Senate debates

Monday, 17 November 2014


Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 6) Bill 2014; Second Reading

10:03 am

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 6) Bill 2014. This is the bill the Senate should have considered five months ago. It is a bill which contains sensible savings measures—measures which the government could have had passed through the Senate with the opposition's support if they weren't so stubborn. The government knew that their social services budget measures Nos 1 and 2 bills would not get through the Senate in that form, and yet they persisted with their all-or-nothing approach.

The result is that the savings measures which can be supported are now going to be passed a few months late. They are going to be passed late because, unlike the previous Labor government, which negotiated a record amount of legislation in minority government, this government does not have the skills or the temperament to negotiate effectively with the opposition or cross-benchers in the Senate.

The savings the government put forward in the original social services bills—the bills which implemented some of the worst elements of their cruel and heartless budget—were supposed to be in response to a so-called budget emergency. But we know that the budget emergency is simply a political tool to try to make their claims of an economic disaster a self-fulfilling prophecy. Perhaps they hoped that the harshest, cruellest measures of the budget would pass the Senate and that Australians suffering their cruel cuts would blame Labor for their pain. But the Australian people are much smarter than that. They can see through these amateur parlour tricks. The budget emergency is not looking like an emergency at all. It is not looking like a real emergency, because the government are not treating it as such.

I will use a simple analogy to explain what I am talking about. Imagine the budget emergency is a house fire. What would our emergency services do in response to a house fire? More importantly, what would they not do? First of all, they certainly would not add more fuel to the fire. Yet that is exactly what Australia's Treasurer, Mr Hockey, did immediately after getting into government when he doubled the deficit; when he gave an $8.8 billion gift to the Reserve Bank of Australia, against the advice of his own Treasury department; and when the first legislative priority of this government was to deliver tax breaks for big polluters and billionaire miners.

If there were a real emergency, the government would not destroy the house in order to stop the fire. After all, the government have had the gall to claim that our standing of living is under threat unless we accept their savings proposals. But many of their savings proposals fundamentally undermine the very standard of living that the government purport to defend. It is precisely because of standard-of-living issues that Labor rejected the cruel proposals in the original version of this bill, which would have cut pensions by $80 a week over the next 10 years, which would have cut family tax benefit part B for families—including single parent families—when their youngest child turned six and which would have seen young unemployed people going without any income whatsoever for six months of every year.

If the government believe that the way to maintain Australians' standard of living is to plunge seniors, young job seekers and families into poverty, then they really are trying to have their cake and eat it too. Our fundamental sense of equity and fairness, the idea that everyone has the right to a safety net that guarantees them a fair standard of living regardless of their circumstances, is a foundation stone of Australian society. And you do not save a house by pulling down its foundations. Finally, if there were a real emergency—to use our house fire analogy once again—they would try and douse the flames of the fire as quickly as possible. In other words, they would take whatever agreement on savings they could, when they could.

You will hear those on the government benches claim that Labor are not playing a constructive role or that we are standing in the way of so-called budget repair. This is rank hypocrisy from a government which already doubled the deficit shortly after coming to power. Not only is this claim hypocritical; it is fundamentally false. For example, we have put forward the sensible and constructive suggestion that the government dump its costly, ineffective and wasteful Paid Parental Leave scheme, the scheme that is rejected by business, rejected by the unions, rejected by sensible economic commentators and even rejected by some of the government's own experts in the Productivity Commission, who said that a wage replacement scheme would have 'few incremental benefits' over the highly successful scheme that Labor put in place. The bill we are considering right now is also strong evidence that this claim is false, because Labor have shown that we will accept sensible savings measures when the government puts them forward.

I will go back to what I said at the start of this speech. This is the bill that the government could have—and would have—had passed by the Senate had they introduced it five months ago. It implements those savings measures that the opposition agreed to support from the Social Services and Other Legislation (2014 Budget Measures No. 1) Bill and the Social Services and Other Legislation (2014 Budget Measures No. 2) Bill. There are a couple of relatively minor expense measures, and the financial impact statement shows the net effect of the measures in the bill to be a saving of about $2.7 billion over the forward estimates. But the Abbott government have been so determined to push ahead with their harsh, cruel and unfair proposals—cuts to pensions, cuts to the family tax benefit and cuts to income support for young job seekers—that they rejected the cooperation that Labor was offering on passing the savings measures contained in the bill we are now debating.

As a result of this government's stubbornness and this government's pig-headed arrogance, it has had these savings measures delayed by five months. These are not the actions of a government that is dealing with a so-called budget emergency, and that is because there is no budget emergency at all. There is no burning building. There is just a group of people on that side of the chamber running around yelling, 'Fire, fire!' and hoping that, if they yell it loud enough and for long enough, the Australian people will believe them. It is pretty juvenile behaviour from a government that is claiming that the adults are back in charge.

We know there is no budget emergency because 63 eminent Australian economists signed an open letter clearly stating that there is no budget emergency. In fact, the economists claimed in their letter:

… Australia's ability to manage public debt is very strong.

They said that Australia is not facing 'any present or imminent debt crisis'. In a major inconvenience to this government and its narrative, the economists warned that severe spending cuts would hamper job creation and economic growth. In fact, the open letter states:

Major spending reductions by the Commonwealth government are economically unnecessary and socially damaging.

I will come to the 'socially damaging' part a bit later on. I repeat: 'economically unnecessary and socially damaging'.

The actions of the government to date—their new spending commitments, their axing of revenue streams, their wasteful projects like the gold-plated Paid Parental Leave scheme and the widely ridiculed Direct Action—combined with their lack of urgency to secure Senate support for reasonable savings measures, indicate that the government do not really believe in their manufactured emergency anyway. If it were a real emergency, we would have seen this bill in this place five months ago when the original bills were introduced.

The truth is that the budget emergency is a fiction. It is a political tool designed to fool Australians into thinking that Labor left this government with some kind of fiscal disaster. How inconvenient for the government that Australia's leading economists have so comprehensively rebuked this narrative. I think it is about time that the government dropped this ridiculous pretence that somehow it had no choice but to adopt the cruel cuts that it put forward in the original bills. Labor does not accept the premise that there is some budget emergency in urgent need of repair. Australia's leading economists do not support the premise. It is clear from the government's actions that it does not accept the premise either, at least not for anything but some cynical political stunt which is turning into quite a comical charade.

Even if we did, for argument's sake, accept the premise, how could that possibly excuse the abject cruelty that this government seeks to unleash with its welfare changes? Let us not forget that, despite the humiliating backdown which led to the government introducing this bill in this place today, it is still committed to its original social services bill. It is still committed to the most cruel and painful measures at the centre of its heartless budget, the measures which attack the most disadvantaged people in our society and which easily have the potential—and I am not exaggerating here—to push people who are already vulnerable into starvation, poverty and homelessness.

It is interesting to reflect on the fact that only a few weeks ago it was Anti-Poverty Week, and this government marked the week by pushing ahead with measures that will further entrench poverty and disadvantage. After all, what options does a young unemployed person have if they have no family support, cannot get a training place and face the prospect of going six months without any income? What options do a family have, particularly a single parent family, when their budget is stretched to the limit and they face the prospect of losing $100 a fortnight of family tax benefit?

