Wednesday, 24 May 2017
Since my election on 2 July I have been inundated with emails, phone calls, Facebook messages and visits to my office about this government. They have been visiting me and they have been complaining to me about how their lives as ordinary Australians are getting continually harder and harder. Many of these complaints have been from seniors, who live right across the electorate of Longman. These elderly constituents are one of the groups in my community that need government the most, and it is not right that the government expects them just to sit down and be quiet and accept a tough deal.
I wanted to spend some time when I was first elected hearing about the issues and concerns of my constituents. So I organised a seniors forum, alongside my fellow federal Labor MP, the member for Lilley, Wayne Swan—he came up to listen to seniors with me. It was an open and honest discussion with constituents all across the electorate, with issues pertaining to seniors in particular in our community. It was a great turnout and by the sheer number of people who did turn out one thing was really clear: the seniors in my electorate felt really let down by this government.
That forum was a few weeks ago now; actually it was just before the budget was announced. Now what seniors are telling me is that they are not happy. Some were optimistic that the 2017-18 budget would change their level of happiness with the government. But it is not difficult to imagine how they felt when they heard that there was little in the budget to help them ease the day-to-day pressures. The budget would rather give a huge tax break to banks and big businesses than to look after our seniors. I will give you a hint: now the budget has been handed down, they are definitely not feeling any happier at all. Any reasonable government would recognise this and would take some remedial measures—any reasonable government, just not this one. This government makes things worse.
It was not that long ago that the failures of the government's Centrelink robo-debt scheme began to come to light. There were inaccurate bills, invasions of privacy, and the unnecessary inducement of anxiety and stress on those affected by the robo-debt scheme. Again, any reasonable government would have ended the scheme and found more suitable ways to reclaim the funds—just not this government. This government is instead looking to do exactly the opposite. Despite all of the complications and public furore, this government actually seeks to expand the program. And, to make things worse, the expansion is explicitly to target pensioners.
The previous iteration of the Centrelink debt collection saga caused many horrible effects. Many reported stress and anxiety, and one tragically took their own life. As everyone in parliament would agree, these are truly devastating outcomes, outcomes that should be avoided, outcomes that must be avoided, outcomes that can be prevented from happening. Targeting elderly Australians in this way is dangerous. They do not need the extra pressure. They do not need the extra stress and they do not deserve to be treated like this. The elderly are one of the most vulnerable groups in our society and they will suffer if they are made to endure the indecent persecution by the government's Department of Human Services.
Can I just be clear: I am by no means against government debt recovery in general, absolutely not. But what I stand strongly against is this government's cold and ill-conceived approach in targeting our country's neediest and most vulnerable. So, to this government, to the Minister for Human Services, I call on you to learn from your mistakes and to prevent the expansion of the robodebt program. I call on you not to target our pensioners with an ill-conceived and deeply flawed program that will no doubt encourage more issues than it resolves. I call on this government, I call on the Minister for Human Services, to instead look at ways in which they can help ease the day-to-day lives of our nation's seniors.