House debates

Monday, 20 August 2018


Social Security Commission Bill 2018; Second Reading

10:15 am

Photo of Cathy McGowanCathy McGowan (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

As independents it is our job to put forward solutions to problems that are impacting on our communities, to give an independent voice to the issues that are ignored by the major parties and to suggest effective solutions to these problems.

My primary role as the member for Indi is to represent my electorate. The budget impact survey is one of the tools I use to seek feedback and advice and ask for solutions from my community.

In this year's budget impact survey 24 per cent of respondents rated social services as one of their top three issues and 80 per cent of respondents ranked social services as either very important or fairly important.

So there is good reason for this being high on my electorate's agenda.

Although nationally there has been strong job creation, we still have areas of high unemployment and underemployment.

When the economy slows, it is young people that are first to have their hours reduced, lose their jobs or struggle to enter the workforce.

Nowhere is the challenge of employment security felt more than in regional Australia.

Where people are uncertain about their future they want to know that the social safety net is there to catch them, to look after them and to propel them forward to the next step.

The recent debate around social security payments being akin to a punishment—making recipients feel ashamed, making them feel embarrassed—does not do what we want it to do.

The experience of a loss of independence and self-esteem is an experience that is felt by so many people relying on the government to support them when they are most in need.

I believe the government should not be looking at welfare payments as a short-term cost but, rather, as a long-term investment, particularly when directed towards investment in our young people.

Social security should support people who are unable to work. It should feature fair returns from work, individualised requirements for participation in the workforce and support services that build individual and family capacity. It should give people a sense of security so that they are able to fully participate in our society.

I believe social security recipients should be able to have a standard of living that allows them to live with dignity.

This bill proposes establishing an independent review process to ensure recipients can live with dignity.

Summary of the b ill

This bill will establish a Social Security Commission to provide the parliament with independent advice on the minimum level for social security payments that meet an acceptable contemporary minimum standard of living.

The primary function of the commission is to conduct social security payment reviews.

As part of a review, the commission would determine:

(a) the acceptable standard of living for recipients of the payment;

(b) whether the current level of the payment provides adequate support; and

(c) a recommended increase to the payment level or rate of indexation.

The commission will consider all social security payments made under the Social Security Act 1991, including pensions, Newstart and youth allowance.

Mr Speaker, I have asked my two colleagues from the crossbench to add value to my comments today.

I would particularly like to acknowledge the work of Brian Lawrence, barrister, and Jeremy Mickle, who is in the House today. I thank Catholic Social Services Australia, UnitingCare and Anglicare for their support in developing this bill.

This bill will bring compassion and fairness to a really important system. It will provide independent, expert and evidence based advice on what is fair and adequate.

I call on the government and the opposition to take a serious look at this approach.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

10:19 am

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and rise in strong support of the member for Indi's bill, the Social Security Commission Bill 2018. I am impressed with the sheer level of detail contained within the member's proposal for a Social Security Commission. It highlights the amount of considered thought and wide-ranging consultation that she and her office have dedicated to this very important matter. That is what we, as a crossbench, are about.

The member for Indi is exactly right when she highlights the fact that social security payments of all descriptions are falling behind community expectations and that they are falling behind the ever-rising cost of living. Her sentiments echo my own concerns. Earlier this year I moved a motion, seconded by the member for Indi, that sought to establish an independent tribunal to assess the base rate of the pension and determine the best mechanism for annual review. It is astounding that in 2018, when we have an ageing population, that these are issues we have to fight for in the parliament. It should just be accepted; it should be given that we want to provide the most vulnerable members of our community with the best support possible for a good life—particularly our older Australians.

It's a logical extension of that proposal that Australia should apply the same formula to all social security payments through the open and deliberative commission model advanced in this bill and to publicly release the findings of that commission. That is what we need. We need transparency, because this transparency allows for a measured public conversation to occur. It is a very complex area of policy, and one that I think is often demonised and finds itself on the front of our broadsheets. It is not deserving of that place. Elected representatives should and would continue to have the final say on what is ultimately a deeply social, economic and political decision for the government of the day, but that decision can then be made with reference to a calm, collected, open and pragmatic policy development process.

In conclusion, I commend the member on her excellent work. This is what we are here for: we are here to create a better Australia. We are not here to squabble amongst ourselves. The efforts of this parliament should not be taken up with half of the members worried about who the leader of their team should be. So this is about creating a better Australia. This is what the parliament's about, and I strongly urge the House to support this bill.

Mr Speaker, I thank the member for Indi for her solid work in this area and seek leave to table the member for Denison's contribution, if that is possible.

Leave granted.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.