The Australian people have already been loud and clear in their rejection of this unfair budget, so why is the government persisting? It is as if it is determined to unleash as much cruelty as possible on the Australian public and keep trying to blame Labor for the consequences. That cheap political trick will not work, because the Australian people are a lot smarter than that. They know that budgets are about choices and that there are plenty of alternatives available to the government other than attacking pensioners, young job seekers and low-income families. For example, the government did not have to hand over $8.8 billion to the Reserve Bank against the advice of Treasury. It did not have to give a tax break to some of Australia's wealthiest mining companies or to Australia's 16,000 richest superannuants. It did not have to write out $50,000 cheques to millionaire mums.

Australians understand the sensible, fair alternative savings that are available to this government. They are fully aware of the choices that are facing this government. But this government takes the Australian people for fools, because it is trying to convince the Australian people that it is being forced to unleash abject cruelty on the most vulnerable people in our society. It wants Australians to think there is no choice other than to attack the pensions, the incomes and the standard of living of the poorest and the most disadvantaged. It wants Australians to think that there is no choice other than to force millions of sick Australians, particularly pensioners, into choosing between food or heating or their health. Well I want the Australian people to understand this: this government was not forced to be cruel; it has made that choice. This government has made a conscious decision to be cruel. It has made a conscious decision to launch an unprecedented attack against the social fabric of our society, against the standard of living of some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in Australia.

The government has, of course, accused Labor of being alarmist when it comes to our claims about the impact of its budget. But when we on this side of the chamber talk about the true impact of this cruel budget, these are not just our claims. They are the claims of the many community organisations who have given evidence to Senate inquiries about the frightening extent of the harm these budget proposals could do to vulnerable Australians. Inquiries such as the Senate's community affairs references committee inquiry into out-of-pocket expenses in Australian health care, the committee's inquiry into the extent of income inequality in Australia—both of which I have participated in—and the community affairs legislation committee, which conducted an inquiry into the two original social services bills that preceded the government's humiliating backdown.

This latter inquiry heard evidence from ACOSS, from welfare agencies such as the St Vincent de Paul Society and the Brotherhood of St Laurence, that the changes to Newstart would increase levels of poverty and homelessness. It heard from organisations like the National Welfare Rights Network and the Council on the Ageing that the changes to pension indexation meant that pensions would not keep pace with the true cost of living for pensioners. And in relation to family payments, the inquiry heard evidence that the government's budget would leave a single-income couple or family on $65,000 with two school aged children around $6,000 worse off each year by 2016, in large part due to the measures in those bills.

The changes to income support for unemployed people under the age of 30 could easily be described as the harshest welfare measure ever proposed in Australian history. If a young person goes six months without income, how will they pay to live, for accommodation? Where will they sleep? What will they eat? How will they clothe themselves? How will they even be able to afford to apply for jobs? I can just imagine this measure, if it were passed by the Senate, leading to a wave of homelessness and potential depression and suicides the like of which Australia has never seen before. And it will be down to those opposite if that happens. I can just imagine social welfare organisations struggling to meet the demands of tens of thousands of additional people needing their support when their resources are already strained. These organisations are already under increased pressure, and to shift the responsibility of helping so many young Australians is completely heartless and very thoughtless.

Welfare spending in Australia is not out of control. The truth is that Australia has one of the most sustainable and best targeted welfare systems in the world. In 2001, 23 per cent of working aged people received a welfare payment each week. By 2011, this had dropped to 18½ per cent. Australia's welfare spending is 8.6 per cent of national income, and this is compared to an OECD average of 13 per cent. In fact, the only OECD country with a lower welfare bill in percentage terms is Iceland. So is Australia's welfare system sustainable and well-targeted? Of course it is. Can our welfare system be better targeted? Of course it can, and that is why Labor is accepting the savings measures put forward in this bill. But what we will not accept is cuts to income support payments, which would completely undermine the social safety net that is the foundation of our income support system. We will not accept cuts that push Australians further into poverty and tear apart our social fabric.

There is no budget emergency and there is no welfare spending crisis. And even if there were, it is still no excuse for the horrific suffering that this government proposes to unleash on Australia's most vulnerable and disadvantaged people. Labor support the measures in this bill, but continue to oppose the remaining cruel, heartless measures in the original bills—measures which the government stubbornly insists it is determined to press ahead with. We will continue to fight these changes. We will fight cuts to pensions, cuts which Mr Abbott said before the election would not happen. We will fight the government's harsh attacks on families and we will continue to fight proposals which would leave young people struggling in poverty and destitution for months on end. We will fight these cruel cuts in the community, we will fight them through the media and, yes, we will also fight them in the parliament.

10:19 am

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I to rise to speak on the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 6) Bill 2014 before us this morning. While I indicate Labor's support for these measures, I also will talk more broadly about what is happening right across our social security system. Labor has always supported families, pensioners and young people and Labor will continue to support those groups in our society. Not only that, we will also fight, and fight really hard, against any negative impacts on families, on pensioners and on young people.

To that end, recently in the Perth electorate of Swan I held a forum and asked pensioners to come along to talk about the impact of the Abbott government's harsh, cruel budget and its direct attack on pensioners, particularly on those in the electorate of Swan, in which I live. I had hundreds and hundreds of emails from pensioners very, very concerned about the Abbott government's attack on them. As Australians who have well and truly paid their way—whether they have fought in wars for Australia, worked their whole lives, contributed to our tax system, raised their families, bought their homes—they are under attack from the Abbott government. The Abbott government can say over and over again that there are no cuts to pensions, but pensioners know better. They are not stupid. These are senior Australians. They have seen it all before.

Interestingly, when I held the forum in Swan I had well over 100 pensioners from the electorate come along, and they were well and truly aware that the switch to CPI for measuring their pension as an indication of what increases they get means a reduction in their incomes. And no matter how the Abbott government tries to dress it up, the pensioners in the electorate of Swan, and I suggest pensioners right across this country, are not fooled. The government can say, 'There's an increase in your pension,' for as long as it likes, but pensioners in Australia know that this new way of indexing actually means a cut.

Interestingly, at the same time as I held this meeting at Swan, the Liberal member for Swan was out at the Juniper village of senior citizens in Rowethorpe, where he again made the claim that pensions will continue to increase. He also made the claim that somehow the Abbott government was funding roads in Swan—roads funded by Labor. Just changing the name to the Perth Freight Link from the Gateway project does not fool anyone. People know where that funding is coming from, the same way that the pensioners the Liberal member spoke to out at Rowethorpe would not have been fooled.

Using CPI actually means a reduction in the pension. It means a reduction, and economist after economist has made that point plainly. The Australian Council of Social Service, the peak welfare body in this country, has also made the claim that pensioners will be worse off over a few years, to the tune of $80 a week. That is a cut in the pension. The government can dress it up and dress it up, but I can assure this Senate that over 100 pensioners who came to the event in Swan, who were invited to come along, were not under any illusion that somehow the government was doing them a favour.

