Jobseekers who refuse work could have payments cut

JOBSEEKERS could soon lose eight weeks of their Newstart or Youth Allowance payments, or more than $2000, if they fail to take up work offers.

The change to the government's welfare scheme is one of several tough measures the Abbott Government is putting in place as part of its "earn or learn" strategy.

It would apply to Newstart and Youth Allowance recipients, as well as some on parenting payments, if it passes the Senate.

But the new laws, introduced by Assistant Employment Minister Luke Hartsuyker in parliament on Wednesday, face an uphill battle, with The Greens opposed and Labor unlikely to let it through.

The proposed changes will force tougher penalties on unemployed Australians who "refuse a job offer, including by failing to commence the job, or who are persistently non-compliant".

It will see a long-standing penalty already in the Social Security Act enforced by removing the ability for the penalty to be waived if job-seekers don't adhere to the government's new rules.

A refusal to work, if the new laws pass the upper house, will remove the waiver for those refusing to work, and limit such waivers to only once, even if they would suffer "serious financial hardship if the non-payment period was not ended".

Mr Hartsuyker said while the government understood most job seekers did the right thing, there were some who "abuse the system".

"This bill will ensure that all job seekers who refuse an offer of suitable work - or fail to accept a suitable job - are required to serve the legislated eight week non-payment period," he said.

"Job seekers in these cases will not be permitted to have their penalty waived through participation in intensive activities."

The change would mean if the eight week penalty was applied to an unemployed person, they still would not get paid for the entire period, even if they engaged in the government's Work for the Dole scheme.

Figures from the government said of the 1718 "serious failures for refusing a job" in 2012-13, 68% of those people had the penalty waived.

In the same year, the eight week penalty for some 25,286 "repeated non-compliance" cases was waived in 73% of all cases, almost a third of which were for multiple "episodes of non-compliance".

"The ability to continually waive the penalty means that job seekers who commit a serious failure can avoid the financial consequences of their actions, and continue to receive income support, despite their poor behaviour," Mr Hartsuyker said.

"This bill will ensure that the existing financial penalties for more serious failures are applied more rigorously and in keeping with community expectations," Mr Hartsuyker said.

The legislation is estimated to save the government some $20.5 million over the next four years.

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