Thursday, 29 November 2018
Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Promoting Sustainable Welfare) Bill 2018; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Promoting Sustainable Welfare) Bill 2018. Labor would never have proposed this bill. We should be welcoming new migrants to this country. However, we are not in government and we have to deal with the political reality in which these measures are presented. We had to contemplate the consequences and impact that the passage of the legislation as presented by the government would have, had it passed the parliament in its entirety. There was much at stake. The government's proposed four-year waiting period would have placed many thousands of families and children under significant hardship. This was something we could not risk leaving to One Nation and other elements of the crossbench. The consequences of not working to reduce the impact of this bill would no doubt have seen it get through this place in its entirety on the back of some other unrelated concession to One Nation or other elements of the crossbench.
This was an outcome we could not contemplate. Instead of sanctimony, we sought to pursue and secure significant improvements to the government's bill. These improvements will protect vulnerable newly arrived residents, families and children. We acknowledge these improvements will not satisfy all of our concerns with the government's bill, but they will spare thousands of people from being impacted by this bill. We have taken the roughest edges off the government's proposal. The government originally proposed an increase in the waiting period, to four years, for newly arrived residents for social security, family tax benefit, paid parental leave and dad and partner pay. This would have had severe impacts on many thousands of people, including cutting the family tax benefit for 66,000 families and 144,000 children, and cutting other payments for 47,000 people.
I actually was a migrant to this country, in 1973, and I must say that the support I received was crucial in allowing me and my family to integrate into Australia, to get a job and to move on in our lives. This is typical of this government. This government is absolutely consumed by internal conflict and its lack of capacity to understand how families in this country survive.
In securing these key concessions from the government, we have mitigated the impact and we have mitigated the hardship. There will be no waiting period for family tax benefit part B, no increase in the waiting period for carer payment, a one-year waiting period for family tax benefit part A, a one-year waiting period for carer allowance, a two-year waiting period for paid parental and dad and partner pay. New Zealanders, orphan relative visa holders and remaining relative visa holders are excluded from the changes, and we have expanded access to special benefit when people's circumstances change, including in the case of domestic and family violence.
The concessions that Labor has secured against the government's bill will ensure that 49,000 families and 107,000 children will be spared from the government's family tax benefit waiting period each year, and 21,000 people will be spared the waiting periods for other payments. This means that the number of families and children who would have been impacted by the government's family tax benefit waiting period has now been reduced by around three-quarters, and the number of people impacted by other changes will be nearly halved. Labor has also managed to keep the exemptions from waiting periods for people who become lone parents as well as for people on refugee and humanitarian visas. These were not easy decisions to make, but we made them to protect thousands of people including families and children. The Federation of Ethnic Communities' Council of Australia, FECCA, has said today of the concessions we have secured:
… the Federal Opposition should be congratulated for securing changes to the Government’s Encouraging Self-Sufficiency for Newly Arrived Migrants Bill 2018.
The chairperson of FECCA, Mary Patetsos, said:
These amendments will help protect the most vulnerable new arrivals and their families from the new four-year waiting period for benefits, imposed by the Federal Government. We congratulate the Opposition for listening to our concerns and for the amendments that reduce the Bill’s impact on the Family Tax Benefit, Carer Payment, Carer Allowance, Paid Parental Leave and Dad and Partner Pay.
Of course it is important that new Australians aim to financially support themselves. We know that the vast majority of migrants are able to secure employment quickly and do not require income support. The Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria told the committee that the workforce participation rate of migrants is 80 per cent, compared to 60 per cent for people who are born in Australia. Migrants are hardworking and committed Australians and they make an important and welcome contribution to Australia socially, culturally and economically.
But, of course, people go through tough times and it is important that they can get the help that they need. Labor will also work to ensure the best and fairest possible outcomes for those doing it tough and we have a proud record in defending social services and payments. On every single occasion we have fought the government's attacks on the age pension. We have fought the government's attempts on Newstart, and we will review the rate of Newstart in government, because it is too low—so low it is driving people into poverty and stopping people from getting jobs. We have fought the government's cuts and outsourcing of Centrelink jobs, which have coincided with outrageous waiting times for many, from pensioners to students. Australia knows that those vulnerable individuals' families and children will always be better off under a Labor government.
Centre Alliance prepared a report, which they produced last night. They did not call for a reduction in the proposed four-year waiting periods in the recommendations of their report, and this is a very clear indication that Labor was absolutely right in our concerns that this bill would have passed the Senate without major changes unless we worked to secure those amendments and protect migrants. The recommendations that Centre Alliance made in relation to orphan and remaining relative visa exemptions have already been secured by Labor, and the recommendations Centre Alliance made in relation to special benefit have also been addressed, with all the restrictions to the special benefit change of circumstances waiting period proposed in the government's original bill now removed. This means that all permanent visa classes can access the special benefit when circumstances change. People who have applied for a permanent visa can access special benefit. People on temporary visas like partner visas will be able to access special benefit. Anyone, including these pontificating Greens down the other end who are critical of Labor's decision to mitigate the impact of this bill and get rid of the worst elements, need only read the Centre Alliance report, which does not call for reduced waiting periods. The changes Centre Alliance were requesting are minor compared to what Labor has secured.
Senator McKim interjecting—
Let me deal with the interjections from the Greens. These people are so sanctimonious and full of their own self-importance but actually miss the main game in this country. That's why in every recent election the Greens have gone backwards. They don't make a difference. They come here with their self-important, sanctimonious approach and do not deal with the key issues. The key issues are to protect people, not to come here and make speeches for their smaller and smaller group of supporters, not to make speeches that try to make them more important than anyone else and try to give the impression that they understand the issues for disadvantaged people in this country. It is okay to make those speeches. We don't mind your making those speeches, but we want to make a difference, and that is what we are doing. We are making a difference. We are actually protecting people. If the Greens' position had been adopted here, all the worst elements of this bill would have gone through the parliament. That is the reality of where we are at.
For the Greens to yell and shout and intervene in this means nothing. Constituents around the country understand how immature the Greens are in relation to many of these issues, how pure they want to be and how they end up not being in a position to make a difference. Making speeches is okay, but the hard work of opposition is to make sure we get rid of the worst aspects of this bill. That's what Linda Burney and Chris Bowen have done, and I congratulate them for actually doing the business, not standing out there at the edges of politics yelling and screaming about how bad this is. What we have done is change the bill for the better to look after vulnerable migrants and make sure that what we do makes a difference. The Greens make no difference in this place and in fact on many occasions their uncompromising approach, their lack of understanding about parliamentary process and how you deal with these issues, makes it tougher for people.
The Greens and Centre Alliance can rail against this all they like. What we are doing is making a difference and protecting vulnerable migrants. For all the purity that the Greens bring to this place—you know the old argument: the more pure you are, the more impotent you are. The Greens are impotent in this stuff. The Greens do not make a difference. Again, I say that is reflected in their declining public support, because the public are onto the Greens. All of the rhetoric, all of the arguments and all of the nonsense that they go on with makes no difference if they do not understand how to actually deals with issues when they are faced with them. That is the problem for the Greens. We probably would have had, for many years now, a price on carbon if the Greens had have shown any common sense in this place, but common sense and the Greens don't go together. They don't go together, and they should never be in the same sentence.
We take the view that what we have done is exactly what migrant communities have asked us to do, which is to get rid of the worst aspects of this bill. I'll conclude on this: we would not have done this in government, but our responsibility is to be responsible. The Greens don't have to be responsible; they will never form government. The Greens don't have to be responsible, because they are talking to a declining group of supporters across the country. The Greens can rail against this all they like, but what Labor has done is deliver sensible amendments and work constructively with the government, even though the government is in chaos. We have actually taken the rough edges of this.
This is a government in decline. This is a government with a leader who just gets angrier and angrier every day. This is a government with a leader who cannot control his own party. He is a leader who will say anything and do anything. You can expect, in the future, more and more attacks on migrants, more and more attacks on ethnic communities, more and more division from this government and more and more fear campaigns by this government. You can expect more and more money to be thrown at their base to try to save the furniture. This government is a disgrace. This government doesn't get it. What we need in this country is a Labor government that understands the needs of migrants, can deal with the needs of migrants and can ensure that migrants come here with reasonable conditions and reasonable rights.
