Wednesday, 28 November 2018
Social Services Legislation Amendment (Encouraging Self-sufficiency for Newly Arrived Migrants) Bill 2018; Second Reading
This is an attack on multiculturalism. This bill, which is being rushed through in a dirty deal between Labor and Liberal, will make life hard for people who come to Australia through the usual processes and then, through no fault of their own, find themselves in hard times. This bill will create an underclass of migrants in this society and will result in second-class citizens who will now have to wait longer to get the kind of support that most people—other people in this country—are entitled to.
A press release was sent out by the government yesterday to justify this bill—a bill that they are now giving us 11 pages of amendments to, a bill that has been cooked up in the back room between Labor and Liberal—and now we're being asked to vote on it right here, right now, but they're circulating it without the revised explanatory memorandum to tell us what the impact of this bill will be on people. The government has deigned to give us a one-page press release about this bill that they want to rush through this parliament, this minority parliament where there should be extra scrutiny. Now they want to rush it through with the Labor opposition's support. What we do know according to that is that there will now be a four-year wait for people who come here through the usual approved processes to get things like Newstart, concession cards or low-income healthcare cards.
If what the government has set out is right and reflects the deal that has been done between Labor and the Liberals, it will mean this: someone who has come here on a skilled or a family visa—sometimes because they've got the promise of a job when they get here—will settle and expect they're going to be here for an extended period of time, and they start working. Let's say that all of a sudden their employer goes under. Let's say they get placed in administration. The business doesn't work out, so they haven't got a job. What happens to that person? If that person was an Australian citizen, they could go and get support until they get back on their feet to find a new job. Now, Newstart is not high enough—it's below the poverty line and it needs to be increased quickly—but at least it's something. You get a bit of support while you're out there looking for that new job. At the moment, people who come here on visas already have to wait a period before they can get support from the government. If I understand correctly what Labor and Liberal have done, given that we haven't got the time to scrutinise it properly—but if I take the government's press release at its word—a person who is in that situation, or a member of their family, now has to wait four years.
I see the opposition shaking their heads. Maybe they can explain why it is that the government has put out a press release saying that we're going to have a four-year waiting list and why it is that previous speakers from the opposition have said that this bill is heinous and shouldn't be supported. That's what they have stood up here and said. The last two speakers from the opposition stood up and said that this was an outrageous bill from the government that attacks people who come here seeking assistance after coming here to work and, through no fault of their own, might find themselves unemployed. They've said, 'Oh, we've wrung our hands, and we have to vote for some bad bits of the bill.' Well, you don't, Opposition. The clue's in your job title: opposition. Sometimes the thing to do is to stare down a bad government and tell them to go back to the drawing board, not to support them on cuts that are going to hurt people.
When this bill was looked at by the Senate committee inquiring into that, the one thing that shone through from pretty much all of the submissions was people saying there is absolutely no evidence that making people wait longer for forms of assistance is going to do anything to improve their chances of getting a job; all it is going to do is hurt them. And that stands to reason, because the research tells us that—say you've got qualifications or you've got skills from elsewhere—if you come to Australia from a non-English-speaking country, you are more than twice as likely to find yourself in a low-paid job than someone who comes here from an English-speaking country. That has led to us having—for example, in my electorate of Melbourne—reports of jumbo jet pilots who are driving taxis. When you get in a taxi, you often chat to your taxi driver, and you may find that they have a master's degree. They may well have been an accountant in their previous country; they just haven't been able to get their qualifications recognised here, and it has turned out to be difficult for them.
There are barriers that these people face. You would think that in many instances what they actually deserve is extra support should they find themselves unable to find employment. That's why in previous parliaments we negotiated a fund to assist migrant communities to find themselves jobs and to get their skills properly recognised. This government tore it down. That is part of the reason why we have higher unemployment and underemployment rates amongst people who've come here from non-English-speaking backgrounds or who have come here from migrant backgrounds.
What we need to be doing is tackling rising unemployment and underemployment amongst these particular groups so that we make sure that they know that Australia is a place where everyone has a place and saying, 'If you want to work, we as the parliament are bending over backwards to ensure that there are meaningful jobs that are available for you.' What we should not be doing is taking the stick to those people and saying, 'We are going to save a bit of money for the budget by making life harder for you by withdrawing some support from you.' Maybe it's good that the opposition has managed to negotiate with the government that the government's not going to punish people as hard as they would have before, but it still results in punishing people. This bill will still punish people who should be supported.
