Senate debates

Tuesday, 9 May 2023


Consideration by Estimates Committees

3:02 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Health and Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

Pursuant to standing order 74(5), I seek an explanation from the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Minister Farrell, as to why answers to Senate estimates questions on notice Nos 000035, 000037, 000039, 000051, 000053, 000064, 000065, 000066, 000075, 000106, 000517, 000530, 000533, 000535, 000536, 000537, 000538, 000539, 000540, 000543, 000547, 000549, 000550, 000554, 000561, 000562, 000566, 000609, 000610, 000611, 000645 and 000647 have not been provided.

3:03 pm

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Trade and Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank Senator Ruston for her question. The most recent Senate estimates for the Health and Aged Care portfolio were held on 16 February. From those hearings, there were 981 questions on notice directed to this portfolio. Answers have been tabled for 645 of these questions, and that represents around two-thirds of the questions that were asked. More are expected to be tabled very shortly. There are 336 questions on notice that are outstanding, and these will be tabled in due course.

3:04 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Health and Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the explanation provided by the minister.

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Ruston, before I give you the call, I'll ask Senator Farrell whether he, by leave, wants to add any further information.

Opposition senators interjecting

I'm not denying Senator Ruston. Senator Farrell was indicating that he may have further information to deliver to the chamber.

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Trade and Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

I did actually stand first, before Senator Ruston. I had a statement that I was going to read and I was simply indicating that I wished to read that statement. However, I will defer to Senator Ruston.

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Ruston, you have the call, you have moved the motion to take note. Please proceed.

3:05 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Health and Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

We will all look forward with great interest to the statement that Senator Farrell was going to make about the fact that we have overdue questions from the supplementary budget estimates 2022-23. These were very serious questions asked of this government in relation to two of the most important portfolios before government—those of health and aged care. It is pretty extraordinary that this government went to the election saying that it wanted to be elected on a platform of transparency, and yet here we are with these really important questions remaining unanswered. These questions are not a couple of days late, Senator Farrell. They're not a couple of days late. They're not a couple of weeks late. They're not a couple of months late. They are really, really late. As we go into the next round of estimates, we could easily see in the very near future that, if you don't provide these answers, we will have three lots of estimates with questions all outstanding at the same time. To call yourselves a transparent government would have to be the greatest contradiction in terms I have ever heard. You are opaque.

This is the kind of track record that we are starting to see from this government in relation to its ability to actually provide the transparency that it promised Australians it would. We've seen it through so many mechanisms by which they've addressed this chamber. I draw attention to an extremely distressing track record and pattern of play that is starting to emerge. It is in relation to the inability to provide any detail whatsoever about legislation and the mechanisms that sit behind legislation when they introduce them into parliament. We see headline after headline after headline, we see legislative instrument and legislation after legislation, all with details completely absent, yet they're expecting us in here to do our job. I would say to those that sit not on the government benches—although sometimes I wonder whether the Greens actually are sitting on the government benches—do your job and make sure you hold this government to account about the transparency and the detail around what they are doing. Stop letting legislation through this place when the details of that legislation are all going to be contained in subordinate legislation where they do not give us any detail.

Today we are debating the Housing Australia Future Fund legislation but we don't have the investment mandate details. I say to those in this chamber, please think very seriously before you let this government push things through completely opaquely, giving no detail because they don't want you to know. Human nature would tell you that when somebody is hiding things from you it's usually because they have something to hide.

Here we are, six months later, and I still don't have answers to questions that we asked in October. The thing that is probably most distressing is the impact the lack of this information is having more broadly on the wider community. I draw the chamber's attention to the crisis we're seeing in aged care at moment. We know that some pretty ill-considered, opaque, detail-less legislation was shoved through this place—and shame on those at the other end of the chamber who supported the government after we gave you a very clear and cogent reason why you shouldn't be letting this legislation be shoved through. We're now seeing aged-care facilities close down as a result of the fact that this legislation was pushed through here with no possible ability for it to ever be delivered. The royal commission into aged care said that 24/7 nurses should be put in place in our aged-care facilities around Australia by 2024. You have to remember that recommendation was made before COVID and before we had the crisis in healthcare workers that we're seeing at the moment. Despite the fact that the royal commission said 2024, and despite the changing landscape in relation to our care workforce, this government, with the support of those down the other end, forced through a piece of legislation which has now seen many nursing homes close across Australia, which means older Australians, particularly those that live in rural and regional Australia, have been forced out of a place they call home and often have to move many miles away from where they were living—away from their families, from their community and from their loved ones—just because you guys didn't do your job and make these guys be more transparent about the promises that they have made.

