Senate debates

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Matters of Public Importance


3:54 pm

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

A letter has been received from Senator Moore:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:

"The Abbott Government's savage cuts to Newstart for jobseekers under 30."

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today’s debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

3:56 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, this is the first occasion that you have been in the chair when I have been speaking. I offer my congratulations and best wishes for your future.

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

And you'll be a good boy!

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

As Senator Birmingham says, I will behave myself impeccably at question time in the future.

An honourable senator: Will you really?

No! I rise to speak on the issue of the savage cuts to Newstart for people under 30. There are 695,000 Australians in circumstances where they need support—they need access to government support. That support comes through Newstart. That support is there for people who are in trouble, people who need support and people who have fallen on some pretty tough times.

The position of the government is that people should not get access to Newstart for six months unless they are earning or learning. And they can be refused Newstart for another six months. I think that that epitomises everything that is wrong with this budget. It epitomises why the Australian public have said: 'We don't like this budget. We do not accept this budget because it is not about a fair go.'

One of the great values of Australia is the fair go. To say to people who are suffering tough times that there should be no government support and that they should get no access to any welfare benefit for six months is against every value and every principle that I have understood since I came to Australia in 1973. This is not about the Australian fair go. This is about a tough, hardnosed, ideologically based budget that is trying to put economic issues before a good, decent community and a decent society. We have always said that one of the great things about this country is that we are not the United States of America—that this is Australia and we will give support to the poor and disadvantaged. We do not leave the poor and disadvantaged to their own devices. We do not say to them that you cannot get health care unless you have money. We do not say that you cannot get a decent education unless you have rich parents.

Over the years our society has been built on providing a fair go. This argument is about maintaining a fair go for all Australians, even if you are a disadvantaged Australian. The values that underpin this budget are not the values of Australia. I think that is clear with the reaction by the Australian public to this budget. You set up a straw man argument. You set up an argument that says that we are in financial crisis and that someone has to pay for it. Let me disabuse that argument. We are not in a financial crisis in this country; we are one of the richest countries in the world. We have three AAA ratings and we have one of the lowest debt to GDP ratios in the world. We are not a country that is a poor country and we are not a country that should be taking the harsh measures against people on Newstart that this government is seeking to do.

We are certainly not a country that should be praising Margaret Thatcher, as we saw today in question time, with the finance minister, Senator Cormann, indicating that he had support for 'the late, great Margaret Thatcher'. I do not know how you could ever come to that view in modern society. Even the Conservative Party in Britain do not go back and argue that the Thatcherite period was a period of Britain being great. They do not do that. What the conservative government in the UK do is try to avoid any linkage to Margaret Thatcher. Yet what we have here is the troglodytes in the coalition, the economic incompetents in the coalition, the Work Choices warriors in the coalition, who want to take rights away from workers. What do those opposite do? They say 'Baroness Thatcher is the late, great Baroness Thatcher'. And what did she do? She increased inequality in the United Kingdom. That is what this budget is about and that is what this Newstart arrangement is about—to increase inequality. I think many Australians have got relatives, have got friends, have got family who may at one stage in their life depend on Newstart. But what they are being told they must do now is either earn or learn. You will not get access to Newstart and if you do not earn or learn then you will not get any money from the government.

I put this argument to the Department of Human Services at the last estimates hearings, where the departments come in and you can ask them questions. I gave them the example—I come from the lower Blue Mountains out near Penrith—of a 30-year-old woman who is in a violent family relationship and she leaves that violent family relationship with a plastic bag full of what she can pick up and get out to get away from a violent relationship. I asked them whether she would be forced to earn or learn. What support would there be for her? After a lot of bureaucratic nonsense coming back, they conceded that she could end up having to rely on charity. There would be one payment available for her—a $500 payment. So you are escaping a violent family relationship, you are given $500 to try to see you through, but after that $500 is gone you are then sent to Job Services Australia. You have got to earn or learn and if you cannot do that, if you are traumatised by what has happened to you and you have got no money, then you will have no money for six months. I said: 'Well, what happens to people like this? Do they have to go and sleep in the gutter? Does this woman fleeing a violent family relationship have to go and sleep in the gutter?' They said, 'Oh well, there may be things that we could do.' They didn't know what they could do. I said, 'Charity?' And they said, 'That's one option.'

So we are now moving to a position that was seen hundreds of years ago in this country, hundreds of years ago in the UK and that applies in the US now on a regular basis—that is, if you are fleeing a violent family relationship and you are looking for government support, you will not get it off this government; you will be sleeping on the street if you do not earn or learn. This is an outrageous proposition.

