Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Matters of Public Importance
I rise as the final speaker for the Labor Party in this matter of public importance debate. My colleagues who have spoken previously have demonstrated what this budget actually stands for. We have highlighted its inadequacy, we've highlighted its unfairness and we've highlighted the fact that it is a lot of smoke and mirrors.
I have spoken today on a number of occasions about this budget, particularly as it relates to the energy assistance that's supposedly provided, but let me start by saying that age pensions are at the heart of what we're really talking about here. For many years, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, we saw that the Turnbull-Morrison-Abbott government attempted time and time again to undermine age pensioners, in concessions, in reducing the amount and trying to do away with the energy supplement and also advocating that the pension age should rise to 70.
I'm glad that we have in the House today the shadow minister who is responsible for the issues around Centrelink. We have seen 2,500 jobs cut from Centrelink and, in the budget last night, another 200. This is at a time when it's virtually impossible to get any service from Centrelink, particularly in terms of wait times, especially for age pensioners making an application for an age pension. We've also seen the robo-debt debacle, and we are afraid that one of the savings measures in the budget could in fact turbocharge that robo-debt debacle.
But the real issue, apart from everything that has been raised today, is what has happened over the last 24 years in terms of the energy assistance payment. In the budget last night it was announced as it applied to some people who are in receipt of benefits, but amazingly it left out most. Significantly, it did not cover people who are on Newstart. Last night the Treasurer said they weren't going to be included and then, this morning, he said they would be included. At the National Press Club in the middle of the day we saw a stunning admission from the Treasurer who said: 'So we excluded Newstart originally from it last night. The Prime Minister, the finance minister and I discussed the issue and we thought it was appropriate to extend it.' I note that the Minister for Social Services was not part of that discussion. Is this an admission of callous incompetence? Who will ever know?
The National Disability Insurance Scheme, as I outlined this morning in the House, is $1.6 billion of the predicted surplus. I remind everyone that the predicted surplus is built on the back of people with disability. The NDIS rollout under this government has been a debacle—five ministers in five years and 77,000 people missing out on the NDIS in this year alone. I've just had the member who represents the Blue Mountains talking to me about the issues in her electorate. Everyone in this House knows that people with disability and their families are incredibly distressed. Some of the cruelty, callousness and chaos of this government have shaken me and my colleagues to the core. Those opposite have made me ask some serious questions about the responsibility we have to each other.
Labor will work to ensure that income support is accessible as and when Australians need it. Labor will work to get the NDIS back on track and deliver on its promise to people with disability. We will review the adequacy of Newstart. Labor believes in a social security system that ensures that all Australians get a fair go when they need it most. Labor believes that we are all in this together and that we all have a collective responsibility towards each other, and Australians can count on this from a Shorten Labor government. My colleagues have demonstrated in this debate just how inadequate, how shambolic and how callous this budget is. The Australian people will not be fooled—they will not be fooled by cash handouts; they will not be fooled in relation to the so-called tax debate that's going on in relation to this budget. A Shorten Labor government will deliver equity and fairness to all.