What we would have seen, if we had simply taken the position that the Greens and Centre Alliance would have taken, is that a bill that attacks more migrants and makes life worse for migrants would have gone through. We make no apologies for actually behaving like an alternative government. When you are never going to be in government, you can rail all you like, you can tilt at windmills and you can make all the speeches that you like. What we have to do is make sure we behave responsibility, make sure we listen to the ethnic communities and make the changes that are required. That's what we have done in this agreement with the government.
As I've said, it would not be our most favoured position. It's not what we would have proposed in government, but what we have done is make sure that thousands of migrants will be better off. There is no waiting period for family tax benefit B and no increase in the waiting period for the carer payment. There is a one-year waiting period for family tax benefit part A, a one-year waiting period for carer allowance and a two-year waiting period for paid parental leave and dad and partner pay. New Zealanders, orphan relative visa holders and remaining relative visa holders are excluded from the changes. We have expanded access to the special benefit when people's circumstances change.
If we had not pursued this, we would have then had a situation where this bill would have passed with the support of One Nation and other crossbenchers. We would have seen a situation where thousands upon thousands of migrants would have been worse off. We have dealt with that issue. We are not here simply to please the Greens or please Centre Alliance. What we are here to do is to craft a pathway to be a caring government, a government that understands the issues, a government that looks after the disadvantaged in this country and a government that understands the key issues affecting people in this country.
So I'll wait, with not much concern, for the ranting and raving we will hear from the Greens, who are trying to push to their declining base and address their loss of members and loss of influence around the country. You've got very little influence in here. That's the reality. And this is a clear demonstration that your lack of capacity to understand the issues means that the poorest in this country would be worse off.
I too rise to speak on the so inappropriately titled Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Promoting Sustainable Welfare) Bill 2018. What a load of myths we just heard from Senator Cameron! Either he can't count, is deliberately misleading this chamber or has not bothered to talk to the crossbench. Make no mistake: we had the numbers to knock this off. So when he says he's made things better for migrants, don't believe it. They have made things worse. We could have knocked off this bill. We had the numbers. For him to mislead this chamber, mislead people who are paying attention to this debate, and mislead our fellow Australians, particularly migrants, by saying that Labor has improved the situation for them—well, they have not, because the situation was that this bill would have not gone through this chamber. It is a complete crock for him to sanctimoniously stand up there and say: 'We've made it better. If it hadn't been for us'—The only way this bill or the previous bills would have got through is if Labor voted with the government. It is absolute nonsense.
I do think he protests too much. He is trying to stick it to us when his own side has done a dirty deal with the government, which will make things worse, because these measures would not have got through unless some or all of the opposition decided they were going to vote with the government. It is complete nonsense. In fact, I would suggest that, if we had not been here, the opposition would have just followed suit and fallen straight in line with the government. As for FECCA endorsing this position, perhaps they could have made some phone calls to other members of the parliament and not believed Labor when they said, 'This is going to get through.' Maybe FECCA could have made some phone calls to double-check before they backed in a deal that sells migrants up the river. They're saying, 'It's okay, we've made the waiting period a bit better on some of the payments.' The point is that this bill introduces waiting periods for some people who didn't have them, so how has that made it better? They're saying, 'It was going to be this bad, and now we've made it this bad, but, if we'd stuck to our guns and opposed this bill, it would have been status quo.' What they're looking at is the $1.3 billion that they think they can help the government save, so that, if they get into government, they've got that $1.3 billion that they can then spend. That's what it's about. It saves them having to do things that impact vulnerable Australians and migrants. That's what this is about. They did not have to do this. Yesterday, Chris Bowen made the comment, 'If we didn't do it, One Nation would have.' Obviously, he can't count either or he didn't talk to this side of the chamber, because we've got the numbers to knock it off, if they vote no as well.
This bill is, in effect, an omnibus bill. You can't just change the name of the previous self-sufficiency bill and think that people don't notice that other bits from other bills have been shoved in there. The coalition is trying to push through a whole lot of sneaky, punitive measures, with as little scrutiny as possible. This bill was introduced and debated in the House of Reps yesterday, with no significant change from the original bill. The supplementary EM came in as they were going for the vote, so people didn't have any explanation of the amendments. They weren't able to debate those amendments sufficiently, because they hadn't had any time. Less than 24 hours after the government put out a media release that this was some dirty deal stitched up with the opposition, it was in the chamber. That's why this is sneaky. This is just more of that punitive approach taken by the old parties in here, who think this is the way that you treat Australians and, in particular, migrants. It's appalling. Labor has backed in that approach.
This bill incorporates measures from the former Social Services Legislation Amendment (Encouraging Self-sufficiency for Newly Arrived Migrants) Bill 2018. Its very name explains what they are trying to do; it's to make it harder for migrants. In fact, it goes to two other bills: the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Maintaining Income Thresholds) Bill 2018 and the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Payment Integrity) Bill 2017. It also deals with the announcement in the latest budget where the government signalled that they were moving their proposal to extend the waiting period from three years to four years. It also incorporates that. This bill was rushed through the House of Representatives yesterday, following very substantive amendment by the government, and with the support of the Labor Party. The first amendment turned the bill into the promoting the sustainable welfare bill of 2018.
While I am looking at sustainable welfare—it's actually our social security system; our income support system—I am being lectured by the likes of Senator Cameron on how good Labor is! Who are the people who backed in income management? Who are the people who backed in the cashless welfare card? Who are the people who swung grandfathered single parents onto Newstart? We all know how that ended up, don't we? It ended up appallingly, with more single parents going into poverty and their lives being made much worse. So don't lecture me about how good you are. Who are the ones who steal all our ideas? ICAC: how long have we been in this place talking about ICAC? All of a sudden, they think it's a great idea. The banking royal commission: how long did it take you to come to that realisation? How long has it taken you to come to the realisation that perhaps income management and cashless welfare is not a good idea? You didn't come to those by yourselves.
The only warning anyone got about these proposed changes was a press release issued in the afternoon of the day before this bill was rushed through the House of Representatives. On Tuesday, there was a press release naming a new bill, which we didn't even know existed. It also talked about how the government had secured support through a dirty deal with the opposition. It listed measures from various bills, so the only conclusion that could be drawn from that was that the government had done a dirty deal with the opposition. Yesterday, we saw evidence of that in the House of Representatives. The Social Services Legislation Amendment (Encouraging Self-sufficiency for Newly Arrived Migrants) Bill 2018 was introduced in February. On 29 March it was referred to a committee. The reporting day was initially 4 May. Remember that date: 4 May. The report was tabled yesterday, on 28 November. The reporting date was changed 10 times, from 4 May to 28 November, yesterday, when it was tabled.
In its original form, the bill would have increased the newly arrived residents waiting period from two years to three years for income support payments—including Newstart, youth allowance, Austudy, carer payment, sickness allowance and special benefits, among others—as well as the Low Income Health Care Card and the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card. It would also have extended how long migrants would have to wait for parenting payment, bereavement payment and widow allowance, by applying the three-year newly arrived residents waiting period to these payments. Currently they have a two-year qualifying residency period. It also would have introduced a newly arrived residents waiting period of three years for carer allowance, family tax benefit, parental leave pay and dad and partner pay, all of which are currently free of waiting period or qualifying residential period.
The Australian Greens were opposed to the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Encouraging Self-sufficiency for Newly Arrived Migrants) Bill, and we submitted a dissenting report to the committee's inquiry on this bill, which, as I said, was tabled only yesterday, after the amended bill had already been rammed through the House of Representatives. It was rammed through in the morning. These reports weren't even tabled till the afternoon. The bill discriminated against migrants and was likely to create an underclass of migrants who would have been unable to access Australia's social safety net when they needed it. The bill did not take into account the specific circumstances and vulnerabilities of those it would have impacted most. In its submission to the bill inquiry, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said:
The bill would impose unnecessary hardship on individuals and families, and may impact the ability of people to be self-sufficient if they are not adequately supported in the early years of their arrival in Australia.
Further it said:
The changes will impact the demand on the social services sector in Australia. As waiting periods to access to the welfare payment system are extended (and in some cases introduced)—
thanks to the ALP—
people may face destitution and homelessness and will turn to the social services sector, placing greater demand on an already stretched sector.