Interestingly, the government knows that those harsh measures will not get through this Senate, which is why it has chosen today to present another bill with a range of measures that Labor does support. But, like the Australian community, we are not going to be fooled into supporting measures which actually cut people's pensions, particularly for the Australians who have worked their whole lives, who have contributed to society, who should not at the age of 70 have to start worrying about how they balance their budgets.

Of course, that is not the only hit on pensioners that we are seeing in this harsh, cruel Abbott government budget. The pensioners will also be hit if the GP tax gets through. No matter how you dress it up by saying, 'You will only pay for X number of visits,' the fact remains that when pensioners front to the doctor they will have an increased cost. It is not rocket science: we know that as we age we use the healthcare system more. We are more likely to need referrals. We are more likely to need prescriptions. We are more likely to need specialist services. So that cost for pensioners goes on and on and on as they continue to pay and pay and pay over time, on the reduced weekly earnings which the Abbott government is still seeking to introduce into this parliament—a disgraceful attack on senior Australians if there ever was one.

In Western Australia the other attack on pensioners, again instigated by the Abbott government, has been the reductions in the local government costs. Their licensing costs will no longer be funded by the federal government, and the state government has indicated it is not going to foot the bill either. So Western Australian pensioners, particularly those pensioners in the Swan electorate, in which I live, are absolutely being slammed by both levels of government, and they know that. They know that the Barnett Liberal government is hitting them and they also know that the Abbott government is hitting them. You can dress it up and you can say Labor is out there whipping pensioners up. No, we are not. These are senior Australians who can read and understand very clearly what is on the table and they are not fooled. I am sure that the pensioners out at Rowethorpe who the Liberal member for Swan spoke to were not fooled either.

This is a harsh attack. What we also know is, despite the government now having to make this absolutely humiliating backdown, having to separate out its bills and bring them back, that these attacks on pensioners are still there. They are still in the back pocket of the government. The government is still looking at who in the parliament might support them. Can they win over any of the independents to try and get them to support these measures? Labor has made it absolutely crystal clear we will not support the sorts of harsh measures that the Abbott government wants to introduce to Australia's pensioners. We will not do that. We will continue the fight against these harsh measures right up until the next election.

The other hypocrisy that goes with this harsh, cruel budget is that we had the Prime Minister in the lead-up to the election commit over and over again and promise no cuts to pensions, no cuts. 'You can vote liberal and we'll assure you that we won't make cuts.' Australian pensioners are now reeling and waiting for that axe to fall on their pensions, as the Abbott government will cut their pensions. No matter how they dress it up, using CPI is a cut.

It is a hugely embarrassing backdown for the government and in my view it destroys any credibility that the Prime Minister may have had, if indeed he had any credibility, particularly in relation to broken promises and Mr Hockey's whole budget strategy. We saw over the weekend—and I am sure it will be discussed in this place—how embarrassing it was at the G20 to have the Prime Minister of this country complaining to world leaders about his internal budget problems. For goodness sake!

Again, particularly talking about the GP tax which will hit pensioners if it gets through this place, it was interesting that he bemoaned to world leaders that he cannot get this 'groundbreaking', according to him, tax through the parliament, but he never mentioned it in the lead-up to the election. He never ever mentioned—not once, not at any time—to the Australian public that there was a GP tax on the horizon. Indeed, when it first started to circulate in the community he still denied it, but nevertheless here it is. He has just shown that the Abbott government cannot be trusted on any election commitments it makes to anybody, and Australian pensioners—particularly those in the seat of Swan—certainly know that.

This is a hugely embarrassing backdown for the government and again flies in the face of this view of a budget emergency. Labor was not cute about this; we said up-front what we would support. We were very clear which measures we would support. Equally, we were very clear about which measures we would not support. We know we have been very clear about it. In fact, the government has accused us of scaremongering, but it is not scaremongering; we are out there telling the truth to the Australian community. But what we do know is that Mr Abbott still wants to cut the pension. He has made it clear. We have heard Mr Andrews say that as well.

But where is this so-called budget emergency? We agreed to these changes four months ago, so the government could have had them through four months ago. But no, its ideological bent is to try to destroy the Australian way of life, not only to try to Americanise our universities but to try at the same time to Americanise our social security system. That is not what a fair go Australian community wants, and it has been loud and clear in its condemnation of the Abbott government's proposals.

Australians have always wanted and advocate for a fair go society, and that means that our taxes are used to support those who need a helping hand. It is not the sort of society where, according to the Abbott government, people simply look after themselves. That is not the society the Australian community wants. It is not our fair go society, and yet that is at the heart of what the Abbott government is trying to change with this Americanisation and this Tea Party philosophy that we are now seeing coming loud and clear from the Abbott government. It is at the heart of all of its harsh, cruel measures. There is a very strong message there, and that is that you have to look after yourself; otherwise, you will fall by the wayside because you are a leaner, not a lifter, and you do not have a place in our society.

I can tell you the pensioners in Swan absolutely reject that notion and I know the voters across Australia also reject that notion. It is about a fair go. We are a society that looks after and accepts our responsibility as a community to see that we pay our taxes and that taxes are distributed to those who need a helping hand, not the Tea Party, right-wing ideological agenda the Abbott government is pushing that somehow those who need support will have to find it somewhere else.

The other harsh, cruel measure that is part of why Labor has rejected these bills is what the Abbott government wants to do to young unemployed people. It is still not very clear. We tried at Senate estimates to get a lot of information out of the government in relation to penalties, but apparently that is still being figured out. But this view is that somehow a young person who finds themselves unemployed is to be blamed for that. The definition of 'young' is now being stretched right up to 30. If you are a young person, the Abbott government is saying to you: if you find yourself unemployed, look in the mirror because the fault is yours. We are going to punish you by saying that for at least six months—in fact, we think it will be more than that—you will go without any unemployment payments.

What happens to that young person? If they have family, they fall back onto family, presumably, but what happens if they are a low-income family? What happens if they are part of a pensioner family? That will create very real hardship for those families. And what of young people who do not have those strong family links? What happens to them? They will well and truly fall through the cracks. We know that and the government knows that too, because the other thing the government has done is increase emergency relief money. It knows its harsh, cruel measure will impact young people, who will not get any support at all from the government for six months and will have to go knocking on the doors of community based organisations and ask for handouts for food, help with electricity bills and so on.

But what we also know is that, because Australians on low incomes are finding it tough, the call on that emergency relief money has gone through the roof. We had the Salvation Army, who help the most marginalised in our community, tell us last week at a Senate estimates hearing in Perth that they had never seen so many people needing help. That is before these harsh, cruel budget measures the Abbott government is proposing even see the light of day. I was alarmed to hear the Salvation Army, who we all rely on to look after the most needy in our community, making that statement. They told us at the Senate inquiry they had run out of food.

We also know in Western Australia a couple of weeks ago Foodbank released its report, and there are thousands and thousands of children in Perth who go hungry currently because they do not have enough food to hand out to those vulnerable families, families that are under attack by the harsh, cruel Abbott government budget measures—the sorts of measures it has now taken out of this bill but still has in its back pocket to bring it at some other time when it has managed to hoodwink some of the Independents and others in this chamber to get them to agree.

