Senate debates

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Motions

Pensions and Benefits

4:54 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

As I was saying, the rate of Newstart is pitifully low. When you work it out, it's $40 a day. We here at this level of government have been talking about this for many years. In fact, oft times government ministers are asked if they could live on $40 a day. Many of their responses have been very unedifying and, frankly, very telling of the fact that they've clearly never had to live on $40 a day. They've somehow maintained they could probably do it. Nobody can survive on $40 a day. On the stories that we have heard throughout this whole campaign, that we hear from real people and that Senator McCarthy gave voice to: people are choosing between buying textbooks for their kids and eating dinner. Nobody should have to make that choice.

Here is a government that just dished out $158 billion in tax cuts to the very wealthy and to big business, and they don't even have the decency to raise Newstart by $95 for the three million Australians who are forced to live on it. They claim it's a transitional payment. Wouldn't it be lovely if it was, although it would still be too low. But it's not a transitional payment, because the average time that people languish on Newstart is three years—three years of living on $40 a day. This government is condemning three million Australians to continue to live in poverty while it dishes out massive tax cuts to the very wealthy and to big corporates. Is it any wonder that trust in government is bottoming out. It's democracy for sale, and people, once again, are at the bottom of the list.

We're backing the call to increase Newstart. What's really clear is that it continues to fall on deaf ears. We just heard government senators make a contribution to this debate. They trotted out that often-used refrain: 'It's not just Newstart. People get other payments as well.' My colleague Senator Siewert reminded me that the most common payment that accompanies Newstart is the energy supplement, and do you know how much that supplements? Four bucks a week. And this government is trying to say that somehow that's enough, that that means we don't need to increase Newstart. Please! The entitlement of this government is almost too much to be believed.

We've got a flailing economy. If you want stimulus, stop looking at the RBA to do the heavy lifting for you and increase Newstart. People who are living below the poverty line—the three million Australians who are languishing on Newstart for an average of three years—will spend that increase because they cannot afford to meet the basics of life as it is. If you want stimulus and you want stimulus that actually helps people, there is no better way than increasing Newstart. ACOSS is saying so, the business community is saying so, and some of your own backbenchers are saying so. It's kind of ironic because normally you'd take your orders from big business but you're ignoring them on this call. What a shame. We'd actually like you to listen to them on this front.

The other refrain that we often hear from government is that you've got to have a go to get a go and that somehow it's the fault of people on Newstart that they can't find a job. Maybe they don't want a job or they're too lazy. There are more people seeking work than there are jobs available in the job market at the minute under this government's watch. This is a situation of the government's making that they continue to not fix. The Anglicare figure that's often cited is that there are 19 people going for any one job. Many people on Newstart want to work; they're desperate to work. They can't afford the money for the outfit to go to the job interview or the train fare or the petrol to get to the interview. If they can somehow manage to scrimp and save to pull that together, they're then up against 18 other people for that job. And this government continues to blame people who are on Newstart as if it's somehow those people's fault. It is not. This is a systemic failure that is being perpetrated and perpetuated by this government. Everybody can see that. I hope the government knows that everybody can see that.

We have the solution: stop telling people to have a go to get a go and just lift Newstart and create jobs. Invest in infrastructure like schools and hospitals and clean energy that can make peoples' lives easier and create employment. And address the climate crisis. It's not rocket science, folks. It's not all going out to lunch with lobbyists and then handing out big business tax cuts. You're actually meant to be here to improve peoples' lives, and there are some fairly simple ways of doing that. You have many experts and advocates making these suggestions to you on a regular basis, but you can't see the evidence—or the climate science for that matter—because the money from the vested interests is clouding your judgement. It's completely embarrassing.

This is why we here at the Greens are strongly backing ACOSS's continued campaign for increasing Newstart by at least $95 a week. People should not have to choose between textbooks for their children and putting food on the table when this government instead dishes out massive big business tax cuts and tax cuts to the very wealthy and a quarter of a million dollars for sporting clubs that councils don't want. The priorities of this government are so clear. People have had enough, and they actually deserve a democracy that works for them. They deserve decisions that can improve their lives, help restore trust and confidence in our institution of government. Just actually do the job that you were elected to do: represent people, help improve their lives, help protect the planet, act on the climate science, invest in schools and hospitals and clean energy and stop worrying about the job that you're going to go for once you leave parliament.

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