You see all these coalition senators? They go about arguing for this as if this is a great thing. They were warned some time back, some years ago, when they ran with a thing called Fightback. Remember Fightback? You were cut off the dole after nine months. That was a policy, then it was not a policy, then it became a policy again. But the then director of the Liberal Party said at the time, 'To surprise the Australian people with our policies after the next election would not only be dishonest but it would also jeopardise public acceptance.' This was Andrew Robb, the current Minister for Trade and Investment. He said that you cannot surprise the public. 'Surprise' is the nice word. What it really means is 'lie' to the Australian public. You pay a price for lying to the Australian public. We know. We know about the price you pay when there is a perception that you have lied to the Australian public. And you have not only lied once to the Australian public, you have also lied about pensions, you have lied about education and you have lied about health. You will pay a massive price because you cannot lie to the public. You cannot get rid of the fair go. You cannot force people onto the street without paying a price and you are paying that price now.(Time expired)

An incident having occurred in the gallery—

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order in the gallery!

4:06 pm

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

As usual, Senator Cameron, is true to Labor form: why let the facts get in the way of a good scare campaign? As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Services, I want to place some important facts—facts, Senator Cameron—on the record about our proposed Newstart changes. The coalition believes that the best form of welfare is a job and everyone who can work should have the opportunity to do so and those who are unable to work should be adequately supported. We acknowledge that it is important to maintain an adequate safety net for those who cannot provide for themselves. There are today more than five million people dependent on some form of welfare payment, and current government expenditure on all pensions, allowances and supplements is more than $100 billion a year. There are currently 17 working-age payments and 22 supplementary payments in this area.

As part of the budget we announced some changes to the Newstart allowance, which will be subject to a six-month waiting period before becoming available as income support assistance. I refer to some comments that were made by Minister Andrews on 26 May. He said:

… Newstart as the name suggests is not meant to be a permanent payment. Newstart is actually a payment for a person who is out of work with the view of getting back into work and the reality is that about 50 per cent of people who go on Newstart get a job within six months. So what we need to do is to concentrate especially on that group that don’t get back within six months usually because of some reason such as a lack of skills, for example …

and assist them to get back into the workforce. He also says that, if they do not have a job, 'the best thing that a young person can do is to get into a course and get the training and skills which will get them a job'.

I also state that, as the minister has indicated, it is important that, as we all know, out there there is intergenerational unemployment and often the intergenerational poverty that goes with it. That is why it is important that we do take some measures to tighten the way in which people can get onto Newstart or unemployment benefits and particularly aim them at young people so that we can cut the cycle of intergenerational unemployment.

Let me turn to some facts. Each change will affect different people in different ways depending on their individual circumstances. At 12 months, an unemployed person will finish their first period of time limited income support and the Work for the Dole placement and they will enter a six-month non-payment period followed by another period of time limited income support at 18 months, at which point they will also undertake to work for the dole for 25 hours per week. After two years—that is, if they remain unemployed after two years—they will enter another six-month non-payment period. After the completion of the six-month Work for the Dole placement, a wage subsidy will be available for a potential employer.

Senator Cameron and those opposite who are peddling misinformation, I state for the record that there are exemptions to the six-month waiting period. I would like to put these on the record. The following individuals are exempt from the six-month waiting period: people in full-time education, people assessed as having a partial work capacity of less than 30 hours per week, a single parent receiving family tax benefit for a child, a part-time apprentice, a principal carer parent, a job seeker assessed as requiring stream 3 or stream 4 assistance under the current employment services arrangements or the Remote Jobs and Communities Program equivalent, or a person eligible for disability employment services.

For every one year of work history, one month will be discounted from their waiting period, pro rata for part-time casual work, to a maximum of five months discount for the waiting period. In recognition of the importance of education and training in preventing future unemployment, young people who return to school or take up full-time vocational education or university study will not be subject to the six-month waiting period. Waiting periods are designed to ensure unemployed people with cash reserves—including from redundancy, termination payments and compensation payments—do not draw on the welfare system before first supporting themselves while looking for another job. Some waiting periods may be served at the same time, while others must be served consecutively. This depends on the circumstances of the claimant and their overall means of support.

Newstart and youth allowances are not meant to be permanent payments. They are temporary payments to support people while they find a job. We believe that introducing a six-month waiting period and time limits on income support payments will give young people a stronger incentive to learn or earn. During the waiting period job seekers will have access to a full range of supports to help them become work ready such as access to employment services, relevant training or relocation assistance to move to a stronger jobs market.

Welfare is a critical safety net for those who are unable to work. For those who are able, work is the best thing that they can do for their own wellbeing and that of their families and children. We believe that introducing a six-month waiting period and time limits on income support payments will give younger people a stronger incentive to learn or earn. Young job seekers can also choose to participate in further education or training to help increase their employability and may be eligible for youth allowance study for student or Austudy payments to help them do so. Job seekers will not be required to relocate. However, if there are no jobs in their immediate vicinity, they will need to move to work in order to support themselves. Their employment services provider will assist the job seeker if they identify a job in another area. This includes relocation assistance.

