SOCIAL SECURITY AND FAMILY ASSISTANCE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (MISCELLANEOUS MEASURES) BILL 2006
Mr CADMAN (Mitchell) (10.23 a.m.)—The Social Security and Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2006 contains, as the previous speaker said, a range of measures. On first appearance, it is a composite bill, and we in this place are used to composite bills that cover a whole lot of technical stuff. Sometimes we search through such legislation to find the hidden traps. In this instance, whilst they are not largely significant, the measures that are proposed in this legislation are very significant for a range of people.
The minister’s second reading speech did not enlarge upon the /files/includes/content.csss of the bill to any great extent, but when one looks at the explanatory memorandum, one finds changes to childcare benefits and other childcare measures. The arrangements regarding two members of a couple temporarily living apart are significant, where there is illness or some other interruption to their lifestyle. Anomalies in the income test for low-income health card carriers are also covered.
The area I would like to give attention to is the one that deals with the larger customer groups of recipients of youth allowance and the youth supplement of the disability support pension and, in particular, pay some attention to the Welfare to Work provisions. There have been a number of comments since 1 July with regard to the effectiveness of the Welfare to Work program. Most of the criticisms have come from some of the usual welfare groups that one would expect to be somewhat antagonistic to this government because they never seem to be able to find anything in the government’s programs that satisfy them. I would like to look through some of those comments and deal with them.
The critics range from ACOSS, of course, and welfare rights centres that say that people in remote areas where there is only one network provider may have extremely difficult problems, be apprehensive about disclosing personal health details and, in that way, be precluded from the opportunity of gaining access to the massive program that is rolling out over four years entitled Welfare to Work—a program, I would remind the House, which is valued at $3.6 billion. It is a massive program of about $1 billion a year to help people on the disability support pension to move into work. Not in every instance will we succeed, but the attempt needs to be made.
I am reminded at this point of a remark of a dear friend who is a recipient of the Order of Australia for his support for people with disabilities and that is John Temple. John Temple suffers from autism and it is quite amazing what he has been able to achieve to help people who are disabled. He complains about people who are the able disabled because John, despite all of his disabilities, has run a business for years. He is a very capable driver of bulldozers and front-end loaders. He can operate any piece of equipment with four wheels with great skill and has been successful in earning a full income for all of his working life. John, by the way, was predicted to die before he was three. He did not speak a word until he was five. He could not walk until he was 13. Despite all of these setbacks, John Temple is a recipient of the Order of Australia, honoured by the Queen and the Australian government for his contribution to society. John becomes quite distressed when people claim that there is no opportunity for them to make a contribution to our society. So the philosophy that John Temple has expressed publicly and privately about the role of the able disabled is something that this government is very determined to pursue to offer people a better way of life.
Some of the complaints that rural areas may be poorly serviced drew me to have a look at the service providers in some of the rural districts of Australia. I looked first of all at Ballarat and found that there is a full page of service providers, ranging from Ballarat Regional Industries Inc. to Interact Australia, Karingal Inc. and Midland Support Services Inc. There is a multiplicity of providers in Ballarat. In a provincial city, one would expect there to be plenty of service providers. I looked also at Bendigo and found that there are nearly two pages of providers in the Bendigo electorate, including Asteria Services, Australian Business Development Centre, Bendigo Access Employment, Drake, Goldfields Employment and Learning Centre, Midland Support Services Inc., and the list goes on. I just plucked a few from what must be a list of at least 20 providers in Bendigo.
So the criticism that has been raised by some seeking to denigrate the government’s efforts to give people who are disabled more satisfying lives and to be able to allow them to start up in life again do not seem to stack up against the facts. If one looks at the Capricornia electorate, there are also two pages of providers, including groups such as the Business Success Group; Centrecare; Community Employment Options Incorporated, in north Rockhampton; Jim Ralph Employment Consultancy; Mission Australia; Skill Group Ltd; the Salvation Army; and Waycage Pty Ltd. So there is a range of services available through all electorates of Australia. I know that there are problems with people finding employment in remote areas, but the government is determined to make every effort and to try to provide a better way and a better opportunity for people with disabilities or who are on a disability pension.
