Wednesday, 29 March 2017
Social Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2017; Second Reading
But we know already that the Prime Minister and those Liberals on the opposite side of the chamber will not stand up for low-income families, because their track record is one of cruel cuts and shameful decisions. But, in this particular case, I think it is pretty telling that there are no government MPs here to defend these cuts—only to sit opposite and throw slurs.
Another element of this bill is a three-year freeze on the income-free area for all working age and student payments by the Commonwealth government. This means that, for three years, the income tests applying to payments for single parents, jobseekers and students will not keep pace with the rising costs of living. We already know that many of these payments are incredibly difficult to survive on now. And we know the current thresholds are very low, too low. But these changes will make it even more difficult for the 204,000 Australians affected, because it means their income thresholds will effectively reduce over time, leading to an effective cut in their purchasing power if they are earning a small amount of income. It does not make sense to hurt these people. This measure will do nothing to lift people up and it will do nothing to encourage and support the poorest people to build a better life for themselves. Labor will not be supporting this measure.
Similarly, we will not be supporting the measure that introduces a one-week waiting period before people can access parenting payments or youth allowance. Again, this measure simply does not make sense. It is just bad, lazy policy from a bad, lazy government. The only reason the government is introducing this waiting period is to save money and—instead of getting tax-dodging multinationals to do the heavy lifting, instead of hitting up the big banks that continue to rort their customers, instead of scaling back their unfair big business tax cut—they decide to save money by taking a week's pay from the poorest of the poor in Australia. It is absolutely astonishing.
Senator Jacqui Lambie, as I mentioned earlier, spoke passionately last week about the realities of living on welfare. And that speech hit home, to more people than you can know—to many, many people, because they know that that is the reality and it is clear for all to see that this government has no idea how tough some people are doing it. They do not know and they do not want to, because ignorance is bliss. For someone who has also relied on welfare, the stigma and relentless shaming of this government of those people is cruel and unnecessary, and we see it time and time again from this government.
The lifters and leaners, poor people who do not own a car or the simplistic comments of a simple Prime Minister who says: 'Get rich parents;' whether it's the 700,000 low-paid workers having their penalty rates ripped away or the 330,000 pensioners who are worse off after this government changed the pension asset test, or the various other cuts this government spruiks day after day—they are always targeting those who can least afford it. This measure is just one more example of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's clear disregard for those struggling to make ends meet.
As the member for Jagajaga noted in her contribution, these unfair cuts come at a time when inequality is at a 75-year high in Australia. Company profits are at record levels; wages growth is at record lows. The widening gap between the rich and poor is getting bigger and bigger in Australia, and the rich just keep on getting richer, and those in the middle and towards the bottom are missing out on the growing wealth of our nation.
We need a government that will address this problem and ensure there is a little fairness in the system. Instead, we have got a government that actively punishes those at the bottom, while gloating about a $50 billion big business tax cut that will hand $7 billion straight to the big four banks. Not to mention that this will add $4 billion to the interest and the budget bottom line. For people so obsessed with the debt and deficit, obviously, they cannot get their accounting department right. And, in hurting 1.5million families, they cannot even front up to the chamber to defend their decisions. It is weak and it is poor leadership—and the people out there are getting tired of this unfair, arrogant government.
Now there is one element of this bill that we have said we will support, and it wasn't tied to the unfair cuts contained throughout this amendment. It is a straightforward measure that will automate the process of collecting income stream information for social security recipients, improving the accuracy and efficiency of the social security system and reducing the regulatory burden on income stream providers. This measure would potentially help avoid another robo-debt disaster by providing a more regular and accurate reporting system. Labor has made it clear to the government that this measure would enjoy our support, if it was separated from the unfair elements of this bill. This shows that Labor has its priorities right and that this government is proving, yet again, that they have their priorities wrong.
Now all of these unfair cuts are being rammed through this parliament at a rapid rate so the government can pay for their childcare changes. Well, we believe in child care and we believe in supporting working men and women, but we do not believe that increased support for child care should cost the poorest Australians through the nose by pitting people who need our help against other people who are vulnerable. Sadly, that is this government's default position. This bill is plainly unfair, and we will not be supporting it.