House debates

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Grievance Debate

Asylum Seekers

5:19 pm

Photo of Alicia PayneAlicia Payne (Canberra, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this evening to draw attention to the unprecedented cruelty and complete lack of humanity we have seen from the Morrison government. The Morrison government has no vision for Australia because they don't care about Australians, only themselves and hanging onto government. We see that no more than this week, where they're focused on their internal leadership struggles while we're in a global pandemic. We have seen the member for New England back as the Deputy Prime Minister while we still have many people waiting for when they can be vaccinated. We are seeing this week that people are going to have to stop getting the Pfizer vaccine for their first dose, because we don't have enough of it and we need to prioritise those who can get their second dose. These should be the issues that are at the forefront of this government's mind this week, but instead we're seeing leadership challenges and a new Deputy Prime Minister.

Nothing typifies the cruelty of this government more than their treatment of the Murugappan family—the Biloela family—where we had to see a little three-year-old girl airlifted to Perth from detention on Christmas Island with untreated pneumonia that led to a blood infection before this government could say that they could stay here in Australia, as their community in Biloela and many other Australians from around the country and people in this place have been calling now for many years. It took images of that little girl in hospital for this government to realise that they had to do something. But, as usual, they just do the bare minimum. Rather than letting this family return to Biloela, where their community have been crying out for them to be returned, they are in community detention in Perth. While it's better than being in detention on Christmas Island, it's not good enough. They should be sent straight home to Biloela.

There are so many questions around this. Why were these little children in detention when, in 2019, the government said there would be no children in detention? They remained in detention, the only family there at Christmas Island, and the reason is that this government wanted to make an example of them—to make an example to scare people to come here, exercising their legal right to seek asylum. The question is why a little girl was left seriously ill and untreated for 10 days, until it was serious enough that she needed to be airlifted to hospital with a blood infection. As a mother of a three-year-old, I can tell you I would be so heartbroken to see my child in that state, and that is what this government is happy to let people go through. In fact, it perhaps saw this as a political opportunity, not even a problem.

This is also government that brought us robodebt. The government went after some of the most vulnerable Australians with bogus social security debts, sometimes from many years previously, put the onus of proof onto those people to prove that they didn't have the debt rather than government needing to prove that they had the debt and pursued them with debt collectors. The Federal Court has now approved a $1.8 billion settlement for people wrongfully pursued by the Morrison government's robodebt scheme, where 433,000 people had $1.73 billion in debts raised against them and $751 million was wrongfully recovered from 381,000 people. Justice Bernard Murphy has said:

This has resulted in a huge waste of public money.

…   …   …

The proceeding has exposed a shameful chapter in the administration of the Commonwealth social security system and a massive failure of public administration.

…   …   …

One thing that stands out from the objections is the financial hardship, anxiety and distress, including suicidal ideation, and in some cases suicide, that people say was suffered as a result of the robodebt system, and that many say they felt shame and hurt at being wrongly branded 'welfare cheats'.

That's just another example of this government pursuing most vulnerable as part of a scare campaign against ordinary Australians. 'Don't be on welfare, because we will come after you, and you might end up in jail. We will get debt collectors after you if five years ago, when you were on youth allowance, you wrongfully reported your income and you had a small debt which will now be pursued by debt collectors.' This is a government that thinks an increase of $3.57 per day to the JobSeeker payment is adequate, that living on $43.57 per day is okay in a country like Australia, that people can get by on that woefully inadequate payment.

In March 2020, the Australian government lifted almost half a million Australians out of poverty, including 75,000 children, by introducing the coronavirus supplement, worth $550 per fortnight according to research from the Australia Institute. We welcomed that. That was a great move from this government. It acknowledged that JobSeeker was too low to live on. When we knew that many people were going to become unemployed as a result of the pandemic, they were happy to increase that payment, and the result was that we saw people coming out of poverty. But then all these gains were lost as the government incrementally cut that coronavirus supplement throughout 2020. Between March and December 2020, an additional 900,000 Australians fell into poverty, including 200,000 children. Then, alongside this pathetic increase that they've made to JobSeeker, they also introduced a 'dob in a dole bludger' hotline for people to report social security recipients who aren't taking jobs.

These are the things that this government is concerned with: pursuing the most vulnerable in our community to make people feel fearful. It's not what Australia is about. We are an egalitarian and inclusive community. We look after each other when we need to. I think that's what most Australians would like to see, and they see the government having an important role in that, including with our social security system.

This government has also still failed to deal with the incredibly serious allegations of sexual harassment and violence in this place. We've seen the very courageous Brittany Higgins bravely come forward and talk about her experience. Then we went out to the March 4 Justice in March and came back into question time, and we had, first of all, the Prime Minister saying that we were lucky that we weren't shot at. Aren't we lucky that we can protest? Then, over the succeeding weeks, we saw him fail to answer the most basic questions about asking his staff about their involvement in this and whether they were backgrounding journalists against Brittany Higgins's loved ones. I don't think we ever got a decent answer to that. I don't feel as if these things have been dealt with. The member for Bowman also has some incredibly serious allegations against him, yet we've seen the government voting to protect his position as a chair of a committee in this place.

So what does that say to the women of Australia about this government's views about sexism and violence against women? Do they take it seriously? Are they going to do something about it? They said that they did a lot for women in the budget, but just putting the word 'women' onto the front of things doesn't actually address these problems. I know that the women in my electorate remain incredibly angry that these things are not being dealt with. We have a deep-seated cultural problem with violence against women in this country, including domestic violence, and with sexism, and to see it fail to be dealt with in the parliament, which should be the exemplar—we should be leading the way with regard to these matters—is incredibly disappointing to say the least. To see the Prime Minister fail to take a proper interest or to ask the right questions about a very young member of the government's staff is something I just find incredibly disturbing.

The NDIS is another issue that I spend a lot of time on as a member of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme. There we hear the absolutely heartbreaking stories of people battling to get the most basic supports, and then we have the minister say that we're relying too much on the empathy of public servants. It's simply not good enough.

This is a government that does not care about people. They are not on your side. They are not listening, and they have no plan other than to deal with what they see as political problems. They are always doing the bare minimum but not actually caring or walking in the footsteps of the people they represent or dealing with the issues that are facing them. They are coming after the most vulnerable time and time again: people receiving social security, refugees, women and people who were left out of their response to the coronavirus pandemic, such as international students and casual workers. (Time expired)