We heard conversation during question time today in relation to urgent care clinics. They promised that there would be 50 urgent care clinics in place by 30 June this year. We still don't know where most of these urgent care clinics are going to be, other than the few in Tasmania. But, despite knowing where a few of them are going to be, we still don't know: Is there going to be one additional consultation? Is one more person going to be able to get in to see a doctor? Is one more person going to be able to get better, cheaper or easier access in relation to primary care as a result of these clinics? The answer simply has to be no because this government have done nothing at all about the crisis that is before us right now, which is a workforce crisis. We do not have enough workers in our healthcare system at the moment because all the government are doing is running around and making headline promises that don't address the fundamental, underlying problem that is before us.

We are now two weeks away from the 12-month anniversary of the election of this Albanese Labor government. I think it is really quite extraordinary that, despite going to the election promising that they were going to strengthen Medicare, going to the election with the catchcry 'It has never been harder or more expensive to see a doctor', we sit here today on the eve of 12 months with not a lot of hope that in the budget tonight there are going to be any measures that will actually put in place the guarantee that they made to the Australian public about the healthcare system and the aged-care system. They are just simply not delivering.

The minister, Mark Butler, actually labelled the GP workforce crisis as 'terrifying'. It can't be that terrifying because they seem to have a lack of urgency and a lack of transparency about where they are going to find the unmet demand to backfill this sector so that this terrifying situation, in the minister's words, is addressed.

I also want to put on the record how disgusting it is that this government seems to believe that the sacrificing of rural, regional and remote Australia is an acceptable thing to do to mend its budget. Every single action we have seen taken so far has had a perverse additional adverse impact on rural and regional Australia—the irresponsible and reckless changes to the distribution priority areas and the shoving of skilled regional visas to the bottom of the processing pile. We continue to see with the measures that are in this budget that many of them will have a much, much more significant impact in rural, regional and remote Australia than they will in the capital cities. But this government just does not seem to care.

The government come in here and ask us to pass legislation, but they refuse to answer questions and they refuse to give us detail about that legislation. So I would say to the Greens and the rest of the crossbench: do your job and make sure that you demand the information that I think every Australian expects us to know before we make the important decisions that are likely to impact on people's lives, livelihoods and wellbeing.

In relation to aged care, one of the questions on notice that has still not been answered is how many aged-care homes have closed in the last six months, where they were located and whether this has been broken down into Modified Monash areas. Can the department provide a list of the providers that are likely to close? For some reason, we can't be provided that information. So the question must be: does the government not have this information? Is the government not tracking the potential impact of the decision that it has made, one that has such extraordinary impacts on older Australians? Does it not know or does it just not want to tell us how many aged-care homes have closed?

In the case of mental health, one of the questions asked is: has the department been contacted by psychologists or mental health professionals since the decision to revert from 20 Medicare subsidised mental health sessions on 30 December 2022? Has the department been contacted by individuals since that decision to revert from 20 Medicare sessions? Has the minister's office been contacted by psychologists or mental health professionals since the decision was made on health sessions in 2022? Did the department provide advice to the government on the risks associated with the Better Access initiative reverting to 10 sessions? What was that advice? Is the department aware of reports that 70 per cent of general practitioners say that mental health is a top-three priority reason patients attend their practice? Can the department confirm whether they briefed health ministers on the increase in suicide rates? Did the minister consult with Suicide Prevention Australia and Mental Health Australia, the two peak bodies, before the decision was made to slash these really important mental health supports in half?

They haven't answered those questions. We know from peak body research that the thing that is most impactful in Australians' lives and their mental health right now is the cost of living. We know that Lifeline has reported an 80 per cent rise in the number of calls relating to cost-of-living pressures, that headspace's recent national survey identified the cost of living as one of the top three issues facing young Australians and that a recent ReachOut survey found that more than 50 per cent of young people in Australia are stressed out by the cost of living. You would have to be blind not to realise that the cost of living is the No. 1 issue facing our country at the moment, with the rampant, homegrown, Albanese government inflation eating into people's quality of life. At a time when that is happening, there are some serious questions to be asked in relation to decisions by this government to slash in half a program that provided mental health supports. At a time when we know that the cost of living is having a massive impact on people's mental health, this government refuses to answer even the most basic of questions about the basis that sat behind their decision, when it happened, to slash these particular programs.