In its submission, FECCA said:
FECCA believes the proposed Bill would impose considerable hardship, and create an underclass of migrants who find themselves facing dire financial circumstances as they try to settle into Australia.
It went on to say:
FECCA strongly believes that providing support for people in the early stages of their journey is critical to ensuring that they are able to fully establish their lives in Australia.
As a result of the amendments made in the House of Representatives yesterday, with basically no notice, some new migrants granted certain permanent visas will be worse off. This is because the amendments have increased the newly arrived residents waiting period from three years to four years for working-age income support payments such as Newstart and concession cards such as the Low Income Health Care Card. The amendments also increase the waiting period from three years to four years for bereavement allowance and parenting payment. As a consequence, new migrants granted certain permanent visas who find themselves without a job, who can't find work, will be condemned to poverty. What will they live on? They will need to rely on charities for support. This is an outrageous attack on our multicultural community.
The ALP are claiming their amendments as a win and saying they had to do a deal. This simply isn't true. It's not true. We would have knocked off this bill, so don't go claiming, sanctimoniously, that you've saved so many people. You've condemned so many people to poverty. If you hadn't done this deal, it would have been voted down. Your deal doesn't stack up. There are amendments added as schedule 5 to the bill. This is where various other measures taken from other bills the Greens opposed have been snuck in. The ALP is hoping no-one will see, because this is being rushed through, but we have.
Of most interest is the measure taken from the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Payment Integrity) Bill 2017, which will apply a 30 per cent taper rate to income above the family tax benefit part A higher income free area. I checked the Community Affairs Legislation Committee website last night, and the ALP submitted a dissenting report to the committee inquiry on the payment integrity bill, as did we. They have a whole section on this measure where they said:
The committee heard that the families impacted by this measure have already faced several cuts, which 'when they add up together it's actually a significant hit on family budgets.'
They concluded their dissenting report with:
The committee received evidence from a variety of sources which suggested that the changes contained in the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Payment Integrity) Bill 2017 were unfair and would push vulnerable Australians into poverty.
And they're right but they appear to have changed their minds. Now they suddenly support one of the measures in the bill. They must've forgotten it was unfair and would push vulnerable Australians into poverty.
Then there are the measures taken from the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Maintaining Income Thresholds) Bill 2018, which was introduced in May. On 21 June it was referred to inquiry. The reporting date was initially 14 August, and guess what? The reporting date was subsequently extended four times before it finally reported. It was to give effect to the measures announced in the 2017-18 MYEFO. All of its measures have been replicated in this bill via the amendment supported by the ALP in the House yesterday, except the measure to pause the indexation of the end-of-year supplements for 2018-19, 2019-20 and 2020-21. It extends the indexation pause of the family tax benefit part A higher income free area, the family tax benefit part B primary earner income limit, and the parental leave pay and dad and partner pay income limits until 1 July 2021. But these are one-offs, so overall this will have a negative impact on families.
There were five submissions to the committee inquiry on its provisions. Only one of the submissions—the government's—supported it. In other words, nobody else supported it. The government should be ashamed that it's trying to save money through our income support system, off the backs of migrants. And what did we get today? An announcement that the government may want to bring forward tax cuts off the backs of our income support system, off the backs of migrants in this country, making their lives more difficult. Shame on you, and shame on the opposition for supporting them and backing them in, because they want to use that $1.3 billion if they get into government. That's what that's about. They want to try and have a bet each way.
Have they talked or even looked at some of the evidence we got to the jobactive inquiry, where the Settlement Council gave very strong evidence about how jobactive isn't working for migrants? The government has set it up so you have to choose between attending your jobactive appointments and getting access to your English classes. No, I bet the opposition haven't paid any attention to that. Go and have a look at the evidence. It'll show you really strongly how migrants are not getting adequately supported through our systems in this country.
This is a dirty deal. There was no reason for them to do it—no reason. Did you come and talk to any of the crossbench? No, you didn't. You can't expect anything better from the government. We knew from these bills they were trying to do over our income support system and do over migrants with all the measures that were contained in it. They were not satisfied with making them wait three years. They've put it up to four years. That's what the Labor Party has backed in: a four-year waiting period for those on particular payments—particularly Newstart. We all know that Newstart is too low and needs to be increased, but at least it's better than nothing. That's what they're going to have: nothing. They'll have to rely on family support. We heard from the evidence given during the inquiry about the way that that sometimes falls apart. We heard that. We heard how families are going into debt, because they have to repay the special benefit. That comes out of the guarantee. We heard how families sometimes have to go into debt in order for people to be supported.
This is atrocious legislation. It's a bad day for our multicultural community in this country, a community which both those parties pretend to pride themselves on. And yet they're the very people they are doing over on this day. They are trying to sneak this through before we all go home for Christmas, hoping people will forget it when it comes time to vote next year, whenever it is that we actually go to the election. That's what they're hoping. So let's ram it through now—there's no time for a Senate inquiry, even though this bill is substantially different from those other bills! And the waiting period has gone from three years to four years; we were talking about three years when we had the inquiry. This is bad legislation. It didn't have to be this way, and it's the result of the Labor Party's efforts, doing dirty deals with the government.
Centre Alliance was never going to support this bill, for the obvious reason that the government never advanced a sound reason for increasing the newly arrived residents waiting period from the current two years. The bill was originally titled the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Encouraging Self-sufficiency for Newly Arrived Migrants) Bill 2018 and it's now morphed into what appears to be the more friendly-sounding Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Promoting Sustainable Welfare) Bill 2018. What a joke! It is a joke.
It was sent to the Community Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry in March, with the committee being due to report back in May. However, the tabling of the report was pushed back 10 times. Why 10 times? Because Labor couldn't decide whether to do the right thing and oppose this bill or to pass it and use the savings for the time when they assume they will be in government. That is what this is all about. It's all about money. It's not about doing the right thing by migrants. So, instead, Labor brokered a compromise that no stakeholder was after. The reinvented bill was whisked through the other place yesterday and we on the crossbench have had not even 24 hours to digest the changes. So, next time Labor have a go at anyone else in this chamber for rushing legislation or guillotining debate, they should remember today and the shameful rush job they have engineered to the detriment of newly arrived migrants.
We have not been given any compelling reasons for extending the newly arrived residents waiting period, aside from the $1.3 billion in revenue the government expects to save over the forward years. The sum of $1.3 billion was in the original bill, and this is the same amount the government will reap after the so-called compromise bill we have before us today. In Labor's additional comments to the report of the inquiry, it highlighted its serious concern—serious concern—about the impact of extending the waiting period for newly arrived residents. Well, they are crocodile tears, because the day after the report was tabled we have been presented with a bill which extends the waiting period for a range of benefits not by three years, which was originally proposed in the bill, but by four years. So how can Labor say that they have serious concerns when they supported a longer waiting period?
The government and Labor are treating migrants as piggy banks by doubling the amount of time they will have to wait for benefits, without any thought whatsoever to the hardship this can cause. Both major parties should hang their head in shame at the cynical money-grabbing approach that they have taken with this bill. And, contrary to Senator Cameron's earlier assertions, if Labor had stood firm, this bill would absolutely have been defeated, and we'll see that with divisions very soon. The bill would have been defeated—let's be clear about that. So, if Labor had serious concerns, this bill could have been stopped.
In our dissenting report we recommended the bill be rejected in its current form. The deal that Labor has reached with the government does absolutely nothing to address the deep concerns we have about the bill and the deep concerns expressed by refugee and migrant organisations. New residents will, as we've said before, wait longer, and it puts them in a very vulnerable position. And if Labor thinks that it's doing new residents a favour, well, they are well and truly kidding themselves. Migrants are better off under the existing regime, not under the self-serving deal which we have before us today.
Under this bill permanent migrants will have to wait one year for family tax benefit part A, which helps low- to middle-income families with the cost of rearing their family, and they will have to wait two years for paid parental leave, and dad and partner pay. Single parents at least won't have to serve any waiting period for family tax part B or parenting payment, but carers—think about it: carers—will now have to wait one year for the carer allowance and two years before they can get a carer payment; that's two years.
