House debates

Tuesday, 24 June 2014


Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 1) Bill 2014, Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 2) Bill 2014; Consideration in Detail

9:22 pm

Photo of Jenny MacklinJenny Macklin (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Families and Payments) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move opposition amendments (1) to (12) in relation to the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No.1) Bill 2014, and amendments (1) to (17) in relation to the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No.2) Bill 2014 as circulated in my name together:

Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No.1) Bill 2014

(1) Clause 2, page 2 (table item 2), omit the table item.

(2) Clause 2, page 2 (cell at table item 10, column 1), omit "Schedules 5 and 6", substitute "Schedule 5".

(3) Clause 2, page 2 (cell at table item 11, column 1) omit "Schedules 7 and 8", substitute "Schedule 8".

(4) Schedule 1, page 4 (line 1) to page 14 (line 5), omit the Schedule.

(5) Schedule 3, page 69 (line 3), omit the heading.

(6) Schedule 3, item 1, page 69 (lines 4 to 9), omit the item.

(7) Schedule 3, items 3 and 4, page 69 (lines 14 to 19), omit the items.

(8) Schedule 3, item 6, page 69 (lines 22 and 23), omit the item.

(9) Schedule 3, item 7, page 70 (lines 1 to 5), omit subsection 1192(5AA).

(10) Schedule 3, items 8 and 9, page 70 (lines 9 to 16), omit the items.

(11) Schedule 6, page 78 (line 1) to page 88 (line 4), omit the Schedule.

(12) Schedule 7, page 89 (lines 1 to 15), omit the Schedule.

Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 2) Bill 2014

(1) Clause 2, page 2 (table items 3 and 4), omit the table items.

(2) Clause 2, page 2 (cell at table item 5, column 1), omit "to 8", substitute "to 5".

(3) Clause 2, page 2 (table items 6, 7 and 8), omit the table items.

(4) Clause 2, page 2 (table items 10 and 11), omit the table items.

(5) Schedule 1, item 1, page 4 (lines 7 to 14), omit subsections 1192(5AC) and (5AD).

(6) Schedule 1, item 1, page 4 (line 15), omit ", 20, 35 and 36", substitute "and 20".

(7) Schedule 1, item 2, page 4 (line 21), omit "4, 6, 7, 8, 11 and 12", substitute "6, 7 and 8".

(8) Schedule 1, Parts 2 and 3, page 5 (line 1) to page 8 (line 23), omit the Parts.

(9) Schedule 6, page 28 (line 1) to page 34 (line 22), omit the Schedule.

(10) Schedule 7, page 35 (line 1) to page 41 (line 9), omit the Schedule.

(11) Schedule 8, page 42 (line 1) to page 49 (line 30), omit the Schedule.

(12) Schedule 9, page 50 (line 1) to page 66 (line 18), omit the Schedule.

(13) Schedule 10, items 1 to 6, page 67 (lines 4 to 20), omit the items.

(14) Schedule 10, items 9 to 22, page 68 (line 4) to page 70 (line 13), omit the items.

(15) Schedule 10, item 23, page 70 (line 14) to page 72 (line 9), omit the item, substitute:

23 Application provision

  The amendments made by items 7 and 8 apply in relation to working out the rate of family tax benefit for days on or after the commencement of those items.

(16) Schedule 11, page 73 (line 1) to page 74 (line 3), omit the Schedule.

(17) Schedule 12, page 75 (line 1) to page 78 (line 16), omit the Schedule.

As I have already given substantial indication of the reasons for these amendments in my speech in the second reading debate, I will not take the time of the house. Because of the gag motion that has been imposed on the House by the government, I will give the opportunity to my colleagues to contribute.

9:23 pm

Photo of Tim WattsTim Watts (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this part of the debate, given that I was next on the list to speak before the government gagged those on this side of the House from contributing on this bill. I have a question for the government in this part of the debate. We have heard a lot of talk about the supposed welfare crisis that is the justification for this bill and an unsustainable welfare system in Australia. We have heard the talk about ending the age of entitlement. My question for those opposite is: where is this crisis?

We can see clearly, when you consider the entire OECD, that Australia spends less on welfare as a proportion of GDP than any other country except Iceland. That is less even than the notoriously parsimonious United States. In fact, we could spend up to $60 billion more on our welfare system and still not meet the US spend as a proportion of GDP. When welfare expenditure in Australia accounted for just 8.6 per cent of GDP in 2013, significantly less than the OECD average of 13 per cent, those on the side of the House ask: where is the welfare crisis?