Australians will not forget. They know who is at the heart of the harshness that they are feeling. We saw the backdoor methods a couple of weeks ago on the fuel tax, so we know the Abbott government is desperate. It is embarrassed that it put up its harsh, cruel budget and cannot get anyone to support it, so it will do whatever it takes to get its measures through.

We saw the disgraceful deal it did six weeks ago with the Palmer United Party when it froze superannuation benefits for working Australians, which has got to be one of the dumbest moves I have moves I have seen in a very long time. If we are to make retirement savings of livable, if we are to get that retirement income to a level where people can sustain themselves and do not need to call on pension benefits, that to me seems to be a very good economic outcome. But instead of that the Abbott government, in a sneaky, last-minute deal with the Palmer United Party, who some health claim they support workers, froze superannuation payments. What a disgraceful move. We will see real decline in retirement incomes through superannuation. And if the government's sneaky attempts to change the way that the pension is increased via the CPI, which will mean a reduction, pensioners will be much worse off. It will be a loss of retirement incomes because of the freezing of super and this pension CPI indexing measure.

We know that the Prime Minister is not listening to Australians, because there is not one credible expert and very few Australians agree. Even the big the end of town has questioned the government on its move to take income off young people for six months. Yet, this right-wing, Tea Party agenda just keeps churning through the Abbott government. Australians are not fooled by this and Labor senators in this place and indeed the Labor Party will continue to be vocal on these harsh budget cuts right up until the next election. We are watching very carefully. We will scrutinise every attempt the government makes to try to cut the benefits of pensioners, families and young people under 30. We will watch and we will be vocal about it. We stand for a good society, not an Americanisation attempt—a right-wing, Tea Party agenda that the Abbott government is trying to push through. We will defend the Australian community.

10:39 am

Photo of Kate LundyKate Lundy (ACT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 6) Bill 2014. Almost five months ago Labor announced that it would support those measures in this year's budget that represented sensible savings. The government had the opportunity to pass those sensible savings all that time ago. But instead this government has continued to push their cruel agenda of pension cuts, leaving young people without any income support for six months and cutting family tax benefits.

The bill we are speaking about today will improve targeting of the family tax benefit by reducing the primary earner income limit to $100,000 a year. Labor supports this type of targeted support. It ensures that the support goes to those who need it most. What I and my colleagues cannot support, however, are the cruel measures that will disproportionately impact on the most vulnerable in our community—cruel measures that expose the government's intention to target those in Australia who have the least. This will have the effect of increasing the divide between those who have and those who have not in modern Australian Society.

This government has delayed the opportunity to bring in these sensible savings because they are still intent on imposing on Australian people the changes proposed to family tax benefits. The cuts proposed will make it harder than ever for Australians and Australian families to pay their bills and meet their financial obligations.

Here in the Australian Capital Territory over 31,000 families currently receive family tax benefit A and B to support them to meet their financial responsibilities that come with raising children. These families will be significantly worse off under the government's proposed changes. Family tax benefit A and B support low- and middle-income families to meet the costs of raising their children.

The overall impact of the combined cuts to these supports is that a family on an average income of $65,000 a year will be $6,000 a year worse off. That is a cut of almost 10 per cent. The magnitude of this cut will significantly impact the ability of the family to maintain a level of wellbeing that is somehow—and I do not know how this would happen—be 'free from financial stress'. In effect the changes will cause greater financial stress on thousands upon thousands of families that I represent.

This government has delayed the opportunity to bring in sensible savings because they are still intent on forcing families whose children are over the age of six to lose these benefits altogether. Around 700,000 families across Australia will lose their support payments once their child turns six years old under changes to the eligibility age. These benefits were designed to assist families who need it by giving them support while their children are young. Labor believes in a targeted welfare system where support goes to those who need it most. That is why we support the targeting of the family tax benefit B by reducing the primary income limit from $150,000 a year to $100,000 a year, but we do not support slashing family tax benefit end of year supplements, the ceasing of indexation to family tax benefit, and the cutting of families from the family tax benefit part B when their youngest child turns six.

Prior to the election Mr Abbott and his liberal colleagues stated that, 'We must reduce the cost of living pressures on families.' However, these changes to family tax benefit part A and part B do exactly the opposite. They increase financial pressures on low and middle income families. They do not reduce the cost of living pressures on families; they make it worse. This is just one of many a broken promises made by Mr Abbott and the Liberal Party with the sole purpose of getting elected. These promises were made. They have now been broken.

The government has delayed the opportunity to bring in sensible savings because they are still intent on targeting single parent families. They want to index the parenting payment for single parents to CPI instead of male total average weekly earnings. Over time this will leave 2,500 vulnerable families here in the Australian Capital Territory $80 a week worse off than they are currently. It will greatly increase the gap between the wealthy and those doing it tough in our community. This measure is almost the perfect example of how this government has chosen to disproportionately target the people in our community who have the least. It is those with the least who will hurt the most.

The government has delayed the opportunity to bring in sensible savings because it is still intent on implementing draconian measures that will leave young job seekers with no financial support for six months. It says it is helping unemployed Australians into work. It claims to be helping unemployed youth into work. But we know and young people certainly know that by stripping young people of any financial support for a six-month period the government is pushing them into poverty.

The impact of this one policy will be far-reaching. It will seriously affect the social and emotional wellbeing of those young people. I know that in this place the links between poverty and mental illness are well known. Apart from the detrimental effects on the wellbeing of young people, there will be a social and economic impact from supporting those whose emotional wellbeing is hit hard. This is because of the terrible circumstances that young people may then find themselves in because of the elimination of the safety net for this group. Obviously, there will be additional costs, perhaps on our health system, which will be left to pick up the pieces from young people whose lives have fallen apart as a result of this disgraceful attack on their ability to survive when they need support the most, as young people finding their way in the world.

Young people at extreme risk as a result of these changes are those leaving out-of-home care. In Australia there are more than 35,000 children in out-of-home care—that is, in foster care, kinship care or residential care. These young people are already facing enormous difficulties, being forced into supporting themselves at a very young age. They have often experienced abuse or neglect prior to entering care, compounded perhaps by poor in-care experiences. While most young people acquire the skills to transition into independent living over a long period of time with the support of parents or family, this is often not the case for out-of-home-care leavers. Leaving this group of young people with no income support at such a critical time will significantly impact on the outcomes for these young Australians. I am gravely concerned that this impact will be universally negative and that problems will be specifically created for young people in this circumstance. As I mentioned before, they are the young people with the greatest need of income support at that period in their life.

