One strike and you're out will be the tough new rule for welfare beneficiaries who turn down any "suitable" job offer from next July.
The long-awaited second bill in the Government's two-stage welfare reform programme, introduced in Parliament yesterday, extends work-testing in principle to sole parents with no children under 5 and to sickness beneficiaries - although sick people will still be given temporary exemptions. In an unexpected move, anyone who turns down any offer of "suitable employment" will have their benefit cancelled and will be barred from applying to get it back for 13 weeks.
Beneficiary advocate Kay Brereton said the move was "harsh".
"It could be quite huge because I have seen people turning down jobs for really good reasons and having their benefit sanctioned as a result," she said.
The existing penalty is a 50 per cent cut for four weeks, reaching 100 per cent for single people only if they do not accept a job offer within the four weeks. The maximum cut will remain 50 per cent for beneficiaries with children.
Suitable employment is defined as any job that is "suitable for the person to undertake for a number of hours a week that is at least the employment required to satisfy the work test for that person". That is 20 to 40 hours a week for anyone expected to work fulltime, or 10 to 20 hours for people, such as sole parents with children aged 5 to 13, and those whose work capacity is limited by sickness.
Most other measures in the 143-page bill have already been signalled. Seven existing categories will be changed to three: Jobseeker Support for those expected to seek work, Sole Parent Support for single parents with children under 14, and a Supported Living Payment for those with disabilities that will prevent them from ever working.
Apart from penalties, the only groups that will face an actual benefit cut are widows and women alone with no dependent children. The widows' benefit, now $213.49 a week, will disappear next July and widows without dependent children will go on to Jobseeker Support at $204.96, a cut of $8.53 a week.
Second welfare bill
* Seven benefit categories reduced to three: Jobseeker Support, Sole Parent Support, Supported Living Payment.
*Current sickness beneficiaries move on to Jobseeker Support with work testing.
*Benefit cancelled for 13 weeks for refusing any offer of suitable employment.
*Widows going on welfare after July 2013 will get $8.53 a week less.