SUBJECT/S: Human Rights Committee unanimously finds Government’s proposed changes to job seeker support incompatible with human rights.

JULIE DOYLE: Michelle Rowland, thanks for coming in. Could you outline the concerns that the committee had here with regards to the six month waiting period for Newstart?

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM: The Human Rights Committee looks at statements of compatibility, so how compatible certain provisions in laws or proposed laws would end up being with our international obligations. What has come up and been reported on today in particular is the length of time that young people would not be receiving any benefits. That’s the specific item that the committee had issue with here, because the Minister is the sponsor of the Bill and was unable to provide sufficient evidence in the committee’s view as to how people would be able to sustain themselves during that period; and how that would be compatible with certain rights we have about adequate food, adequate shelter, and access to social services during that period.

As far as the committee goes though, these recommendations you’ve made aren’t binding on anything are they?

ROWLAND: No they’re not binding but there’s a very good reason why this committee was set up and Harry Jenkins, for example, was one of the key proponents in setting this up in the last parliament. It was two-fold I think: firstly, to enable sponsors of Bills, responsible Ministers, to think about the compatibility of their proposed legislation with our international obligations and to provide a statement of compatibility when that Bill is devised; and secondly to answer questions as to how some of those issues of potential non-compatibility could be addressed. And there are a number of criteria that the committee looks to and one of the very important ones is the proportionality. And in this case the committee applied that test, and on this issue of the six month preclusion it was determined that there was an issue of incompatibility.

DOYLE: As far as the six months without support though, if they go into training or study they can apply for youth allowance instead so they won’t necessarily be without six months support. Was that taken into consideration?

ROWLAND: That was part of the Minister’s argument but again his response did not address the specific issue of how young people would be guaranteed their rights to which Australia is a signatory during that six month period.

DOYLE: Just more generally on this as far as Labor’s position, do you think there should be some kind of mutual obligation here though?

ROWLAND: We already have mutual obligation in this country. And I think the concerning thing here is that the Minister seems either unwilling to recognise the deep concerns that many people in the community have, non-government organisations including mine in my own electorate that I’ve been in touch with, and people generally who will be affected by this. I think the Minister needs to realise that this is an issue on which people are very concerned at the long term implications – will we have young people living in poverty for such a sustained period of time? Will we have people giving up the search for a meaningful career as a result of this? And I can tell you, Julie, coming from an area where some aspects of my electorate have intergenerational unemployment going back generations I fully appreciate, and I don’t think any member of the Opposition fails to appreciate, that. But we have to make sure that we don’t do this in a way that is simply cruel.

DOYLE: Well that is the argument that some Government members put, we’ve seen Ewen Jones Liberal MP saying this morning that people should be doing something, that they shouldn’t be ‘eating cheezels and playing the Xbox’ were the words that he used. Are you worried that young people do become entrenched on welfare at an early age and then they can’t get out of that cycle later in life?

ROWLAND: There have been considerable steps to remedy this and Labor put many of these in action during our term in Government. One of the key issues that you need to realise too is the employability of young people. We now have raised the age to which people have to stay at school, that was a Labor initiative. We initiated learn or earn; we also specifically looked at issues to make young people employable, including very important measures such as partnership brokers in schools. A lot of that has simply been abolished by this Government as a result of their cuts. So I don’t see how the Government can sustain an argument that they are doing everything necessary when the things that worked were the things that Labor put in and were having a marked impact.

DOYLE: On the six month waiting period, Senator Bob Day is talking about a compromise perhaps as the government tries to get this through the Senate, talking about one month instead. Would Labor support any kind of compromise?

ROWLAND: I reject this as a notion of compromise. What we are still talking about here is leaving young people with nothing. I would query that we would also see this going again to the relevant Human Rights Committee, and it being examined again, and what would the result there be?

DOYLE: Michelle Rowland, we’ll leave it there. Thank you very much.

ROWLAND: My pleasure.