I notice the workforce participation minister, Sharman Stone, has said in relation to the expenditure of the $3.6 billion over three years—not $4 billion as I said previously—to help job seekers that this funding will go towards helping the long-term unemployed, mature age people, people with disability and parents on welfare to become financially independent. What could be more uplifting and confidence building than to make people independent of others when they come to provide for their daily needs? Sharman Stone, the minister, went on to say:
Far from being worse off, as ACOSS reports claim, these people will be given every assistance to find a job and move beyond welfare dependency. There has never been a better time to find a job in Australia, with unemployment levels at a 30-year low.
I think that this proposal is one that is going to work well. ACOSS has said that 158,000 people would receive lower payments. That is not true. The Treasurer refuted that on 3 July when he said that everybody would benefit. There will be no people, the Treasurer said, who are worse off in all these cohorts today than they were in 1998 in terms of real disposable incomes.
There have been a number of reports which indicated that, during the 1980s and 1990s, generous welfare provisions for the unemployed, especially those with children, meant that couples might have been better off with both being on benefits rather than one earning the minimum wage. I think we have all experienced that. I think we all know of the resentment that taxpayers have for high taxes paying for people who they think should be out there working. So this is a bit of a restoration of the balance. Yes, there is an encouragement to get out and work and, yes, there is a lot of support if you are willing to give it a go. That is what I think these changes are about. Will we succeed in every case? I have already said no, we will not; some will be extremely difficult. Some will be extremely disabled and will not be able to be assisted, but maybe through wonderful organisations such as Cumberland Industries—
The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr McMullan)—Order! The member for Melbourne Ports, are you seeking to raise a question?
Mr Danby—I am.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER—Will the member for Mitchell accept a question?
Mr Danby—The two cases of the disability support pensioners who have been denied assistance by Centrelink: do you have a comment on them in the light of what you have just said?
Mr CADMAN—If the member wishes to provide me with the details of the names, addresses and telephone numbers, I will make sure the minister carefully checks out the precise details. All he has to do is provide me with that information and I guarantee I will do that—as he could himself, of course, but he is game playing here. He could of course take it to the minister and establish the facts himself, but I would be delighted to act as a go-between for him. I guarantee that the minister will give both of us the very best of attention, the most compassionate support, and will willingly assist us in resolving any problems that may exist for people who are currently on a disability pension.
I am fortunate to have somebody who was formerly on a disability pension working in my office. This young man also suffered from a mild form of autism, and he found it very difficult to get a job. In fact, he could not get a job, but he has a brain that just clicks into databases and computers. We were able to establish for Wayne an opportunity—this is a very generous and thoughtful government—with a cocktail of a disability pension and part payment by a minister. And I encourage members to take into their offices people with disabilities. The minister, the Hon. Gary Nairn, has been very careful in coming up with a way to establish a part payment and part pension benefit, which ultimately gets people to a point—the point where Wayne is now—where they are on a proper payment and a proper salary. I would like to be able to give Wayne more work in a week than I do, because like all members I feel that an extra staff member would not go astray, but that is not the case at the moment because I only have limited capacity to pay Wayne.
Thanks to the intervention of my colleague from Melbourne Ports, I draw the attention of the House to a statement, on 21 July, by the Melbourne Institute’s deputy director, Mark Wooden, who said that while more long-term unemployed had found work, the outlook continued to be grim for those out of work for a decade or more. Of course, that is understandable. This is where the effort is going to be put in. This is where the $3.6 billion is going to be directed—in encouraging those people to change. If it is possible to have those regular hours and to establish a regular pattern of conduct of getting out of bed and getting to a place of employment, and if it is possible to make the employment interesting and encourage people to try new things, then I think that in a large number of cases there will be success.