Thanks to Labor and its deal with the government, new residents of working age will have to wait four years instead of the current two-year waiting period before they can claim Newstart, youth allowance, parenting payment, sickness allowance, bereavement allowance and a range of other benefits—so much for the Labor Party that prides itself on social issues. When I say four years, in reality it will be longer than that for many new residents because of the time it takes to achieve residency in the first place.
Many of us here would know of someone who has experienced—in fact even many in this place may have—a point in their lives where they have been forced temporarily onto benefits because of unforeseen circumstances such as suddenly losing a job or needing to care for a sick loved one. But, apparently, even though the rest of us would find it impossible to plan financially in advance for scenarios like that, new residents, new migrants, are now expected to do it for up to four years. So we'd find it impossible to plan, but we expect them to have the money and everything put aside for them to survive for four years.
Myriad reports indicate very strongly, and we know for a fact, that most migrants are already self-sufficient—they come here with the intention of working and supporting themselves. They don't come here to go on the dole. They don't come here to make the most of the benefits that Australia has to offer financially for those who do not contribute to society. It's plainly stupid for anyone to think that isn't the case. Non-humanitarian permanent migrants have high work participation rates, and in fact they already rely less on social security than the rest of the community does. But it's impossible, absolutely impossible, to guard against unexpected job losses and family breakdown, and these people should not be penalised for any of these instances.
The four-week waiting period is even being applied to the special benefit payment, which is a benefit of last resort. It's designed to help people in severe financial hardship who cannot access any other benefit. So, while there are some exceptions, it makes absolutely no sense to apply a waiting period of any kind to that benefit.
As I've said in my dissenting reports to the committee report, the bill also undermines the federal government's stated intention to tackle domestic violence against migrant families. In the same week that we have passed the Migration Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill which aims to protect family members from potential violent sponsors, the government is attempting to shoehorn this bill which potentially makes domestic abuse victims reliant on sponsors for longer. We simply cannot support this. And, as we said in our dissenting report, we cannot support the original bill and we absolutely cannot support the revised version either. It does not in any way serve the interests of permanent residents who come to Australia and want to contribute and make Australia home. It pulls what are currently fair safety nets out from under them and leaves them vulnerable to exploitation and severe hardship through no fault of their own.
We have started on a slippery slope. Newly arrived residents are now an easy target for so-called saviours, and I fear we'll be back here again in the future, fighting off further extensions of the waiting period for no other reason than the government, or the party that sees itself very soon being in government, wanting to line its pockets.
This bill that is before us today, the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Promoting Sustainable Welfare) Bill 2018, is the subject of a dirty deal done dirt cheap at the stroke of midnight between the Labor Party and the LNP. They've stitched up, under the cover of darkness, a bill that is a massive step backwards for multiculturalism in this country. It is a Trumpesque punishment of migrants in this country that Labor have stitched up with the Liberal Party so that they can get a few budget savings in before they take government next year and so they don't have to wear the flak as a government for doing this. This is a disgusting, disgraceful attack on some of the most vulnerable people in our community, and the Australian Greens will not have a bar of it.
What we've got here is the first taste of what legislation under a Labor government might look like when they win the election in the next six months. And the flavour of this legislation is just a slightly less potent form of the xenophobia that Minister Dutton, Prime Minister Morrison and One Nation have inflicted on the people of our country. This bill will inflict poverty, misery, destitution and homelessness on many thousands of people who are trying to get by and who have come here to make a contribution to our community and to make a contribution to the future of this country. It is straight out of the One Nation playbook, and Labor have signed onto it in a disgraceful cop-out, in a terrible sellout of migrants in Australia.
This bill punishes migrants because the LNP think it's in their political interests to do so and Labor have collapsed in a most spineless and cowardly way. What you're about to see in this Senate is conclusive proof that, if Labor had held onto their position, if Labor had rediscovered their spine, this bill would have gone down in the Senate, and the status quo would have remained. But, no, Labor stitched up a dirty deal under the cover of darkness to do over migrants in this country, and they should be ashamed.
It's interesting that Senator Cameron, who was sent in here by the right-wing powerbrokers of the Labor Party to front Labor's pathetic arguments for doing their deal today, has now fled the chamber and is not prepared to stand here and listen to the massive error of his ways. Labor have collapsed out of sheer cowardice on this legislation.
A lot of Labor people get upset when I keep pointing out their horrible voting record, because it pricks their conscience, let's face it, and I understand that many Australians want to see the progressive parties in this chamber work together. But how are we expected to work with Labor when they continually side with Peter Dutton to lock up innocent men, women and children on Nauru? They voted just this week to make it easier to send the Defence Force out onto Australian streets, potentially to use lethal force against Australian citizens, and now they're in here today doing over vulnerable migrants.
We cannot work with the Labor Party on these issues. It is our job in this place to stand up for the rule of law, to stand up for migrants, to stand up for refugees. We will continue to do it, and we will proudly continue to do it. Please, Labor, spare us and the Australian people this absolute nonsense about how the deal you've stitched up with the LNP is somehow better than a deal with One Nation. That is a big fat Labor lie, and it's about to be exposed when the division on the second reading of this bill occurs today. We will conclusively prove that, if Labor had held its ground, this bill would have gone down in the Senate, and the status quo would have remained.
You can bleat all you like about making life better for migrants with your dirty deal with Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton. You can bleat all you like about it, but at the end of the day the proof will be in the pudding. That pudding will be baked when the division occurs on the floor of this Senate today. You will see the conclusive proof that, if you'd held your ground, you could have delivered a great outcome for migrants, but instead you've sold your souls, yet again, stitching up a deal to do over migrants and to make life far more difficult for many thousands of people who've come to this place to make a better life.
This is a Labor bill—make no mistake about it—because, if Labor hadn't stitched up a dirty deal, this bill would not be passing. You've got a government on its knees, in minority in the House of Representatives—absolutely down on their knees, falling apart before our very eyes. But Labor couldn't help themselves; they had to stitch up a deal, under the cover of darkness, to do over migrants. What a pathetic mob they are!
Let's be clear about this, Labor: you don't sit down at the table with racists and xenophobes. You do not compromise with those people. You don't take just the roughest edges off the agenda while passing 95 per cent of what they want and claim it as some kind of victory. What you do is: you stand up to them. You defeat them—you defeat them in the public debate, you defeat them on the streets, and you defeat them in this place. You don't cosy up to them with a pathetic deal, done under the cover of darkness, to do over migrants, like the Labor Party has in the last 24 hours.
But you know what? Once again, you're staying true to your history as a party. Look at the history of the Labor Party. This is what they do. Over its entire history, Labor has spent more of its history supporting the White Australia policy than they have opposing it. Racism and xenophobia have deep roots inside the Labor Party, and they've come to the surface today.
Your willingness to work with Minister Dutton and Prime Minister Morrison to torture refugees on Manus Island and Nauru is yet another example of that. You've refused to free the innocent children, men and women who are coming up on six years now in offshore detention since you put the overwhelming majority of them there in the first place. You disgust me! The Labor Party disgusts me.
You've refused to block the Adani coalmine. You go out and try to convince people you've got some decent climate plan, but you support the biggest climate-wrecking project in Australia's history. You won't commit to increasing Newstart, even while some people wither and suffer in poverty in this country and simply don't get enough to get by. And, as I said, just this week you voted to make it easier to send the Army out onto the streets to use lethal force against the Australian people.
Well, the Australian people are entitled to ask themselves: what kind of government—what kind of Labor government—are they going to vote in next year? I'll tell you what: if you want to be considered as any kind of progressive government when you win the election next year, you're going to have to do a lot better than you're doing at the moment. We cannot hope to properly come together in this place to fight racism, xenophobia and inequality while the Labor Party supports absolute rubbish like this legislation.
Now, a couple of comments on Senator Cameron's contribution. He had the absolute gall to trot out the old saying, 'Only the impotent are pure.' Well, if Senator Cameron's forgotten his history of the Labor Party, that was said by Gough Whitlam when he was trying to eat up and attack the left wing of his own party—the faction that Senator Cameron purports to be a part of. I can't believe he has quoted Whitlam, when Whitlam was trying to do over the left wing of the Labor Party with that quote. That was a little bit of a history lesson, because some of us don't forget when this stuff was said, who said it and the context in which it was said.
