Compliance has once again become a hot issue, with the Government introducing a number of bills, legislative instruments and policy changes over the past few months.
A disallowable instrument was introduced to parliament to “tighten up” the guidelines for finding that a person has a “reasonable excuse” for failing to meet their activity requirements. NWRN wrote a legal analysis, combined with analysis of the practical impact of the changes. The parliament disallowed the instrument. So far, no new instruments have been introduced.
Around this time, a Bill was introduced to parliament to introduce “stronger penalties for serious failures”. The Bill proposed to make certain eight week penalties mandatory and restricted the options available to people to “work off” such penalties. NWRN also wrote a detailed submission opposing the measures in this Bill and appeared before the Senate Inquiry into the bill. The Bill failed to pass the Senate.
A second Bill was then introduced to parliament, this time aimed at “Strengthening Job Seeker Compliance”. NWRN provided a submission on this Bill to the Senate Education and Employment Committee Inquiry. This Bill, unlike the other measures listed above, reflected a more measured approach to “strengthening” compliance and it is clear that some thought had gone into safeguards and building on the aspects of the current system that work well. That said, some measures are objectionable and our submission set out the flaws in the proposed changes and additional safeguards that were required. Some key NWRN recommendations were picked up in the Senate amendments to the Bill, which were accepted by the Government and will now become law. These included recommendations that:
- The right to appeal to an Authorised Review Officer and Social Security Appeals Tribunal be retained (this is critical for individuals affected and for maintaining integrity of the system)
- The start date for new ‘non-attendance’ penalties be from the date a person is notified of a failure to attend, not from the date of the failure itself (this will protect people from increased penalties where there is a delay in communication between the job services provider and Centrelink)
- Suspension for non-attendance will not occur if the person cannot be given a rescheduled appointment within 2 business days (this is important, because the Bill proposed that suspension otherwise continues until the person actually attends a rescheduled appointment)
The amended bill represents a more proportionate and balanced response to non-attendance by job seekers at appointments.
Plans to delegate penalty decisions thwarted
The government has also backed down on a number of key compliance policy decisions, including:
- a decision that jobseekers would need to look for 40 jobs a month
- a decision to transfer decisions about imposing compliance penalties to employment services providers.
The Government backed down from 40 jobs proposal in response to the business sector, which objected to the increased burden on their sector in receiving the additional applications.
The NWRN spoke to the problems with the proposal to delegate decisions to employment services providers in our evidence to the Senate committee on the “Stronger Penalties for Serious Failures Bill”. NWRN also wrote to the Job Services Australia (JSA) and National Employment Services Association about the impacts of such a delegation on both job seekers and their employment services staff. JSA in particular made it very clear to Government that it did not want to receive delegation of those decisions. It is a huge relief that the Government has responded by abandoning that proposal.