House debates

Thursday, 6 June 2013


Social Security Amendment (Supporting More Australians into Work) Bill 2013; Second Reading

1:09 pm

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to make a few brief comments on the Social Security Amendment (Supporting More Australians into Work) Bill 2013. Yes, this is undoing some very harsh damage that was done, but the damage would not have been done if the coalition had not voted for Labor's attack on single parents. When the vote came I, together with some coalition members who in fact crossed the floor, voted against these measures. We knew that, from the start of this year when up to 100,000 single parents were kicked off their parenting payment and onto the dole, it was going to have an enormous effect on people. That is why at the time we urged all members of parliament to vote against it. Sadly, we could only muster a handful. So I have no time for crocodile tears from people who helped engineer this situation. The coalition worked with Labor to plunge people into poverty, in order to save a bit of money to reach a now abandoned goal of getting back to surplus. So do not come back here crying crocodile tears, saying that it is all Labor's fault. I have no time for the decision that the Labor government made; the legislation only got through this parliament because the coalition supported it.

There are hundreds of thousands of people in this country who are doing it tough. They are under enormous pressure, particularly financial pressure, and nowhere more so than in my electorate where we have more people in public housing than in any other electorate in the country. Many of those people, as well as many others, who are out looking for a job find themselves living below the poverty line on the incredibly low rate that is Newstart.

When you have, in round figures, $250 a week to spend, if you are trying to find a place to live in somewhere like inner-city Melbourne in my electorate, it can be very tough. The public housing waiting list in Victoria is over 30,000 people long. So if you are looking for a place somewhere else you may not find anything if you are a single person, recently unemployed, cheaper than about $180 a week to rent. I spoke to someone who recently found themselves homeless. They went to a homeless service in my electorate and they found them a rooming house. You would think that a rooming house, with many people in it, might provide something near an affordable rental rate. A single room in a rooming house cost $180. Of course, when you are in a rooming house and you are sharing a kitchen with someone else, you cannot buy good food to feed yourself. You are forced to go out and buy food. And your costs increase and increase. But $180 out of $246 leaves you with $60-odd, before you have even passed Go.

Out of that $60 on Newstart you have to meet all your other costs. You cannot do it. It is for that reason that so many groups have been urging this government to have the courage to raise the revenue that we need, to give people, at minimum, a $50 boost to their Newstart. We have not seen that. Instead, we have seen this government go the other way. We have seen, in particular, single parents, with Labor and the coalition working together, pushed off their single parent payment onto the dole. That was done, as I said before, to raise some money to balance the budget bottom line.

Up until a very short while ago, Labor had taken more money off single parents this financial year than they have so far raised from the mining tax. This is what happens when you do not have the courage to stand up to the big end of town and say, 'You have to pay your fair share,' and when, instead, you turn your arsenal on people like single parents. Single parents tend not to have a spare $26 million lying around to run an advertising campaign, like the big miners do. So they are seen as a softer target.

What is the effect of pushing single parents onto the dole? Some of them lost up to $140 a week. When you are a single parent and you are balancing work—if you are lucky enough to find a job—plus looking after your kids, there is not a lot of fat in your budget, in either your money budget or your time budget. What we found was exactly what the Greens predicted and why we urged this parliament not to vote for that bill in the first place. We found that the ones who were hardest hit were the ones who were already working the most. In fact, when you look at the analysis, single parents were the group of welfare recipients who had the highest number of people in work, because that is what single parents want to do. They want to stay in connection with the workforce and improve their skills and also be able to look after their kids.

This gave the lie to the rationale from Labor that this move was all about putting people back into the workforce, because when you are on the single parent pension you can work more hours and keep more of your money but as soon as you get pushed onto the dole you cannot keep as much. The ones who were the hardest hit were the ones who were working the most and earning the most. As a result, many of them found themselves saying, 'I don't know what I am going to do—now I cannot get the concession card any more the car registration has gone up; now I don't have the money any more.' I met one single parent who had retrained herself as a graphic designer and then had to go and put her computer, her tool of trade, into hock because she had to find $200 to pay for schoolbooks. That is not a way of encouraging someone back into employment.

We found many single parents who just said, 'I am now going to go without some of the basics myself.' The most heartbreaking stories were when people came up and said, 'My child has even stopped coming to me with the slips for school excursions because they know it makes Mum upset when I cannot give them what they want, and when I cannot send them off to basketball camp like everyone else in the class.' These are people who are doing it tough already.

Quite rightly, there was an enormous outcry, led by the Greens here in this place and led by community groups like the Single Parents Action Group and the National Council for Single Mothers and their Children who said, 'Hang on, if you want to balance the budget there have to be better ways to do it because you are now kicking the people who most need help. That outcry went right across the country, and it touched a nerve because people could say, 'These are people who are already doing it tough, why is Labor attacking them?' We have come some small way towards fixing some of the damage, but it is a bit of an insult to put people not back to where they would have been before but to where they are only about a third worse off—they can do a little bit of work and get a bit more money but they are still going to find themselves at a disadvantage compared to when Labor came to power. That is a disgrace.

The Greens will steadfastly stand side by side with single parents and people on the dole who are doing it tough and say, 'Like everyone else, we agree that the best thing to do is to find a well-paid meaningful job for you that works and that fits with your own personal family needs, and if we cannot do that and you fall through the cracks and onto hard times, this parliament should not punish you—it should support you until you get back on your feet.' Because this bill goes some small way to doing that we will be supporting it, and we take some small credit for having played a role in drawing public attention to what is really a disgrace. I am pleased this is happening but people will still be worse off than when Labor came to power. The Greens will continue to campaign to make sure that parliament has the guts to stand up to the people who can afford to pay a bit more so that we can become a more caring society.


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