There has been a bit said about the positions of ACOSS and FECCA on this legislation. If you want to think what ACOSS and FECCA really think about this legislation, not what they've said in the last 24 hours, let's look at what they said about this legislation when it came to a parliamentary inquiry. ACOSS concluded:
There is no valid justification for this Bill. This Bill would simply serve to make life harder for recent migrants and their families.
The Australian Greens could not agree more with ACOSS's original position on this bill. Similarly, the Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia said:
FECCA believes the proposed Bill would impose considerable hardship, and create an underclass of migrants who find themselves facing dire financial circumstances as they try to settle into Australia
The Australian Greens could not agree more with FECCA's original position on this bill. FECCA also said:
FECCA strongly believes that permanent migrants and their children should enjoy the same benefits as all residents, and that their transition to life in Australia should not be made more difficult, particularly when they have been acknowledged as possessing skills that are critical to our future prosperity.
The Australian Greens could not agree more with FECCA's original position on this bill.
Let's think about the philosophy behind this bill. What Labor and the Liberals are saying to recently arrived migrants is: you're expected to work and pay taxes in this country, but you don't get the benefit of the social security safety net that your taxes are paying for. In what world is that fair? On what planet was this a good deal for Labor to do? I'll tell you: on no planet, in no world, was this a good deal for Labor to do. They've copped out, they've sold out. The people who lose out are going to be recently arrived migrants in this country, some of whom will find it difficult to find work because together the major parties have established a system in this country where there is simply not enough work for everyone and they will be denied access to Newstart for four years. Inadequate as Newstart is, as Senator Siewert so eloquently put it, it's a whole lot better than nothing—and nothing is what you are voting together today to deliver to recently arrived migrants in the first four years that they are in this country.
I'm not surprised that Labor members have got their heads down. I'm not surprised they're sitting pretending to play on the iPads and iPhones, because they're deeply ashamed, or they should be, about the dirty deal that's been stitched up here. Unbelievable! Pathetic! Disgusting and disgraceful! That's how I feel about the Labor Party, and this is a classic example of why you need the Greens in the Senate: to hold Labor to account, make them more progressive and point out when they fall flat on their face and stitch up dirty deals with the LNP, the racists and the xenophobes in this place. This is why you need the Greens in the Senate to hold Labor to account, to force them to be a more progressive party than their history suggests they will be in government when they win the election next year.
It is so crucial that Labor is not allowed to win government and stitch up deals with One Nation, which this deal they have done shows that they are prepared to do. This is why you need the Greens in the Senate. This is why you need a Labor government held to account by the Greens in the Senate, and we will proudly continue to point out the perfidy, the secrecy, of this deal and its horrendous impact on some of the most vulnerable people in our country.
I am shocked by what I heard from the ALP this morning: to claim that they were forced to support the government on this bill because otherwise it would have passed with crossbench support is simply not true. I am opposed to this bill and will be voting against it, as are the Greens, Centre Alliance, and the Hinch Justice Party. This means that, with the opposition of the ALP, this bill will not have the numbers to pass. Worse still, the amendments agreed to by the ALP now actually increase the waiting period for a range of benefits from the three years proposed by the original bill to four years. It is particularly relevant to Newstart, which, as we know, from the passing of the welfare reform bill earlier this year, ties a number of payments to the Newstart payment itself. This extension of a range of benefits from three to four years is up from the current arrangement of two years, and the Labor Party seems more concerned about the money saved from this bill than the welfare of new arrivals in Australia. It seems they're preparing for government and having access to these savings to make possible use of them in their legislative programs.
Then we come to the name of the bill. The bill has gone from being called, in a somewhat Orwellian way, the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Encouraging Self-sufficiency for Newly Arrived Migrants) Bill 2018 to now being called the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Promoting Sustainable Welfare) Bill 2018. It can only be imagined whether it was the ALP that required this change to be made just in the last days. The release of the report of the committee inquiry undertaken by a range of senators was delayed many times, possibly 10 times. This legislation was brought into the other place and voted on in the last 24 hours. We heard from many social welfare groups, such as ACOSS and FECCA, who did not support the previous bill, and this bill extends many of the aspects of the previous one.
Migrants make an incredible contribution to our society. They start businesses, they pay their taxes, and they contribute to the growth and prosperity of the nation. Why should they not also have access to the safety nets we have in place to support people in Australia when times are tough? Inclusion has been one of the keys to success of Australia's multicultural society. And, bit by bit, we are undermining that inclusion by excluding new arrivals and those who entered Australia previously from the benefits that apply to other residents. The more we do this, the greater the risk of alienation and all the problems for society that that entails. I will always stand up for migrants in our community, and I'm incredibly disappointed that today the ALP has turned its back on them.
The Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Promoting Sustainable Welfare) Bill 2018 is an outrageous attack on migrants. It is punitive and it's xenophobic. There is no other way to describe it. This bill is an inhumane piece of legislation. It completely ignores the specific circumstances and the vulnerabilities of those it will most impact—those who most need support and help. And there is a human cost to measures like this. It may be a piece of paper for most of us in this place, but for me it's much more than that. I know firsthand the human cost of measures like this and their impact on people.
I came here as a migrant in 1992 with my husband, my one-year-old son and two suitcases—and that's a very typical migrant story. When we applied for permanent residency, we got it very quickly, because both of us were engineers and we were told that there was an acute shortage of engineers in Australia and that there would be lots of jobs available for us when we got here. But things were quite different when we actually did get here. It was the middle of the recession that apparently we had to have, jobs were few and far between, and of course we had the added burden of not having local experience, even though we had degrees that were recognised all over the world. And I can tell you that civil engineering experience is no different in Pakistan, in America or in Australia. We all know that resume racism does exist. We applied for hundreds of jobs but did not even get a look-in. While no-one would give us a job, and through no lack of trying on our side, the support system in Australia at that time did recognise that migrants do need financial assistance to survive, and we were provided that assistance. That was the only way we could have a roof over our head and food on the table for the first few months that we came to a new country where we literally knew no-one. My husband started to drive a taxi as soon as he got a licence and he passed the tests.
We are still here 27 years on. I studied here. I worked here as a civil and environmental engineer in local government, in consulting firms and as an academic. We're still here because we were supported in those early days. Like us, millions of other migrants who come here contribute to our society as much as any other Australian. To punish migrants as soon as they arrive here, when we invited them here, is absolutely despicable. And it's pretty rich of Labor to tell us that we don't understand the complexities. Well, I'll tell you what: I've lived those complexities, so don't come in here and preach to me! And the verbal gymnastics that Labor senators today are playing are absolutely fascinating. Pretending that they have no choice but to vote for this terrible bill is shameful. You do have a choice: vote against this horrific, xenophobic bill!
How can we set migrants up for success in Australia if we penalise them at the very time that they and their families most need support? This bill, and others like it, feed into this government's rhetoric that all immigrants come here just to access the social security system. Despite the dog whistling that happens in this place, people are trying to work hard and live through difficult times. But, just like anyone else, migrants can also fall on hard times. What this government, in cahoots with Labor, is doing is taking away that security net and potentially allowing tens of thousands of people to fall through it. Migrants pay income tax. We pay the GST. We pay every other tax that any other Australian pays, but you want to treat us as second-class citizens. If someone is caring for someone with a disability or a severe illness, perhaps their child or their partner, what exactly is Labor's and the government's advice for them in that first year that they are now excluding them from carer payments? If a migrant loses their job or is made redundant or takes some time to find another job, what shall they do? Where should they go? And tell me, senators, what should they do without? Food? Medicine? A roof over their heads?
This bill has been rushed through. It wasn't even on the Senate agenda this week, and it was rushed through the lower house last night, shamefully with Labor sitting not in opposition but cosying up to the government to stitch up this dirty deal, this attack on migrants. Shame on you, Labor! Here we are this morning debating the bill with a weak opposition getting ready to wave it through. Have some integrity! The committee report on this bill had barely been printed when the government decided to rush it through. We know—and the inquiry into this bill stated very clearly—that the vast majority of recent migrants do not access the welfare social security system unless they really need it. But now, under this extremely dirty deal, those who do need it will not be able to access Newstart welfare payments for their first four years in Australia. This means that migrants and their families will not be able to access this support even if they lose their jobs. This is creating another class of people in this country—a second-class people who cannot access the safety nets available to all the rest of us. This is a punitive and deeply unfair measure that has a terrible stench of xenophobia. As a migrant, I find Labor's position on this disgusting and cowardly. If you are going to stab migrants in the back, look us in the face as you do it. Don't pretend that you're doing it for our own good. Don't sit here and pretend you had no other option, when it is your votes that will pass this bill.