These attacks on young people come on top of cuts to services such as Youth Connections. Youth Connections has provided services that have been highly successful in Canberra and across Australia in helping young people transition into work and education. It is my observation that the Abbott government clearly does not accept or understand the barriers that some of our youth face in trying to find work or in engaging in education. Rather, they choose to paint young people as leaners, who have been benefiting somehow from an age of entitlement. The language used by this government and the changes to social security that it seeks to impose on young people show a profound lack of respect for young people who, against all odds, have been able to pick themselves up and find their way from school to work. It was Youth Connections that, through several evolutions, often provided this bridge for them, that helped them through this extraordinarily difficult time of everybody’s life. It is not just young people living with disadvantage, but that is where we need to target it. Those services have been cut. Combined with the social security changes, this is a travesty for a generation of young people. As a senator for the ACT, I am deeply concerned about how the young people in my electorate will be affected by these unfair and heartless policies. Like my colleagues, I will not sit by and watch members of this government force members of my community into poverty and homelessness.

The government has delayed the opportunity to bring in sensible savings because of their intent to target older Australians as well. The change in indexation of the age pension to CPI will considerably lower the income, in real terms, of older Australians over time. Furthermore, the government is increasing from 67 to 70 the age at which Australians will be eligible for the age pension. This will be the highest age for pension eligibility in the OECD. By the time these hardworking people are able to retire, their available pension will be significantly lower as a result of these changes. If the government's proposed legislation succeeds as it currently stands, self-funded Australian retirees will also lose out. A single retiree whose income is below $50,000 a year will no longer receive the seniors supplement. This supplement was designed to help this group of people pay bills such as rates and motor vehicle registration. Labor strongly opposes these measures, which will negatively impact older Australians.

People living in my electorate, the Australian Capital Territory, are being targeted on all fronts. Not only will they feel the effects of the cruel cuts to pension payments and to families, the reduced support for pensioners and the changes to income support that will leave young people with nothing for six months, a large number have already been affected by the government’s decision to slash 16,500 Public Service jobs, the majority of which have come from Canberra. Now young people across the territory who lose their job or who have even more difficulty in finding work may find themselves in a situation with no income support to rely on. Those above 30 who lose their jobs will be welcomed to unemployment with reduced family tax benefit payments and support pensions that do not keep up with the real cost of living.

Territorians from all sectors will be touched by this government, by Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey's cruel budget. While my colleagues and I, as I have said, are happy to support sensible savings, we cannot support these attacks on each and every pensioner in this country by effectively cutting their pensions, cutting a staggering $449 million over five years from the pockets of people who can least afford it. We cannot support the attacks on families across Australia through the dramatic decreases proposed to family tax benefit A and B and the removal of eligibility for this support for families whose youngest has turned six. And we cannot support the attacks on young Australian job seekers by removing income support for people under 30 who cannot find employment.

We have fought the government's attempt to impose these cruel measures and we will continue to fight for justice for all Australians. We do so in the context that these measures are not necessary, that they are the product of a contrivance in this year's budget, where we saw the Abbott government pretend that there was some kind of budget crisis. We know, not just because we understand how our budget works but because those with the expertise—many esteemed economists—have called the government out on their claim that a budget crisis required such draconian measures, that that is not true. What we see contained in these bills, beyond the sensible savings that we have indicated we will support, is an ideological attack on those most in need in our society. When you look at who is affected by these cuts, you see they are an attempt by the government to reshape where taxpayers' money is expended, away from those most in need.

For someone who has been a member of the Labor Party for a very long time, this is unfathomable, but I think there are many Australians out there today asking the question: where in any of the conversations leading up to the last election did the then opposition, now the Abbott government, give an indication that they would take these steps? The fact of the matter is they did not. They said the opposite. They said they would fight for and protect families' ability to afford the cost of living. In fact, they made a virtue of it, attacking us, the then government, for putting a price on carbon. Not once did they say, 'We're going to make it harder for families to cope with the cost of living.' They wore it as a badge of honour that an affordable cost of living was theirs to protect. And yet, now that they have been elected, we see a new agenda, an agenda brought forth in the budget, an agenda that seeks to take support away from those most in need.

When you look at this budget, you see it targets low-income families, young people—who are traditionally in one of the hardest phases of life, that transition from school to work—and pensioners, for whom the cost of living is a daily assessment as they manage meagre budgets with rising costs around them. These are the three groups that we are dealing with in this group of bills that the government still have before the parliament, regardless of their knowledge of our sustained opposition to them. They seek to bring forward these agendas yet.

In conclusion, I would like to remind those participating in and listening to today's debate that we are dealing with a government who made no declaration about these cuts before the election. Here in the ACT, my constituents feel particularly vulnerable because the cuts are coupled with a reduction in employment across the Public Service that, again, has no rationale. It is an ideological attempt to shrink the Public Service by percentage points, by job numbers, not by function, not by seeking efficiencies. We are bearing the brunt of that, at a time when our young people will not be able to find support and our older people will not be able to meet their obligations because, as the cost of living rises around them, their pensions will not rise to the degree that they otherwise would have. And we will see low-income families on family tax benefit A and B lose thousands of dollars a year. That loss of thousands of dollars a year was nowhere in last year's election campaign. Nowhere did I see, 'And we're going to target low-income families, school leavers and pensioners with cuts,' on a fabrication of a budget that somehow needs some dire work. That budget myth has been put to bed, and now we need to put this unfair legislation to bed. I urge those opposite and anyone else in this chamber to reconsider their position in supporting such draconian cuts. From Labor's point of view, we will remain steadfast in continuing to oppose those unfair measures and in that way represent those who I know are looking to the Labor opposition to prevent these harsh measures being imposed upon the Australian community.

10:58 am

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

I also rise to speak on the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 6) Bill 2014. It has become very clear that the Abbott government is no friend of low-income families, the unemployed, the sick or Australians in times of trouble. Far from it: this government has shown it would prefer to see the most vulnerable Australians go without while it props up multinational companies and the well-to-do. This is a government that wants to sentence young unemployed people to six months without an income while at the same time handing out $50,000 cheques to millionaires to have babies.

From the beginning we have seen an ongoing parade of seriously twisted priorities from those opposite. They are determined to tear up the Australian tradition of the fair go and create a new Australian underclass. There is no greater illustration of this callous, cruel and, quite frankly, shameful attitude to Australians than in the area of social services. It is no overstatement to say that the policies in this area are amongst the harshest this country has ever seen. They tear up key elements of our social contract and launch a direct attack on Australia's national identity as a fair, supportive and egalitarian nation.

No-one will be more betrayed more than young Australians who are out of work. The Abbott government would sentence these people to live on absolutely nothing for six months—nothing to pay for food with, nothing to pay for shelter with and certainly nothing to support job-seeking activities with. I have said it before and I will say it again: unemployment is not a lifestyle choice. The vast majority of job seekers are genuinely seeking work, to break free from the dire impacts of an income that is far below the poverty line. The government's plan to rip away income from young unemployed people is nothing but a recipe for mass desperation, crime and destitution. We need to support our young people to achieve their potential, not toss them out in the cold with few prospects for food or shelter—let alone the money to tackle job searching. Given that youth unemployment hit its highest level since 2001 this month, under the Abbott government, this is a particularly senseless and ill-considered betrayal. Young people need jobs, not punishment.