Other questions that are before us at the moment that we still have not had answered are: What is the current unmet need for GPs? How many vacant places are there and where are those vacant places in relation to the Modified Monash categories? Can the department provide a Modified Monash Model map highlighting areas where GP shortages are most significant? What new measures has the government put in place to increase the supply and distribution of GPs across the country? How many international medical graduates have moved from MM 5-7 areas to MM 5 areas and below since the decision was made to change the distribution priority areas?

As I said, the minister has been out there saying that this is the most terrifying crisis that is before the nation. He made a promise to the Australian public that he was going to fix this upon coming into government, yet a really fundamental set of questions that go to the very nature of the impact of these measures on rural, regional and remote Australia remain unanswered as we stand here today, months and months after they were asked. There is clearly a track record and pattern of behaviour that are starting to emerge here that suggest that this government has no intention whatsoever of caring about the real delivery of those headline promises it made to Australians when it was up for election. They're quite happy to make the headlines—and headlines often sound good. Who wouldn't think strengthening Medicare was a good idea? Who wouldn't think that putting the care back into aged care was a good idea? But they're just headlines unless you put in place the initiatives that are actually going to make a difference, and they're really not worth the paper they're written on if you are not prepared to provide the details around how you're going to go about it so that Australians can actually see how these things are happening.

We're already starting to see the wheels fall off, as we've seen with the aged-care promises. The wheels are falling off because older Australians are being pushed out of their aged-care homes—places where they've lived, often for many years—simply because this government was so pig-headed on insisting that the 24/7 nurse requirement was in place, almost without exception or exemption. We're now starting to see the consequences of that announcement, which was something that we all would've aspired to see—that older Australians get the care that they deserve and they warrant in their old age—but shoving them out of their homes simply because you've put in place a requirement for an action that was never deliverable is, I think, one of the most despicable things that a government could do. You were more interested in the headline delivery of a promise that you made at the election than watching the circumstances as they unfolded on the ground and realising that your actions were actually going to have terrible, detrimental impacts on older Australians. Instead of helping older Australians, you've made their lives worse.

3:20 pm

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

I take note of the motion moved by Senator Ruston, and I do so in general terms, because what is becoming clearer and clearer when you look at the list of questions that remain unanswered by the government is that that list is getting longer and longer day by day and across portfolios.

I know that, when you have a change of government, and ministers are trying to get their feet under the desk and get across their portfolios and their briefs, and department personnel might be changing, it's hard to keep up with all of the chamber's demands for information. However, we are seeing this government's second budget being handed down today, and there is just no excuse for ministers and departments to hold back basic information that this Senate has voted for and that individual members and senators have asked of ministers, departments and, indeed, agencies—because that is what we are here to do. It doesn't really matter what side of politics you come from; the job of the Senate is to scrutinise legislation and hold government and government officials to account. That is our job.

It isn't a 'winner takes all' parliament, and I continually am surprised by the lack of acceptance from some within the government that they don't actually have control of this chamber. They don't control the Senate and they never will. The Australian people have voted for diversity in this place for a reason—because it forces all sides of politics to work together, to get better outcomes, to ensure that mistakes are picked up before they're made, to ensure that there is accountability from individual ministers and departments and to ensure that there is basic transparency so that the public, the community and those who are neck-deep in policy development have a good idea of what's really going on.

I look at this list of questions, and sometimes it feels like it's just basic the stubbornness of government ministers—some, not all. Some are quite good, but some have a less favourable record than others when it comes to coughing up information. It's as if they've got a Messiah complex: 'I'm in charge. It's my way or the highway. It doesn't really matter if the Senate's asking for things.' Well, it does matter.

I know there is a long list of orders for the production of documents. Many orders have passed through this place, and I know the government is becoming more and more frustrated by that. However, unless you start to actually participate in transparency of government and work with the Senate to get across these issues then, you know what? There are going to be more and more of these questions and requests from the parliament. Otherwise, we're being asked to vote on legislation without having all of the information. There are some questions and orders for the production of documents that I've put in to the government that are still outstanding, and there's no excuse except that they just don't want to put the work in. There are decisions made by the previous government that they won't even reveal. I'm sorry—not my problem. We require the information. The government must cough it up. It strikes me that it's not just an individual minister's problem here. This seems to be a recurring attitude and a growing attitude within this government that they don't have to comply with requests of information from this chamber. I don't think that's a very good way of building collaboration, I don't think it's a very good way of enlisting trust and I don't think it's acceptable to think that the Senate can be ignored.

