Senate debates

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers


3:47 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Assistant Minister for Social Services (Senator Fifield) to a question without notice asked by Senator Siewert today relating to income support.

As my colleague Senator Ludlam outlined when he was asking his question today, it is very rare that we actually get an answer to the questions that we ask in this place, and this was the same for me today. The government expect us to believe them when they say they are not considering changes to the waiting period. Minister Fifield did not address that issue; in fact, he just repeated what the measures do—and, of course, every time you hear them it sends shivers up your spine to think about what impact these changes are going to have on people under 30 who are subjected to periods of six months on and six months off income support.

If they are considering changing the so-called waiting period, the other question to then ask is if it is going to affect the other periods when people come off work for the dole. Will it be one month on, one month off? If that is what they are doing, it still equates to six months of no income support for people under the age of 30. Again the question there is: how do you expect them to live? How do you expect them to stay connected to work? How do you expect them to be able to pay their rent? How do you expect them to be able to buy food and meet their requirements for basic living essentials? The government knows very well that this is going to have a negative impact, which is why they have allocated $229 million over four years to fund, basically, charities and community organisations to support those people who are living in extreme financial distress.

The media reported the possible compromise today. I should put on the table right now that we will not support a compromise. There is no excuse for keeping people off income support, because you subject them to severe financial hardship. In raising that possible compromise today the media reported that the government is once again citing examples from New Zealand, where job seekers are subjected to a one-month so-called waiting period without income support. But I think they need to be very careful when they are quoting New Zealand's experience. Certainly some of the experts and academics working on this issue in New Zealand say that the safety net has developed big holes. Does that sound familiar? That is exactly what is happening here. The safety net has holes so bit that with these changes people will fall right through.

They say the safety net has developed big holes and the country has 'enormous' issues with child poverty. They go on to say:

If you’re going down the path of copying us, you really need to look at impacts.

They also caution Australia against rushing to copy many of their reforms, saying that, while it was tightly targeted, it ran the risk of excluding people who needed benefits. They talk about the safety net coming increasingly under question, with the number of people demonstrating special hardship to qualify for an emergency payment increasing by 43 per cent between 2007-08 and 2011-12. That is exactly what the government knows is going to happen here, which is why they have allocated additional emergency relief. People have to go to charity organisations and beg to be able to survive.

There is no evidence. When I asked for evidence, the minister was not able to provide any. The government has not provided any evidence. The community affairs committee inquiry got into these changes to social security. The evidence of the organisations that presented to that inquiry was very clear: it will have a negative impact. It will subject people to financial hardship. The evidence is there that this will put more barriers in the way of people finding work—living in poverty is another barrier to work. People will be struggling to survive, living hand-to-mouth and trying to survive all day. Forget being able to apply for up to 40 jobs a month, because what people will be doing is struggling to survive—and that takes all your resources when you are living on nothing. There is no evidence to support this flawed policy. The government should kick this whole package of measures out.

Question agreed to.


No comments