Next in the crosshairs are pensioners. These people, who have contributed to the social and economic wealth of our great country, are now being treated as little more than a drain on the system. Despite solemnly promising before the election that there would be no cuts to pensions, the Abbott government has set about doing exactly that. They want to change the indexing arrangements so that pensioners will be $80 a week poorer within a decade. They want to change deeming thresholds so that fewer Australians will qualify for the pension and that those who do will receive less. They want to cut the seniors supplement that will see 300,000 pensioners close to $900 a year worse off. And they want to change the pension age, to force Australians to keep working until they are 70 years old. This is a despicable way to treat those who have contributed to this country for decades.

These measures and many others were contained in the original social services legislation that the government has so far failed to get through the Senate. From the beginning, Labor's position was clear: we were not going to support the cuts to the pension; we were not going to allow unemployed people to be plunged into serious and ongoing poverty; and we would never agree to kicking families off family tax benefit B when their youngest child turned six. We were, however, willing to look at sensible measures that would relieve some budgetary pressures, without placing massive burdens on the most vulnerable Australians. The bill before us today is a recognition by the government that they simply do not have the support for their other cruel attacks on vulnerable Australians.

The measures in this bill are the ones that Labor is willing to support. Included are more than $2 billion dollars' worth of savings that the government could have acted on five months ago. Labor was willing to support improved targeting of family tax benefit B by reducing the primary earner income limit from $150,000 a year to $100,000 a year four months ago. Labor was willing to support ceasing of indexation on the clean energy supplement five months ago. Labor was willing to support a two-year indexation pause on the assets value limits for working age allowances five months ago. Labor was willing to support the end of relocation scholarship assistance for students relocating between major cities five months ago. Labor was willing to support plans to limit the six-week overseas portability period for student payments five months ago. Instead, the government decided to forego the savings and bluster on with their harsh attacks on the most vulnerable Australians.

Thankfully, Labor has managed to hold off some of the worst attacks for the time being. However, we should not kid ourselves that the siege is over. We know the Abbott government remains committed to forcing the lowest-income Australians to do the heavy lifting while richer Australians escape relatively unscathed.

The ultimate test for Labor in what we would support is that of fairness. This is a test that the government has failed again and again and again. The Abbott government's vicious budget measures, which we heard nothing about before the election, place the vast majority of cuts on the shoulders of low-income Australians. This has been confirmed independently by Australia's premiere modelling outfit, NATSEM. In its analysis of the budget, NATSEM found that the poorest 20 per cent of Australians would pay $1.1 billion more into government coffers than the richest households. Over the next four years, the poorest 20 per cent of families, or those with $35,000 or less in disposable annual income, would lose $2.9 billion over four years as a result of the harsh changes to family benefits, payments and pensions. Contrast this with the wealthiest 20 per cent of families, who earn $88,000 or more after tax. These families will lose a total of $1.78 billion which is a full 40 per cent less than low-income families. Low- and middle-income single parents would suffer the most, losing between 10 and 15 per cent of family income of up to $60,000 by the time the full brunt of the budget comes into effect in 2017-2018.

But it is not just Labor and NATSEM that know how unfair this budget is. The government obviously knew full well what the dire impacts would be on low- and middle-income Australians. The proof of this is in their decision to end the longstanding practice of publishing detailed family outcomes tables in the budget papers. These tables, which have been included in the budget papers since 2005, show how the budget would impact on different types of families with varying incomes.

After a freedom of information request from Fairfax, Australians learnt that Treasury had in fact prepared a 56-page distributional analysis and a 21-page cameo analysis of the impacts of the budget measures for cabinet. At the same time, Treasury also released a shorter analysis which showed that the budget cuts would hit low-income families to the tune of $842 a year, while an average high-income family would lose only $71 a year. Clearly, cabinet knew of the massive inequity of the impacts of the budget but decided to hide these impacts from Australians. The Abbott government did not want us to see this information, because they knew very well what it revealed about the twisted priorities of this cruel budget.

As a last-minute ruse to try to cover up the rank unfairness of the budget, the Abbott government decided to bring in an extra levy for those earning above $180,000 a year. However, this levy cuts out after three years, while the burden on poorer Australians will continue indefinitely if the government gets its way. Not only that, but the levy includes a loophole that means people with high incomes can easily avoid the levy by employing a few clever tax arrangements and deductions. Make no mistake: despite what Mr Hockey tells us, the age of entitlement is not over. Corporate welfare continues; superannuation perks remain; and those opposite have done everything they can to stand against the global tide to make multinational companies pay their fair share of tax.

Labor has managed to hold back some of the most abhorrent measures in the government's attack on poor Australians, but the fight is not over. In an extraordinarily arrogant move, the government have also reintroduced their savage budget cuts into the parliament in a number of separate bills. The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, still wants to slash pensions. He still wants to cut support for struggling families. He is committed to leaving young job seekers with no income for six months at a time. Make no mistake: Labor will continue to stand up for families, pensioners and young people and fight against Tony Abbott's savage budget cuts.

11:09 am

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Palmer United Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak to the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 6) Bill 2014. This bill will have a severe financial impact on struggling Tasmanian and Australian families, students, disabled people, seniors and veterans through a range of 10 heartless measures, and I will not support this legislation. In particular, limiting the family tax benefit part A large-family supplement to families with four or more children, removing the family tax benefit part A per child add-on to the higher income-free area for each additional child after the first and targeting family tax benefit part B by reducing the primary earner income limit from $150,000 a year to $100,000 a year will cause real hardship for more than 50 per cent of the Tasmanian population, so I will not support this cruel legislation.

Of course, there is another reason why I have chosen to vote against this legislation, and that is: as a protest and as a matter of conscience and principle, I will vote against all government legislation until the men and women of our Army, Navy and RAAF receive a fair pay rise and their Christmas-entitlement leave back.

Before I detail the reasons for my conscience vote to support members of the ADF, it is important to note that even if I had not made that promise to our Defence families I would have voted against this bill because it also targets our veterans by ceasing the indexation of the clean energy supplement; pausing from 1 July 2015 the indexation for two years of the assets value limits for all working-age allowances, student payments and parenting payment single; pausing from 1 July 2017 the indexation for three years of the assets-test-free areas for all pensions other than parenting payment single; and including untaxed superannuation in assessment for the Commonwealth seniors health card for all new cardholders from 1 January 2015.

It is a well-known fact that this chamber is not controlled by the Abbott led Liberal-National Party government. For the greater majority of Tasmanians and for the greater majority of Australians, the fact that this chamber is not controlled by the Liberal-Nationals government is a huge relief because, by their actions, they have proven that they are bullies and liars. By their actions they have proved that, under the smokescreen of budget repair, they simply want to take money and entitlements from ordinary, struggling Australians whilst rewarding their rich mates who give money and favours to the Liberal and National parties.

The government legislative program presented before this Senate has no mandate. It has no moral force. Reasonable, fair-minded Australians have no choice but to oppose the greater majority of government policies presented to this place because they are nothing more than a political ambush. The key Abbott government reforms in health, education and social entitlements were not taken to the Australian people before the last federal election. The government legislation and budget cuts that we are asked to consider daily in this Senate are illegitimate. They were hidden and covered from the Australian people before the last election. If the truth about the Liberals' plan for Australia had been known before the last election then the Abbott-Hockey government would never have been placed in a privileged position of power—not ever.

