House debates

Monday, 21 June 2021


Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022; Consideration in Detail

12:23 pm

Photo of Linda BurneyLinda Burney (Barton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | Hansard source

The past year has reminded all Australians of the importance and the value of our social security system. It exists and functions to ensure that Australians can live with dignity, no matter their employment status, their age or whether they or a loved one have a disability. Australians understand that life can be random and unpredictable. You never know when one day you may need a bit of extra help, and Labor will always seek to strengthen and improve our Social Security system. Our pensioners have worked hard and contributed all their lives. They deserve respect, and they deserve to live with dignity.

However, over the past year this government has either cut or tried to cut the pension. In 2015, they did a deal with the Greens that saw 370,000 pensioners receive $12,000 less a year. In 2014, they cut $1 billion out of the pensioner concessions. They have spent five of the last eight years trying to increase the pension age to 70, and just last year they were caught trying to freeze the pension by refusing indexation. The short-changing of pensioners by this government continues on the unreasonably high deeming rates. While the reserve cash rate is 0.1 per cent, this government continues to maintain an upper deeming rate of 2.25 per cent. My first question for the government is: why is the government pushing pensioners into risky investments by short-changing them with this unreasonably high pension deeming rate?

The cashless debit card the minister has referred to is something that we understand very well. It insinuates that Australians looking for work have chosen unemployment. The news is in: the cashless debit card has not changed behaviour in the trial sites. Labor will fight the cashless debit card every chance we get. We don't think quarantining 80 per cent of a social security payment and having, in some cases, the capacity for 100 per cent is right. My second question to the government: is why won't the government come clean about its secret plan to roll out the cashless debit card nationally? It is perfectly obvious that there is a working group with the big banks and the payment systems. Why does that exist if there is not going to be an expansion?

Most importantly, today I want to speak about the redress scheme, something that is fundamental to the work that we do in parliament and an enormously important Labor legacy. One of the major programs the Department of Social Services has been the administrator of is the National Redress Scheme. It follows the royal commission into institutional child sexual abuse and the national apology to survivors. This nation made a commitment to deliver redress—redress that is timely, redress that does not retraumatise, redress that survivors can have confidence in. The royal commission estimated that 60,000 survivors would be eligible for redress. As of 26 March 2021, three years after the Senate commenced, only 5,266 applications have been finalised. It is clear that too many survivors have been left waiting or are missing out altogether. Too many applications remain in limbo as institutions named in applications for redress refuse to do the right thing and join the scheme. Some elderly or terminally ill survivors have died without receiving redress and survivors are seeing their payments being chipped away by a low cap, the indexation of prior payments and being pushed into the costly and lengthy court systems.

In February Labor moved a suite of amendments to get the scheme more effectively delivering for survivors, to collect contributions from institutions refusing to join the scheme, for governments to act as funders of last resort, for an early payment scheme and to lift the cap on payments to reshape the assessment framework.

My final question to the government is: will the government commit to these amendments to get the scheme back on track, and when will it release its legislated two-year review?


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