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senate vote 2020-02-27#1

Edited by mackay

on 2020-04-03 11:51:29

Title

  • Bills — Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Simplifying Income Reporting and Other Measures) Bill 2020; in Committee
  • Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Simplifying Income Reporting and Other Measures) Bill 2020 - in Committee - Secretary's discretion

Description

  • <p class="speaker">Rachel Siewert</p>
  • <p>The Greens won't be moving amendment (3) on sheet 8882, but I will just clarify some of the issues around the period of employment. I will just remind people about some of the issues that we had about that particular matter. We had concerns around the fact that, as it reads, it's unclear whether 'employment period' refers to the number of days in a person's pay cycle or the period during which a person worked, and this could lead to people misreporting their employment period and being penalised for using the wrong period. The reason why we were trying to move the amendment was to better explain what 'employment period' actually means. I did listen carefully to the point that the minister was making in terms of when the income was earned and the point about the amount, so what we're seeking therefore is that, as the minister touched on before, the pay period will be addressed in the <i>Social security guide</i>. I'm seeking a commitment that the guide will outline what the term 'employment period' means for people who work weekly, monthly or in work of an unpredictable nature, with irregular hours. We're also seeking that the guide will provide working examples or scenarios of how 'employment period' should be interpreted for people working weekly, monthly or with irregular hours&#8212;in other words, point it out but also provide worked examples, because we are very concerned this is going to be confusing. We think it's important to clarify this so that people know what 'employment period' means and what they need to provide to Centrelink when they are reporting their employment income. We're concerned that confusion around what is meant by 'employment period' could cause people to provide the wrong period and misreport their income. That's why we want to make sure that both the explanation and case examples are there, because that often helps people interpret it. Can the minister guarantee that that will be in the guide?</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Anne Ruston</p>
  • The majority voted against an [amendment](https://www.openaustralia.org.au/senate/?gid=2020-02-27.6.1) introduced by WA Senator [Rachel Siewert](https://theyvoteforyou.org.au/people/senate/wa/rachel_siewert) (Greens), which means it failed. Senator Siewert [explained that the amendment](https://www.openaustralia.org.au/senate/?gid=2020-02-27.6.1) related to the secretary's discretion.
  • ### Amendment text
  • > *(1) Schedule 1, item 37, page 10 (after line 32), after subsection 1073BA(2), insert:*
  • >
  • > *(2A) For the purposes of subsection (2), when determining such period a person is taken to have received employment income over, the Secretary must consider the following:*
  • >
  • >> *(a) the nature of the person's remunerative work;*
  • >>
  • >> *(b) the nature of the person's employment income, including the matters in subsections 8(1A)-(1C);*
  • >>
  • >> *(c) any hardship which may be caused to the person by attributing employment income over such period;*
  • >>
  • >> *(d) whether the employment income relates to remunerative work that was undertaken at a time when the person was not receiving a social security pension or a social security benefit.*
  • ### What does the bill do?
  • According to the [bills digest](https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Bills_Legislation/bd/bd1920a/20bd085), the bill was introduced in order to:
  • * *change the way employment income is assessed for the purposes of the social security income test so that rather than assessing income ‘earned, derived or received’ during the assessment period, the income test will assess employment income that is paid during the assessment period and*
  • * *allow for data collected by the Australian Tax Office, particularly employment income reported through the Single Touch Payroll (STP) system, to be shared with Services Australia for the purposes of administering social security, family assistance and student payments.*
  • <p>In answer to your last question: yes, I can. Certainly the definitions will be clearly outlined in the <i>Social security guide</i>. There will also be working examples that people can use. Particularly in the early stages, as people are transitioning to this different way of reporting, we will make sure there are adequate resources if people wish to speak to somebody about what their pay period is. To be clear, it's not the number of days worked; it's the period of employment on the payslip. All of the detail around the definitions around these will be included in the guide. In doing so, the reason we want it in the guide as opposed to the primary legislation is to give that flexibility, because we do understand there will be special circumstances along the lines that you've just mentioned&#8212;irregularity of work, people who may be paid on an ad hoc basis, people who may not be paid until the end of the month, et cetera. We're very keen to make sure we've got the flexibility to deal with those issues.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Rachel Siewert</p>