Now, we're about to have another round of estimates after this budget, and there will be a whole lot of new areas to inquire into and detail to get into, because we're going to have the new budget, but there are so many questions that remain outstanding from the previous estimates and the estimates before. One particular issue that I'm concerned about is that the government has made promises in relation to streaming services. They went to the election saying that they would put quotas on streaming services, which they should. It's something that I have fought very hard for in this place for a long time. Now, through a Senate committee process, we've asked for the documents that a government department has issued to stakeholders and industry players but is refusing to give that information to the parliament. I'm sorry, but, if the big TV broadcasters and the big tech giants can have access to this information, so should the Australian parliament.

Why is the Minister for Communications refusing to give us this information? It's actually out there; stakeholders have been told, 'Here is a private, confidential copy. Please don't tell anybody about it,' yet, when the parliament and the Senate ask for this information so that we can understand what the government is planning, we can be prepared and we can participate in the transparency and accountability process of government, we are denied. So Foxtel, Netflix, Amazon—the big streaming giants—get access to this information, but the parliament doesn't. Who do you govern for, the big tech giants or the Australian people? This is just one example of the arrogance that is seeping into this government's attitude toward how this chamber should be responded to and dealt with.

I say to government ministers in this place and to those watching that, once you start sliding into this type of attitude, it's hard to put the brakes on. We saw that with the last government and the arrogance that ended up sweeping through the frontbench, the lack of respect for the chamber, the lack of respect for other voices and the diverse views in this place, the lack of ultimate respect to the taxpayer and the people who vote at election time based on the promises and the policies that are put forward. Once you start thinking you're better than the entire parliament, it is the road to hell.

So don't fall foul of the arrogant attitude that Mr Morrison, the former prime minister, fell foul of. It's hard to think that anyone would start appointing themselves to secret ministries, but it all starts somewhere. It starts with refusing to think that you're accountable to the parliament and it ends with the former prime minister, who didn't even think he was accountable to his own cabinet when he started secretly appointing himself.

Let's think about how we want government and this parliament to actually deal with and respect the Australian people: the taxpayers and the voters. It has to start with a basic commitment to transparency of government. Once that starts to be negotiated away—just a cover-up over here or denial of this over there—it is the road to hell. The Australian people expect better and deserve better. So, when their representatives come into this place asking for information from the government and their agencies, it needs to be coughed up. It's not up to you as individual ministers to think you can just hide behind delay and cabinet in confidence—the cloak of secrecy that gets dragged over everything. If you want this parliament to work to deliver the things that you have promised, you must work with it. So, with this extraordinary number of outstanding questions and orders for production of documents, it should alarm you that, less than 12 months on, you're already in breach of the basic courtesy of being transparent and upfront not just with the chamber and the parliament but with the Australian people that you purport to represent.

Despite the budget being handed down tonight and this being the government's day—and I'm sure that there are lots of goodies in there that you're hoping to spruik and be proud of—I would hope that we are genuinely going to see some relief for people from the enormous pressures of cost of living that everyday people, particularly the most vulnerable and marginalised in our communities, are feeling right now. You can't just promise headlines and then not deliver the policy grit and grunt that come with it, and, in order to ensure that that is there, you're going to have to be transparent with this chamber. If we spend the next two estimates weeks hearing from government ministers and department secretaries that they can't tell us the details of things—well, I'm sorry, don't expect this place to be rubberstamping your legislation.

Why is it that government officers and department officials are so often more interested in not answering questions at senate estimates than in giving the information? The whole process of senate estimates is to engender confidence in the government of the day, regardless of the politics and regardless of what side of the chamber you sit on. It's about engendering confidence that the policies that are being put forward, the programs that money is being spent on and the decisions that are being made are sound. Yet, year after year after year, what we are confronted with, particularly from the Senate crossbench perspective, is government officers and department secretaries who spend their entire time trying not to answer questions.

Often I find it takes more energy to not answer a question than just to be upfront. I know in this place the politics creeps in and the sport of chamber debate creeps in, but, when it comes to Senate estimates, it is not up to departmental officials to play the sport of politics. They are public servants, and they should be allowed to answer basic questions. They should be directed by their ministers to be as helpful as possible, to be as transparent as possible and to go out of their way to help the Senate understand what they are doing, what they have been directed to do and what they are spending money on. That is their job. Their job is not to be an extension of the political arm of government. They are public servants, not servants of the government.

