Monday, 27 February 2017
Social Services Legislation Amendment (Omnibus Savings and Child Care Reform) Bill 2017; Second Reading
What a contrast we see in this parliament today. During the motion to suspend standing orders, just before this bill was brought on for debate, we saw the Prime Minister prepared to support a cut to the wages of some of the lowest-income workers in this country. It is a government not prepared to support the Leader of the Opposition moving to make sure that penalty rates are protected in our nation.
Of course, the legislation in front of us today, the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Omnibus Savings and Child Care Reform) Bill 2017, is all about cuts for families, cuts for pensioners, cuts for young people and cuts for new parents—at the same time that this government is pursuing enormous benefits for some of the biggest companies in this country.
Labor cannot and will not support this bill today. It is fundamentally unfair. It is unfair because it rips money from the household budgets of some of the poorest Australians. It is unfair because it takes $2.7 billion out of the pockets of families. It is unfair because it rips $1 billion from the energy supplement, a payment that is designed to help pensioners, people with disabilities, carers and Newstart recipients with the costs of energy. This bill is unfair because it cuts paid parental leave to 70,000 new mums each and every year. This bill is unfair because it cuts support to young Australians seeking work, forcing them to live on absolutely nothing for five weeks.
This bill cannot be debated without referring to its origins—the 2014 budget. Many of the measures that have been put forward by the Liberals and Nationals in this bill have their origins in the 2014 budget—a budget so reviled by the Australian people that it has become synonymous with unfairness. Nearly three years ago, I said of those budget cuts that they:
… seek to destroy the fundamental pillars of the Australian way of life. They seek to savagely cut support for ordinary working Australian families and will push hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people into poverty.
Nearly three years later, my opinion has not changed—even if the Prime Minister has. This Liberal government just do not get it. They do not understand fairness, and they do not understand just how hard it is for ordinary Australians to manage. They do not understand what social investment means. They do not understand the need for inclusive growth that actually enables all Australians to reach their potential in life. If they did, the Liberals would not propose the measures contained in this bill.
The truth is that the Liberal Party's vision for Australia's future is about ripping up the basic social contract in this country. There is nothing visionary or reformist about forcing some of the most vulnerable Australians to accept cuts to their standard of living. The cuts in this bill are an attack on the Australian fair go. They are an attack on egalitarian Australia, an Australia that values fairness and opportunity for all. The Australia that I know says, 'If you fall on hard times, we are going to help you back on your feet.' The Australia that Labor knows says, 'If you are sick, disabled or old, we will not abandon you and leave you to fend for yourself.' Australia is not the United States of America. We look after one another. We take care of the most vulnerable. We invest in people. We do not abandon them. We are not a nation of 'lifters' and 'leaners', no matter what Joe Hockey says. We are a generous and compassionate country that deeply values fairness.
I have people say to me, 'There isn't much of a difference any more between Labor and the Liberals.' Well, I say to those people: 'Have a look at this legislation. Remember the 2014 budget. Remember the $8½ billion in cuts to family tax benefits that every single member opposite in the Liberal and National parties voted for. Remember the $23 billion in cuts to the pension as a result of changes to indexation that, once again, every single member of the Liberal and National parties voted for. And remember the GP tax. That is what the Liberal Party stands for. That is what the National Party stands for. Don't tell me there is no difference in the values of the two major parties.' The Liberal government still want to rip up Australia's social contract; they just have not been able to because Labor and the community have stood up. We have opposed these cuts and we have stopped them getting through the parliament.
It is important to say that all of this is happening, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, at the same time as this government is supporting a cut to penalty rates. Of course, Labor will continue to defend the lowest paid workers in this country, many of whom will be affected by the proposed cuts to family tax benefits contained in this bill that we are debating right now. With inequality at a 75-year high in this country, wages growth at record lows and underemployment at record highs, there could not be a worse time to either cut penalty rates or cut family tax benefits.
This bill also contains cuts to paid parental leave, it contains cuts to support for young jobseekers and it will see the abolition of the energy supplement. Marie Coleman from the National Foundation for Australian Women said that the decision to slash penalty rates was:
… a fair smash at younger women and female-headed families".
… … …
"Women are … more likely to receive minimum award wages and more likely to rely on penalty rates to meet household payments.
"When you've got that allied with the Omnibus savings bill … it's disastrous."
She said that just the other day.
The Liberals like to say that they are committed to representing family values in this place. But, for all their talk about wanting to help families with the cost-of-living pressures, the reality is plain to see in this legislation. Their talk about supporting families was probably best exemplified by the member for Warringah back in 2013 when he put forward his rolled gold paid parental leave scheme. He said then that that was his 'Nixon goes to China' moment. Then, of course, he scrapped it. On Mother's Day 2015 the Liberals decided to crack down on what they called 'double dipping'. What an insult. They said at the time that it was better to focus on child care. That was back in 2015.
Here we are in 2017 and they still have done absolutely nothing to support those families struggling with the cost of child care, and they have certainly failed to deliver for families. The reason for that is that they keep trying to link any improvements to the costs of child care to cruel cuts to family tax benefits. Of course, they are doing that again in this legislation. Put simply, the Liberals and the Nationals just want to rob Peter to pay Paul. With the introduction of this legislation, the government are not just holding families to ransom for child care; now they are including pensioners, young Australians and new mothers. They are holding all of them to ransom before they are prepared to do anything to help with the costs of child care.
Most recently, we have seen the Treasurer and the Minister for Social Services attempt to blackmail the Senate crossbench into passing the harsh cuts contained in this legislation, trying to hold the National Disability Insurance Scheme hostage against these unfair cuts.