The income support system should not make unemployment a viable and in some cases more attractive option for young people. The changes to income support payments provide an incentive for workforce participation and encourage self-reliance while the system continues to support those finding it hardest to get a job. Income support will no longer be a lifestyle choice for those who are able to work. Our welfare system does need to be sustainable so that the people who need support have access to welfare and those who are capable of working are encouraged to get a job.

These changes aim to maximise everyone's ability and incentives to participate in the economy. More stringent payment conditions and activity requirements are essential to ensure the sustainability of our income support payments. Most importantly, support must be targeted to those most in need. Changes are designed to help people move into employment when they are able to do so. This is particularly important for young people so they do not become trapped in a lifetime of welfare dependency. These changes will help to ensure that a strong social safety net can be preserved for everyone's future and will continue to support those who need it most.

The best form of welfare for most people is a job, which not only brings financial rewards but also has a lot of psychological benefits as well. As part of this, the government recognises that people affected by this measure may require some assistance during these waiting periods. The package provides an additional $229 million in funding over four years for job seeker support. This funding will be provided to selected community sector organisations to assist eligible job seekers to buy essentials. It is really important that our welfare system is sustainable. It is important that people do have a job, and it is also important that we maintain an adequate safety net, most especially for those who cannot support themselves.

Recently we have seen reports and some misinformation in relation to allegations about people being on Newstart. It is really important that people view Newstart as a payment that is not permanent. It is a payment to assist people for a period of time to help them get back into work. Over half the people looking for work find a job within six months. So it is vitally important that our important resources in this area are retained to assist those most in need.

In the short time available to me I also want to make a couple of the points that the minister has sought to underline in his various public comments. It is really important to stress that there are exemptions. What is very clear from those opposite who are running a scare campaign about this matter is that they are being conveniently misleading in relation to the exemptions in this area. As I have indicated, the government believes that assistance to unemployed people should help them move into employment, rather than provide incentives for them to remain on welfare. From 1 January 2015 we will introduce the six-month waiting period and time-limited income support payments for new job seekers under 30. As I have said, this will give young Australians stronger incentives to either learn or learn.

Senator Polley interjecting

Senator Polley, you were not really interested when you were in government. Your legacy—

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Address your comments through the chair, Senator Fierravanti-Wells.

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, Senator Polley, your legacy after six years of debt and deficit disaster is 200,000 people in the unemployment queue.

Senator Polley interjecting

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Polley.

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

You should be very proud of yourself that you condemned 200,000 people to the unemployment queues. So do not come in here bleating about the changes that we are going to make. (Time expired)

4:19 pm

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

I rise to make a contribution to this debate on this very important topic. When Senator Fierravanti-Wells describes Newstart and income support as a 'lifestyle choice', you understand where this government is coming from. They simply do not understand these issues. The contempt they show to young Australians, older Australians and people who are trying to exist on the meagre Newstart allowance is beyond anybody's wildest thoughts. They are appalling. It is quite clear how they view the most vulnerable in our community. While this government expends all its energies on trying to protect the big banks, big miners, big polluters and big businesses, we know how they are carelessly and cruelly treating young Australians. Young Australians are being condemned to live in poverty. That, of course, means they have a very uncertain future because we know what impact living in disadvantage, particularly in your early years, has on the rest of your life.

Today the Prime Minister said to the crossbenchers, 'Make some suggestions about alternative revenue sources.' And believe me, we—the Greens—have made plenty for a start. But they are deaf to that because they are too busy protecting the big end of town while they make young, vulnerable Australians pay the price—and they will be paying the price for the rest of their lives. This government is failing young Australians. This budget is grim for young Australians, as education becomes inaccessible, housing is unaffordable and the government wants universal health care to be a thing of the past. All these changes condemn young people to a very uncertain future. My colleague Senator Di Natale will address some of those issues shortly.

But the most gobsmacking impact on young people in this budget is dropping them onto no income support for six months, or longer—because if they make a mistake in compliance they are then given another month with no income support. This exposes young people to poverty. It is yet another barrier to work when people are forced to live on nothing—I repeat: nothing—for six months. The government know this is cruel. They know it is going to drop people into disadvantage, which is why they have allocated some additional funding to emergency relief, so young people can learn early to go and beg for support. That is what we are teaching our young people: go to charity. I am not maligning charities at all; I am a very vocal and strong supporter of charities. But to teach young people that that is what you do—you go and beg for support—is outrageous. And that is not even new money: they have taken $240 million out of the discretionary grants program in the Department of Social Services and reallocated that to emergency relief. So programs that could actually help young people and the most disadvantaged in our community are being robbed to pay for this cruel government's approach to young people.

