Wednesday, 2 August 2023
Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Safety Net) Bill 2023; In Committee
I want to thank Senator Hanson for her concern for people who are working and doing it tough. The reality is that, across the country at the moment, there are many people who do have jobs and many families that are doing it tough, dealing with inflation and interest rates that are going up, and we do need to be mindful of them. I said this yesterday and I want to say it again: we need to take heed of the words from Commissioner Holmes about the way that we talk about people in Australia who are receiving welfare payments and who are on JobSeeker. It matters; the language we use matters. The way that we've heard them talked about, and the othering of them, talking about them as some lazy group of people that should not be of concern to us, is deeply concerning. I would urge all senators to think about the way that we talk about that. We should be proud to live in a country where we have chosen to have a social security system and a safety net. The other part of this conversation is that we're kidding ourselves if we think that we can save money on social security by having people live in poverty and not pick that up somewhere else in our health budget or in our policing.
All these other areas are where we know we're going to pick up the bill eventually, and so it's such short-term thinking to think that we can just rip away social security payments and have people living in poverty and that's better for taxpayers. It's not, and we know it's not. We will be paying the costs when it comes to the health of those people who can't afford fresh food, who can't afford the basic necessities of life and who certainly, from what I've heard from a lot of people, can't afford to fill scripts and to see the GP when they need medical care. We know how expensive that becomes when people don't have access to health care when they need it and have to put it off so that things end up compounding and they end up in the emergency departments.
My question to the minister is based on what I have heard from a lot of young people, particularly students, many on the living-away-from home allowance and on the youth allowance, who say that on this payment they simply cannot afford fresh food. 'I can't afford to eat healthy food, so I'm surviving on two-minute noodles and whatever I can to get by.' Minister, are you confident that $40 per fortnight will make the difference needed to ensure people can afford fresh food, or can you share the strategy for how we can make fresh food more accessible to those on low incomes and payments?