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; Consideration in Detail

9:28 pm

Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

The bills that we are considering in detail today have been the cause of incredible fear in my community in Hotham, and it is with an incredibly heavy heart that I rise to speak against these bills that will really, sadly, see the worst fears of those people in my community realised. If there is one question I have for the minister today it is: how could you do this to people who trusted you so much during the election?

These bills let Australians know how cruel this government is. For those of us who are looking this evening for a silver lining, if there is one out there it is that it exposes the values that sit in the hearts of the decision makers that we sit opposite. What I am coming to realise after a few months in this parliament is that the Australia that the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and Minister for Social Services live in is a very different Australia to that which I see my neighbours living in around East Bentleigh, right in the heart of Hotham.

The Australia that the Treasurer and the Prime Minister live in is a place where poor people go to the doctor too frequently just because they do not have anything better to do. It is where unemployed young people are getting plenty of great job offers but are just too fussy to accept any of them. It is a nation where $800 that many pensioners used to pay their electricity bills is seen as a cash splash. It is a nation where young Australians are simply not paying enough for their university education.

But this is not the Australia that I live in, and I do not believe that these values reflect the values of the Australian people. I believe that as a country we rise together. As our economy grows we should all benefit from it, and that sits at the heart of the welfare system that we have.

There are so many truly devastating changes in the bills that are before us today that I do not have time to talk about all of them. But there are three big areas that I want to touch on, which will particularly affect the people that I represent in Hotham. The first is the change to pensions. I looked, for a while, in the Real Solutions document before I came to the chamber this afternoon, desperately looking for the sentence which talked about the changes that would be made to seniors' supplements and the changes that would be made to pensions. But, alas, all that I found was empty rhetoric about how concerned this coalition was about the living costs of seniors.

The Prime Minister misled and betrayed millions of Australians who rely on government for part or all of their incomes: 2.3 million people are already trying to make ends meet on the age pension. I want to remind the House that when Labor was in government we legislated for the biggest increase to pensions in 100 years, and tonight that increase is being lost.

I want to talk a little about changes to family tax benefits A and B, which will affect many families in my seat of Hotham. I was contacted, quite soon after the budget, by a mother in my electorate—Stephanie. She was recently widowed and is trying to raise two daughters by herself on a part-time public service income. She is a very smart, very motivated woman, and she is trying to plan for her daughters' futures. She contacted me because she genuinely could not understand what the government was trying to do to her family with the changes to the family tax benefits and what this would mean for her and for her girls.

As a result of the budget, including the measures in the bills that are before us, a single-income couple on $65,000 with two school-aged children will be about $6,000 worse off, every year, by 2016. So I ask the minister, in this consideration in detail: how could you do this to families who trusted you during the election? How could you possibly justify these changes?

It is difficult, amongst a bevvy of absolute nasties in these bills, to single out the cruellest measure but I believe that it is the change that is being made to New Start. What Australia are these people living in that would made them think that they can take unemployment benefits from young people for six months? I do not understand what the plan is here. What do they want these young people to do? Perhaps in the world of the Treasurer and the Prime Minister young people who are in these positions live in family homes with families that can support them, but in my electorate and in many parts of the country that is simply not the case. We are facing crises of youth unemployment around the country. At the same time the government has cut training and apprenticeships it tells young people to earn or learn. I just cannot believe the gall.

The context for this has been fabricated from the very beginning. I do not have time to go into it. We are not in a budget emergency. The Australian budget is in ship shape. Labor took us through a financial crisis and left our economy in great condition. These bills are totally unjustified.


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