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FOR – Bills — Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Safety Net) Bill 2023; in Committee

Janet Rice

I'm very disappointed with the outcome of that division but not surprised that everybody other than us and Senator Pocock is happy for jobseekers, people on youth allowance and people on student allowance to continue living in poverty, which is absolutely bad for their wellbeing, their health and their ability to get a job. If you've got people living in poverty, they're not in a position to be able to get a job. It is absolutely shameful. I now move Greens request for amendment (1) on sheet 2030, which is regarding income-free areas:

(1) Page 33 (after line 26), at the end of the Bill, add:

Schedule 5 — Increase to income free areas for certain payments

Part 1 — Disability support pension (under 21)

Social Security Act 1991

1 Point 1066A-F3 (table item 1, colum n 3)

Omit "$2,184", substitute "$7,800".

2 Point 1066A-F3 (table item 1, column 4)

Omit "$80", substitute "$300".

3 Point 1066A-F3 (table item 2, column 3)

Omit "$1,924", substitute "$7,800".

4 Point 1066A-F3 (table item 2, column 4)

Omit "$70", substitute "$300".

5 Point 1066A-F3 (table item 3, column 3)

Omit "$1,924", substitute "$7,800".

6 Point 1066A-F3 (table item 3, column 4)

Omit "$70", substitute "$300".

7 Point 1066A-F3 (table item 4, column 3)

Omit "$1,924", substitute "$7,800".

8 Point 1066A-F3 (table item 4, column 4)

Omit "$70", substitute "$300".

Part 2 — Youth allowance (other)

Social Security Act 1991

9 1067G-H29(b)

Omit "$150", substitute "$300".

Part 3 — Jobseeker payment

Social Security Act 1991

10 Point 1068-G12

Omit "$150", substitute "$300".

Part 4 — Parenting payment (single)

Social Security Act 1991

11 Point 1068A-E14 (table item 1, column 2)

Omit "$2,600", substitute "$7,800".

12 Point 1068A-E14 (table item 1, column 3)

Omit "$100", substitute "$300".

Part 5 — Parenting payment (partnered)

Social Security Act 1991

13 Point 1068B-D27

Omit "$150", substitute "$300".

Part 6 — Application of amendments

14 Application of amendments

(1) The amendments of the Social Security Act 1991 made by this Schedule apply in relation to working out the following:

(a) the rate of a person's disability support pension, youth allowance, jobseeker payment, pension PP (single) or benefit PP (partnered) in respect of days occurring on or after 20 September 2023;

(b) whether a person's farm household allowance under the Farm Household Support Act 2014 is payable in respect of days occurring on or after 20 September 2023.

(2) For the purposes of indexing an amount:

(a) specified in:

(i) the table in point 1066A-F3 of the Social Security Act 1991, as amended by this Schedule; or

(ii) the table in point 1068A-E14 of that Act, as amended by this Schedule;

(b) on the first indexation day for the amount that occurs after the day this item commences;

the current figure for the amount immediately before that first indexation day is taken to be that specified amount.

Obviously, the Greens' position is that we need to be lifting the rate of JobSeeker, youth allowance and student allowance above the poverty line so that people can live a dignified life. This lot—everybody here other than us—has just voted against that. The least we can do and what has also been Greens policy for a very long time, as well as increasing the rate of income support above the policy line, is to allow jobseekers to earn more. It's not a case of one or another, which is the appalling and cruel position that the opposition are proposing; it's a case of doing both. We need to have the level of income that people receive lifted above the poverty line, and then we need to allow people to earn more.

We know that based on the latest statistics there are 186,290 people receiving JobSeeker who are working. There are a lot of people who receive JobSeeker, youth allowance and student allowance who are working and have income above the income-free area, which means that their earnings are slashed. The amount of JobSeeker or youth allowance or student allowance they get is slashed once they earn above the income-free area. Those people would all benefit. As I said, this is something that can be done to benefit those people, but it's not enough. About 40 per cent of people on JobSeeker have limited or reduced capacity to work. A lot of those people actually should be on other disability payments or the disability support pension, but they are left languishing on JobSeeker. But for the others who are on JobSeeker who are able to work, who—for a lot of them—are working now, increasing the income-free area so that their income from that work can be up to $300 a fortnight rather than $150 a fortnight would make a real, meaningful difference to their lives.

