Senate debates

Thursday, 7 December 2017


Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017; Second Reading

1:33 pm

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

As somebody who has, throughout the course of their life, had reason to rely on the support of Australia's social safety net and, indeed, as somebody who has many friends and family members who have had to do the same, it has been a struggle for me personally to consider how to speak upon this intellectually vacant, morally-stunted and procedurally-moribund package of legislative instruments without having to come very close to breaching parliamentary behaviour. However, I think I can best sum up my feelings on this bill by saying that it is an utterly fact-free zone. Within it exists nothing but a laundry list of ideologically driven, evidence-less nonsense measures predicated on prejudices regarding those who access Australia's welfare system. So potent is the ideological blindness of the conservatives of this place in regard to this matter that it seems as though they have been robbed of the ability to do simple math. Well, thank God that there are Greens present within this chamber—and I think particularly of my colleague Senator Rachel Siewert when I say this—who are able to correct that blindness.

For the benefit of those still present within this chamber who are seeking to have this bill passed, I will remind them that, for every entry-level job in Australia, there are five applicants. In my own state of WA, for every entry-level job, there are seven applicants. This is a really quite serious issue. We are not talking in the abstract about caricatures of human beings. We are not talking about bludgers. We are not talking about criminals. We are not talking about druggies. We are talking about people, some of the most vulnerable people in our society, some of the people who have had it hardest, those people our society has failed most profoundly.

The attitude which is embodied in this bill is utterly repellent to me. It says that, if you find yourself without work, if you find yourself addicted, then it is your fault; it is your moral failure; you have done something wrong. It is a disgraceful attitude. It has seen this country develop one of the most onerous, compliance-heavy and fundamentally insufficient social safety nets in the world. People are left behind, people fall through the cracks, simply because there is not enough work. It is well within the knowledge of those who propose this bill that thousands of people in this country are homeless. It is also well within the knowledge of those who propose this bill that not one of the measures therein will go anywhere near addressing that issue. In fact, the bill will drive more and more people into poverty.

I was forced, when originally reading this legislation, to stifle a fit of hysterics at one of its most central contentions—that the rollout of online services in relation to social services in Australia, and the ability to submit claims online, means that it is no longer necessary for the government to account for a period in which there might be a time difference between application and claim. If you needed an example of the reality that those who support and have drafted this legislation have not come close to our social security system in decades, I can think of no better example. Let me tell this chamber: the services and systems which are meant to enable claimants to file claims online do not work. They are down as often as they are up. They are dysfunctional as often as they are functional. This bill seeks to make that reality the problem of those in need. It is a joke—an absolute joke.

I cannot think of the intellectual gymnastics that must have been performed for the government to believe that this was anything close to a solution to the challenges faced by the most vulnerable people in our society. It reeks of the ideological belief that poverty is a result of moral deficiency. Nowhere is that more clear than in the now postponed element of this bill in relation to drug testing. Dead, but most certainly not buried or cremated, it will now hang over the welfare debate in this country, like a putrid spectre, in the same way that the welfare card does in northern Australia. These things wait in the wings for conservatives in this place and the other place, if they ever have the opportunity, to ram them through. I'm so thankful that, in that context, there are Greens in this place who are willing to stand up, call them out and push back.

I will vote against this legislation later this afternoon as somebody who would not be here without the support at certain times in my life of our social safety net, who lives in a community where those services are needed, who has friends whose health, happiness and progress depend on these services and who knows to their core that there is no lower act than demonising people who ask for help when they need it. I thank the chamber for its time.


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