House debates

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Bills

Social Services Legislation Amendment (Encouraging Self-sufficiency for Newly Arrived Migrants) Bill 2018; Second Reading

10:57 am

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on the social services legislation amendment, rather euphemistically called 'Encouraging Self-sufficiency for Newly Arrived Migrants', bill 2018. This bill seeks to increase the waiting period associated with a number of social security safety nets for those who have come to this country as migrants. The title of this legislation is a complete misnomer. In my view it does not seek to encourage self-sufficiency but, rather, seeks to stigmatise those in our community who need a helping hand. In its original form the bill was completely draconian. I would like to congratulate our Labor executive team of the member for Barton and the member for McMahon, who've been able to modify some of the nastier elements of this legislation that will affect newly arrived migrants to this country.

It's worth pointing out that, according to the 2016 census, around 34 per cent of my community of Macarthur were born outside Australia. While I concede that the coalition government completely botched this census, I will share some of the data it uncovered. First of all, there were just over 4,000 respondents from Macarthur who were born in England, just over 4,000 who were born in New Zealand—they were the top responses for birthplaces other than Australia—1.4 per cent were born in Fiji, 2.1 per cent were born in India and 2.2 per cent were from the Philippines. My point is this: our nation has been built on migration from the very beginnings of white settlement in Australia. Indeed, we're one of the most successful multicultural societies in the world.

Elements of the media, those in the hard Right and some in the government would have you think we're experiencing mass migration to Australia, that these people are coming from parts of the world experiencing civil unrest and instability and that they're coming here to suck resources from the Australian economy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The top two responses for people born outside Australia at the last census were that they came from New Zealand and England. I'd also add that the census responses for Macarthur indicated that just over 40 per cent of those surveyed had both of their parents born overseas.

Once again, I would reiterate that this country has been built on migration. Immigrants contribute to a vibrant and multicultural society. Indeed, the Macarthur community is made much, much richer through the contributions of our thriving Filipino community, our Bangladeshi community and people from all over the world. These people are Australians just like you and me. I'd add that I'm proud to represent them. Migrants have chosen Australia as their home, so in many ways they're even more attached to Australia and proud to be Australian than some people who were born here. Australians who were once migrants are actively contributing to my community of Macarthur.

Through this legislation, the newly arrived resident's waiting period for carers allowance, carer payments, youth allowance, Austudy, Newstart, sickness allowance, special benefit, bereavement allowance, widow allowance, parenting payment, mobility allowance, pension, education supplement, the healthcare card for low-income earners and the Commonwealth seniors health card will increase. Presently, from the day a migrant is issued a permanent visa, they have to wait for a period of two years before the newly arrived resident's waiting period is complete and they are eligible for governmental support. The legislation extends this period to three years. It is worth noting that this newly arrived resident's waiting period is applicable from the day residency is obtained, not from the day of arrival in Australia. So those people may wait even longer. Those with any experience in dealing with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection will know that it can take quite some time to acquire permanent residency.

Those opposite were initially pursuing an extension of this to four years for the family assistance package, paid parental leave and partner leave. There presently exists no newly arrived resident's waiting period for the family assistance package, carer allowance, paid parental leave and partner leave, yet the government had been progressing a waiting period of four years. Should this legislation be passed, the changes to the newly arrived resident's waiting period will effectively be from 1 January 2019.

We on this side of the chamber would never have proposed such measures and we certainly could not have tolerated this proposed legislation if it had proceeded in its original form. The hardship that would have been inflicted on the most vulnerable in our society by the four-year waiting period being championed by those opposite would have been completely unjustifiable. I have major concerns as to how this will affect some of my patients who have severe disability whose parents are newly arrived migrants. Some of these children were born in Australia. No-one chooses to have a child with cerebral palsy or Down syndrome, yet these people will be significantly affected by this new legislation. I think it is very unfair given the contribution that newly arrived migrants have made and continue to make to Australia. I'm very concerned about young families who have children with disabilities and how they are going to cope with these draconian waiting periods. This is not good legislation. It is targeting the most vulnerable and I think it is shameful.

I really do think that this right-wing, reactionary coalition government should be ashamed of itself for attempting to introduce the legislation in its original form. I think they should think very hard about this legislation in the future. I'm very concerned about the negative impact it will have on some of the most vulnerable people in my community. It's yet another example of those opposite failing in their ability to understand they are to represent all Australians. I'm trying to remember the last time this government was bold and chose to do the right thing for the most vulnerable. The coalition have tried to push through some of the most unfair changes to our citizenship laws through their years in government. Just because Australians, whether they were born here or have recently arrived, don't speak perfect English or seem to come from countries that the coalition is unfamiliar with, they should not be punished—and that's what's happening.

I really think that our social security system is designed to help the most vulnerable in our society, not to punish them. You wouldn't deny a toddler and their family access to subsidised child care or family tax benefits because they've only lived in Australia since they were born two or three years ago, so why deny someone access to support because they moved to Australia from overseas two or three years ago and yet want to contribute to this country?

It's unfair that any one person should paint migrants as a drain on our welfare system. Our statistics prove otherwise. I have to say that perhaps if the statistics were reversed there may be other elements at play and issues across our workplaces and in our communities that need addressing prior to severely limiting access to social security for some of the most vulnerable Australians. Thank you.

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