Monday, 27 February 2017
Social Services Legislation Amendment (Omnibus Savings and Child Care Reform) Bill 2017; Second Reading
It is shameful. It will hurt the most disadvantaged in our society. I just want to quote a young mother who really, I think, understands this issue. This is Tanya Humphrey, whose five-year-old son Lachlan was diagnosed with autism last year. She said, 'It feels like they're holding the NDIS to ransom—that unless you are willing to take a budget cut we won't help fund therapy.' That is exactly what this government is doing. Jo Briskey from The Parenthood said, 'I hope that the Turnbull government sees that they have made a mistake here, they have made a misjudgement, and that the NDIS should be above party politics.' I certainly hope the Minister for Social Services starts listening to the views of these mothers, who really understand exactly what this government is on about. I hope that the Minister for Social Services actually takes some action to reassure people with disability that the future of the NDIS is secure and that the NDIS has nothing to do with the cuts in this bill.
I want now to go through each of the individual measures. Labor, of course, will stand up for low- and middle-income Australians, as we have done ever since this government began its attacks on them in a cruel 2014 budget. This bill attempts to cut the end-of-year supplement of $726 per child from all families receiving family tax benefit part A with incomes below $80,000. Although the bill introduces a $20-a-fortnight increase to family tax benefit part A, all of these families—and this is the critical thing—will be $200 a year per child worse off. So that is what all the Liberals and Nationals will be doing. They will be saying to all the lowest-income families in the county, 'You'll be worse off.'
The bill also cuts the end-of-year supplement of $354 from families receiving family tax benefit part B. So that will be the end of that supplement, as well, for those families if this legislation gets through the parliament. The bill abolishes family tax benefit part B completely for single parents whose youngest child is 17 years old and still at school. It will leave those families more than $3,000 worse off. The government actually admits that their family payment cuts will leave 1½ million Australian families worse off. As I said, families losing their family tax benefit A supplements will be worse off by $200 for each child each year. Families receiving family tax benefit part B will lose $350 each year. And, of course, these cuts add up. They add up for families who are already struggling to make ends meet. For example, a typical family with two children and a single income of $60,000 will lose around $750 a year. A couple with one child on $75,000 will lose over $1,000 a year. As I have already indicated, those single parents who have a 17 year old finishing school will be the worst off of all, losing over $3,000 a year.
Over recent weeks I have received many emails from distressed families pleading for these cuts in family payments to be stopped. I will just quote from one email from a mother called Kelly. She has four children. She is living in Melbourne. She has just completed six months of chemotherapy. She will be around $1,000 a year worse off because of this Prime Minister's cuts to family tax benefits. Kelly says that the cuts will make it very hard for her to, for example, pay for the rego on her car, which, of course, she needs to get to and from her medical appointments. There are so many families just like Kelly's. So Labor will not be supporting these unfair cuts to family payments. On the measures relating to child care that are contained in the bill, I will leave it for my colleague, the member for Adelaide, to articulate Labor's position.
The next issue that I want to go to is paid parental leave. This bill reintroduces the government's cuts to paid parental leave by placing a cap on the total number of weeks a new mother can claim if she has access to employer-funded leave. Under the previous legislation, this cap was 18 weeks. In this legislation, it is being increased to 20 weeks. Currently, primary carers of a newborn who meet the work and income tests can access up to 18 weeks of leave paid at the minimum wage—that is, $672 a week—regardless of the leave they have access to from their employer. This bill will mean that women who have access to leave from their employer will only be able to top up this leave to a maximum of 20 weeks. Labor, of course, will continue to stand up for new mothers. By contrast, this government has called these new mothers scammers and fraudsters—working women who have bargained for paid parental, often sacrificing wage increases.
Labor will protect Australia's paid parental leave scheme. We introduced this support for new parents, which deliberately allows them to combine leave from their employer with the government scheme. It was designed to make sure that as many mothers as possible can get access to 26 weeks of leave at home with their babies, which is what is recommended by the World Health Organisation—time to allow them to bond with their baby, to breastfeed and to recover from the birth of the baby. This government wants new mothers to have less time at home with their babies, capping the scheme at 20 weeks. Nurses, teachers, police officers and retail workers would all have to return to work after 20 weeks. They are taking apart the incentive for employers to provide leave to their employees and making mothers choose between returning to work early and cutting their living standards. A new mother who had access to 10 weeks of employer leave could currently also access 18 weeks of paid parental leave paid at $12,000, bringing her to a total of 28 weeks leave. If these changes are implemented, she could only access 10 weeks of paid parental leave through the government's scheme, bringing her to a total of 20 weeks. That is eight weeks less at home with her new baby, and she would be $5,400 worse off. So the examples go on. 70,000 mothers will be worse off as a result of this change.
This bill also contains cuts to payments to young people. These are the most of draconian cuts of all in this legislation. The Turnbull government wants young job seekers under the age of 25 to live on absolutely nothing for five weeks. They have to wait five weeks before they can get Newstart if they cannot find a job. This measure, of course, had its origins in the 2014 budget, when the government wanted to make young people under 30 wait six months before they could access any income support. Labor opposed this then and we oppose this latest version now. It is unacceptable to abandon young people in this way. This is not about creating incentives for young people to find work. It is not about adopting the New Zealand approach, as the government sometimes likes to assert. It is just a cruel cut to support for young people, which will push young people into hardship and poverty. How on earth can these young people pay their rent or buy food if they have absolutely nothing to live on?