This is going to affect hundreds of thousands of young Australians. I asked in estimates, along with a number of other people, about how this cruel program was going to work. I asked about young people when they had come through the six months of being condemned to work for the dole, out of which they would get no training and no guarantee of jobs at the end. I asked whether, if they then managed to find casual work or part-time work, they would get the wage subsidy. I was told: 'Can't answer that.' I asked if they got part-time or casual work could they still get the job commitment bonus, because it is not young people's fault that the work is not there—because it is not. When I asked that I was told: 'No, we can't answer that; we call that micropolicy, Senator.' In other words, they have not worked out the details of what impact these programs are going to have, how they are going to help young people, how they are going to assist young people to find work or how they are going to work out their wage subsidy scheme. They could not tell me because they have not worked out the details.

Young people want to work. Contrary to what Senator Fierravanti-Wells has been portraying to this chamber, young people do not see this as a lifestyle choice. They want to work. The work is not there. When you are condemned to live in poverty, on nothing, you will be more worried about where your next meal is coming from, which charity to go to to get your next meal or which charity to go to to help you find accommodation. When you are living on nothing you will not have accommodation or you will not be able to maintain accommodation. It makes a complete farce of the next piece of cruelty that is happening here, which is that you are living on Newstart with no payment—nil payment—so you still have your obligations under Newstart to be looking for jobs. And the government are saying, 'We think they're going to have to make 40 applications for work a month.' How can you make 40 applications for work a month when you haven't even got stable accommodation and you don't even know where your next meal is coming from, let alone have access to a computer or any means to be able to get those applications in? That is the last thing that you are going to be able to do.

That leads me to the question of how you find work when the work is not there. You go to your job service provider, of course. The government have not quite worked out how that is going to work yet, because they are putting extra compliance on that. So the normal rules for Newstart stream 1 and stream 2 are not going to apply for young people, but they could not tell us in estimates how that is going to work either. Job Services Australia are not providing the services that need to be provided for young people and Youth Connections is now gone. If they do not have any ideas they should start looking seriously at the proposals by the Brotherhood of St Lawrence, who have put out a very good report that makes very sensible suggestions—which, by the way, do not include dropping people onto no income support for six months.

The government have got this wrong. Go back to the drawing board. Don't condemn our future leaders and senior people in this country to such a bad start. That is what you are doing: you are condemning them to poverty, you are condemning them to poor life outcomes, because living on nothing is appalling. (Time expired)

4:26 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

I would be embarrassed to try to put an argument opposed to that of Senator Fierravanti-Wells because it is an embarrassment to have someone come into this chamber and mislead the community the way that she has this afternoon. I rise on this matter of public importance to indict this so-called government which continues to attack those living on low and limited incomes; a government which continues to look to its own self-interest while subverting the national interest; a government which is calculating callous and heartless policies; a government which lacks a real plan for the unemployed and job seekers.

The Abbott government continues to try to pass bills which, at their very centre, are detrimental to the Australian community and specifically to those on low incomes. Before this government took office it had job seekers in its sights and after the first Abbott-Hockey budget we knew they were under attack. I do not know about you, Mr Acting Deputy President, but that does scare me. This government's measures will hit my home state the hardest. This is why I stand here today to do everything in my power to protect the interests of Tasmanians and to protect the individuals who are looking for work or who have just lost their job and who we know have an uncertain future.

When you lose your job it is one of the most difficult periods in your life. I have experienced this first-hand in my own family, as I am sure many on this side of the chamber have. It is a time of uncertainty, stress and anxiety. Your future is suddenly uncertain, your way of life has changed for the worse and you need all the support you can possibly get. Australia has always been a place where, when you are down on your luck, someone is there to help you; the government is there to say, 'We know you're down on your luck and we'll invest in you to get you back on your feet.' This is a wonderful quality; it is perhaps the quality that makes this country so great. Unfortunately, this grand principle no longer exists in this country under this government because those opposite feel compelled to destroy it. Young people under 30 who are unemployed and are looking to better themselves by finding a job will now be forced to wait six months before receiving any support—and in many cases it will be much longer.

Because of the Abbott's government's mindset this country is currently going through a transition; a transition of great proportions. But it is not a good transition. Those opposite are intentionally taking us down a path of destruction. This will lead to the destruction of the principles of equity and compassion, two of the most important principles of any government and ones that every single government in this country should aspire to. Try telling that to this government! Just try—they do not listen.

