House debates

Tuesday, 24 June 2014


Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 1) Bill 2014, Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 2) Bill 2014; Second Reading

7:12 pm

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

This budget is a bad budget. This legislation is bad legislation. When I listened to the previous speaker talk on this legislation, I would have believed that he was talking about something totally different to the legislation that we have before us today. He talks about people putting their shoulder to the wheel. And the Treasurer talks about the lifters and the leaners. The people that those on the other side of the House, those in the government, are asking to put their shoulder to the wheel are the people that can least afford to put their shoulder to the wheel. The people that they are asking to be the lifters are those that have the least ability to be the lifters. And the leaners—well, we all know who the leaners are. They are certainly not the people that are supported by the legislation that we are talking about here in the parliament today.

The previous speaker talked about a crisis, an emergency. He talked about how the sky was falling in and how we are in such a dreadful situation here in Australia. He compared Australia to Greece. I could not believe it. I really could not believe that. When we look at our social security system and consider how much we actually spend on welfare and how we compare to other OECD countries, we spend the second-lowest amount on welfare in the OECD. The only country that spends less is Iceland. The government talks about an ever-increasing number of people relying on social security.

In 2001, 23 per cent of working-age people in Australia received a welfare payment each week. In 2011, it had dropped to 18.5 per cent, once again showing that you cannot believe what people on the other side of this House say. They distort the facts, they do not tell the truth, they say one thing before an election—as we are all learning very, very quickly in this parliament—and then do something totally different after an election. The deceit that is being waged upon the Australian people is second to none, and it was interesting to hear the previous speaker refer to WorkChoices and that it was pretty good sort of legislation. It is the party of WorkChoices. It is the party that decides it is going to target those people who can least afford to be targeted. Unfortunately, for the Australian people, this budget will put a disproportional burden on those people who can least afford to bear the burden. And the people who earn high incomes—the member for Gorton gave a very good example of that—will be forgoing two per cent—will be paying two per cent more—while people on Youth Allowance will have a 20 per cent reduction in their income over the same period of time.

The more you earn, the smaller the proportion of your income you will have to forgo. That is the mentality, that is the ideological and philosophical bent of those people on the other side of this parliament. They believe that if they can disadvantage people and put them in a situation where they are just living from day to day to survive then they will be able to keep them in that situation. I know that the Treasurer, the Prime Minister, his ministers and most of the backbenchers have a belief that there are two kinds of Australians: the Australians who are deserving—the Australians that should have high incomes and good jobs; and the other kind of Australians—the Australians who actually look to government for support—who should be demonised, ostracised and put in a position where they have to bear the burden of all the harsh policies. This is a government that has such an ideological bent. It is a government that really, really wants to hurt those people who can least afford to be hurt, and this legislation, believe me, is delivering in buckets to those people.

I would like to concentrate on the pension. We heard the member for Herbert say that there is no cut to pensions. That it is a fallacy. We are debating legislation today that will reduce the amount of pension that pensioners will receive in Australia. If nothing happens until after the next election, this is the vehicle that it is going to be happening under. I must say that I agreed with the member for Mallee when he said that increasing the pension age to 70 is a bad idea. If you are a blue-collar worker, and you are working in heavy manual labour each and every day of your life, by the time you are 70 you are lucky if you can move. I have constituents coming to my office who have worked for BHP, who have worked in the mines or who have worked in heavy manual occupations over many, many years making enormous contributions to Australia. To think that those people who are on pensions do not make contributions to Australia, is wrong. They made their contributions in the past. Now that they have reached retirement age we, as a country, can afford to support them because they have contributed over many years to the wealth of this country. We have people who have worked hard. I think many on the other side may not have met and sat down with a blue-collar worker. I know that the member for Mallee obviously has. He talks about working in the shearing sheds. He knows how hard it is. If you are a welder and you are bending down each and every day, your knees go on you. Maybe you have been doing that heavy kind of work because you have poor literacy skills. When you are no longer able to keep working in your blue-collar job and you are not in a position where you can go out and get a nice office job in a nice sterile environment, what happens? You end up in a situation where you are thrown into poverty. I really do not think that the members on the other side of this House understand what it is like out in the real world where people struggle from day to day to earn money to put food on the table. The decision to increase the pension age to 70 was, I think, a thought bubble. There was no community consultation, it was not researched and it will mean that Australia has the highest pension age in the world by 2035.

I think, I believe and I know that the people I represent believe that this is the wrong way to go. My office has been inundated with phone calls about this very issue. I have had pensioners ringing my office in tears, worrying about how they are going to survive. I really do not know what this government is thinking with its harsh and uncaring measures in this budget.

There is no measure more harsh than the changes to Newstart and youth allowance. For a person under the age of 30 to be in a situation where for six months they earn absolutely no income is unforgiveable, inconceivable. What does it mean to a person who loses their job, who cannot find another job and has to survive with no money whatsoever. I know when I was younger my husband lost his job. He was under 30. We had three children and it would have been absolutely terrible could we not have accessed some sort of income support. My husband is over 65 and works full time. I work full time. I am in a very different position from the one I was in at that time. At that one point in our lives, this legislation would have thrown us into poverty. We had three children, two under five. We would not have been able to survive. I honestly do not think that this legislation is going to do anything for us as an inclusive, egalitarian society.

The Department of Social Services anticipates around 500,000 new claims for emergency assistance will result from this measure. And the other side of this is that money that goes to charity to support people will decrease as well. I really do not know where we are going with legislation like this. We have a government which is talking about a manufactured budget crisis. We have low unemployment, low interest rates, a AAA credit rating from all credit rating agencies. Now we have a government targeting the most vulnerable in our society, young people whom we support. We should give them the tools to find employment, rather than throwing them into poverty. Many of the tools that were available to help people find work, to connect to the work force, even simple little tools such as the Job Guide and have been taken away. They are no longer there for vocational counsellors and people who are helping young people to consider the careers they may want to pursue. Every little aspect has been attacked by a very mean-spirited government, a government which says one thing before the election and another thing after the election, a government which is making changes to the pension which will lead to an $80 a week reduction in the pension.

Sorry, Member for Herbert: I do not like to say it but the fact of the matter is that it is true. You can use whatever platitude you want. The fact of the matter is that this legislation is going to hurt the most vulnerable people in our society and you on the other side of the parliament are going to let this happen. You are not going to stand here and represent your constituents.

On Friday, I had a family come to see me who actually lived in the electorate of Paterson they felt they needed to come to see me because they felt they would not get a fair hearing from a Liberal member of parliament. The father, on a disability pension, had a hereditary disease which is affecting his eyes. He was losing his sight and had hearing loss and a back injury. His wife had suffered from schizophrenia but she was the carer for him and their disabled daughter who had intellectual problems and mental health issues. They were going to lose their family tax benefit because she stayed at home to look after both of them. They were surviving okay. They made ends meet, but they were being attacked by this budget and they did not know how they were going to survive. These are real people whose lives are being affected by this government. I urge the government to rethink these measures. It is real people whose lives they are affecting. People are not going to be able to put food on the table and coupled with the GP tax and all the other harsh measures in this budget, it should be rejected.


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