It was only after the Liberal-National Party government was formed that the Tasmanian and Australian people were told that university funding would be cut and that, under the smokescreen of reform, students would be forced into massive debt and bullied into paying double or triple for their tertiary education. It was only after the PM and Hockey took charge of the nation's capital in the lower house that their true legislative reform agenda was revealed: the universal nature of our health system would be undermined, and sick people and families would be charged what is effectively an extra tax to visit the doctor. It was only after the PM and Hockey took charge of the nation's capital in the lower house that we found out that billions of dollars of desperately needed entitlements and tax concessions would be taken away from struggling Tasmanian and Australian families. And it was only after the majority of Australian Defence Force members voted to support Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey—indeed, on the day just before the Melbourne Cup—that the men and women of our Army, Navy and RAAF were officially told that they would have thousands of dollars worth of holidays, travel entitlements and meal allowances stripped away from them for efficiency dividends and that a real pay cut would be imposed on the members of our Defence forces.

Surely government members in this chamber are not arrogant or delusional enough to think that the 75,000, give or take, full-time and part-time members of the ADF and the tens of thousands of their families and friends would have voted for this Abbott government if they had known that our ADF's pay and working conditions would have been attacked in such a cowardly manner by the PM and Mr Hockey. If you think that, then call a double-dissolution election and see what verdict the people of Tasmania and Australia deliver this time, when they are fully informed.

Getting back to the point I made at the beginning of my speech, if all Labor opposition, Greens and crossbench senators unite on a particular bill or issue presented in this place and vote against it, then the government's bill will be defeated in this great chamber of debate. In defeating the government's legislation, the Senate—the states' house of review—will have sent the government a powerful, clear message.

Today I am calling on all crossbenchers, Greens and the Labor opposition to unite on one important matter: to vote against all government legislation and send a powerful and clear message to the Abbott led government. That message that I would like all non-government senators to unite on is a unique and special one, about something which fundamentally affects Australia's ability to maintain our national security and defend ourselves.

Quite simply, by voting against government legislation, this Senate chamber would reflect the overwhelming will of the Australian people and say: 'PM, your pay offer to the men and women of the Australian Defence Force is unfair, unjust and an appalling insult.' As a matter of fact, it is absolute rubbish. How you government people over there can do that to these men and women who put their lives on the line is beyond me. Do you have any idea of the consequences it is going to have for our national security and the morale of these men and women, or what it is already doing? I am getting hundreds of emails and phone calls, because these men and women have no voice. Mr Abbott, your pay offer to our ADF must be withdrawn and replaced with new deal—a fair deal which at least keeps track with inflation and safeguards their existing holidays and travel, meal and accommodation allowances.

My critics will say that I should not be so naive and idealistic. How dare a senator suggest that the government be held to ransom over one issue! Ordinarily, I would agree; one issue should not be able to bring this place to a halt. However, the ADF pay crisis caused by this government is, in my view, without peer or precedent and is the only issue that should bring the nation's capital to a halt.

And, speaking of bringing the nation's capital to a halt, it was no coincidence that the Abbott government chose to announce their disgusting and humiliating pay offer to the ADF, and the Christmas leave they are taking off them, on the eve of the Melbourne Cup—trying to slip it under the carpet. Shame. Our Prime Minister and his cabinet knew exactly what they were doing by tasking the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence with the dirty job of announcing, on the eve of that race that stops the nation, the decision which confirms the Abbott government's betrayal of the men and women of our defence forces. The Abbott government were deliberately attempting to minimise the political damage that would be caused to them, by having the ADF pay betrayal compete for media attention with issues generated by the Melbourne Cup, one of Australia's great cultural events.

What this Abbott led government did not count on was the genuine community outrage generated by this slap in the face to the men and women of our Defence Force. What they did not count on was the media attention and public debate generated by the non-government members of this place who chose to speak out in favour of a better deal for our Army, Navy and RAAF. So, what started as a sneaky, slick government campaign to cover up and lessen the political fallout from an appalling government decision will now blow up in the face of this mean and tricky government that still thinks it can lie its way into office and bully or bribe the crossbenchers into becoming accomplices in what is nothing more than a filthy little crime.

If we do not have a secure Australia, if Australia's national security is undermined, then we have absolutely nothing. Everything we work for—education, health, food security, energy security—is placed at risk for this and future generations.

Today I want to remind members of this chamber that the eyes of the 75,000, give or take, members of the ADF and their families, and the 300,000 recipients of veterans affairs entitlements and their families—the eyes of nearly a million Australians—will be watching how you vote on this bill, and their ears will be listening for reasons why you chose to support the Abbott government in betraying the men and women of our defence forces. Their hearts will feel it if you are prepared to fight for them when it counts in this chamber or to just use them for photo opportunities on a few days of the year, when Australia remembers its fallen, the wounded and their grieving families and friends.

I have no doubt that, if the non-government members of this chamber show courage—like our Defence Force personnel—and unite on and rally around this unique matter; vote against the government's legislation program; and turn every vote in this chamber into a referendum on the Abbott government's appalling pay offer to the members of our armed forces, then the Abbott government will be forced to bow down before the will of the Australian people and immediately renegotiate a fairer and just pay deal for the men and women of our Army, Navy and RAAF.

Due to the enormous amount of feedback that I have received over the last week or so since the Melbourne Cup, I am going to quote a few of the emails and letters that have been sent to my office. Of course, I will be redacting any names associated with those, for the people who are still serving, in uniform, because otherwise we all know what will happen: they will be punished. One of them says:

I am currently serving in the RAN, having worked my way through the ranks from a 15 year old Junior Recruit thus currently have served 38 years in defence of our country.

I have deployed on Special Operations in Submarines, served in the Solomon Islands on Op Anode, 3 tours with Op Catalyst (Middle East Area of Operations, Iraq and Afghanistan) and Op Resolute, Border Protection.

Over the period of my service I have seen a steady decline in conditions of service which has resulted in a loss of allowances, leave travel warrants and travel conditions, to name a few. And if I was considering joining the ADF today, I would think twice. I am disappointed to realise that the general population does not really understand how serving Defence members feel as they cannot voice their issues in public.

Radio shock jock, Ray Hadley from 2GB, believes 'Defence members must be satisfied' as he has not heard from any of them complaining about the 1.5 per cent pay increase. It is quite obvious he does not understand the constraints members are under when wanting to complain about their conditions of employment or their employer—the federal government.

One particular thing I am uneasy about is that we are effectively taking a pay cut when compared to the rate of CPI and have lost leave and removal entitlements. I can see a greater cut looming when rental allowance is increased to reflect CPI and the 'current civilian market rent'. I do have a point I wish to make about double standards. Although a politician would argue it is a 'condition of their service' and thus an entitlement, as a Defence member if your partner has a home in the area you are posted to, you are not entitled to receive rent allowance as it is deemed you have an interest in that property even if it belongs to your partner, not to you personally. Yet if a politician—let's say the Treasurer—has a wife who owns a property in Canberra then the politician can claim an allowance to rent that property from their partner as it is deemed that they do not own or have an interest that property. Go figure.

