Senate debates

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Newstart Allowance

3:33 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 Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research (Senator Evans) to a question without notice asked by Senator Siewert today relating to Newstart.

That the Senate take note of the answer given by Minister Evans representing the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs to a question asked by me today about what the government is doing about the provision of emergency relief for single parents who will be moved from parenting payment single onto Newstart from 1 January.

Although he did not say it, the minister's answer meant: no, they have not put in place any of these provisions. He gave me the usual government spin about what they say this is about, which is about encouraging people into work. We all know this is spin. What this measure is about is saving the government $700 million on the backs of the most vulnerable in our community—that is, single parents and their children. These cuts are coming in on 1 January at the time of year when people are facing their highest bills: the Christmas period, the school holiday period and the back-to-school period.

Minister Evans also tried to say that of course there is already a group of people that are subject to these requirements and this is just bringing the grandfathered cohort into that. Perhaps Minister Evans needs to look at the figures of those already accessing emergency relief. I think he would find that those single parents that are already on Newstart are doing it tough. For example, 36 per cent of those accessing Salvation Army emergency relief services are single parents. The three biggest groups accessing support from Foodbank, as articulated in their recently released report, are 'low-income families, unemployed people and single parents.' That would be the cohort of single parents that are already on Newstart, because Newstart, as I have articulated in this place a number of times, is at least $130 below the poverty line. Parenting payment single is just on the poverty line. So what this government, with the support of the coalition, did yesterday was vote to move single parents and their children to a payment that is significantly below the poverty line. Those cuts of between $60 to $100 to their income per week kicks in on 1 January. Happy Christmas to those families because on 1 January their income is going to drop!

This government has not made any provision for the fact that those families, a couple of weeks into January, are going to need to access some emergency relief or go significantly without. Not only is this the most expensive period of time; a lot of the types of work that single parents—85 per cent of whom are single mothers—can access are seasonal work, temporary work and casual work and, of course, many businesses offering those types of work close down over the holiday period. Also, these parents, mainly mothers, need to be at home to look after their children during this time or they have to pay for expensive child care. That is if they can access that expensive child care because there are a lot of families trying to access school holiday care as well.

So we have a group of parents who are going to be suffering real income cuts and who will have to do without and who will have to access emergency relief. Have the government thought about this? No. Have they looked at statistics as to emergency care? I have to question whether or not they have, but they would know that single parent families make up a large cohort of the client group of those organisations that provide emergency relief. Are those emergency relief and support agencies expected to pick up this new group of clients? As this process kicks in we are talking of between 100,000 and 150,000 families, being single parents and their children. So how are these emergency service organisations supposed to pick up this cohort when we already know that a large number of emergency service providers are having to turn away people because they do not have the resources to support these families? So what are the government going to do when these emergency relief and support service organisations are turning away family after family because they are not going to be able to provide that support because their services are already stretched? The government need to look at this immediately so that come 1 January these families have somewhere to go.

Question agreed to.