Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017
September 11, 2017
I rise today to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017.
The Turnbull government backs its commitments. It stands by the workers of Australia and it stands by the mutual obligations between citizens on welfare, the government and taxpayers.
We know that those opposite have proved to be no friend of the workers, with their dodgy union deals and their job-killing taxes that we've been hearing about for some time. We on this side do stand for workers, and we want more Australians to be in work. We want them to be in a job.
The bill provides for a comprehensive restructuring of the entire welfare system, including the introduction of a points based demerit system to ensure jobseeker compliance. This strengthens the penalties for persistent and deliberate noncompliance but will have no effect on those complying with their jobseeker obligations, which is the way it should be. We do not believe in punishing those who only want a fair go. I think all Australians would accept that. What we do believe in is a fair go for the taxpayers of Australia as well.
Our reform package also contains several streamlining processes, which will take effect from 1 January 2018. One such efficiency is changing the current system where intent to claim is deemed to be a claim. This measure will produce savings and also encourage jobseekers to engage with the system sooner, which should be encouraged. We will also be streamlining the collection of tax file numbers and improving the efficiency of processes around welfare fraud referral. Despite what those opposite may try to imply, the objective of this bill is simple: to create a fairer welfare system that supports more Australians to move into jobs. Australians are not mugs, and they don't like being taken for mugs either. They reasonably expect that those who can work should work. It's as simple as that, and the bill we are introducing represents that expectation.
This is a positive turning point for Australia's welfare system, focusing it better on what should be its key objective. Nobody wants to demonise those on welfare, and this is not some mean-spirited act from this side of the House. What we do want—what I want and what the Australian taxpayer wants—is to see people moving from welfare to gainful employment. I think we all want that. The intergenerational welfare trap is far too prevalent in this country, and I see the impact of this far too often in my vast electorate of Durack, where many of Australia's disadvantaged people live. I do not begrudge anyone access to welfare when they need it, but it is also incumbent upon individuals to take responsibility for themselves and, if capable, seek out employment opportunities. This bill simply reinforces this responsibility while seeking to assist those who are not capable of doing so.
As I've said, this bill is designed to address substance abuse amongst welfare recipients. To this end, some 5,000 new recipients of Newstart and youth allowance will take part in a two-year, drug-testing trial rolled out over three trial sites. The three drug-testing trial site locations have now been announced, and I'm confident that the residents in these areas will see the benefits of this policy. For the first time, our welfare system will address substance abuse amongst welfare recipients. Many of those who earn their salary in my electorate are required to pass a drug test to start work each day, particularly in the mining industry. I don't think it's unreasonable that those who benefit from their taxes are held to the same standard. And I might just put on record—as my friend the member for Barker has done—that, given that I earn my living from the taxes of the taxpayers, I have no objection to being drug-tested every single day. Indeed, when I worked in the mining game and also in the agricultural industry, I was subjected to drug testing and I have no issue with it whatsoever.
This drug-testing measure is not designed to be punitive. As I've said before, this is not some mean-spirited act where the dreadful Liberals and the National Party are trying to be nasty to people. It is not that at all. The specific aim of this bill is to help those with a drug or alcohol problem. That is the point of this reform. The point is to help them to deal with their substance abuse and, ultimately, to provide a pathway for them to secure employment. Helping those with a history of drug and alcohol use to secure employment will allow them to enjoy the advantages and the security that comes from earning a living through work.
That is what this bill aims to achieve.
Jobseekers who return an initial positive drug test will continue to receive the same amount of welfare payments. The drug-testing trial is not about cutting welfare from people who use drugs and alcohol. However, they will have their welfare payments quarantined to help them meet essential living costs and to limit their ability to purchase drugs. If a jobseeker tests positive a second time, they will be given a referral to a medical professional. The professional will assess their circumstances and work with the individual to identify appropriate treatment options. These treatment options will then form part of the mutual obligations moving forward.
These measures are all designed to assist vulnerable Australians to escape the scourge of drugs and to take away the funding for those merchants of misery who deal them.
This government has already committed nearly $300 million to support the National Ice Action Strategy as part of a total commitment of $685 million aimed at reducing the impact of alcohol and drugs on communities, on families and on individuals. In late June this year, we saw the WA police raid dozens of houses in the Kimberley and issue some 82 charges relating to drug possession and distribution. The Kimberley district inspector, while not commenting on the specific quantities of drugs found, confirmed that the impact would have been devastating if it had hit the streets of the Kimberley. Anyone with a basic understanding of economics, and clearly on this side of the House we know all about that, knows that the best way to reduce supply is to reduce demand. If this bill can go some way to putting drug dealers out of business—and it will have that impact—then it should be supported wholeheartedly.
I would like to note that the long-serving, now-retired police commissioner in Western Australia, Karl O'Callaghan, recently wrote on the need for welfare reform and the potential for the benefits that it can bring. On 1 July, he penned a piece in The West Australian talking about the cashless welfare card and how that would save kids and families. Although this is not about the cashless welfare card, I want to take the opportunity to place on record—and my good friend the member for O'Connor is here in the House now—an acknowledgement that the third trial site for the cashless welfare card is in Kalgoorlie and the surrounding areas. Kalgoorlie is my home town, so I know the people there are very grateful to the Member for O'Connor and to Minister Tudge for their work in bringing the card to the Goldfields. I'm quite sure that that card is going to change lives and is going to turn around many of those families who are in desperate need of help. I shall end there on that note and say: I commend this bill to the House.