No merit in amendments. ALP and crossbench, block the bad bill.
The parliament must not be bullied into passing dangerous, half-baked changes to social security law
Update 24 June 2021
In the wake of community campaigning and significant lobbying of the Labor party and crossbenchers, the government did not bring the bill to the house on 23 June as scheduled. The parliament will next sit in the first week of August, meaning the bill will not be considered for at least five weeks.
If you or your organisation would like more information about the problems with this bill or to help campaign against it send us your details and we’ll be in touch.
Original statement issued 22 June 2021
The Labor party and crossbench politicians must stand up to the government’s push to force drastic changes to social security law in parliament this Thursday. Do not support the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Streamlined Participation Requirements and Other Measures) Bill 2021. These are not mere “administrative” changes; none of the schedules should be passed in their current form.
The Antipoverty Centre joins the Australian Council of Social Services, People with Disability Australia, the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union, Economic Justice Australia, Anglicare Australia, the National Council of Single Mothers, GetUp and other civil society groups in calling on the parliament to #RejectTheMOsBill.
The government has estimated that each year roughly 10,000 people will be without an income support payment for 26 days or more, and more than 100,000 others will lose out too.1 The worst off will lose at least $1,100 of their poverty payment.
But this is NOT the biggest problem with this bill – it introduces a dramatic increase in automated decision making, forces people to do dangerous programs like Work for the Dole sooner and more often, and the discriminatory nature of many changes will harm people because they are older, disabled, a parent or living in a regional area.
At its heart these changes are a cut to social security payments, a cut to the rights of unemployed people and those who rely on payments, and a cut to what little is left of the integrity in our social security system.
In the wake of robodebt the government has learned nothing. They are showing contempt for the community and democracy – wilfully ensuring peak bodies and advocates are dragged down by a crushing wave of social services inquiries as we try to grapple with the unforeseen consequences of this bill.
There has been absolutely no time to even consider the proposed legislation in detail, or for civil society and those with lived experience to influence the amendments that will harm hundreds of thousands directly, and hurt the whole community indirectly. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights was not even able to form a view because the bill itself is so badly drafted.
This is nothing but a cynical ploy to rush through changes that will have massive consequences that reach deep into our society. If we and other groups had time to inform the community about what these consequences could be the government would be in trouble, and it knows it.
Media contact: 0413 261 362 / media at antipovertycentre.org
Concerns of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights
On Wednesday 16 June the PJCHR published its human rights scrutiny report, including its views on the Participation Requirements bill.2
The section of the report relating to this bill concludes:
The committee has not yet formed a concluded view in relation to this matter. It considers further information is required to assess the human rights implications of this bill, and as such seeks the minister's advice as to the matters set out at paragraph 1.96 [which details 14 specific enquiries]
It raises the following key concerns about the government’s human rights obligations:
potential infringement of the right to privacy by requiring people to engage in an employment pathway plan, which may require ongoing monitoring of their activities
impinging on the right to social security and the right to an adequate standard of living
changes that will disporportionately effect certain cohorts such as disabled people, older people, those living in remote areas and others breaching the right to equality and non-discrimination
The committee noted a variety of unclear or ambiguous items with the potential to cause harm, including:
“It is not clear how, and based on what criteria, the Employment Secretary would determine that although a person was … not genuinely willing to actively seek and to accept and undertake paid work … It is not clear how such an assessment could be based on any kind of discernible conduct by the individual.”
“It remains unclear how requiring that a person must participate in an employment pathway plan in order to qualify for a social welfare payment is rationally connected (that is, effective to achieve) a legitimate objective.” – This is a tacit admission that there is no evidence to support the ‘mutual’ obligations rules imposed on social security recipients.
“It is unclear what information would be given to individuals to ensure they are aware of their ability to select either [the online or face to face] method, and would not be disadvantaged by being inappropriately directed to an online servicing mechanism. In addition, it is not clear that a person's capacity to regularly access the devices necessary to use a digital platform would be part of the assessment of a person's suitability for the use of technological processes.”
“… what safeguards are in place to ensure that people are not required to agree to an employment pathway plan that effectively requires them to apply for work that may be unsuitable.”
Department of Employment response to Question on Notice from Senator Louise Pratt: https://www.aph.gov.au/DocumentStore.ashx?id=c7722c9d-cc30-464e-96b1-b28cfb2b6cb6
Human Rights Scrutiny Report No. 7 of 2021: https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Human_Rights/Scrutiny_reports/2021/Report_7_of_2021