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

8:35 pm

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

Listening to the debate tonight and seeing those who have stood up to make statements in favour of these bills and these changes, it is no wonder that this government today moved to guillotine and gag debate. There are a number of government MPs in marginal seats, MPs elected at the same election I was for the first time, that are clearly in hiding. Where is the member for Lindsay making a statement on the effects that this bill will have on her community—the member for Reid, the member for Hindmarsh, the 'three amigos' from Tasmania? Why has the government put their marginal-seat MPs into hiding? Is that why they have guillotined debate and stopped them from speaking out in this debate—trying to protect the seats of the people who will be most at risk, the people in the marginal seats?

We have seen National MPs speak in this debate. I find it quite odd that they are quite willing to go out there on the fools errand to defend a bill based on a budget that attacks the most vulnerable in our community, particularly regional people.

The changes outlined in this bill do attack the most vulnerable in our community. They are radical changes and tear at the social fabric that keeps our communities together. These bills and the measures in them will push people into poverty like we have not seen for generations. This is not the Australia that most Australians want.

The Bendigo electorate is like many regional electorates. We strive to make our region a better place. We work and live together. We encourage our entrepreneurs and we take care of our most vulnerable. We expect our government to do its bit to ensure that we can face our difficulties. Bendigo people, like most regional households and people, are not wealthy people. The median income for a single person is about $500 per week, the median family income is roughly $1,100 per week, and the median household income is just under $1,000 per week. These are not millionaires living in the seat of Bendigo. Like many, they are working with what they have got and just getting by. The measures in this bill will hit the people of the Bendigo electorate hard, as they will the people of many regional electorates. Almost everyone in my electorate will affected in some way by the changes in this bill, and some will be affected much harder than others will. These unfair measures are from an unfair budget—a budget that was a shocker to regional Australians, a horror budget that confirmed that the most vulnerable would bear the brunt of the government's twisted priorities.

This budget will push up the cost of living for every Australian family and every Australian. Clearly, this budget was drafted by people who have never lived from pay cheque to pay cheque; who have never sat round a table looking at the bills, working out which ones they will pay, which ones they will put off, and which ones they will pay by credit card. The Prime Minister's budget is smashing families' budgets across our nation and in Bendigo.

Changes to the family tax benefit will hurt many people, including many of the families in my electorate. Prior to the election, the Prime Minister said—and he said this in Bendigo; he came up a couple of times—he would help families with the real cost of raising children. Yet these bills are a savage attack on these families. These bills will hit low-income families and families with single parents—the majority of people in my electorate—the hardest. These bills seek to freeze the rates and thresholds for family tax benefits. According to the Department of Social Services, freezing the income free area for FTB part A alone will see more than 370,000 families around $750 a year worse off in 2016-17. This comes at the same time that the Prime Minister is trying to abolish the schoolkids bonus. For eligible families, that means they will lose over $400 per year for primary school children and over $800 per year for secondary school children. As a result of these measures and this budget, single-income families on $65,000 with two school-aged children will be around $6,000 a year worse off by 2016. These are so many of the families in my electorate. These are those average, median families that I referred to.

That is around 10 per cent of their entire budget. There are not too many people in this place taking a 10 per cent pay cut. There are not too many people at the very top end of town taking a 10 per cent pay cut. In fact, there are none. Yet we are expecting those on the smallest of incomes to take the biggest pay cuts. Changes to the family tax benefit arrangements and changes to single parent families are unfair.

Together, the changes and the cuts to family tax benefits and family payments will result in $7.5 billion. Just imagine for a moment the hit on our local economies of ripping $7.5 billion dollars from local economies. Every dollar that a low-income family or individual has is spent. Small businesses in my electorate are already starting to talk to me about the effects that this budget will have on their customer base. If working people or people on low incomes have no money, then they will not be buying locally. They will not buy that second pair of shoes that their child may need, they may not buy the jumper they need, they may not pay for outings or excursions. This is what happens when you introduce austerity into our communities.