There is a cost-of-living crisis. We know that people are desperate to improve their standard of living, desperate to get the money that they need. We know that actually allowing them to earn more in this cost-of-living crisis would make a tangible difference to their lives.

Anne Ruston

r RUSTON (—) (): The coalition won't be supporting these amendments, but that's not because we don't believe that the income-free area should be increased for people to incentivise them to get more work. We know that when people report earnings they're more than twice as likely to go on to full-time employment, and we believe that increasing the income-free area is a very effective way of incentivising people to take up those extra few hours of work or possibly add to additional hours that they currently work.

The reason that we are not supporting this amendment is because we believe that the amendment that we will move shortly is a superior amendment to this. We're saying that we want to increase the income-free areas by an additional $150 per fortnight, recognising that there a range of different income-free areas that are already in existence for working-age payments. The amendment that's been put forward by the Australian Greens here proposes to put the thresholds up to $300 does not recognise the nuance that's already in our system to incentivise different people on different payments in different ways and recognise their particular circumstances—whether that be students, whether that be single parents, whether that be people who are on the JobSeeker allowance. We would certainly be encouraging those in the chamber to look at our increased income-free area amendments that are going to be moved shortly, because I think they actually reflect a much more nuanced and targeted response to incentivising Australians to get back into the workforce.

We also philosophically believe that increasing the income-free areas and taking away the barriers for people to enter the workforce, like the barrier of the amount of people's reductions in their payments when they start earning, is a much more effective way of getting people back into the workforce than just merely increasing payments by $40 a fortnight. So we commend our amendment to the chamber and, for that reason, we'll not be supporting the amendments of the Greens towards the income-free area, but we'd encourage the Greens to consider supporting our amendments to the income-free area, because they are more reflective of the nuanced circumstances of different types of income support payments.

Tim Ayres

Thank you for those contributions. I want to set out the government's position in relation to this amendment. The government will be opposing the amendment. The features of this package are designed to increase support for Australians who are on working-age or student payments. That's what the bill is about. It furthers the government's commitment to a strong social safety net.

Supporting workforce participation has been and will be at the core of the government's broader economic strategy. It's why the government has implemented reforms like making child care cheaper for Australian families and improving paid parental leave. But doubling the income-free area, as is proposed in this amendment does, of course, bake-in a significant structural spend for this budget and future budgets. I note that a costing for the fiscal impact of this proposal does not accompany the Greens party's proposed amendment. There is no evidence before us that a proposal of this sort would deliver the participation outcomes claimed. In fact, if you look at this proposal, we know that increasing the income-free area would mean an additional 50,000 Australians would become eligible for JobSeeker because the income cut-out thresholds would increase. The outcome of the proposal would be more Australians on JobSeeker. That's not a credible proposition.

The reality of the system is that around 77 per cent of people on JobSeeker are not reporting any earnings at all. There is already an income-free area, and 77 per cent of Australians on JobSeeker are not using it. Even for those JobSeeker recipients who do report earnings, 23 per cent of JobSeeker participants, there is no evidence of bunching—that is, people keeping income from paid employment intentionally low so that they earn less than the income-free area. Doubling the income-free area will only benefit those income support recipients who are already earning and earning regularly. These recipients already benefit and are rewarded for taking up work through the gradual tapering of income support as they earn more. Amidst all this, of course, amendments to the income-free area will not assist the 77 per cent of JobSeeker payment recipients who don't utilise it. It's on that basis that the government won't be supporting this amendment.

Claire Chandler

The question is that Greens request (1) on sheet 2030 be agreed to.


Date and time: 10:39 AM on 2023-08-02
Senator Pocock's vote: Aye
Total number of "aye" votes: 12
Total number of "no" votes: 23
Total number of abstentions: 41
Related bill: Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Safety Net) Bill 2023

Adapted from information made available by