3:35 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to thank Senator Ruston for putting this motion about unanswered questions before the Senate today, because the number of unanswered questions from estimates and other questions on notice is outstanding. These have critical implications for transparency in government, particularly transparency about programs that are failing, that are having huge impacts on Australians. Today, budget day, we're talking about the budget being about choices, about deciding who this government is supporting and who it isn't. It's very clear from the silence on some issues that particular groups of people are not being supported in this budget and not being supported by this government.

I also have many unanswered questions in the portfolios that I am responsible for, for the Greens, particularly to the Minister for Social Security, to the Department of Social Security, about our income support system and the absolutely punitive conditions that people who are living on income support are facing when it comes to so-called mutual obligations, which are ridiculous hoops, ridiculous trials, that people have to jump through just to continue to receive payments that are below the poverty line.

I've got one unanswered question that is about payment suspensions. These are people who are on income support, who are on JobSeeker, who are having their payments suspended. I asked a question at last estimates about the number of payment suspensions by demographic group and program, the number of individuals subject to payment suspensions, the number of payment suspensions broken down by type of participation failure by program for each month from December 2020 to the present, the number of payment suspensions leading to a payment delay or cancellation, demerit and penalty counts by stage of the targeted compliance framework, and the number of payment-on-hold messages and conversion to payment suspensions.

This is critical information, because people are trying to survive on, as I said, below-poverty-line payments and are absolutely struggling to put food on the table, to pay their medical bills, to pay their rent, to get their kids off to school and to put shoes on their kids' feet. There are people in these conditions who are having their payments suspended because they are not fulfilling their mutual obligations. These are the people who can least afford to suddenly have no income coming in. They're people who haven't got big bank accounts to fall back on. There are a lot of people who haven't got family support, haven't got friends they can suddenly borrow $1,000 from. They're people who, if the money's not coming in, don't eat. These people, if their payments are suspended, go hungry. It means they can't afford to pay their rent and are at risk of being evicted. It means they can't go off to the chemist and pay for medication that might be keeping critical medical conditions under control. It has desperate impacts on their mental health, let alone the mental health impacts of knowing there is no money coming in. I have spoken to many people who tell me, when they've been put in this situation, of the damage it does to their mental health—the suicidal ideation.

These payment suspensions literally kill people. That is absolutely what happens. Yet the basic data—how many payment suspensions, to whom and why—is not forthcoming. I asked these questions on 20 March—seven weeks ago—and there has been silence since then. What does this say about this government's regard for the people who are surviving on income support payments and are at the mercy of this punitive mutual obligation system? Income support payments are meant to provide much-needed support, and payment suspensions have a devastating impact on the people who rely on them.

In addition, payment suspensions can create a cycle of debt and poverty. If a recipient falls behind and can't pay their bills or their rent, they can be forced to turn to credit cards or payday loans to make ends meet, which can lead to a cycle of debt that is incredibly hard to escape. It certainly does not put people in a good spot to take on finding work. It makes it incredibly hard for people to retain financial stability.

We've had considerable evidence brought to us in the Senate Community Affairs References Committee, which I chair, for our inquiry into the extent and nature of poverty in Australia. I'd like to read some of the evidence featured in the interim report, which I am going to be tabling this afternoon. Dr Elise Klein, in her evidence to the committee—which is, of course, already published—drew attention to the impact of two particular features, the base rate of payments and mutual obligations. She noted:

Two particular features are important to note: the low base rate of payment, which contributes to material deprivation; and the use of mutual obligations and conditionalities that stigmatise and disempower and can lead to the withholding of income. Together they produce hostile conditions that are said to propel people into employment. However, this logic of deterrence completely overlooks that people cannot work, in that they have a disability or illness; that there are not enough jobs, particularly in remote regions of the country; or that people receiving payments are already working, undertaking the critical work of unpaid care, which is essential for the economy and society.

Dr Klein also noted:

According to ACOSS, of the people receiving unemployed payments, 40 per cent have a disability, 47 per cent are 45 years and older, 20 per cent are from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, 10 per cent are First Nations people and 13 per cent are raising a child alone. We see from these numbers the very real ableist, racist and gendered impacts of the government's policy approach on those it subjects to poverty. Critically, instead of understanding the important care obligations people have or the very real situations that stop people from working, people are subjected to payments well below the poverty line…. What is also deplorable is that children are punished through these policies. It is hard to think that this policy-induced poverty could be anything but state violence against our nation's children.

When we ask questions about mutual obligations, about these payment suspensions, we don't receive any answers.

