Page 4528 - Week 14 - Wednesday, 23 November 2005

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up by the unions and very substantively by the Labor Party. Because the welfare-to-work package is most aimed at those on the margins—people with a disability, people on parenting payments—and because of the emphasis unions must necessarily place on working issues, they are perhaps not getting the attention they deserve. But they have excellent spokespeople within their own groups and within groups like the National Welfare Rights Network.

The more we see about this legislation, the more it looks problematic and horrific. Just yesterday in the Sydney Morning Herald it was revealed that sole parents and people with disabilities may have to work nearly twice as many hours as the federal government promised under its welfare changes. The trouble with this legislation is that you have to get into it with a magnifying glass. To do that requires time, which is not available to most of the people it affects. They rely on peak bodies such as the ACOSSes and COSSes of this world and the welfare rights network. I quote Michael Raper, who is the Executive Director of the National Welfare Rights Network. The day before yesterday he said:

Although the government has consistently said people would have to look for 15 hours of work a week, a parliamentary inquiry into the new system heard yesterday that people could be required to work up to 25 hours a week.

There is no upper hours, part-time work limit in the legislation.

It goes on to say that if people refuse a suitable job offer of up to 25 hours a week when they are working at, say, 13 hours a week, they can be hit with an immediate eight-week no-payment penalty and will lose in excess of $2,000 in welfare payments.

There is no doubt that there is a problem. Thank God for the Senate committee—and again we had to fight to get that. This legislation would otherwise have gone through with almost no scrutiny. Even though they do not have the numbers in the Senate, the opposition and the minor parties put their feet down and we have had some public airing of the issues. This shows the different weighting of interest in the two issues. By 21 November the Senate committee had received 59 submissions on the welfare-to-work program. By comparison, the Senate committee inquiring into WorkChoices had received over 4,500 submissions by 10 November. Good on people for getting those submissions in. But let us not see that as an indication of how the government should act, because it is the intersection of these two bits of legislation that is really worrying.

The Australian Council of Social Service and community, church and other rights groups have had significant input into this debate. There is no doubt that all these groups support the goal of assisting more social security recipients into jobs and welcome the government’s increased investments in employment assistance and childcare. All this has to happen if this package is going to work. However, ACOSS believes that the bill unnecessarily places many single parents and people with disabilities onto lower payments—so they will have to live on less until they get secure employment. Look, if we had been able to put a poverty-proofing process onto this legislation, it would never have got past cabinet. It is the opposite of assisting people.

A couple of sittings ago I moved a motion that the government agreed to. It was about how we could move the group of people who constantly stay in the unemployment

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