Senate debates

Thursday, 29 November 2018


Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Promoting Sustainable Welfare) Bill 2018; Second Reading

1:48 pm

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

Well! It seems that things have moved quite quickly! The Australian Labor Party cited FECCA as a reason to support this piece of legislation. They said that this legislation had the support of the Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia. Yet I've just come across a publication from SBS from which it appears that FECCA are reviewing their position and, I understand, will be shortly issuing a statement saying that they do not support this piece of legislation. It appears that the only reason that FECCA initially indicated that they could live with this was that they feared that a worse bill was coming because we didn't have the support of the crossbench—or they were misled. They were clearly misled, because, had they spoken to members of the crossbench, they would have known that the majority bloc of the crossbench does not support this, or any other, legislation. So, if FECCA are going to be issuing a statement announcing that they do not support this legislation and the Australian Labor Party were citing FECCA as evidence of why this legislation was needed, I can only assume that the Australian Labor Party now will be reviewing their position.

As FECCA made clear through various submissions as the peak body for a number of different ethnic communities in Australia, this legislation rips a billion dollars away from those people who have come to Australia to make Australia their home and ensure they get access to the sort of support that Australians deserve. There was a time when Australia would have considered it part of the reason we have such a successful multicultural country that we support people when they come to this country and, as a result, they make better citizens in return for that support. Yet here we have the Australian Labor Party joining with the government in a deal to rip a billion dollars away from ethnic communities, from newly arrived migrants, and at the same time we have a government saying it wants to bring forward tax cuts to people on $120,000 a year. That's not what a decent country does.

Given we've now had this position from the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils that they are reviewing their support and are likely shortly to issue a statement indicating they do not support this piece of legislation, and given that the Australian Labor Party have based their support on representations from some of these peak stakeholder groups, I'm looking forward to the Labor Party now also reviewing their position and reversing their support for this bill. There was a time when the Australian Labor Party were a party that represented not only people who had been here for generations but people who came to make Australia their home and to contribute—the many millions of families from right across the world who have made Australia a better place. There was a time when they understood that the architecture for successful multicultural policy relied on supports for people when they first arrive here to help them find employment, get education, learn English language skills and, in the event that they might be unemployed for a short period of time, provide them with the income support that they need. Of course, we know that as a result of those supports—as a result of ensuring that Australians or people who are shortly to become Australian citizens receive that support—those individuals made an incredible contribution to this nation. The evidence shows that, as a result of migration, we've got greater economic growth, we've got more job creation and we've got greater investment. It's been a net positive for Australia. One can only assume that the Labor Party are fearful, in the lead-up to an election, that the government will run a campaign against them based on this anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, 'divide and conquer' approach. It's to the great shame of the Labor Party that they— (Time expired)

1:53 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to give a contribution on the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Promoting Sustainable Welfare) Bill 2018. I concur with the comments of my Greens colleagues already in the debate this morning and, of course, the comments of Mr Bandt in the House of Representatives as well. Make no mistake: this bill is an attack on multicultural Australia. It is an attack on the fair go in Australia. It is a bill that aims to create an underclass of migrants—an underclass of new Australians. Australia has built itself on the back of successful waves of migration over and over again. People from all over the world have come to this great country, contributed, helped build it, helped make it more vibrant and ensured that the notion of a fair go and justice—perhaps that phrase that the Prime Minister likes so much, a 'fair dinkum' go—is at the heart and soul of our national character and our social fabric. And yet here we have legislation being rushed through this parliament, with a wink and a nod from the Labor Party, that would rip the rug from underneath those when they need our help the most. What makes Australia a fair dinkum fair country is that we have a safety net that is meant to work. It's there for a reason: it's there to ensure that when people need help—need a helping hand when they're down on their luck—they're not pushed off to the never-never and are destitute forever and a day.

This is actually about having a safety net that ensures that we are able to look after people when they need our assistance because we're a community—that's what we do: we look after each other. It's why we pay taxes. It's why we have universal health care. It's why we have public schools and it's why we have a social safety net. But to suggest that, just because you come from somewhere else in the world, because you weren't born in this country, you don't deserve access to this safety net even though you've become a new member of the Australian community, is just plain wrong. It is a dangerous attack on the very heart of what makes Australia a wonderful multicultural nation but also a fair dinkum fair one.

What is the purpose of this piece of legislation that would cut off support to new Australians, if and when they need it? It's going to save the government, apparently, $1.3 billion over the next four years. Where's that money going to go? To tax cuts for those who are rich enough to look after themselves—until they're not? To tax cuts to corporate Australia because we know the government is desperate to look after big business in this country through a variety of different subsidies? To subsidising the building of new coal-fired power stations? We know the government is desperate to push through rules and regulations that would allow them to spend public money, by Christmas, on building new coal-fired power stations. Is that where this money is coming from: cutting off support to new Australians for a measly $1.3 billion over four years?

Basically what this is all about is a dog whistle in the lead-up to an election where this Prime Minister wants to run hard on race. This is a dog-whistle law. It is designed as red meat for the far right base of the Liberal and National parties and, of course, at a time when they're already losing votes—they've lost in Victoria, they lost in Wentworth and they're not hearing the lesson properly. Why on earth would the Labor Party cuddle up and side with the Liberals on this? Why are the Labor Party prepared to push a piece of legislation through that will destroy the social safety net for new Australians? It is an attack on multicultural Australia. It is an attack on the fair go of our nation.

If the Labor Party do this, if they push this vote through today, then we will know very clearly that they are not fair dinkum when it comes to fairness or multiculturalism. No: they're prepared to simply wink and nod as the Morrison government blows their racist dog whistle. That's what is going on here today. I don't understand, for the life of me, why we're not hearing more outrage from backbenchers in the Labor Party—or is it that people just don't know? Is it that members in this place simply don't understand that this is what the leadership of the opposition have signed their party up to? Because I tell you what: when you get back to your electorates, you will hear all about it. You will hear all about it. There is an opportunity today to take a bit of a pause and stop—

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Hanson-Young, you'll be in continuation when debate resumes.