I also want to read from a document prepared by the Antipoverty Centre, titled 'Compulsory activities do not address employment barriers'. The Antipoverty Centre collected the following stories from people in the welfare system in the days preceding our appearance at the Workforce Australia Select Committee briefing. These stories have been collected from a group of people traumatised by unemployment and the welfare system, who generously volunteered to participate in the protest to be held on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty and to share their stories as an act of resistance to the government manufactured poverty machine that traps so many of us. This is not a cherrypicked sample of the stories we received designed to skew the perception of what is happening. Every person who submitted their story is included below. Employment services purport to address unemployment and constantly fail to do so. You cannot separate unemployment from the person who is unemployed and their whole circumstances.

The first story highlights the dire impacts of the threats of payment suspensions. This is information we were seeking from the government, which we have no information about. This is about Jarrad. Jarrad's on JobSeeker and currently has mutual obligation requirements. He says:

I have had to struggle with rising costs in living, rent, bills, medications and specialists all on the insufficient funds provided by the government.

Due to the renting crisis all I have left after my payment is less than $60 for a fortnight and I'm somehow expected to live on this? Without any additional help from friends and family I would have long since been homeless or dead. I have fought against daily thoughts of suicide and my depression and anxiety has become dangerous because of this constant struggle and stress, I'm living day to day and I often don't know how I'm going to get through the next week and pay for what I need to pay.

I am now disabled but not disabled enough to get on DSP and the entire process is a mammoth task with impossible hurdles. I am constantly fighting against your system and getting medical exemptions where I can because I cannot work but all of the systems in place tell me I can, that I have to or I'll lose my payment yet I can barely get out of bed each day, I have to get family and friends to help me do even the most basic of tasks but sure according to my provider I can do many hours a week of work.

Please, please for everyone that is struggling, please raise the rate.

End mutual obligations, end the privatisation of these systems.

Make DSP more accessible.

I don't want to die.

This is the impact that our punitive income support system is having on people. With these sorts of impacts, you would think that the least the government could do is be transparent about the data and about the number of people that are being impacted by this punitive system. But we know why they don't want to be—because it would be overwhelming evidence that the system is not working, that mutual obligations are not working and that mutual obligations need to be abolished and are keeping people out of employment, in poverty, totally oppressed and totally feeling that they are just a tiny cog in an enormous machine. That's why this information and answering those questions is critical. That's why it is critical that this government is transparent—because then it would be obvious that we need a different way.

I want to share another story. This one was shared anonymously, and it highlights the challenges of meeting your so-called mutual obligations if you can't afford a phone or have limited technical abilities. The person says:

I've been living in poverty on Centrelink payments—Austudy then Newstart/Jobseeker—since leaving high school almost 9 years back. I have never been able to afford housing that meets my needs as a disabled person with trauma from multiple domestic violence situations from various cohabitors. I can barely afford anywhere to live at all, actually, and the fact that I am once again likely having to find a place to live, with current prices within my greater area STARTING at 70% full Jobseeker payment, is soul-crushing.

I spend hundreds of dollars a month on medication and medical equipment I need to live on a day-to-day basis. I can't afford to see specialists for things like my ADHD or autism. I can barely afford basic foods—almost any meat I buy is nearly off, any veg frozen, any snack half-price or made from scratch. Almost all of my money goes directly to rent, bills, food, medical. The paltry leftovers aren't enough to cover keeping my car on the road—I have to ask for help pretty much every year to cover CTP etc. (Also, almost every job I've ever applied for has specifically stated that applicants need a car, so people on Jobseeker are literally priced out of being able to work.) New clothes are cast-offs from friends or from the clearance section at an already-cheap store. I've never been able to buy my own phone—which, by the way, is needed just to access Centrelink payments, and an up-to-date phone with reasonable technical specs is a necessity for the vast majority of jobs I've worked or applied for.

The current system of mutual obligations is unfair and punitive, and it often leads to people's payments being suspended through no fault of their own. That's the critical information. That's why we were asking questions about the numbers of people, the suspensions by demographic group and program, the numbers of individuals subject to payment suspensions, the numbers broken down by type of participation and the numbers that lead to a payment delay or cancellation. This is important information to have in the public eye—so it is very clear that our system is broken, that we need to be doing more and that we need to be supporting people who are currently trapped in poverty. By not providing this information, by not acting to abolish these punitive mutual obligations, the government is choosing to leave people in these circumstances. It is a political choice that's being made to leave people in abject poverty and feeling crushed under the punitive mutual obligations.

We can do more. This government, clearly, in the budget tonight is not going to be taking action to support people, but we as Greens are going to continue to fight for people until they have justice.

Question agreed to.