  • <p>I appreciate the minister guaranteeing commitment on that issue. As I said, we won't be moving that amendment. I will just flag that I suspect this is something that is going to come up during the review over the first 12 months to see how easily it is understood and whether it has caused problems.</p>
  • <p>I move Greens amendment (1) on sheet 8885, which relates to the secretary's discretion:</p>
  • <p class="italic">&#160;&#160;(1) Schedule 1, item 37, page 10 (after line 32), after subsection 1073BA(2), insert:</p>
  • <p class="italic">&#160;&#160;(2A) For the purposes of subsection (2), when determining such period a person is taken to have received employment income over, the Secretary must consider the following:</p>
  • <p class="italic">&#160;&#160;(a) the nature of the person's remunerative work;</p>
  • <p class="italic">&#160;&#160;(b) the nature of the person's employment income, including the matters in subsections 8(1A)-(1C);</p>
  • <p class="italic">&#160;&#160;(c) any hardship which may be caused to the person by attributing employment income over such period;</p>
  • <p class="italic">&#160;&#160;(d) whether the employment income relates to remunerative work that was undertaken at a time when the person was not receiving a social security pension or a social security benefit.</p>
  • <p>I indicated in my second reading contribution that we had some concerns around this, in making sure we articulate what the secretary's discretion is to attribute employment income that does not have a corresponding time frame, such as a Christmas bonus over a certain period. There are currently no guidelines or limitations on how the secretary should exercise their discretion, which we are concerned about. We think there need to be some parameters or an outline around that. The way income is assessed has consequences for how people manage their budgets, eligibility for income support payments and whether the secretary attributes a bonus; for example, a Christmas bonus and any other bonus over two or 52 weeks has potential real-life implications. We think this amendment will significantly help to clarify that and will put some guidance around the form of the secretary's discretion.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Anne Ruston</p>
  • <p>Senator Siewert, we believe this isn't the appropriate place to describe that discretion. Therefore we think the amendment is not necessary. I can confirm that, when we determine payments that are paid in respect of a particular period, consideration can be given to a number of factors, including the recipient's employment, the payment frequency, individual circumstances, hardship, et cetera. In drafting the legislation we quite purposefully avoided defining some terms in order to give the flexibility to enable us to deal with unique circumstances. As we all know, whilst the majority of people are paid in a reasonably uniform way there are a number of people who aren't. Employment often changes; we've seen significant changes in the nature of work over recent times. So we wanted to make sure we had the maximum flexibility built into that discretion. For that reason we thought it best to make sure that the issues and the details were set out in the guide as opposed to the primary legislation. So we don't support this amendment, because we believe that it will have a negative impact on our ability to have greater flexibility in what we do.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Rachel Siewert</p>
  • <p>I hear what the minister is saying. I understand flexibility, but there is flexibility not to do the right thing as well, so we have concerns about that. I took on board what the minister said around the employment period, but on this one we are very concerned about the fact that it isn't better defined in the legislation. Things can go two ways. I'm not casting aspersions on the secretary and the department, but into the future the lack of interpretation in the legislation could in fact be interpreted in a different way, a way that perhaps was never intended in the first place. We think putting this in place in legislation that actually provides for the secretary to exercise discretion is a better approach. We think the way this is drafted still enables the flexibility to which the minister refers but provides much better bounds around that discretion.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Patrick Dodson</p>
  • <p>This amendment by the Greens fundamentally addresses concerns that have been raised by the principal stakeholders and is similar to a Labor amendment, so we don't have any problem with it.</p>
  • <p class="italic">The CHAIR: The question is that amendment (1) on sheet 8885, as moved by Senator Siewert, be agreed to.</p>