Now I turn to the rise in the number of unemployed fathers caring for children. This is also an interesting phenomenon, and I think that the changes to the Family Law Act are going to help establish a better balance in situations where there has been a family split-up. I know this is a bipartisan issue and I hope that we are successful. I know the parliament hopes that the Attorney-General will be successful in this process, as will be the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs—both of whom are carrying responsibilities.
There have been criticisms from advocates who say that cutting payments is going to be a disincentive and will disadvantage people. I think the balance is about right. I do not really believe that it is possible to carry on at the high level of support and at the same time expect people to make the choice to go to work. So there needs to be a balance between training and education, and encouragement to pick up a work placement, and take advantage of corporations such as Cumberland Industries and North West Personnel, who are the most amazing people.
I will read you a couple of examples from North West Personnel, who have the best record of any group in the nation for finding jobs and placements for people with a disability. This organisation started off with very low funding and I know Christine Liddy, who is the director of that organisation, was concerned that they were not being allowed to do enough. But now, with Welfare to Work, their role has expanded and they are going to be able to fulfil what they know they can do to find work for people with a disability.
I just want to read and put on the record the comments made by James Radley, known as Jimmy. He joined North West Personnel in May 2001. He was asked to fill out a vocational interest profile form, and I will talk about some of the things he highlighted. By the way, human resource directors in large corporations ought to understand that people with disabilities cannot always fill in forms. The first thing they say to people, would you believe, is, ‘Will you fill in this form?’ If a person has a disability, they are not necessarily going to be able to fill in a form, but with a verbal exchange the occupational people within a corporation ought to be able to help them to do that. Some of the changes needed involve making businesses understand how they can really match in—hot sync, if you like—with people with disabilities, drawing them into the workplace, providing them with satisfactory employment doing jobs that release other employees to do perhaps more skilled or a greater variety of tasks.
But Jimmy was asked to fill in a form and he was able to do so. Jimmy said:
My goal is to find a job, and to have a feeling of achievement. I know I can make a real difference in my community by making my contribution to it.
I want to find my place in life, find out where I fit in, and feel a real sense of belonging.
I want to find friends and share a friendship with them. I want to make other people happy.
I want to earn money so that I can live comfortably and be happy and some day am able to travel and see different parts of Australia and the world.
This is a young man with a disability saying, ‘These are my aspirations; these are the things I want to do.’ This is what he said to North West Personnel in 2001. Jimmy went on, saying he wanted:
To become a better person, more competent and recognise my strengths and weaknesses.
I want to build my self confidence and be comfortable around other people. To be accepted by my peers/friends and co-workers. I want to accept people from different cultural backgrounds.
I want to be comfortable making my own decisions and setting goals for myself.
What an admirable range of aspirations for this young disabled person.
Here are some of the things that Jimmy did not like:
Being short makes me feel out of place and different from other people.
He does not like ‘knowing that I have certain limitations that are beyond my control’. He does not like ‘not being able to have my own car or drive’, ‘being dependent on others to take me places’ and ‘inconveniencing others’.
Why did he really want a job? He wanted a job to gain satisfaction. He wanted a job to be able to learn new things and acquire new skills, to really make a difference and a contribution to his community and to get to work with and know people. If you are isolated and disabled, you do not know people and you do not work with people. He wanted to earn money. He wanted to buy nice clothes and dress smartly. What a good thing this is. He wanted to be able to travel. He wanted to be able to buy a car. He wanted to become independent. He wanted to improve his self-confidence and prove that he was not a failure. He said, ‘I can achieve anything if I set my mind to it.’ What a splendid young man. He wanted to be able to ‘pay my bills and learn to budget’ and to be a team member and feel secure. He had great work ethics. He is a good communicator—he has openness. By October 2004, what had Jimmy achieved? He had achieved a great deal by working—(Time expired)
Author: Hon Alan Cadman MP
Source: House Hansard - 16th August 2006
Release Date: 16 Aug 2006