The government may be trying to couch this as a money-saving measure in the budget, but it's nothing more than yet another attack on migrants, which this government and the weak and complicit Labor opposition have cooked up together. Let's tax the coalmining companies that get billions of dollars in subsidies—money that belongs to Australian taxpayers. The Greens have plenty of other ideas to offer this government to craft a better and fairer budget, but attacking migrants is definitely not one of them. Labor needs to show some guts. We know that you don't really have a backbone, but show some guts today and vote against this horrible piece of legislation.
The Australian Lawyers Alliance summed it up, I thought, pretty well when they said during the bill's inquiry:
Whilst the title of the bill is encouraging self-sufficiency for newly arrived migrants, we don't see it as encouraging self-sufficiency so much as being highly punitive and certainly not achieving any laudable or plausible aim.
The Australian Lawyers Alliance further said:
We're not aware of any evidence at all that suggests there is a link between increasing self-sufficiency on the part of migrants and delaying payments for a period of a further year—in other words, discriminating in an active fashion. I'm not aware of that evidence. If there is evidence and data we'd be happy to see it, but we're certainly not aware of it.
This is true. There is not a shred of evidence that supports increasing the wait times for migrants to access social security. There already is a waiting period, and the Department of Social Services' own submission fails to provide any rationale for why it needs to be extended at all. This is a disgusting, xenophobic attack by the Liberal and Labor parties, and you should all be ashamed of it.
Transparency, accountability, a willingness to discuss the ideas, the policies, which you believe to be best for the Australian nation—this is what the people of this country should be able to expect from their government. If they can't find it in their government, good God, they should be able to find it in their opposition, but both are absent on the field. This is a dirty, xenophobic deal, done in the dead of the night, attempting to sneak past the Australian people the reality that, under this legislation, migrants will be forced to go without access to Newstart for four years. What do the opposition propose that they do? How do they expect them to live? They have no answer, for the only reason they support this legislation is the $1.3 billion that they think they can pour into their election war chest to fight the government. They would take this money from this group in the full knowledge that they will face no electoral consequence at the ballot box, because these people can't vote. Shame on you!
There was a time when I considered myself a supporter of the Australian Labor Party, and it is on days like this that I am reminded of exactly why I could never put my name nor my vote to this organisation. The light in this place falls down upon the chamber, and you are revealed as spineless cowards who would sell out vulnerable people, who would attempt to sneak legislation that you are ashamed of past the Australian public in the dead of the night so that you can meet your election objectives and avoid a bad headline in the Murdoch press. You would condemn children, mothers and fathers, families, to poverty rather than confront this government.
This is not a decision you had to make; this is a decision you wanted to make. You weighed the lives and the security of migrant families—folks who come to this country seeking a better life, people who, from the moment they arrive, are required to pay taxes—against your own desire to roll out a campaign across Queensland and Western Sydney. You decided: 'Why the hell not? It won't come back to bite us. Nobody will notice. We'll move it through in 24 hours and nobody will be any the wiser.' I can tell you: they bloody well are. You ask, Senator Cameron—through you, Chair—whether anybody has let him know of the position upon which the Labor Party had taken—
Thank you, Chair. I would remind the government that there is a fine line between humanity and cruelty. Your legislation, which you bring in here, has been condemned as imposing unnecessary harm upon migrant families. I do wonder at the psychopath who sits at the heart of a government who wakes up in the morning and decides that the day's agenda will be filled with plunging migrant families into poverty. More than anything else, I wonder about the nature of the soul that inhabits an opposition that, upon hearing of that plan, would wave it through.
Do you know what? I've spent too much time in my community in Rockingham, in Western Australia, talking with people who have been affected directly by your systematic cowardice when it comes to welfare policy to let you off this one. It was you lot who chucked single mothers and single parents off Newstart. It was you lot who got together and changed the impairment tables on the disability support pension. I have not forgotten that, and neither has the disability community.
What, ultimately, is the point in your political project if you are willing to engage in this kind of soulless, calculated politics? What is the point in you, as an organisation, if you are willing to trade the lives of vulnerable people for an enlargement of your electoral war chest? How dare you come into this place and attempt to defend it as anything other than the shrewd political manoeuvre it is. My colleague Senator Faruqi is absolutely right—you have no right to lecture anybody on the experience of migrants in this country. I want to commend my colleague Senator Rachel Siewert for the speech she has just given in this chamber. Rachel has spent a decade or more trying to work with you, constantly bringing your attention to the flaws in the legislation that you put forward or that you propose to support, and nine out of 10 times you bat it back. You say: 'Oh, it's too much trouble. There's this reason. There's that reason.' Well, I want to commend her for her work, for her ceaseless advocacy for those she has given voice to over the decade when you turned them away, when you decided that you would condemn them.
If ever there was a question in the minds of the Australian public, in the minds of all those who care about vulnerable people, as to whether there is a need for the Greens in this place and whether you can be trusted to act in the interests of the vulnerable people of this nation, I can think of no better example than this. And I pledge every fibre of my being, for every moment that I'm given here by the people of Western Australia, to hold you to account. You may well sit there playing with your phones, but we are on the watch. We will hold you to account. We will not let you forget.
Voters in this country very shortly are going to be facing an election, and Australian voters have a clear choice to make. I hope Australians are paying attention to what's happening in this chamber today, and to the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Promoting Sustainable Welfare) Bill 2018, because there are some very instructive lessons that might help them make their decisions when they go to the polling booths early next year. Before us we have a piece of legislation that every single Australian who is progressive, who cares about helping the vulnerable, who cares about a social safety net, which is part of the backbone of this country, and who cares about the role of government in protecting the vulnerable should be paying attention to.
They have a choice. They can turf out this government, and they're probably not surprised that we're seeing a piece of legislation like this from the Liberal-National Party. Sadly, going back to 2013, to the zombie budget cuts, the cruel and heartless agenda of, at that time, Senator Cormann and Mr Joe Hockey, this is exactly what we saw then. Clearly, the Liberal-National Party haven't changed their spots in five years. They haven't learnt their lessons. Certainly in my home state of Tasmania, where the so-called three amigos were all turfed out because three electorates had some of the most vulnerable people in this country, they clearly haven't learnt their lesson. But that's not surprising. I'm a bit of a cynic, having been in this chamber for a few years now. That ideology and philosophy are firmly embedded within the Liberal Party.
But I am surprised that Labor are supporting this. We've heard some fantastic contributions from my colleagues today. I'm not going to go into the detail, but I do want to raise a point that Australians need to think about. Those who care about a progressive country, those who care about the role of government in looking after the most vulnerable and about managing this country so that everybody has a fair go, need to remember this legislation and remember that the Labor Party in government are capable of doing exactly what the Liberal-National Party have done in government. They need an influence in this chamber, the Senate, to hold the Labor Party to account, and that's exactly what the Greens are doing today. That's what we've done since we've been in the Senate, since the early 1990s, and that's what we will continue to do.
This is exactly the example they need to look at to understand that parties of government will do what parties of government do: make decisions that are in their self-interest. In the interest of getting elected, they will put their own interests ahead of the interests of the people, especially vulnerable people—essentially a 'whatever it takes' approach to getting elected.
One point of difference in the contribution today that I want to make is that, in the context of the debate today, it's very important to note a report this morning in The Age, in the Fairfax media, that the government are planning to bring forward over $10 billion of personal income tax cuts for medium- and high-income Australians—income tax cuts that the Greens opposed when they were first proposed by the government in their last budget. The idea is that somehow we will now take our $200 billion fiscal war chest—that's the way it's been described in this article—and reward high-income earners in this country and continue to lock in inequality, and this is when we're taking a billion dollars, through this legislation, away from some of the most vulnerable people in our country. It's a stark contrast. The motivations behind this are very clear, in my books. The government are going to run a campaign to get themselves elected. That's what governments and political parties do. They're going to offer Australians an inducement: to take a tax cut and vote for them.