Before going down this path did those opposite consult with social welfare groups? No. Did they consult with job seekers? No. Did they consult with job agencies? No. Did they consult with local government? No. Did they consult with the social housing sector? No. I agree with the views of the chief executive of the St Vincent de Paul Society, that this government must be condemned for taking away from those who have nothing in the first place.

The first thing Mr Wrecking Ball himself—our Prime Minister—did when he became the leader of this country was to tell the public service to cut; cut spending at all costs. He said, 'It doesn't matter what spending you cut—just make savings wherever you can find them.'

Now you would think that any government would put some caveat on this. You would think that they would say explicitly, 'Don't cut spending on the poor, or the sick, or pensioners, or students, or low-income earners or job seekers.' But they did not consult. This government said, 'Let's find savings wherever they can be found and let's go after those most vulnerable in our society. We will hit the poor, the sick, pensioners, job seekers, the downtrodden and those down on their luck. Oh, and while we're at it we will cut the company tax rate by 1.5 per cent,' because according to those opposite—according to Liberal Party ideology—the corporate sector always needs assistance. According to this government if you are not the corporate sector or if you are not a big business then you are an easy target.

We, as Australian citizens, have always believed that if you are down on your luck you should be given a hand up—not a handout but a hand up. We have always had a safety net in this country. This is Australia, and here in Australia we have always supported those who are out of work or who are unable to find a job. Effectively, what this government is saying to young people in this country is, 'You're on your own!' They are saying that if you lose your job there is no safety net—there is no assistance: 'You're on your own, and don't think this government will provide you with any assistance.'

Now I am not the enemy of Work for the Dole, but if there are no jobs then people are in the same position: they are cut loose by the government and have no support. Labor is not against simplification of the welfare system, but we will not support further cuts to vulnerable Australians. So far, we have seen nothing from Tony Abbott that indicates he wants to help people—nothing to indicate that he wants to support people on income support. He just wants to hurt them.

If a person is unable to find work within six months, then they will be required to take part in a Work for the Dole scheme. Now, that is assuming that there is a job to go to. What if there are no jobs to apply for? What if it is like my home state, where the before the state Liberal government had even brought down its first budget it said to the public service, 'You will be cut'?

Let us assume, just for a moment, that they work for the dole for six months. Then what? They will be cut loose by those opposite and will lose support payments for a further six months. Those opposite are effectively creating a cycle of endless despair for those looking for work. Let us not be mistaken: when you lose your job you are in a crisis situation. My home state of Tasmania, a state which currently suffers from debilitating youth unemployment, will be most affected in this country.

I would also encourage those opposite to try telling people who lose their job and cannot find work that the government will not provide them with any support. We know that the new member for Bass has deserted his community because when this government cut Australian Taxation Office workforce jobs in Launceston he was nowhere to be found. He was silent. We know that those opposite will not come and assist those who need it most.

I was at a rally against this budget, and I agree with Captain Kevin Lumb from the Salvation Army, who addressed that rally in Launceston. He said that such lack of support for the unemployed will lead to poverty, homelessness, increased crime and even suicide. My Senate colleagues and I share Captain Lumb's concerns. This is a government which understands that this decision will lead to increased poverty, and they do not care. They just do not care and they do not understand what the crisis that the real people in this country—the people who are out of work—are in. Labor does not support the measures of those opposite.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

I will take that interjection. That is so typical of Senator Macdonald, because he does not care. I do not see him standing up here. The only time he stands up and criticises his government is when he has been dumped from the ministry! A lot of these people who are going to be cut are not given any assistance and never have that opportunity. They will be denied being able to go to university through all the cuts that they have made to higher education. We also know that the cuts they have made to those people who are trying to see a GP means that they will have to pay $7. We know that they do not care because they have demonstrated it day in and day out when they come into this chamber. He should be ashamed of his government. He should be standing up to the Prime Minister and Joe Hockey and speaking up for those people who are the most vulnerable in this community. He should be ashamed. (Time expired)

4:36 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I can give Senator Polley a little bit of advice. If she is worried about the unemployed in her state of Tasmania, she should encourage the Labor Party and their mates in the Greens to allow some activity to happen in Tasmania, to allow some jobs. Senator Polley, did you complain when the Bell Bay aluminium factory shut down and threw all of those people onto the scrapheap? Did you say anything when you and the Greens successfully shut down the most sustainable forestry industry in Australia?

Senator Polley interjecting

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Polley, please allow Senator Macdonald to be heard.

Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Let her go, Mr Acting Deputy President. She is only shouting, as is Senator Whish-Wilson, because they do not like hearing the truth. If they had one iota of concern for unemployed people, they would do some things in Tasmania to create jobs so people would be able to find jobs.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Macdonald, please direct your comments through the chair.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I do not often agree with the CFMEU but I remember when, back in 2004, the forestry division of that union stood up to the Labor Party and stood up to the Greens and supported the coalition in getting a sustainable forestry industry going in Tasmania. But the Greens will never stop until they shut down every productive industry in our country. Where are we going to get jobs then? Where are we going to get jobs when you shut down the coal industry?

