Senator FIFIELD (Victoria-Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (09:33):
I rise today to speak on the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Disability Support Pension Participation Reforms) Bill 2012. The key purpose of this bill is to implement the disability support pension reform which was announced in the budget last year. Principally, these measures relate to workforce participation for DSP recipients. This reform is covered in schedules 1 and 2. This bill also amends the part of the Social Security Act which relates to the overseas travel of people with a severe and permanent disability. This aspect is covered in schedule 3. Schedule 4 makes some minor amendments to the act.
The first measure in this bill alters the work rule for DSP recipients. It will allow some recipients to work up to 30 hours a week without losing eligibility for the DSP. In the past they were only able to work up to 15 hours a week before losing their eligibility. This schedule aims to encourage recipients of the DSP to return to work where possible by allowing recipients to engage in work for longer hours without penalising them. This bill seeks to provide an incentive for DSP recipients to maintain a presence in the workforce.
These incentives are important because there are many people who are currently on the DSP who could achieve a much better quality of life through participation in the workforce. I think we would all agree that the DSP should not be seen as a destination payment. People should not be parked on the DSP; they should be encouraged and assisted to participate in the economy. We know that economic participation in the workforce is an important social engagement for people as well. At some stage in their life, an individual may qualify for the DSP. That does not mean that they should be parked there for the rest of their life. Schedule 1 recognises this important truth and seeks to encourage DSP recipients to find suitable employment without the threat of losing their pension.
Schedule 2 seeks to implement participation requirements for some DSP recipients. These recipients will be required to attend an interview upon request and will be provided with assistance to develop an individualised plan aimed at enhancing their employment opportunities. The requirements apply to DSP recipients aged under 35 or those who have been assessed with a work capacity of eight hours or more per week. These requirements are not intended to force DSP recipients to jump through hoops. Rather, they are designed to provide people with the tools to re-engage with the workforce and enjoy the benefits employment brings. It is not good enough for government to overlook any citizen’s capacity to work. It is important to work with individuals to help them find the best way to participate. In addition to the benefits to each individual who is able to obtain employment as a result of these measures, you would expect the economy as a whole to benefit through the boost to productivity.
The third schedule of the bill relates to the portability of the DSP. It will allow those people with a severe and permanent disability who have no further realistic prospect of work to permanently receive their DSP while overseas. Currently, these people are subject to the 13-week rule under which their DSP cannot be taken overseas for a period of over 13 weeks. This schedule will mean DSP recipients who fall into this category will no longer lose their payment if they spend more than 13 weeks overseas.
Schedule 4 contains some minor amendments. Firstly, it amends references within the act to the data on average weekly earnings collected by the ABS, because the publication of this data has changed in frequency. This schedule also removes incorrect or redundant references to the pension age in the act. Finally, this schedule aligns some provisions of the Veterans’ Entitlement Act 1986 with corresponding provisions in the Social Security Act for the purposes of household assistance under the Clean Energy (Household Assistance Amendment) Act 2011.
It is important for governments of all persuasions to do what they can to help DSP recipients obtain a better quality of life through employment participation. I am happy to indicate that the opposition does not take issue with this legislation.