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ParentsNext, including its trial and subsequent broader rollout (2019)

Legal Legal

Senate Community Affairs Committee

Summary

ParentsNext is a compulsory ‘pre-employment’ program applied to targeted recipients of the Parenting Payment. It can result in the suspension, reduction or permanent cancellation of a person’s Parenting Payment for non-compliance.

1 Introduction

  1. The Australian Human Rights Commission (the Commission)[1] welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee in response to the ParentsNext inquiry.

  2. ParentsNext is a compulsory ‘pre-employment’ program applied to targeted recipients of the Parenting Payment. It can result in the suspension, reduction or permanent cancellation of a person’s Parenting Payment for non-compliance.

  3. This submission primarily responds to the third Term of Reference of the inquiry, regarding the appropriateness of the Targeted Compliance Framework (TCF) which can result in such punitive compliance action.[2]

  4. It also considers the aims, safeguards and impacts of ParentsNext from a human rights perspective,[3] in particular considering the rights of women, children and Indigenous Australians.

  5. These groups are disproportionately affected by ParentsNext, with women comprising approximately 96% of the 68,000 participants, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people comprising approximately 19% or 14,000 participants.[4]

  6. The Commission acknowledges the intended and important objectives of ParentsNext, being to reduce welfare dependency and long-term unemployment, decrease intergenerational joblessness, increase female participation in the labour force and meet Closing the Gap targets.[5]

  7. However, the Commission considers that certain aspects of ParentsNext are manifestly inconsistent with Australia’s human rights obligations. These concerns relate principally to the right to social security, the right to equality and non-discrimination and children’s rights.

  8. In particular, the Commission considers that the compulsory and punitive nature of the program breaches the right to social security. The compliance framework permits social security to be reduced below the minimum essential level for parents caring for young children. This retrogressive measure affects some of the most vulnerable families in Australia, with severe detrimental impacts on their financial security and human rights. It also risks entrenching and exacerbating poverty and inequality among program participants.

  9. The evaluation in support of the program relies on problematic evidence. It is inconclusive as to whether ParentsNext is actually achieving its objectives, or whether it has had positive effects that outweigh placing the social security payments of parents at risk.

  10. Further, alternative approaches are readily available that are less restrictive of the right to social security, such as incentive based models.

  11. The disproportionate impact of ParentsNext on women and Indigenous Australians also raises serious concerns about the right to equality and non-discrimination.[6]

  12. The Commission reiterates its previous submissions expressing concern about the compatibility of the TCF with human rights, including with respect to the Community Development Program.[7]

 


  1. [1] The Commission is Australia’s national human rights institution with ‘A’ status accreditation, and is established by the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth) (the AHRC Act). The Commission has responsibilities under the AHRC Act to examine the enjoyment and exercise of human rights, including by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  2. [2] Senate Community Affairs References Committee, Parliament of Australia, ParentsNext, including its trial and subsequent broader rollout (4 December 2018) Terms of Reference (c).
  3. [3] Senate Community Affairs References Committee, Parliament of Australia, ParentsNext, including its trial and subsequent broader rollout (4 December 2018) Terms of Reference (a), (b)(vii)-(ix) and (d).
  4. [4] Department of Employment, ‘ParentsNext National Expansion’ (Discussion Paper, 12 September 2017) 8 [2.2]; Department of Jobs and Small Business, Explainer: ParentsNext (16 January 2019) <https://www.jobs.gov.au/newsroom/explainer-parentsnext>. Notably, original Government projections of the number of Indigenous participants appear to be an underestimate. While the Explanatory Statement provides an estimate of 10,000 Indigenous women, as at 31 December 2018, over 14,000 (19%) of parents in the program identified as Indigenous: Department of Jobs and Small Business, Explainer: ParentsNext (16 January 2019) <https://www.jobs.gov.au/newsroom/explainer-parentsnext>.
  5. [5] Department of Jobs and Small Business, ‘ParentsNext Evaluation Report’ (Report, 2017) 50.
  6. [6] As at June 2018, 82,541 people are on the partnered parenting payment, 244,296 are on the single parenting payment: Department of Social Services, DSS Demographics (June 2018) data.gov.au <https://data.gov.au/dataset/ds-dga-cff2ae8a-55e4-47db-a66d-e177fe0ac6a0…;.
  7. [7] Australian Human Rights Commission, Submission No 16 to Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, Social Security Legislation Amendment (Community Development Program) Bill 2018 (Cth), 26 September 2018; Australian Human Rights Commission, Submission to Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Discussion Paper: Remote Employment and Participation, 9 February 2018.