Council of Single Mothers and their Children have been advocating for the rights of single mothers caught up in the ParentsNext Program for over four years, and can vouch for the damage that the mandatory and punitive aspects have had on the lives of the women in the program and their children.
In June we presented evident to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights Inquiry into ParentsNext, who released a report from their inquiry last week which you can find here.
The report states unequivocally that ParentsNext should be voluntary and if not, the interests of children need to be more central; suspensions can only been made after the Provider has contacted the participant, instead of the onus being on the individual; and further consultation with Indigenous organisations and communities is undertaken to obtain “their free, prior and informed consent to participate in ParentsNext”.
CSMC wholeheartedly supported the recommendations and was very excited and hopeful this week when Labor Senator Pat Dobson introduced a motion to the Senate on 11 August to make ParentsNext voluntary.
We immediately sent a flurry of emails to Senators to encourage them to support the motion, as did colleagues in other organisations. The motion went to a vote and unfortunately was defeated. It was gripping as they called a Division, where the bells ring in the Parliament so everyone in hearing comes running in to vote. It was close, 16 to 16. The deciding vote against the motion was then made by the Speaker who, in line with parliamentary convention, ‘resolved it in the negative’. It was such a blow! This is the closest we have come in the past three years to undoing the harmful compulsory aspects of ParentsNext.
An undue amount of the cost and time of delivering ParentsNext is related to policing mandatory participation and could be much better utilised supporting voluntary participants. There is no founding in the belief that such a program must be compulsory to engage with parents receiving Parenting Payments.
There is no doubt that a voluntary and genuinely beneficial pre-employment program can be highly valuable to single mothers reliant on government incomes to assist them to enter or re-enter the workforce and improve the financial security of their own and their children’s future.
CSMC will continue to fight for an end to ParentsNext is its current form.