The Melbourne Institute recently released a report demonstrating that reliance on welfare amongst Australians has been decreasing over the last decade and that the percentage of people of working age receiving a welfare payment each week declined from 23 per cent in 2001 to 18 per cent in 2011. Further, it demonstrated that the number of households that are almost entirely dependent on welfare payments has decreased by almost 30 per cent since 2001. Again I ask: where is the welfare crisis?

These figures deal with the total quantum of welfare. But, if we look at where welfare payments go in Australia, we see a healthy, effective and targeted welfare system in this country. To quote from my good friend Matthew Cowgill at the Australian Council of Trade Unions, ABS figures from 2009-10 show that the poorest 20 per cent of Australian households received an average of $323 a week in cash benefits while the richest received just $22 per week—a ratio of $14.7 to a poor household for every dollar that goes to the richest.

Peter Whitford from the Australian National University has shown that a far larger proportion of our cash benefits go to the poorest households than in any other advanced economy. Not only do rich Australians receive a tiny share of welfare spending but their share is smaller than it used to be in the 1980s and early 1990s. The idea that Australia is a land of rampant middle- and upper-class welfare is a myth.

The next question I have those opposite is: how are the vulnerable in our society supposed to survive if they are unable to find a job in the cruel world created by this bill? The learn or earn policy detailed in this bill is, perhaps, one of the cruellest cuts outlined by the Abbott government in the budget. It is no secret that youth unemployment in segments of Australia is reaching a crisis point. Figures released by the Brotherhood of St Laurence earlier this year indicate that around Australia around 12.4 four per cent of our young people are unable to find work—a figure that is rising. In Melbourne's west, in my electorate, the figure is even higher—13.6 per cent of young people in Melbourne's west are not able to find employment to support themselves. These youth need all the help they can get to get back into the workforce. They should not be punished for not finding jobs that simply do not exist. The changes in Newstart and Youth Allowance in the bills under consideration will do this. If after six months of income support a young person has not yet found a job they will be required to take part in the Work for the Dole scheme. If after this period of time they are still unable to find work, they will lose all welfare payments for a further period of six months. That is six months without any form of income support at all. It is not so much ripping a hole in the social safety net as throwing it away altogether.

I further ask the minister: is it not true that they know what the impacts of these cruel budget cuts will be on people in electorates like my own? The fact that the budget includes money to cover the, quote, 'additional emergency services' required due to this learn-or-earn budget is a dead giveaway. The government is allocating additional money in the budget for the poverty that they are, in fact, creating. It would be funny if it was not so horrific for thousands of young Australians in Australia. There will be thousands of people affected by these cruel changes. The Department of Social Services admitted that they were expecting 500,000 new claims for emergency assistance as a result of these measures—half a million Australians abandoned by the Abbott government all for the sake of an extreme, factless ideological attack on Australia's effective and efficient welfare system. These are measures that will fall hard upon unemployed youth in our country.

The next question I have for those opposite is: how can they look Australian families in the eye after going to last election promising to ease cost-of-living pressures on Australian families and then, after the federal budget, ripping $7.5 billion from family payments? These bills contain freezes on the rates and thresholds of family tax benefits A and B. They also include a freeze on the low-income area for tax benefit A. According to the Department of Social Services, this will see more 370,000 Australian families around $750 a year worse off. So I ask those opposite, who promised to ease cost-of-living pressures on Australian families, how they look Australian parents in the eye.

9:28 pm

Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The bills that we are considering in detail today have been the cause of incredible fear in my community in Hotham, and it is with an incredibly heavy heart that I rise to speak against these bills that will really, sadly, see the worst fears of those people in my community realised. If there is one question I have for the minister today it is: how could you do this to people who trusted you so much during the election?

These bills let Australians know how cruel this government is. For those of us who are looking this evening for a silver lining, if there is one out there it is that it exposes the values that sit in the hearts of the decision makers that we sit opposite. What I am coming to realise after a few months in this parliament is that the Australia that the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and Minister for Social Services live in is a very different Australia to that which I see my neighbours living in around East Bentleigh, right in the heart of Hotham.

The Australia that the Treasurer and the Prime Minister live in is a place where poor people go to the doctor too frequently just because they do not have anything better to do. It is where unemployed young people are getting plenty of great job offers but are just too fussy to accept any of them. It is a nation where $800 that many pensioners used to pay their electricity bills is seen as a cash splash. It is a nation where young Australians are simply not paying enough for their university education.

But this is not the Australia that I live in, and I do not believe that these values reflect the values of the Australian people. I believe that as a country we rise together. As our economy grows we should all benefit from it, and that sits at the heart of the welfare system that we have.

