Wednesday, 31 May 2023
Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Safety Net) Bill 2023; Second Reading
I move, as an amendment to the second reading amendment moved by the member for Deakin:
That all words after "second reading" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
"the House calls on the government to ensure no one is left behind and lift all income support payments above the poverty line".
Australia is in the midst of a housing crisis that is leaving more people in poverty than ever before. Inflation and the cost of living have soared while household incomes have not even shifted. Students, young people, disabled people, renters and entire communities are being asked to choose between turning on the heater and buying groceries. Meanwhile, the Labor government have shown, through their latest budget, that they care more about the approval of corporate CEOs in board rooms across the country than they do about the people facing hunger and homelessness. The Labor Party's budget has left people behind in the midst of a housing crisis, leaving people in poverty, and they won't even acknowledge that they're doing it.
We know from evidence to the poverty inquiry, chaired by my colleague Senator Rice, and from the voices we've heard directly in communities across the country that poverty compounds disadvantage. There are impacts on young people, on students, on LGBTIQA+ communities, on disabled people, on single parents, on older people and on a number of other groups. As the Greens spokesperson on students and young people, I want to talk particularly about the impacts of the housing crisis and poverty on those groups. The latest data which was compiled by the Australian Council of Social Services shows that the average rate of poverty in 2019-2020 was 17 per cent among children and 14 per cent among young people 15 to 24 years of age. More than one in six children in this country live in poverty. Those figures were prepared before the latest inflation surges. They show that we were already in a crisis, and everyone knows—we can feel—that it has gotten worse.
I want to particularly mention the powerful report prepared by the National Union of Students, Locked out of Youth Allowance:Student Poverty + Centrelink in Australia. Eighty-six per cent of students said that not being able to access youth allowance negatively impacted their financial stability, 38 per cent said it impacted their housing stability and 65 per cent said it negatively impacted their mental health. That report also includes direct evidence from people forced to rely on inadequate payments or with no access to them at all. Jesse, who's 23, said:
One day a friend and I were having a chat about how much Youth Allowance and other payments from work we were receiving—and we realised we were living way under the poverty line. That's when it really hit me that this isn't the way I should be living right now.
Darcy, who's 23, said:
Receiving the COVID supplement was the first time in my life I experienced financial stability. Which was a real revelation for me—it's actually this easy to not suffer.
Sarah, 23, said:
Receiving the COVID supplement in 2020 meant that I didn't have to stress so much about work and losing my job. My grades actually went up a lot during that period, because I was able to focus more on my degree.
Another student said, if they had received Youth Allowance payments:
I would have probably, as a disabled person, been able to work less and focus more on my education. I ended up having to study part time and take time off in order to work and pay rent.
The scariest part of it was that I needed to get verification from my parents that it was unreasonable for me to live at home. Which is a ridiculous barrier that people face in accessing Youth Allowance, often when it's not safe for people to live at home it's difficult to get that proof and people usually won't even have a relationship with their parents.
QUT Student Guild President Zoe Davidson was quoted in the ABC about the crisis students are facing:
Young people are facing a crisis and this budget effectively gives them nothing.
The challenges young people face on inadequate payments are compounded by the housing crisis, and recent research from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute highlights just how devastating this housing crisis is for young people. Their report notes:
For teenagers and young adults (aged 12 to 24), high housing costs have extra impacts, including issues of not being able to escape family violence or being able to stabilise life paths, as well as simply having the space to establish an identity independent from their family of origin.
The 2021 Census shows that young adults aged 19 to 24 years have the highest rate of homelessness of any age group, with 91 people of every 10,000 Australians aged 19-24 (and 53 of every 10,000 Australians aged 12-18) being homeless. Nearly one in four of all people experiencing homelessness (23%) is aged 12 to 24 years.
It's particularly devastating because we know that this is something the government could act on. The Greens have been calling on the government to coordinate and implement a freeze on rent increases for a long time now, but we have seen no action, despite recent polling showing 60 per cent of people in this country support that approach. I am disappointed. I feel betrayed that Labor has left people behind in this budget. I feel particularly betrayed, given all the statements that the Prime Minister and other Labor leaders have made before the election about not leaving people behind. There was a time when the Labor Party used to talk about giving a helping hand to people who needed it. They said it was the light on the hill that they were striving for. In fact, former prime minister Ben Chifley said in a speech:
We have a great objective—the light on the hill—which we aim to reach by working the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand. If it were not for that, the Labor movement would not be worth fighting for.
To paraphrase that statement, I ask a question to the members opposite: if you spent an entire election campaign saying no one would be left behind, and now you're in government just to continue the status quo, and give tax cuts and exceptions to billionaires but only $2.85 a day to people living below the poverty line, what was the point?
I thank and congratulate Labor MPs and all the MPs in this parliament who had the courage to at least sign the open letter calling for the government to substantially increase Jobseeker, Youth Allowance and related income support payments so as to not leave people in need behind. That includes the member for Canberra, the member for Higgins, the member for Boothby, the member for Jagajaga, the member for Wills, the newly elected member for Aston, the member for Chisholm and the member for Hindmarsh. I also thank the member for Bass for her advocacy to increase the rate of income support. Similarly, I thank those members of the crossbench who have advocated for action and called for the government to do more. But, particularly to those Labor MPs, I would say that as well as your voices, people on income support need your votes. There will be votes in this parliament about the rate of income support today and into the future. We have a second reading amendment calling for the increase to income support payments. Actions speak louder than words—and that is true in this place as well.
The Greens were the only party to have our entire federal party room sign on to that open letter, and we were the only party that had a clear election platform before the election with a commitment to lift all income support payments above the poverty line. Sadly, we know this could all be so different. We can actually write budgets and policies that value human lives. The Labor Party's failure to act really underlines the central issue here—that poverty is a political choice. That's borne out by the choices the Labor government has made since it has come into government. The stage 3 tax cuts will now cost $313 billion over a decade. The AUKUS submarines will cost up to $368 billion over their lifetime. And the Labor Party has chosen to give the gas giants $94.5 billion, bypassing any meaningful changes to genuinely tax fossil fuel corporations. Now, these are all political choices, made at the same time that the Labor Party is telling everyone out there that all they'll get is $2.85 a day while they're left behind on income support payments which are well below the poverty line.