Wednesday, 28 November 2018
Social Services Legislation Amendment (Encouraging Self-sufficiency for Newly Arrived Migrants) Bill 2018; Second Reading
I begin my comments on this very important piece of legislation by noting that the government has removed all its speakers from the speaking list on this legislation. I'm not quite sure why the government has taken that view but I did want to put on record that that is exactly what has happened. Labor has, I think, about five speakers, and we'll be pursuing our list, but I make the point that the government clearly is not.
Labor would never have proposed this bill. We think it is very important that the pathway to citizenship is welcoming; however, we are not in government and we have to deal with what is presented to us. And in the context of uncertainty, and the very substantial impacts that the government's four-year waiting periods would have, we could not leave this to One Nation and the Senate crossbench to decide.
Labor has secured significant improvements to the government's original bill. These improvements will protect vulnerable new residents, families and, importantly, children. We acknowledge that these improvements will not address all of our concerns with the government's bill, but what we have attempted to do in securing these improvements is protect vulnerable families from the government's bill being introduced in its entirety. The government originally proposed an increase to the newly arrived residents' waiting periods for social security payments and introduced waiting periods for family tax benefit, paid parental leave and dad and partner pay to four years. This would have caused significant hardship for thousands of vulnerable individuals, families and children. The government's four-year waiting period would have impacted on family tax benefits for 66,000 families and 144,000 children and on 47,000 individuals for other payments.
In engaging the government on this bill and in pursuing these improvements, we have not only secured substantial reductions in the proposed wait times but prevented the content of this bill from being shaped by the crossbench in the Senate. We have been pragmatic, and it has been a very difficult exercise. As I said, Labor would never, never have introduced this bill. As a result of Labor's negotiations with the government, the number of families and children who have been impacted by the government's family tax benefit waiting period has now been reduced to around three-quarters, and the number of people impacted by other changes will be nearly half. We have mitigated what would otherwise have been a bill that would have delivered more pain. Labor has secured major and meaningful concessions, including: no waiting period for family tax benefit part B; no increase in the waiting period for carer payment; a one-year waiting period for family tax benefit part A, instead of a four-year period; a two-year waiting period for paid parental leave and dad and partner pay, which is what the current waiting period is; and New Zealanders, orphaned visa holders and remaining relative visa holders are excluded from the changes. These are important exemptions. We have expanded access to special benefits, when people's circumstances change, including in the case of domestic violence and family violence, in the case of job loss and in the case of death of sponsors. Exemptions to waiting periods for people who become lone parents will also remain. People on refugee and humanitarian visas will also remain exempted from these changes. These are important concessions.
All in all, Labor's amendments to this bill have ensured that 49,000 families and 107,000 children will be shielded from the family tax benefit waiting period each year and 21,000 people will be protected from waiting periods for other payments. These were not easy decisions. I repeat: these were not easy decisions. My colleagues in the Labor Party have worked incredibly hard to ensure that these exemptions and changes to the original harsh, harsh bill were made. Labor would never have proposed these extensions to resident waiting periods in the original bill or otherwise. We made these difficult decisions to protect those on the lowest incomes and families and children.
It would have been deeply irresponsible to oppose this bill outright only for it to be passed outright without being tempered. We could not in good conscience refuse to engage the government and allow the crossbench to determine policies for newly arrived residents. The Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils said today that the federal opposition should be congratulated for securing changes to the government's Social Services Legislation Amendment (Encouraging Self-Sufficiency for Newly Arrived Migrants) Bill 2018. The chairperson of FECCA, Mary Patetsos, said, 'These amendments will protect the most vulnerable new arrivals and their families from the new four-year waiting periods for benefits imposed by the federal government.' As I said, we could not in conscience allow One Nation and like-minded people to determine the outcomes of this bill.
We know it is important that new Australians show that they are able to support themselves financially while they settle in Australia. The vast majority of migrants quickly secure work and do not need to access social security, and that is a very important point to be made. The inquiry into this bill heard that the vast majority of recent migrants do not require access to the social security system. The Ethnic Communities' Council of Victoria told the committee that the workforce participation rate for migrants is 80 per cent, compared to 60 per cent for people who were born in Australia. Migrants are hardworking and committed new Australians. They make a wonderful contribution to the prosperity of the social fabric of Australia. Sometimes people's circumstances do change, and it is important to support people when this happens, which is why the special benefit component is so crucial to this bill. Labor will always work hard to ensure the best possible outcomes for vulnerable Australians and those who find themselves in difficult circumstances. Australians know Labor's record on protecting and maintaining the nation's social safety net. We have always fought for what is fair. We have fought tooth and nail the government's relentless and cruel attacks on the age pension. We have fought the government's attempts to cut Newstart and we will review the payment and how it can work better for Australians who are trying to find work. We have fought the government's cuts to Centrelink and held the government to account over pensioners and students who have been forced to wait months for their payments. Australians know that those vulnerable individuals, families and children will always be better off, will always receive a fairer go, under a Labor government.
In closing, I recognise everyone who has worked very hard on these amendments and on this bill. I particularly recognise my parliamentary colleagues on the Labor side, in particular the shadow Treasurer, for the work that has been done in negotiating with the government on trying to make this bill more palatable, to bring about less pain for those who would otherwise have been affected for four years. I believe that the exemptions and the position that we've gotten to vastly improve this bill, make it vastly better and mean it will affect many thousands fewer people than would otherwise have been affected by the harsh measures of this bill.