There are so many truly devastating changes in the bills that are before us today that I do not have time to talk about all of them. But there are three big areas that I want to touch on, which will particularly affect the people that I represent in Hotham. The first is the change to pensions. I looked, for a while, in the Real Solutions document before I came to the chamber this afternoon, desperately looking for the sentence which talked about the changes that would be made to seniors' supplements and the changes that would be made to pensions. But, alas, all that I found was empty rhetoric about how concerned this coalition was about the living costs of seniors.

The Prime Minister misled and betrayed millions of Australians who rely on government for part or all of their incomes: 2.3 million people are already trying to make ends meet on the age pension. I want to remind the House that when Labor was in government we legislated for the biggest increase to pensions in 100 years, and tonight that increase is being lost.

I want to talk a little about changes to family tax benefits A and B, which will affect many families in my seat of Hotham. I was contacted, quite soon after the budget, by a mother in my electorate—Stephanie. She was recently widowed and is trying to raise two daughters by herself on a part-time public service income. She is a very smart, very motivated woman, and she is trying to plan for her daughters' futures. She contacted me because she genuinely could not understand what the government was trying to do to her family with the changes to the family tax benefits and what this would mean for her and for her girls.

As a result of the budget, including the measures in the bills that are before us, a single-income couple on $65,000 with two school-aged children will be about $6,000 worse off, every year, by 2016. So I ask the minister, in this consideration in detail: how could you do this to families who trusted you during the election? How could you possibly justify these changes?

It is difficult, amongst a bevvy of absolute nasties in these bills, to single out the cruellest measure but I believe that it is the change that is being made to New Start. What Australia are these people living in that would made them think that they can take unemployment benefits from young people for six months? I do not understand what the plan is here. What do they want these young people to do? Perhaps in the world of the Treasurer and the Prime Minister young people who are in these positions live in family homes with families that can support them, but in my electorate and in many parts of the country that is simply not the case. We are facing crises of youth unemployment around the country. At the same time the government has cut training and apprenticeships it tells young people to earn or learn. I just cannot believe the gall.

The context for this has been fabricated from the very beginning. I do not have time to go into it. We are not in a budget emergency. The Australian budget is in ship shape. Labor took us through a financial crisis and left our economy in great condition. These bills are totally unjustified.

9:33 pm

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fraser, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a pleasure, in this debate, to follow the contributions of the member for Jagajaga, the member for Gellibrand and the member for Hotham—three Labor members whose careers in politics have been founded on the notion that we must work for those more vulnerable than ourselves.

It is a pleasure for me to follow them because the legislation we are debating tonight goes to the heart of the Australian social contract—a social contract that says that an egalitarian tradition is something that Australians hold dear. Australians believe in a fair go. You can see that if you go to any institution in the land. The AFL, for example, manages to be a highly interesting sporting code, where teams go from rags to riches to rags, from the bottom to the top and back to the bottom of the table. Take the military as an example. Its great success has been in its egalitarian engagement. In places like Somalia, it is our military that gets out and talks with common folks rather than standing back and just listening to tribal leaders.

That egalitarian Australia is under threat due to a rise in inequality over the last generation so that inequality is now the highest it has been in three-quarters of a century. We have seen earnings for the top 10 per cent go up three times faster than earnings for the bottom 10 per cent. The income share of the top one per cent has doubled. The top 0.1 per cent income share has tripled. The wealthiest three Australians, who can, together, sit in the back seat of a limousine, have more wealth than the poorest one million Australians—the population of Adelaide.

In that environment you would think that a government should be working to look after the most vulnerable, yet we have a Treasurer who believes that half of all Australians are leaners. I challenge the Treasurer to identify those leaners. Are those leaners aged pensioners like the aged pensioner who contacted me and told me about her life of contribution to the nation, her four working children and her six grandchildren? She said to me, 'I am one of those pensioners whose sole income is the pension. I have no superannuation payments; nothing. I feel sad, depressed and scared for my ability to pay my way when all the cuts start.' Is she a leaner? I would like the Treasurer to tell me.

Is a leaner someone like the single parent who contacted me, who has worked hard to support herself and her two boys and is to be made redundant this year? She is one of 16,500 public servants who are facing redundancy as a result of this government's broken promise on public service job cuts. Is that sole parent raising two kids a leaner? I would like to hear the Treasurer say so to her face.

