House debates

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Bills

Social Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2017; Second Reading

4:15 pm

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs) Share this | Hansard source

As I was saying before the break, I do support the amendment, and Labor will vote against this bill, because it will increase poverty in Australia. By freezing family tax benefits you are making the most vulnerable in our community worse off.

Schedule 1 of this bill freezes for three years the income-free areas for working-age and student payments, Newstart, youth allowance, the parenting payment and the carer payment. This means that for these people their payments will not keep pace with the cost of living. This will impact 204,000 Australians on the lowest incomes. These people have no wiggle room in their household incomes. When their car breaks down, they struggle to find money to fix it. They do not holiday, and a night out at a restaurant or a movie is really a luxury for people in these circumstances. The threshold after which the parenting payment is reduced is $188 per fortnight. For Newstart it is $102 per fortnight. There is no rationale for this three-year freeze. In my community not one week goes by where people do not talk to me about housing affordability and whether or not their kids are going to be able to afford to live in the community that they grew up in. House prices are going through the roof, and rents are doing the same, so the cost of living for people in our community is increasing at a dramatic rate, yet the approach of this government through this bill is to freeze the incomes of the weakest, most vulnerable and poorest in our community. This bill will make life difficult for many more of those.

Schedule 3 extends the waiting periods for those people accessing the parenting payment and youth allowance by one week while amending the current severe financial hardship provisions to a 'personal financial crisis' exemption. This is a truly harsh and heartless change with no discernible policy rationale at all. Schedule 4 of the bill freezes the indexation rate for family tax benefits part A and part B for two years from 1 July 2017. The impact will be significant on those families that rely on family tax benefits to get by. A family on $60,000 with two primary-school-age children will be around $440 worse off in 2018-19. A single parent on $50,000 with two high-school children will be around $540 worse off in 2018-19. A single-income couple on $60,000 with three children under the age of 12 will be $600 worse off in 2018-19. It affects about 1.5 million families in Australia that will be worse off, and 600,000 of these families are on the maximum rate of FTB-A, which means their household income is less than $52,000 a year.

But, as I said earlier, at the same time, the government is proposing a five per cent tax cut over the course of the decade for the largest multinational businesses in Australia, with turnovers of over $1 billion, and they include the big four banks. It completely represents just how out of touch this government are and the fact that they have their priorities all wrong when it comes to this budget and this legislation. Even when indexation resumes, this cut will mean that, into the future, families will be receiving less each year than they would have been. This reform puts them behind the eight ball, and they can never catch up, particularly as, as the Reserve Bank of Australia and the government's own Treasury have been forecasting, inflation is set to increase in Australia over the course of this year. It is astonishing to note that this bill is actually a 2014 budget measure. This is something that was chewed up and spat out by the Australian public the first time, and yet the government keeps bringing it back. They keep bringing these dodgy 2014 budget measures back, and this is further proof that Malcolm Turnbull is just Tony Abbott in a more expensive suit.

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