Labor will also oppose the government's attempts to rip $48 a week out of the budgets of young Australians by shifting 22- to 24-year-old job seekers from Newstart onto the lower youth allowance. This bill would also freeze for three years the income-free areas for all working age and student payments. This would mean that for three years the income tests applying to payments for single parents, job seekers and students would not keep pace with cost of living. Labor will stand up for young Australians and oppose all of these cruel cuts.
The Turnbull government also wants to abolish the energy supplement. That is also in this legislation. That is a cut of $1 billion that will come out of the pockets of pensioners, people with disability, carers and Newstart recipients. This cut was first announced in the 2016 budget, so the Prime Minister cannot actually blame the member for Warringah for this one. If the Prime Minister gets his way, single pensioners will be $14.10 a fortnight worse off as a result of these cuts to the energy supplement. That is around $365 a year worse off. Couple pensioners will be $21.20 a fortnight worse off—that is around $550 a year worse off. This supplement was designed to help pensioners and other social security recipients with the cost of electricity and gas. Now the Turnbull government wants to scrap it.
It is quite extraordinary—the hypocrisy of a Prime Minister who is desperately trying to convince people that he actually cares about helping Australians with the cost of energy and at the same time has brought legislation into this parliament, which is in front of us right now, where he wants to scrap the energy supplement—take $1 billion out of the pockets of pensioners. That is what this legislation will do. If is Prime Minister really believed in helping Australians with energy costs, he would immediately take this cut out of the parliament and out of the budget.
Let us be clear: this cut will have a big impact on the most vulnerable members of our community—Australians on Newstart. Labor believes that Newstart is already too low. The Newstart payment for a single person is equivalent to just 28 per cent of the average wage. If the energy supplement is abolished, someone on Newstart will be $4.40 a week or $220 a year worse off. ANU's David Plunkett estimates that new recipients of Newstart will be around $3.60 a week worse off than had the energy supplement not been introduced in the first place. To put it another way, the Turnbull government is actually proposing a cut in real terms to Newstart. That is what everyone over there is going to be voting for. If you vote this, you are cutting Newstart in real terms. That is what this legislation means.
So I say to everyone in the Liberal and National parties, think very carefully about what this cut will mean to the most vulnerable Australians, who are finding it very difficult right now. Labor opposes the scrapping of the energy supplement. We do not accept that pensioners, carers, people with disability and people on Newstart should be forced to accept these cuts. This is especially so at the time when this government wants to deliver a $50 billion cut to taxes on big business.
The Turnbull government also wants to cut the pension to around 190,000 migrant pensioners by limiting the amount of time that they can spend overseas and still get their full pension. Currently pensioners can stay overseas for 26 weeks and receive their full pension. Following that time the pension is reduced to a rate that depends on the number of years they have resided in Australia. But the Liberals and One Nation want to change that, with a cut to the time that pensioners can spend overseas. The government's proposed cuts in this bill will mean that after just six weeks overseas pensioners who have lived in Australia for less than 35 years of their working life will have their rate of pension reduced. Labor understands that these pensioners have worked very, very hard all their lives and deserve dignity in their retirement. The last thing they need is to be treated like a burden by this Prime Minister and the Liberal Party.
The Prime Minister also wants to remove the pensioner education supplement and the education entry payment. These cuts are also in this legislation. These are small payments that go some way to supporting people on income support who start studying. The Prime Minister also wants to completely take away the pension supplement that pensioners receive; he wants to take it away from those pensioners who go overseas for more than six weeks. Labor will oppose these cuts to pensioners.
What this bill says is that the Liberals and the Nationals would rather take money from the pockets of families, pensioners, people with disability, carers, new mothers and young people than make multinationals pay their fair share of tax. They want to take food off the tables of Australian households so as to give big business a $50 billion tax cut. Labor will not stand by and let this happen. We will fight these cuts once again. We will oppose this bill.
The Liberals seem to think that the 2014 budget was a failure because it was poorly sold. They think that the member for Warringah and the former Treasurer somehow stuffed up the PR on the 2014 budget. And somehow they think that now they have got a new salesman they can get some of these 2014 budget measures through the parliament. They just do not get the fact that the 2014 budget failed because it was unfair. It failed because it went to the heart of who we are as Australians, not because it was poorly sold. The 2014 budget was overwhelmingly rejected by the Australian people. And now, nearly three years later, this miserable excuse for a government comes back into this place and serves up the same unfair and unacceptable policies to the Australian people. Well the Australian Labor Party says no. We will not stand for this. Accordingly, I move the following amendment to the bill:
That all the words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
(1) declines to give the bill a second reading because it will hurt pensioners, families, new mums and young Australians while holding child care assistance and the National Disability Insurance Scheme to ransom; and
(2) calls on the Government to:
(a) drop their unfair cuts to pensioners, families, new mums and young Australians; and
(b) fix their child care changes so that vulnerable and disadvantaged children are not worse off and Indigenous and country services do not face closure.