The question I have today is: what are the Labor Party going to do when these tax cuts come before this parliament? Labor have said that they won't support these tax cuts to medium- and high-income earners because they're too far into the future—they're in the never-never. They're not taking them seriously. If the government do bring them forward in their budget next year—and we have been told that the budget is likely to be on 3 April, if the calendar stays as is—then it's very clear that we will need to make a decision, if the legislation comes before this chamber or even if it doesn't. The voters will want to know how the major parties, the minor parties and the crossbench will vote on bringing forward tax cuts. So Labor have to think long and hard about this. If the political debate is going to be around those tax cuts, and that's clearly going to be a major campaign for the Liberal Party to get themselves elected, we will continually remind the Australian people and the Labor Party that they voted for a piece of legislation today to take a billion dollars away from some of the country's most vulnerable people while it's well known that we are entering a period of fiscal stability and fiscal surplus, when there is money available to help the most vulnerable people in this country. Decisions are being made by politicians and political parties in their own self-interest to give tax cuts to high-income Australians when it's a time when we can actually afford to look after our most vulnerable.
Senator Siewert has consistently raised the issue of Newstart, and she did so very eloquently in this chamber this morning. Seventy-five dollars a week is what the Greens want to see as an increase in Newstart. It is not enough to live on and it's a particularly big issue in my home state of Tasmania. In the north of Tasmania we saw, during the Braddon by-election, that the issue of raising Newstart was very important for voters. We know that raising Newstart can also stimulate the economy. It can be good for small businesses and good for the economy because that money is spent directly in local economies. It's not discretionary expenditure; it's usually money that goes straight to essentials, so it has a very direct impact on stimulating a local economy as well as helping the most vulnerable. So we have money to increase Newstart; we have money, for God's sake, to look after immigrants in this country when they arrive and they're vulnerable. We don't need to do this. We can afford not to do this.
For those of you who aren't interested in the values based propositions in this debate, at least think about the economic proposition. This country doesn't need to do this. We can afford to look after migrants when they come to Australia. Migrants have helped build this nation. We all know that. We're well represented in this chamber and in the other place by people who have come to this country and have contributed. Senator Faruqi spoke very passionately about this earlier. Why are we doing this? We're doing this because this is dog-whistle politics—taking money off the most vulnerable at a time when it's absolutely not necessary to do so. We've got to make a very strong statement about our priorities as politicians, as senators, as individuals and, of course, as members of different political parties.
I'll just state finally that the policies and priorities of my party have never wavered. We will look after the vulnerable, and we will find ways to pay for it. We will have responsible policies that can raise revenue and help look after this nation's most vulnerable. Right here, right now, this country is about to go into a period where we will have extra money; we do have higher receipts than expected. We should be thinking now about how we can look after this nation's most vulnerable, not getting together to pass legislation like this. It is totally unnecessary. It is totally uncalled for. It is dog-whistle politics at its worst, and people won't forget. The Greens will be here in the Senate to continue to remind both the major parties that they have a duty, a responsibility and an obligation to this nation's most vulnerable—an obligation to reduce inequality, to restructure the economy and to put up big ideas that we know can help the lives of all Australians no matter who they are. This is not necessary, and the Greens wouldn't be supporting it.
It's very interesting to listen to some of the comments made today in regard to the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Promoting Sustainable Welfare) Bill 201. What this bill is about is extending the welfare waiting period for newly arrived residents from two years to three years. These are nearly arrived residents to Australia—migrants—who have chosen to leave their country to come here to our country. Do Australians want migrants coming here to end up on our welfare system and get handouts? No, they don't. On a nearly daily basis, as I travel through rural and regional towns, I see people struggling to pay their electricity bills and get housing. In Canberra, when I drive back to my apartment after leaving this place, I see many homeless on our streets, with all their goods and blankets, trying to keep warm on cold Canberra nights. I speak with Defence personnel who have fought for our country and sacrificed their lives. They have PTSD and other issues and problems. It's estimated that about 4,000 are homeless and have drug or alcohol problems. But that's not addressed. We have families living in cars. We have Aboriginal communities that need help and assistance. But I hear from people in this parliament worrying about those who have chosen to come to our country that we should be looking after the vulnerable. Well, 'the vulnerable' starts here in our own country first and foremost.
Should we give migrants carers allowance, bereavement allowance, widows allowance and parenting payments in such a short time—after being here for two years—which they get at the moment? Or is it fair to say, 'Prove your worth to this country and make sure you haven't come here just for the welfare handouts'? I don't think it is unreasonable to ask these people to wait an extra year. The Australian people are paying taxes in this country for migrants who come here of their own choice. I don't think it's unreasonable to say to the migrants: 'Make sure you can provide for yourself. You've really given nothing to this country, so don't expect to come here and have all the handouts.' We are the fools of the world: 'Come on down to Treasure Island!'—that's what Australia's all about. I hear my crossbench colleagues in this place saying that we're a very well-to-do country. With a nearly $600 billion debt, on which we pay approximately $15 billion to $18 billion a year in interest, we're 'well to do'? What are we handing down to our future generations? Let's look at our welfare bill. Around $185 billion a year is spent on welfare in this country. Who's going to pay for this? Are you going to say to the people out there, 'Sorry, you're going to have to pay more taxes'? It doesn't cut the mustard with the Australian people.
I am so proud of the Labor Party that you're now going to support this because you can see some common sense. Don't take any notice of the Greens or anyone else in this place calling you racist because these are migrants coming from another country. It has nothing to do with racism. This is about common sense and worrying about the Australian taxpayer out there, who's had a gutful of paying their taxes constantly, all the time, and seeing them go to places where they shouldn't. We hear the Greens in this place stand up constantly, all the time, talking about how they want more money towards health, more money towards education and more money given out left, right and centre, but they never come up with the policies of how you are going to do it. They can have all of these handout policies. I don't hear any policy of where they are going to get the money from. It is an absolute disgrace. I see them as nothing but a socialist communist party that wants to shut down businesses, farming and everything in this country—these industries that provide us with the income with which we can actually pay for those services in Australia.
What we need on the floor of parliament is some common sense and to start respecting Australians out there, their taxes and where that money goes. We spend about $15 billion a year in welfare for permanent residents in Australia—not those people who have taken out Australian citizenship, who are proud to be Australians. We pay permanent residents approximately $15 billion a year out of the $185 billion that we pay out in social service and welfare bills in this country. No wonder we are going further and further into debt. I will give credit where credit's due, because the Liberal Party have pulled back a lot. They are bringing the budget back into surplus, but a lot of people forget about this. They don't want to talk about this. Heaven help us if the Labor Party get the reins of this government, because they're not economic managers of this country, and they took the debt from $56 billion up to over $270 billion or $280 billion when they were in government last time. It's going to be a spending spree, and they're going to destroy the housing market with their changes to negative gearing and also the capital gains tax. Then, on top of that, they're going to bring in death duties, plus the carbon tax on cars, which is the problem happening over in France. So we're in for a bloody rocky road if the Labor Party get hold of the government. What's going to happen in Australia is going to be an absolute crying shame. I wish they'd come forward with their policies on immigration. The numbers are going to expand in that as well, with more refugees. The floodgates are going to open with the 14,000 waiting up in Indonesia to flood here into Australia. So where is the money going to come from for all that? How are you going to pay for all that?
So I am pleased that the Labor Party can see the writing on the wall with their policies, because then they are going to explain that to the people, but they're going to pull it back. So I am pleased to see that, in Labor, common sense prevailed and that Labor will support the government on this bill, which is common sense. But the Greens and the Centre Alliance believe that these people have a right to be looked after. No, make the decision before you come to this country, and don't expect the Australian people to be supporting you when we can't look after our own—when we can't provide the services that we need for our own Australian people here. I will not stand in this place and represent and look after those that come here. My duty is to the Australian people first and foremost, to make sure they're looked after. Clean up our own backyard first, make sure they're provided for, and then you can look after other people. But it's their choice to come here to Australia.