Senator Polley interjecting

Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Whish-Wilson and Senator Polley—order! I might throw myself out in a minute.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I do not need protection, Mr Acting Deputy President, from people like Senator Polley and Senator Whish-Wilson—because they do not want anyone to hear the truth of the matter. If they are concerned about unemployed people, they should do something to get them a job. That is the greatest thing any government can do for young people, for old people or for anyone—to give them the dignity of a job. If you followed the Greens' dictates, if you followed the Greens' policies, you would never have a forestry industry, you would never have a mining industry and you would never have a manufacturing industry. You would have no industries that create jobs in Australia. As usual, the Greens—and, I regret to say, the Labor Party by supporting them—show their hypocrisy and humbug on the question of unemployment.

Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting

I hope Senator Whish-Wilson uses this debate to explain what he did to save those jobs at Bell Bay, what he did to save those jobs in the forestry industry and what he did to save the jobs at Toyota and Holden—those manufacturing industries that went overseas. Why did they go overseas? Because the Greens—

Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Whish-Wilson, I ask that you do give Senator Macdonald the opportunity to be heard. You will have the opportunity to reply at some stage, I am sure.

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President: Senator Whish-Wilson did use language that was most unparliamentary in his abuse of Senator Macdonald. Please ask him to withdraw.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Bernardi, I did not hear what you allege Senator Whish-Wilson said. If there were something, I am sure Senator Whish-Wilson would withdraw it, but I did not hear it.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I take it as a badge of honour to be called names by Senator Whish-Wilson. As I said, the Greens will do all in their power to stop the people of Australia from hearing the real debate. They try to shout you down—and you have done pretty well, Senator Whish-Wilson. Why do you shout people down? Because you cannot answer the question: what have you done to create employment? Never mind about unemployment benefits—Newstart—let's get everybody a job. As long as the Greens have any influence on Australian governance, you can be assured it will be their goal to shut Australia down and to stop any employment-creating activity.

I had a lot that I wanted to say on this, but I have been distracted by Senator Polley and Senator Whish-Wilson trying to shout me down. I will just say why we are in this difficult budget situation. The Greens and the Labor Party turned what the Howard government left—a $60 billion credit balance in the bank account—into something approaching $600 billion of deficit. Do that in your own household, Senator Whish-Wilson, and see what happens to you. Do that in your own business and see what happens to you. You will go broke and anyone that you might have employed will be thrown on the scrapheap. You cannot keep borrowing money in your business or in your home—and governments cannot do it either. The day of accounting eventually comes nigh and you have to start paying back your debts with interest. The Greens will never understand that. (Time expired)

4:42 pm

Photo of Anne UrquhartAnne Urquhart (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Today I want to speak directly to Tasmanians aged under 30 about what the Abbott coalition government is proposing to do to them if they are unemployed. Labor will not support the proposal from Mr Abbott, Mr Whiteley, Mr Hutchinson and Mr Nikolic to cut access to Newstart for people under 30 for more than six months in every year. Mr Whiteley, Mr Hutchinson and Mr Nikolic propose that, for more than six months in each and every year, Tasmanians aged under 30 who do not have a job and who are not in training would have no income. Rather than defending their constituents from these savage budget cuts, the self-styled 'three amigos' are in lock step with Prime Minister Abbott that people under 30 should have to beg, borrow or steal for more than six months in every twelve.

I recall a line from Three Amigos where the bumbling fools—Lucky Day, Ned Nederlander and Dusty Bottoms—said:

Wherever there is injustice, you will find us. Wherever there is suffering, we'll be there. Wherever liberty is threatened, you will find the three amigos.

The nickname chosen by the three MPs themselves—Mr Whiteley, Mr Hutchinson and Mr Nikolic—could not be more appropriate. The injustice of stripping the basic income support safety net from people under thirty is self-explanatory, as is the suffering that will be imposed upon Tasmanians under 30, their partners, their children, their families and their communities. The liberty of individuals will be not just threatened but deprived as they struggle to survive for more than six months in every twelve without any income.

This is not a policy aimed just at the youth labour market. According to the Bureau of Statistics, the youth labour market covers people aged 15 to 24. This proposal from Mr Abbott, supported by his three amigos, is for all people aged under 30 who cannot find a job and cannot access appropriate study. The fact is that finding a job or a training place in Tasmania was hard enough before this budget was announced two months ago. But under Mr Abbott's budget, there are no new work or training opportunities, just cuts to employment services like Youth Connections and the removal of the north-west Tasmanian Local Employment Coordinator from an area where youth unemployment is over 20 per cent.