How is it that one set of rules applies to Defence—a rule that can see the member charged with fraud and serve a custodial sentence—yet a politician gets away scott free? I would appreciate your point of view on this matter and thank you for representing Defence members who are voiceless in the matters of pay and conditions of service.

Email No. 2 reads:

Thank you be being the voice for all of us service personnel who are unable to voice our disgust and disdain about the pay rise or should I say pay cut that has been forced upon us. I would have been happier without the 1.5 per cent pay rise as long as the other conditions were not cut, which they term as 'productivity improvements'.

How is the Defence force now measured in productivity since we don't make profit from our business...

From my calculations, which maybe wrong... I will get an extra $3.56 a day pre-tax or a massive total of about $1301 per year pre-tax.

Since I have signed on the line and accept all the inherent conditions of being on call, this makes an hourly rate increase of about 14.85c an hour. In what they term as 'productivity Improvements' they are taking six days leave off a majority of us, which works out to about $1,443 on my current rate, which outweighs the pay rise by about $142.

So please keep doing what you can to make everyone aware of what they are doing to us.

Email No. 3 reads:

I have listened to John Laws since 1972 when I was working in Sydney as a police officer. I have generally agreed with most of his comments and views.

I have previously listened with interest to your conversations with John Laws on his radio show.

Today I listened to your latest conversation with Mr Laws. Based on my experiences in the police force, as far as pay and conditions are concerned, I can empathise with the plight of our military personnel.

The general public appears to have more idea of how it feels to be treated the way our military personnel are currently being treated than does Mr Laws.

It is a common phenomenon for people who become wealthy and powerful to lose touch with reality and lose any humble traits they may have once possessed. I urge you to continue in your fight for fairness in this country.

Email No. 4 says:

Currently I am due to be posted from Sydney to Perth and will be leaving my family in losing my Sydney location. Previously I would have been eligible for the $94.34 per week.

Now I get $385 to stock the pantry as described in the above link to para 16. This is a substantial amount of money and is far greater than the entire pay rise over the three-year period.

This point has not been identified, I believe, at any level and I feel the only person currently willing to defend Defence members is Jacqui Lambie.

In addition, where I currently work and with the Navy having a 18-month posting cycle, we have a large amount of members who choose to have their dependents remain at their losing posting location for whatever reason.

This massive pay cut which is under the heading 'productivity increases' has come at a massive shock to these members who only today realised this.

This was last Friday. The email continues:

This pay cut will reduce capability as currently members are happy to move with their postings at a short notice and have the family follow up once kids schools and spouse employment are sorted out.

This will change this and force many members to choose between remaining with family and permanently leaving the Defence Force or moving with a massive pay cut.

Defence Force members are happy to deploy at short notice and be away from family; however, you know you are coming home after the deployment.

There is a major difference moving whole families from one side to the other side of the country by removing was deemed adequate last week from $5,000 per year potentially down to $385.

MWD(U) provisions were added to the pay and conditions manual, PACMAN, to allow Defence greater flexibility and to retain members.

It would be great if we could collect the data of members who are in MWDU discharge from Defence.

If members discharge in a large number, any deemed productivity increase would be quickly dissolved.

As a matter of fact, if they get out and walk, like I am hearing they are going to, the amount of money it is going to cost this country for what? All over $130 million? I will not be the only person in this country laughing at you. Wake up. This is about national security. This is about our Defence Force personnel. (Time expired)

11:29 am

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

If no further colleagues wish to contribute to the debate, then I shall close it. It might not have been clear from a number of the contributions by opposition senators, but the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 6) Bill 2014 seeks to reintroduce several 2014 budget measures in the Social Services portfolio which were previously introduced in other budget bills.

It is important that I correct some of the fantasies which have been shared with this chamber by Labor senators in the course of the debate on this legislation, chief amongst which is that the government had an opportunity to separate the various provisions in this bill into a form that the Australian Labor Party would support. That is in fact what the government endeavoured to do. When the package of legislation was originally introduced, the government was quite happy to not oppose the amendments that the Australian Labor Party circulated in this place, which had the intent of deleting from the original bill those elements which the Australian Labor Party would not support. We recognised where the numbers lay on that issue, and we would have accepted that occurring in this place. Where we would have ended up is exactly where we are now with these provisions in this bill that the Labor Party in fact support.

The perverse thing was that the Australian Labor Party circulated amendments to delete those provisions of the original bill that they did not support, but the Australian Labor Party did not allow the bill to be read a second time so that the amendments that they in fact circulated could be moved in the committee stage. The Australian Labor Party contended that they could not possibly allow the bill to be read a second time, because that would in some way, shape or form indicate that they supported elements of the bill that they were not in fact supportive of. That is not the case. For instance, the Australian Labor Party supported the second reading of our MRRT repeal legislation. I do not think anyone took the fact that they allowed the bill to be read a second time and to go to the committee stage as evidence that the Australian Labor Party had changed their mind and were going to support the repeal of the MRRT. So it is not an uncommon thing in this place for parties to allow legislation to be read a second time and to go to the committee stage, even though there are elements of that legislation that they do not support. The Australian Labor Party put the government in a position where we had no option but to bring forward a separate bill that in fact sought to give effect to what the Labor Party actually wanted and what could have been achieved if they had allowed their own amendments to the original legislation to be moved in committee.

I read a fictional account in a newspaper of a meeting that Minister Andrews and I had with Jenny Macklin. The account said that Minister Andrews and I looked at each other in a surprised way, realising for the first time that the bill was not going to proceed and could in fact have been introduced in a separate form originally that Minister Macklin could have supported. That was complete bunkum. The Senate committee report that the Labor Party contributed to simply made clear those elements that they would support and those elements that they would not support. It did not say, 'We will only support the elements of the budget that we agree to if they are packaged in a particular way.' It did not say that. In fact, it is common in this place that bills get sliced and diced and provisions get deleted, which we thought would be the course in this place and in fact which we assumed the Labor Party thought would be the approach, given they themselves circulated amendments. The Labor Party did not allow those amendments to be moved and that is why we find ourselves in this place. So, when the Labor Party say, 'The government could have had these measures passed through this place much earlier if only they had done what we wanted,' we in fact tried to do what the Labor Party wanted, but they would not let us, which is why we are in this place. I do not put blame for that at the feet of Senator Moore, the Manager of Opposition Business in this place, because I know that she endeavours to work practically and cooperatively wherever she can. I lay the blame at Ms Macklin, over in the other place, for being, as I think is the technical term, sheer bloody-minded in relation to this matter. It is true that these particular budget measures could already have been passed if Ms Macklin in the other place had actually allowed her Senate colleagues to move the amendments that they themselves had circulated. If Ms Macklin had allowed the previous bill to be read a second time and if Ms Macklin had allowed the circulated amendments to be moved in the committee stage then these budget measures would have been passed some time ago.

I think we are now at a point where we are getting excruciatingly close to having the opportunity to vote on this legislation. With those few remarks, I will conclude the second reading debate.

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the bill be now read a second time.