Changes to the pension are also unfair and demonstrate another broken promise. Australians who have worked hard their whole lives, who have paid taxes the whole time they were earning deserve a secure retirement. They deserve respect. They have earned this respect by being the taxpayers of the past. Pensioners should not have to worry about whether they can afford to put the heating on, whether they can afford to catch up with their grandkids, or whether they can afford to pop out for something as simple as a coffee with their neighbours. Yet, for people who have worked hard their whole life paying taxes, this Prime Minister and this government now sees these pensioners as a burden on the government. It is wrong and unfair to treat hardworking Australians this way in their retirement. Let us just be real about the pension. It is not big bucks. It is just under $22,000 a year for someone on a single pension. I would like to see many people in this place try to survive on that kind of income. Again, every dollar you take away from a pensioner hurts not only their household budget but also the local economy. They will not spend it in their local shops. They will not spend it supporting jobs in the service industry. There are just under 30,000 pensioners in my electorate who will be hurt by these budget measures. These pensioners are loud and they are angry. I am proud to say I will stand and fight with them and fight these changes.

The changes that affect young job seekers are also unfair. Young people under the age of 30 are going to face real difficulties if they find themselves unemployed. How will they pay for their accommodation, find enough money to eat, and ensure that they can continue to exist when their government is removing their unemployment payments for six months? What on earth does the government think that these young people are going to live on? What are they going to eat? How will they get to the job interview?

An assumption is made by the government that everyone under the age of 30 must still live at home with parents or have a trust fund. It is simply not true. People under 30 increasingly already have their first home, if they are lucky enough. They might have a child on the way. Not everyone under the age of 30 is living with their parents or has the ability to move back in with their parents if they find themselves unemployed. It is simply unfair to say to someone who could spend every hour of every day looking for work that they must live on nothing.

Until this government came to office and these budget measures came before the House, there was a mutual contract that the Australian government made with Australian job seekers. That contract was that, if you actively look for work, your government will not only support you to find work but will also financially support you while you look for work. Let's be honest about the kind of financial support that our government provides people looking for work. It is a very modest income. It is already hard to survive on Newstart payments. It will be even harder when they are at zero.

It appears the government is also of the belief that, if you take away support for young job seekers, they will find a job. They will just go out and take any job. What if there are no jobs? The government clearly seems to not understand that there is a jobs crisis in our community. Youth employment in the Bendigo area is above 13 per cent. The majority of the work that young people do today is in the service industry, and, because of other budget measures, that service industry is already contracting, meaning that those young people are going to find it even harder to find work. If you do not have a jobs plan and yet you are going to kick people off any kind of support payment, you are going to force more and more people into poverty.

These changes to Newstart and Youth Allowance are unfair. It is not just me speaking out about this budget and these changes; there are a number of community leaders also speaking out. Ken Marchingo, from Haven; Home, Safe, which is a homeless organisation, said:

What we've seen—

from this government—

is ideology dressed as economics. The notion that people under the age of 30 are somehow so well progressed in their life that they can lose their job, meet their rent, meet their utilities, feed and clothe themselves whilst unemployed … Who on earth are they—

this government—


Ken also said that the heavy lifting is being done by the poorest people.

Kim Sykes from Bendigo Community Health said that there needs to be a rethink of these policies as they will further embed disadvantage. She said:

We can't allow a society to be built around that concept.

That is the idea that, if you are poor, without a job and struggling, it must be your fault and your fault alone. Kim said:

There is a real risk that many of the measures in this budget are going to affect the most vulnerable in our community—

and in our society. I agree with Kim and I agree with Ken. This budget does attack the most vulnerable in our community and the bills before us tonight contain some of the cruellest and harshest measures in the government's first budget. Many in my electorate are asking: where is the decency, where is the honesty and where is the humanity of this government? At Listening Post, when I am in the street and when I am talking people on the phone, shock from budget night has become anger—anger that this government could attack the most vulnerable in our community.

The Prime Minister insists that he believes, in the marrow of his bones, that the budget and therefore these changes are fair, but he is wrong. The Prime Minister's budget and the changes in this bill are not only regressive but cruel. They are unfair and they are un-Australian. They tear up a community contract, a social contract, that we have that ensures that we take care of our most vulnerable. They are designed to specifically incur and entrench intergenerational social, educational and financial disadvantage. These changes target the poor, the sick, the young, the elderly and the unemployed. The changes in this bill will disproportionately affect regional households, including many in my electorate.

I call on those opposite to come out of hiding and speak on this bill and be at least willing to stand up—those first-time MPs from the marginal seats of Hindmarsh, Lindsay and Reid. At least be bold enough to speak to these changes, or come and join us on this side of the House, speaking out against these cruel measures that attack the most vulnerable in our community.


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