BILLS;Social Security Legislation Amendment (Stronger Penalties for Serious Failures) Bill 2014;Second Reading – 03 Sep 2014

As I was saying last night, before I had to cease my contribution, the restriction of waivers will disproportionately impact on some of the most vulnerable people in our society. These are the people we should reach out a hand to and support—people with mental illness and people experiencing homeless. They are the people who I am very concerned to hear appear to have been described by Joe Hockey as ‘leaners’.

This government does not understand the challenges faced by the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our community. They are completely out of touch with what goes on out there in the real world, or, even worse, they might understand it but they just do not care. They are quite happy for the most vulnerable unemployed Australians to be the collateral damage in a cruel and heartless scapegoating exercise. It is important for a strong mutual obligation system that we have both the carrot and the stick systems—a system of penalties for failing to comply, accompanied by help and incentives to engage with the employment support system. This is why the waivers are so important.

When there is a serious failure, the waivers allow the department to consider individual circumstances and whether applying the penalty would be appropriate. The department can consider whether the job seeker has the capacity to comply with the serious failure requirement and whether applying the penalty would cause them serious financial hardship. Also, the job seeker has an opportunity and an incentive to re-engage with the system and return to actively seeking work.

What the Abbott government wants to introduce is a system that is cruel and inflexible. There is no argument from this side of the chamber that people should be penalised in some way if they steadfastly refuse to engage in finding suitable employment, or if they do not bother to make any reasonable effort. But, having any restriction on the number of waivers that are applied to eight-week penalties is just plain cruel. This legislation says, ‘You have blown it. No second chances. We do not care, even if you start to re-engage. We do not care of applying this penalty is going to cause you serious financial hardship.’

This government can see from the statistics I quoted last night that this legislation will have the greatest impact on the most vulnerable people. Those opposite may be surprised to hear this, but punishing job seekers and blaming them for their failure to find a job—one that often does not exist—and cutting their income support will not improve Australia’s unemployment rate. Creating new jobs will improve Australia’s unemployment rate. I can guarantee that the government’s harsh approach will lead to a boom in one industry. It will create a lot more demand for the welfare agencies, for emergency relief services and for law enforcement, because what this government is proposing to do with the most vulnerable job seekers in our community will have them living in abject poverty.

We may as well go back to convicts, where we won’t pay you anything and you can survive on fresh air and then when you do have to resort to some illegal way to survive then we’ll lock you up. It is disgraceful. I cannot imagine anyone in this chamber from any side living for six months with no income. I would challenge those on the other side to think very seriously about how people are going to do that.

Labor’s approach in government was to boost education and training opportunities. We made changes to Job Services Australia and introduced a system with greater flexibility to manage job seeker to jobs. We prioritised, providing more resources to the job seekers with the greatest need. Across the employment services portfolio during our time in government we helped over 1.6 million people to secure jobs. We did it without punishing job seekers simply because they could not get a job. We will oppose this bill. We will oppose it because it is bad policy. We will oppose it because it will do nothing to improve the prospects of job seekers in getting job. But, most important of all, we will oppose it because it is cruel, heartless and completely inflexible.