Senate must resist Government’s attempt to rush through legislation to establish Robo-Employment Services and cut income support

23 June 2021

ACOSS is calling on the Senate to reject the Government’s attempt to rush through major changes to social security law, which could lead to another Robodebt-style disaster for people on Jobseeker payments.

As well as extending automation in the income support system, the Bill would delay payments for people in need of income support and weaken important protections for parents, people with disability and others on unemployment payments. It is anticipated that the Social security (Streamlined participation requirements) Bill will be before the Senate later this week.

ACOSS Acting CEO Edwina MacDonald said:

“We urge the Senate to stand up against this dangerous push to rush through sweeping changes in income support, which fails to heed the important lessons that should have well and truly been learnt from the Robodebt disaster. Before it sets up a whole new system of online employment services, the government must guarantee protections in social security law against automation and exploitation.

“The bill could force people who are unemployed to negotiate Job Plans with a computer before they have access to their first social security payment. It would also reinforce the automated suspension of JobSeeker payments for people who have trouble meeting all of their online requirements, leaving people a dead phone battery away from missing their next payment – and in some cases becoming homeless.

“While online employment services can work well for some, others face huge challenges in meeting online requirements, such as being unable to afford or access internet or to navigate online systems.

“Concerningly, the bill weakens workplace protections, like health and safety standards, for people participating in employment programs. The well-known problems with underpayment and work safety in Work for the Dole could be repeated.

“On top of this, it also weakens protections for single parents and people with disability against excessive work and requirements. This is deeply troubling and fails to come to grips with the real challenges people face searching for employment when they have a disability or are caring for children on their own.

“What’s more, the bill effectively cuts income support from people who already have very little. It requires people in online employment services to enter into a Job Plan before receiving their first income support payment. This would result in average income losses of $300-$500 for 144,000 people (over $1,000 for 10,000 people). People would be pressured to hastily negotiate a Job Plan with a computer, contrary to the advice of the Governments Expert Advisory Panel on Employment Services, which argued for more choice and agency for people in negotiating Job Plans.

“The Senate must block this dangerous Bill that would have a real and serious consequences for so many who are already struggling. We call on the Government to work with us and organisations representing people directly affected to strengthen protections for people on income support in advance of major reform of employment services commencing in July next year.”

ACOSS’ four major concerns about the Bill:

1. Complex law changes affecting the lives of over a million people are being rushed through the Parliament in less than four weeks. There is no urgency to pass this Bill.

2. The Bill cuts income support by delaying people’s first payments, forcing them to quickly accept Job Plans (activity requirements) under duress. This is against the advice of the Government’s own Expert Advisory Panel on Employment Services

3. It underpins a new system of online employment services without proper legal protections for privacy, people who lack reliable access to the internet, and the use of online systems to automatically suspend payments.

4. It weakens other important protections for people including:

Workplace protections (pay and health & safety) for people in employment programs;
Protections against excessive requirements for parents and people with disabilities (e.g. to accept a full-time rather than part-time job).