Forrest review includes some sound proposals, but radical social security changes should be rejected

1 August 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today responded to the Andrew Forrest review of Indigenous Training and Employment Programmes by welcoming the emphasis on early learning and demand led employment but cautioning against radical measures that fly in the face of available evidence and would cause more harm than good.

“The report’s focus on early childhood investment is a positive step, including the proposal for comprehensive case management for children 0-3 years who are identified as being vulnerable. This emphasis reflects the substantial evidence base highlighting the importance of early childhood intervention, education and care in determining long-term educational and employment outcomes,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“We also support the proposal to provide schools with extra support to engage with parents and broader community to deliver responsive services. We have long argued that part of the solution to improving school attendance is to improve the engagement between schools, parents and the broader community.”

The Forrest review also highlights the effectiveness of demand-led employment models.

“We welcome the emphasis on demand led employment, which has been a focus of ACOSS’ work with the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Demand-led or partnership based employment models should effectively link employment services with employer needs and redirect funding to more targeted training and in-job support.”

“Other welcome measures include setting a 4% target for the employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the public service within 4 years, and imposing procurement requirements on the Commonwealth Government to buy from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander enterprises (4%).

“These are sound policies that will make a real difference. However, the potential benefit of these policies risks being undermined by damaging proposals such as the so-called Healthy Welfare card. This card would apply to 100% of income to all payment recipients (except veterans and age pension). It would remove individual autonomy and decision-making and imposing unnecessary bureaucratic controls on the lives of people reliant on income support.

“This proposal would take our nation back to 1930s when unemployed people did not get cash benefits and had to work on the roads or beg for charity to survive.

“Punishing families by cutting Family Tax Benefit payments if children don’t meet school attendance targets would inflict further pain on families struggling to cope and does nothing to address the complex issues these families may be facing.

“We also strongly oppose proposals to make it harder for young people to access vital income support by requiring that Youth Allowance recipients be endorsed for eligibility by a school principal. Eligibility should be based on need, not principal discretion.

“The report also recommends that all of Centrelink’s discretion to waive job seekers’ obligations and grant exemptions or transfer to non-activity tested payments be removed (for ‘capable people’). This would be extremely detrimental for many people, especially those experiencing complex issues like family violence or homelessness.

“We are deeply concerned by the hardline and counterproductive approach to people who are out of work, which demonstrates the need to move beyond welfare stereotypes and towards social security and employment policies based on consultation, partnerships and evidence. Extending a costly and intrusive system of income control and expanding the failed Work for the Dole program would risk undoing all the good work that could be achieved by the adoption of the positive measures in this review.

“ACOSS strongly believes that our income support and employment systems should be non-discriminatory in design and implementation and be based on evidence of what works to assist people into work.

“We urge the government to review the evidence and engage directly with communities in determining employment and education pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and all those in our community facing barriers to participation,” Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155