Today we heard the terrible news that the Mount Lyell copper mine, which has been the lifeblood of Queenstown on Tasmania's isolated west coast since the 19th century, is set to close with 200 workers to be made redundant. This follows Monday's announcement that the Henty Gold Mine, 20 minutes drive from Queenstown, will close in the next year with 150 workers to lose their jobs. These two announcements within a week are a huge loss to the town of Queenstown and the entire west coast region, the effects of which will be felt much more widely across the state. My thoughts are with the workers, their families and their communities.

These announcements demonstrate that job prospects in the north, the north-west and the west coast of Tasmania are tough, and the people of Tasmania need action from the Abbott coalition government to grow jobs immediately—something Senator Fierravanti-Wells might want to take onboard.

Both sides of this place agree that government does have a role to play in creating jobs in Tasmania. Both sides of this place took to the last election the promise to spend $40 million on co-investment grants with local businesses to keep and grow jobs in the north-west region and a total of $100 million dollars across the state. This funding was the one part of the Tasmanian Forests Agreement that Mr Abbott and the three amigos supported. Barely any of these projects have been confirmed by this government. If Mr Abbott and the three amigos were serious about jobs in Tasmania they would expedite the remaining contracts because at present, under this coalition government, finding a job is only getting harder. Under this coalition government, finding a training place is only getting harder. If Mr Abbott and the three amigos get their way, for people under 30 putting a roof over their heads, food in their stomachs and clothes on their backs will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for more than six months in every 12.

I call on the three amigos to drop their arrogant moniker and, rather than perpetrating injustices upon, imposing suffering upon and depriving the liberty of your fellow Tasmanians, do what you promised to do. Get out there and put the $100 million in co-investment grants into local businesses to create much-needed jobs in the Tasmanian community.

4:47 pm

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I must say from the outset how undignified it is for Senator Urquhart to refer to colleagues in the other place in such ungracious terms. It says to me that the Labor Party and those on the opposition benches take their inspiration entirely from fictional movies. Senator Urquhart could not come up with anything relevant to the topic; she had to simply denigrate her colleagues. I guess it is no surprise that Senator Urquhart is inspired by the movie business because the greatest fiction that was ever put forward by those opposite was that we had a competent government for the six years before this government was elected. That was a movie called 'Dumb and Dumber'. It was a movie of fraudulent proportions. And today we have seen Senator Dastyari model himself on Derek Zoolander by holding up his file, posing for the cameras and giving his true 'blue steel' look. This is a complete abomination. These people are abrogating their responsibility and running the national budget and finances into the ground. We have nigh on $300 billion worth of debt and none of them are responsible!

The Greens-Labor alliance are apparently not responsible. They are not responsible for the pink batts; they are not responsible for the school hall blow-outs; they are not responsible for the dysfunction, deceit, backstabbing and bloody nights that were all taking place in the previous government. What I find extraordinary is the hypocrisy attached to all of this. I can understand if they want to gloss over history and say, 'We will shrink away and walk away from this.' But they are actually trying to blame the coalition government for taking tough, but necessary, decisions.

When I was sitting in the chair earlier, I could not help but hear the interjections from Senator Whish-Wilson in which he was going on about Hydro Tasmania. As far as I know, the Greens have never supported a dam in their lives. I would say that they do not give a damn about much except plants, baby whales, dolphins and the like. They certainly do not care for the most vulnerable in our community. If I had a dollar for every time the Greens party used some sort of convoluted moral logic to justify their position, I would be a very wealthy man. In fact, I would probably be as wealthy as that former Greens retiree, former Senator Bob Brown, who lives a multimillion dollar superannuation lifestyle.

The hypocrisy is absolutely extraordinary: how they try to launch a moral equivalence argument for everything. They use terms like 'cruel' and 'the most vulnerable in our community', but of course they do not care about the outcomes of their policies. What they care about is political advantage and wedge. And to hear the hysterical screeching of Senator Siewert, I think, is rather offensive. She talked a lot about the rights of people. She did not talk about the respect, the honour and the dignity of the individual that comes from work. She only talked about how they want to make it dignified for people to be on welfare. I do not think it is the right approach. What we need to do is encourage people to get a job, because a job is more than just money. It is about dignity, it is about building self-respect and it is about ensuring that people are motivated to do things—and that means to go out and get a job.

There are plenty of exemptions to this, but this is a tough policy—I make no bones about that. But there are plenty of exemptions designed to protect people. We cannot protect people from being indolent or lazy. We need to encourage them to get up and actually do something. If the Greens party, rather than being such sanctimonious hypocrites and misusing interns in the office of Mr Bandt, actually decided to give jobs to these young people there would be far fewer people reliant on Newstart. Because that is what you do—you know that, Senator Whish-Wilson. You know that Mr Bandt uses interns. He keeps them on for a prolonged period of time and uses them up until they leave disillusioned; then they probably say, 'If that is what working is like, I never want to do it again.' I would not understand that at all.

Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting

Senator Whish-Wilson, you are making a lot of contributions to this but you are not prepared to put any of them on the record. That I find remarkably disappointing. It is easy to chirp away in the back stalls—as the Greens often do—but responsibility is the hallmark of every adult. The adults in this chamber are clearly on this side of the chamber.

It would be remiss of me, in the couple of minutes I have left, not to say that there are opportunities to improve the workplace relations system. There is an opportunity for more flexibility, because everyone who works does not have the same priorities. I used this example in a book that I wrote. I said it may be that a mother wants to work and finish at three o'clock, and make up the hours on the Saturday or the Sunday. If she can reach that agreement with her employer, I do not think she should be subject to penalty rates—nor should the employer be subject to them—because it is a mutually beneficial agreement. That is absolutely important.

If we want to return the dignity of work to people who are on Newstart or some sort of income support we have to look for an opportunity for them to be able to negotiate, with their employer, something that is mutually beneficial. It means there needs to be wholesale reform of our wages system, there needs to be wholesale reform of the welfare or income support system and there needs to be wholesale reform of the industrial relations system. They are really complex matters. But rather than reduce the debate to Work Choices, which it is not, or 'You don't care about people' or 'You're cruel' or anything else—and this is what I would say to those on the other side of the chamber—you have got to start thinking logically.

They have to start thinking from the point of view that government is not there to prop everyone up. People do not become the property of a government as soon as they are born, they do not become the property of a union and they do not become the property of some vested interest, like the mob on the other side. It is about recognising the dignity of every individual. That is what they do not like.

The Greens and the Labor Party recognise the dignity of a baby dolphin; they do not recognise the dignity of an unborn child. They recognise the dignity of a plant; they do not recognise the dignity of having power from a hydroelectric dam. They are sanctimonious hypocrites, and they have reduced their arguments to a moral—

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Bernardi, that really is unparliamentary and I would ask you to withdraw that statement.

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President, calling an individual senator a hypocrite, I think, is unparliamentary but to refer to hypocrites, in general, I think is not.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would ask you to withdraw, Senator Bernardi.

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I withdraw in the case of this, but I am happy to take it up at a later stage.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you.

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

They are untroubled by the hypocrisy of their own position. They are untroubled by conscience that what they say one day is not repeated the next. (Time expired)

4:55 pm

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I will start by saying something you rarely hear in this place: I was wrong. I was absolutely wrong—probably as wrong as you can be in this business. When Tony Abbott was in opposition he was a ruthless opportunist. He was a self-confessed weathervane on climate change.

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: Mr Abbott should be referred to as either the Prime Minister or Mr Abbott.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Di Natale, you might wish to describe the Prime Minister by his official title.

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Abbott was a ruthless opportunist in opposition. He was the weathervane on climate change. He was all things to all people. I was left with the impression that if the coalition were elected they would be a directionless government, they would be plotters and they would do a bit of tinkering around the edges, but I was wrong. It is a government that does have a very clear agenda. There is no question about that.

They are pursuing their agenda with an ideological clarity that has not been seen for years. It is an agenda that says the market is the end in itself rather than a tool for improving society. It is an agenda that says there is no role for government. It is an agenda that says we would rather have large corporations than democratically elected governments run the country. It is an agenda that flies in the face of reason and logic. It is an agenda that is cruel, brutal and heartless, and it is an agenda that no-one voted for. So much for election mandates.

Up until this government was elected, we believed that we were a country where, if you were down on your luck, we would look after you. If you could not find a job and you were a young kid, we would look after you. If you were a young person in work and the business went under, we would look after you. That is gone. Instead, what we are seeing from this government is an attack on young people. It says: 'If you're unemployed, it's your fault. You're a bludger. You're lazy. You're obviously boozing and fagging. You should get off your bum. You should work harder.' Reality has an anticoalition bias, because the coalition's world view does not accord with the world out there. There is a simple problem: there are just not enough jobs for young people. That is what underemployment and unemployment mean. There are more people than there are jobs.

It is only a group of older, privileged white men who have benefited from a free education, free health care, a generous social-safety net, who think it is okay to force people to leave their homes, to ensure they leave their families or to move somewhere where they cannot have a roof over their head and where there is no guarantee of work. This is a government with no plan. No, they do have a plan—it is a plan to hand over the keys to the big end of town and to move towards a brutal dog-eat-dog world where we condemn young people to poverty. (Time expired)