The Australian Human Rights Commission has welcomed the release of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights’ Inquiry report on the ParentsNext program.
The report, ParentsNext: examination of Social Security (Parenting payment participation requirements – class of persons) Instrument 2021, makes two recommendations, including that participation in the ParentsNext program be voluntary, rather than compulsory.
ParentsNext is a mandatory ‘pre-employment’ program applied to targeted recipients of the Parenting Payment. The Parenting Payment is the main form of income support available to a parent or primary carer of a young child. The ParentsNext program requires participants to engage activities set out in a participation plan. Non-compliance can result in the suspension, reduction or permanent cancellation of a person’s Parenting Payment.
In June 2021 the Commission presented evidence to the Inquiry, expressing that certain aspects of ParentsNext were inconsistent with Australia’s human rights obligations, including the right to social security, the right to equality and non-discrimination and children’s rights.
While supporting the stated aims of the ParentsNext program, including to reduce welfare dependency and long-term unemployment, the Commission said that the compulsory method was flawed and there were less restrictive alternative approaches available, such as incentive based models.
The Commission also raised serious concerns about the disproportionate impact of ParentsNext on women, who comprise 95% of the program’s participants.
In presenting the Commission’s evidence to the Committee, President Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM said making minimum essential levels of social security conditional on participation in a program such as ParentsNext was contrary to Australia’s human rights obligations.
“International human rights law recognises that all people are entitled to a minimum, essential level of social security,” Professor Croucher said.
“A program that permits the suspension, reduction or cancellation of social security payments directly engages the right to social security and the right to an adequate standard of living.”
The Commission’s primary recommendation was that the Targeted Compliance Framework be removed from ParentsNext, and that participation be on a voluntary, opt-in basis, rather than mandatory.
The Commission welcomes the Committee’s report and urges the implementation of the Committee’s primary recommendation.