If it turns out that what the government has said in its press release does not reflect the deal that has been reached between Labor and the government, give us extra time to debate it. Don't come in here and give us 11 pages of amendments that are going to affect people's lives and potentially result in them being left with no government support at all after they've lost their job. Don't come in here and tell us that we've got to vote on this straightaway. Let's give extra time to consider it and let the sector look at all of these amendments and this new deal that has been done. If it's as good as the opposition says it is, give us time to scrutinise it. We are now back in a parliament where the government does not have a majority. We are in a parliament where the Australian people have said, 'We want greater scrutiny of what the old parties are doing because we don't always trust them.' One way of having that now would be to park this bill so that the sector can have a look at the deal that's been done and so that everyone in this parliament can have a look at the deal that's been done and the crossbench can scrutinise the deal that is being done. Asking us to vote on the basis of a press release and saying, 'Trust us; it'll all be okay,' asking us to vote for it when the last two Labor speakers have got up and talked about just how bad this bill is, is not the way this parliament should operate.
At some point we'll go back and have a look at the Hansard of the last two speakers. I'm paraphrasing them and I don't intend to misrepresent them, but they said this is a bill that will punish people. They said this is a bill that is going to make life harder for people. Someone who was formerly a doctor said this is a bill that potentially would have made life tougher for his patients. If that is right, if I've accurately represented what they've said, that is not something we should be sitting here voting on today. So maybe we can have some more light shed on it at some point. I listened to all the speeches up until now and certainly it seems to me that the government seem to believe that they're going to make some savings out of this. And how do you make savings? You make savings out of giving people less support. That's how you make savings.
Who are the people who this is going to result in having to wait longer to access payments? They are people who have come to Australia of whom Australia has said, 'Yes, we want you here because of your skills or your family connection.' They are people who, once they are here and have been contributing, find themselves facing hard times. We should not turn our backs on those people. We should not be trying to save money by attacking multiculturalism. That divides Australia. Australia is a place where we say, 'When you are here, we are going to support you if you find yourself in hard times.' We do not think there should be a waiting list such that you go a period of time without your carers allowance, parental leave payment or dad and partner pay.
This is not a situation where we should be trying to save money and negotiating something that's less worse than it would otherwise have been. This is a situation where we should say to the government: 'Go back to the drawing board, because if what you want to do is improve the situation in the budget there are better ways of doing it. Let's start by making the likes of Gina Rinehart pay the same tax on her diesel fuel that everyone else in this country pays on their petrol.' At the moment, Australian taxpayers give her a rebate of a couple of billion dollars a year. Everyone else pays about 40c a litre in tax on their petrol; when Gina Rinehart puts diesel fuel into her trucks she pays that money and then gets a rebate on it. She gets a big refund cheque courtesy of the Australian taxpayer. She and the mining industry are able to come in here and write favourable tax concessions for themselves, and then we wonder why there's not enough money left in the budget. Well, if we need to find some money, let's go and ask people like that to pay their fair share of tax and wind back some of the unfair tax breaks.
If what they want to do is to improve the situation of newly arrived residents and migrants then let's find ways of doing that, perhaps by reinstating the fund that we negotiated in a previous minority parliament—and it was a very good thing that the Labor government then did—and putting money into a migrant communities employment fund so that people who are facing those barriers and who might find themselves out of work are able to get into good work and into good jobs. Let's do some of those things if that's what they want to do. But do not ask us to come in here and vote for a bill that was roundly slammed when it was subject to the Senate inquiry. And do not expect us to take on face value that the 11 pages of amendments that they've negotiated are going to make life better for people.
Maybe they will—maybe I've got the wrong end of the stick! Maybe this is the most fantastic thing for newly arrived migrants. Maybe I've misunderstood it all completely. But they can't blame us for saying no to this now when we got a press release yesterday and 11 pages of amendments circulated now, and they're just saying to us, 'Trust us, it'll all be okay.' Well, no. If this is about making life harder for people who we should be helping then, no, we cannot support this today.
Hopefully, as this bill progresses through the parliament the government and the opposition will agree to defer this today so that we can have time to scrutinise it. Hopefully, they will allow it to be looked at by the sector and by everyone who is going to be impacted by this so that they can understand whether or not this is a good deal. But if they're not going to do that, don't expect us to support it today. And expect it to be scrutinised heavily as this matter proceeds to the Senate. What we should be about is good legislation and good process. They could have, at least, deigned to circulate a revised explanatory memorandum to tell us about this deal. They couldn't even be bothered to do that, because they had done their deal and that was enough. We're not going to stand for that. Let's have proper scrutiny and let's make sure we are looking after people who need our assistance.