So I do support the government on this bill, and I will just make it quite clear that there weren't deals done, as the Labor Party will say. There were no deals whatsoever. My voting record shows that I support legislation that is right for this country and for the Australian people. That's what I do. If Labor end up in government, my decision on any legislation they put up would be based on its merit and whether it is right for this country, not on whether they're going to buy my vote or try to convince me to provide my vote. That does not cut with me.
So One Nation will be supporting this bill, and I'm pleased to see it introduced on the floor of parliament. Shame on the other political parties who are not here to back the Australian people first and foremost.
I could say a lot about this piece of legislation, the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Promoting Sustainable Welfare) Bill 2018, and the fact that the government, with the support of the Labor Party, are backing in a bill that attacks newly-arrived migrants to Australia and makes life harder for them. But perhaps the most damning indictment is Senator Hanson's support for this piece of legislation. Senator Hanson just said in her contribution that she's proud of the Labor Party for supporting this piece of legislation. She's proud of you. You've had a ringing endorsement from One Nation and Senator Hanson, for a piece of legislation that attacks the rights of people who come to this country to make a contribution here. I hope you feel proud about that!
I hope that ringing endorsement is ringing in your ears as you stand with the government to support a piece of legislation that says this. Let's say, for example, that you are a migrant who has come to Australia on a skilled visa or a family visa, that you've come here because you've got a promise of work. You want to make a contribution to this country. You want to start a better life for yourself. You start work in a small business. Things seem to be going well. But, before you know it, in six months time, the business goes under—it just doesn't work out. Well, under this piece of legislation, you're out on the street. You're not going to get the support that you need. You're going to be faced with a different set of rules and conditions from those that other Australians have to live with. In a decent country we say to people who live here: 'We're going to look after you if you don't have employment, if you can't put a roof over your head, if you can't put food on the table.'
Senator Hanson also talks about looking after Australians. Well, I've got news for Senator Hanson: these people are Australian. In Australia, nearly 50 per cent of people were either born overseas or have a parent who was born overseas. These people are Australian. They are why Australia is such a rich, prosperous nation. We are the incredible nation that we are because of the contribution of so many people who come here to make Australia their home. These people are Australian. They might not be Australian citizens yet. If they were, they could go out and get the support they needed before they found their next job. But these people who've come here are, for all intents and purposes, making a contribution; they are sending their kids to school, contributing to local communities and helping their local economy. If, through no fault of their own, their employer ceases their employment, or the business goes under, we're saying to them: 'Tough luck. You're out on your own. We're not going to look after you.' I just say to the Labor Party that you should be an opposition here, that you should be an opposition party. This is bad government legislation.
We know where the next election is going. We know that this will be an election fought on fear and division. We just saw that in Victoria. In Victoria the Labor Party and the Greens stood against that agenda, and the Labor Party was rewarded for it. They fought a campaign fought on fear and division. They fought against a campaign that was designed to divide the Australian community. And the people of Victoria said: 'Do you know what? We want a bit of hope. We want our governments not to prey on base instincts but to actually have a vision for our country—a vision that's more decent, more compassionate and more caring.'
This piece of legislation is punitive. This says everything about the coalition government. It says everything about its cruel, inhumane approach to people who come from overseas. It's shown its true colours when it comes to the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. It's shown its true colours through attacks on settlement services. We once had a proud record of leading the world when it comes to settlement services—the support that we provided to migrants through housing services, through language and education services, through assisting people to get employment and, of course, through looking after people during that difficult period. We once led the world. Yet this government, in attempting, again, to divide the community, is showing its true colours. It's not just attacking people who might not have been born here; it's also attacking people who are down on their luck. These are the two areas in which the coalition has shown itself to be the mean, cruel, nasty government that Australians are rejecting and will reject in a few months time.
We believe that income support is something we should be proud of—to be able to offer help and assistance to people at a time when they might not be able to find a job. We think that's a good thing. It's a good thing that a rich, prosperous nation can provide universal health care, public education, support to assist someone to pay their rent and an income to put food on their table. Yet what we see, consistently, are attacks on people who are vulnerable, people who, often for brief periods of time, don't have the means to support themselves, and attacks on people from different cultural backgrounds. It sums up this government.
My colleague Senator Faruqi made an impassioned contribution about how important this sort of assistance was to her. Could there be a better example than somebody who has come to this country, who has worked hard, who has made an enormous contribution and who now sits in the Senate representing the state of New South Wales? There she was, in 1992, coming to Australia with her husband, her child and a couple of suitcases, becoming an engineer, along with her husband, working hard, providing for her family, getting some support from the government, and now she is paying it back in spades. That's not an unusual story; that's the story of millions of Australians—getting a little bit of support to begin with, and then paying this nation back in spades.
Creating jobs, creating businesses, contributing to local communities—that is the story of multicultural Australia, yet it seems that this government is intent on attacking it. The great shame here is that it's with the support of the Australian Labor Party. Government is about choices. You've got a choice to be mean and nasty to people who come to Australia to contribute and to add to this nation. You can be mean and tricky to them. You can be nasty. You can make life harder for them, if you want to, in an attempt to pinch a few dollars and try and steal a few votes from One Nation, because, let's be frank, that's what this is about: let's beat up on immigrants and refugees; let's pitch to the One Nation supporter base. You can do that, or you can be a decent society where you provide people with the means they need to be able to put a roof over their head and feed their family.
Here's a suggestion: instead of accelerating those $10 billion of income tax cuts—tax cuts that go to people on $120,000 a year—instead of spending billions of dollars to bribe people in the lead-up to an election, how about putting those on hold and continuing to support multicultural Australia and people who come to this country?
That's what you should be doing. But, because you don't have the guts to stand up to One Nation, we end up with policies like this. And here we are. We wouldn't even be having this conversation if it weren't for the Labor Party. I say to them: why is it that you would want the endorsement of Senator Hanson? What is it about this piece of legislation that means that you want to get in there with the coalition and Senator Hanson and attack a community that you once represented? We know that this is being rushed through this chamber in unseemly haste because of this dirty deal you've done with the Liberal Party to sell out these people. They might not vote yet, but, let me tell you, this is a community of people that have built Australia. The success of Australia is built on the contributions of people that you are selling out today.
Many of the contributors to the inquiry into this piece of legislation made it very clear that there's no place for a discriminatory policy like this which removes income support from these people who will pay it back in spades. I want to take a moment to appeal to FECCA, an organisation that we've worked with closely over many years, to ask Labor to reconsider their views on a bill that is quite clearly intended to make life harder for migrants and ethnic communities right around the country. If Labor were to vote with the Greens and the crossbench, this bill would be defeated. We need to ensure that you understand that it is the Labor Party who are facilitating the passage of this legislation.
We've got a bill that wasn't even on the Senate agenda at the start of this week, and, because last night the Labor Party decided to join with the Liberal Party, we're now here, without even having been given the due courtesy of letting us know this was coming up for debate. We have the Labor Party cosying up to the government to stitch up a deal that attacks migrants. How does that happen? I look across the chamber and I note that members of the Labor Party have their heads down and are not engaging in this. They're quite clearly ashamed of the fact that the most ringing endorsement of their position comes from Senator Hanson. I'll remind you again of what she said: 'I am proud of the Labor Party for finally realising we have legislation that looks after Australians.'
Well, guess what? The nation of Australia is a nation of migrants. It's a nation built on the back of the contributions of families like Senator Faruqi's and like my own family—people who came here and, with the support of the Australian government, were given some modest assistance to start their life. They were given assistance to settle, to learn the English language and to put a roof over their head and house their families. They were given assistance to find employment and they were given income support for that short period of time when they were not able to look after themselves. But they knew they were coming to a decent country that would look after them, and they were prepared to make a commitment that, if they were being looked after, they would make sure they contributed to this nation. So here it is: we've entered an election period based on race baiting and dog whistling, an election period that targets people who have come here to make Australia their home. Rather than embracing the diversity that is the Australian community, it seems the two major parties are rejecting it.
Let me tell you a few things. People who migrate to Australia pay income tax. They pay the GST. They contribute to their communities. They send their kids to schools. They make sure that they get an education. They become the nurses and doctors and teachers of tomorrow—