When the Treasurer talks about leaners is he speaking about carers who are up three, four or five times in the night because the person for whom they care is calling out and they need to be by their side? Is that the kind of person the Treasurer thinks of as a leaner? The fundamental problem with this government is that the members leading the government are unable to put themselves in the shoes of the most vulnerable. They cannot put themselves in the shoes of someone who lacks financial literacy—a low-income earner like those who invested their life savings in Storm Financial, Trio Capital or Timbercorp and lost them as a result of inadequate financial protections. They cannot put themselves in the shoes of an age pensioner who is expecting the pension on which they depend to go up with wages, and who hears the Prime Minister's mealy-mouthed words in question time: 'Pensions will continue to increase.' Well, Prime Minister, they are not increasing at the rate these pensioners expect them to, due to your broken promise.

This is a budget which breaks promises like so much kindling. It is not just a budget which increases the deficit. Let us not worry about comparisons with the Treasurer's budget update last year; let us make the comparison with the pre-election economic and fiscal outlook. Compared to that, it is a budget that increases the deficit. The great flaw in this budget is that it breaches the fair go test, and that is why this government wants to talk about anything other than the budget. That is why members and backbenchers want to go out and speak to their constituents about anything other than the broken promises and the breach of the social contract. It is a social contract Australians have held dear and which, as previous members have so articulately highlighted, has been buttressed by a means tested social security net. (Time expired)

9:38 pm

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I wish to ask the minister a question at the end of this because, with my experience of the Minister for Social Services, I realise he is a man of great empathy and compassion. Why do I say that? Because I know the Minister for Social Services does not see victims in our society and our community, as members on the other side would lead us to believe; he sees that every person in our community has potential and he wants every person in our community to have a great chance of having the best life they can. He does not want them to believe they are a victim and that they need saving. He wants them to see themselves as people with unlimited potential, and that is what so many of the elements of this bill are about.

I would like to share with you and the chamber a story that just happened to me in the last few months. I had a group of people come to me in February and March, asking me to be the ambassador for a program which was going to find 75 jobs in a month. We were going to find 75 jobs in 30 days for people with a disability. We sat down and talked with some of the key stakeholders in my community, and we said: 'We do not want it to be a failure. If we get 10 people with a disability a job in the month of March that would be a success, so why don't we say the aim of the program is to get 50 jobs?'

Do know how many jobs we found in the month of March? It was not 50—it was not what we put the figure at. It was not 75, which was the initial target we thought we would set. It was 115. It was 115 because, again, we did not see anybody as a victim. We did not see the shortcomings in anyone. We saw everyone with the potential to have a job and a lifestyle that was going to be more suitable to their enjoyment.

The changes that come into effect for the disability support pension on 1 July will help support young people with a disability to enter the workforce if they are able to do so. One of the people I came into contact with while I was ambassador for this program was two-time Paralympics gold medallist Tracy Barell, who launched what we called the Page disability jobs search. Tracy was born without legs and with only one arm. She is independent; she gets around on a skateboard. She has two children and has won two gold medals but she told the jobs drive launch the hardest thing she has ever had to do was get a job. She said:

People sometimes talk to me like I'm deaf. I say, "I'm missing my legs, not my ears."

She went on to say:

We've got dreams and hopes and aspirations that we want to have our own homes and holidays and be able to buy cars. And we want to be able to work to achieve this.

Like Tracy, this bill recognises that people with a disability who are able to participant in the workforce will have better long-term outcomes if they can engage in the workforce. Tracy is confident, but many people on the disability support pension are not, because we have told them in the past they do not have the ability to work—that they have nothing to contribute to society.

That is plain wrong. Instead of rejecting the many skills and abilities people with a disability have, we should embrace and encourage them. Whether it is compulsory work focused activities such as work experience, education or training, the social, economic and health benefits of active participation for disability support pension recipients under 35 years cannot be overstated. So my question to the minister is: what measures are contained in this bill that will encourage greater workforce participation among people living with a disability?

9:43 pm

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

These bills, collectively, really expose the cruelty this government is subjecting the Australian people to tonight. These bills put on full display a long list of broken promises that were pitched at the Australian people. This is not budget the Australian people were expecting and it is certainly not the budget the people of Newcastle were expecting to see.

I really want to spend this time highlighting the impacts, for young people in particular, of these measures that are before us. These measures are cutting young job seekers off from Newstart for a period of six months. It is an incredible attack on a generation of young people who are looking for work and who are being pushed into hardship and, indeed, poverty.

