a major
shift towards social insurance, the authors see little scope for support for
such a move in the near future. This is in part due to the underlying
preference for payments to target poverty alleviation directly, rather than for
income maintenance, and partly due to the high transition costs which would
likely be required. This high cost would necessitate higher taxes on those in
the workforce regardless of insurance payment levels.
Currently, Australians wishing to pay for insurance against possible
unemployment can opt to do so.
A negative income tax system can be based on a single basic level of
income paid to all and taxed at a single rate, or on a number of
category-based, minimum income levels taxed at different rates. A pure negative
tax system of this kind, the report states, would require a very high income
tax rate since every single person would be paid a transfer by the state,
regardless of need or behaviour. No country to date has introduced such a
Section F1 – Income support
The report held that current policy settings failed to adequately
reflect evolving employment patterns and changes in the composition of
Australia's working-age population.
The authors of the report saw potential for the large differentials in
allowance and pension payment rates to incentivise people to switch to more
generous allowances, which carry greater risk of long-term welfare dependency.
To help combat this, the report supported restructuring income support within
three categories (pension, participation and student) in order to balance
allowance payment adequacy and incentives to work or study, while at the same
time recognising that the payment rate for pensions should be higher in
recognition of the fact that pension recipients were not expected to work.
The report recommended reducing the overall difference in payment rates
between the three categories, particularly for singles. To achieve this, the
report advocated establishing 'proper payment relativities' by increasing
payment rates for the participation and student categories. The payment
relativity would be maintained by applying a consistent approach to indexation
across the three payment categories.
Section F2 – Means testing
Australia's social security means testing protocol is a two-part means
test, consisting of an income test and an assets test. Some assets are assessed
under both tests, while others are only assessed under the assets test. This,
the report concluded, produced inequitable and unfair results, with people with
like needs and like means receiving different rates of support. People were
therefore being incentivised and indirectly rewarded for strategically
confining wealth to particular types of assets. To address and correct this,
the report recommended broadening the means test to include returns on a
greater range of assets.
Section F3 – Assistance for
families and young people
Family assistance payments are designed to ensure that all children have
access to a basic acceptable living standard. Whilst primary responsibility for
the financial support of children rests with their parents, the system must
account for the fact that some people do not have a high enough income to
provide the necessary support for their children. In cases where parents
already receive income support themselves, family assistance payments are quite
distinct from allowance payments. The former are designed to be adequate only
for the recipient, necessitating further financial assistance where allowance
recipients have children.
The authors of the Henry Tax Review concluded that current family
financial assistance arrangements were complex, due in part to the number of
different payments available, and in part to the design of those payments and
their interaction with the tax system. The final report also concluded that
current rates of assistance, whilst adequate for very young children and larger
families (because the rate increases with each additional child), did not
sufficiently cover the cost of older children. The report recommended
establishing a single, simple family assistance payment which would rise as
children grow older.
The Review held that family payments should comprise the main form of
assistance until children turn eighteen or complete secondary school, after
which youth payments should be available to the young person and should be
designed to encourage study, training or transition to employment. In all, the
report made eight recommendations designed to improve assistance for families
and young people.
Section F4 – Child care assistance
Child care assistance works on the premise that payments should
facilitate parents' workforce participation and support the development needs
As with family payments, the authors of the review suggested that child
care payments would benefit from simplification and increased transparency. Three
recommendations were made to improve child care assistance.
Over the course of this inquiry the committee was cognisant of the
recommendations emerging from the Henry Tax Review, and bore them in mind
during its own deliberations.
In the following chapter the committee provides an overview of the
allowance payment system in Australia.
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