Senate debates

Tuesday, 10 September 2019


Coalition Government

7:40 pm

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

There's some commentary about this government having no agenda, but let me tell you that this is not true. The coalition has at least one thing on its agenda, and that is to punish, stigmatise and demonise people who are accessing our social safety net. This government has a clear agenda, which is to pursue and think up new ways to spend millions of dollars to punish people on income support in cruel and, I believe, twisted ways, to keep them living in poverty and to put more barriers in their way. This is not an approach based on evidence; it is all ideology.

Look at the government's ideological opposition to increasing Newstart and their ideological commitment to rolling out the cashless debit card, income management and drug testing. It's ideological because the decision to not increase Newstart and instead roll out income management flies in the face of all the evidence. Then they spin myths to justify their cruel approach. They make up reasons for why they need to introduce punitive measures and not increase Newstart. They fudge the facts and statistics, and they blatantly do not tell the truth. The most recent push to drug-test people trying to access income support is a deliberate distraction from the overwhelming voices calling for a raise in the rate of Newstart. For goodness sake, just raise the rate!

There is a viciousness in the government's approach. It entrenches the vicious cycle of poverty. This is not compassion. It is a contempt for those who need to access the income support system. Do they think that people want to live in poverty? The reality is that circumstances can change for anyone at any time. Anyone can fall on hard times. And the marker of a civilised society is how we look after our most vulnerable and disadvantaged and those who are just plain doing it tough. Somebody may have lost their job and, given the current job market, can't find another one. They may have had to quit work to care for a family member, got sick or faced other barriers to employment. But, because of this government, many people in these circumstances are condemned to live in the poverty of Newstart.

It is the government that helps create poverty. Every decision, every policy and every vote is a choice. It's a choice to not increase Newstart but to give tax cuts to the wealthy. This is the government that governs for the wealthy mining companies and big businesses. They are the ones that get a go. Everybody else, not so much. A report released yesterday from Monash University shows that Newstart recipients are six times more likely to face poor health outcomes and suffer an increased prevalence of disease in multiple categories. Living on Newstart is making people sick, and it makes me sick that this government will do nothing about it. More than two-thirds of recipients of the disability support pension and nearly half of people on Newstart have reported having mental health and behavioural problems.

The government make much of their commitment to addressing mental health issues—and I, for one, really appreciate that—but their policies are impacting on people's mental health. Their approach to our social safety net is to punish people on income support and push them further into poverty, causing stress and anxiety. One might say that this is cognitive dissonance, but it's just plain hypocrisy. In a wealthy country like Australia, we really need to ask ourselves why we are failing so spectacularly in delivering a social safety net that actually genuinely supports people and consider the impact it is having on our community's economic equality, mental health and quality of life.

The number of people on Newstart seeking homelessness services has risen by 75 per cent over the past six years. This spike has easily outpaced the growth in the number of Newstart recipients, which has not risen as much as that. So, in other words, you have people who are struggling to survive on Newstart increasingly becoming homeless. This government needs to look at what it is doing to the members of our community. It needs to raise the rate and take a supportive approach, not a punitive approach. (Time expired)