These measures are amongst the harshest that are contained within these bills. They will see young people left without income support for a period of six months, possibly longer, at a time when they are incredibly vulnerable and in fact need assistance in order to be actively job seeking. What this government is effectively saying is, 'When you have found yourself unemployed we are cutting you off for six months and you are out there on your own.' I would like to share with the House some lived reality for a constituent of mine, Julie, who contacted me on this very issue. She wrote:

Hi Sharon

I am a 20-year-old who is currently completing a certificate III in cultural and information services at Hunter TAFE. My course finishes late next month and instead of being excited about the future I am utterly terrified thanks to the Abbott government's budget, and for the first time it has made me question if I have a future in Australia.

The Treasurer keeps going on about the best kind of welfare being a job for an unemployed person on Newstart. He would be right if there were actually any jobs being created, and I was not hearing 'We aren't employing anyone at the moment' ringing in my ears every time I go to hand a business my resume, or being told that I do not have enough experience to do the job despite all the work I have put in to ensure that I have the skills they are asking for even when I got to the interview stage.

Please inform Mr Hockey I do not use my Newstart allowance the cigarettes and alcohol, I use it to get myself to job interviews, to help my retired dad to keep a roof over my head, buying interview clothes in the hope that I might actually get an interview and paying for internet access so I can search for jobs online so I can be rejected on the web and have whatever confidence I have left crushed, not just when I meet an employer face-to-face.

Maybe Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey should spend a week actually trying to live on Newstart allowance and looking for work in the current climate because they have no idea what it is like and at the moment I have no belief that I have a bright future ahead of me despite all the courses I have done. Their budget is cruel, inhumane, heartbreaking and scary. Thanks for reading this.

That is the reality of one job seeker in Newcastle. The notion that this government provides no hope for a younger generation of Australians is truly horrifying. These young men and women feel that they have been left abandoned. They have seen cuts into the education system, they are seeing attacks on their employment prospects and now they are seeing that this is a government that has no capacity to lend them the support and assistance they are going to require in order to be active participants and productive members of society, helping them when they need some support to go job seeking.

Those attacks on young people at this time when people feel their jobs are particularly insecure and finding it difficult is perhaps amongst the most vicious aspects of these particular bills before us. It is estimated that there are some 500,000 new claims for emergency assistance that are going to be expected as a result of this particular measure. My question to the minister is how does he intend to provide for those half a million— (Time expired)

9:48 pm

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party, Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I indicated at the outset of my remarks that the government will oppose the amendments which have been moved by the Labor Party. It is almost as if the Labor Party live in a parallel universe. In fact, they do. The member for Hotham talked about the big increases under Labor. She did not mention the biggest deficits and the biggest debts that any government had left a successive government in Australia. She said that the budget was left in shipshape. If this was a budget left in shipshape, I would hate to see one that was sinking—$123 billion of accumulated deficits and a $667 billion trajectory of Commonwealth debt is hardly shipshape. If the budget was shipshape then we would not be in this regrettable situation that we are at the present time.

The member for Hotham also talked about youth homelessness. Which was the government that did not continue the funding for youth homelessness and homelessness programs except for another 12 months? It was the Labor Party when they were in government. So the contributions from the Labor Party in relation to these matters are totally delusional. The Labor Party managed the trifecta. I know the Leader of the Opposition likes a punt now and again, but what was the Labor Party's trifecta? First it was deception in terms of saying year after year that they were going to deliver a surplus and never did. The second leg of the trifecta was debt, $667 billion the trajectory for the Commonwealth debt.

Mr Snowdon interjecting

Photo of Eric HutchinsonEric Hutchinson (Lyons, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker, I draw your attention to the fact that the member for Lingiari is not in his seat and he is interjecting.

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Lingiari is out of order. The minister has the call.

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party, Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

The final leg of the trifecta is the one we have seen played out in this place day after day. After deception and debt we have now got denial from the Labor Party—denial that anything was ever wrong, denial that we have got these huge deficits, denial that we have got the largest Commonwealth debt ever in the history of this country. So we have got deception, debt and denial as the trifecta of the Labor Party.

Can I say briefly in the last few seconds available to me to the member for Page that I want to congratulate him and commend him on that initiative of getting disabled people into employment in his electorate. Disabled people in my experience actually want to be in the workforce. Disabled people want to contribute to the country. That program that the member for Page has put in place is highly commendable. It is why we are doing things like ensuring that the budget is sustainable, so that we can afford things like the NDIS in the future. I commend these measures to the House. (Time expired)

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allocated to this debate has expired. The question is that the amendments be agreed to.

10:01 pm

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

In accordance with the resolution agreed to earlier, I now put the question that the bills be agreed to.