Social Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2017

29 March 2017

I follow on from my colleague the member for Barton and acknowledge her

contribution to this chamber and her advocacy for the disadvantaged in her community and across the country

for the last couple of decades. I am really proud that Labor speakers are defending the most vulnerable in our

community—because this piece of paper in front of me, the speakers list, says it all. It says there is a complete

blank page from the government. This is a government that apparently says these reforms are necessary; this is

a government that says the Social Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 is critical; but not one speaker—

and I will go further than the member for Barton—has the guts to get up and defend the government's decision.

Not one. Last week, we heard them all, one after the other, squawking away about critical issues, apparently,

such as enabling more racial hate speech, but not one speaker has the guts to come into this place and defend or

justify the impact of their decisions on the thousands of people in my electorate and over one million families

across Australia. I say that not only is it shameful; it is gutless. It is a government that will not look people in

the eye and explain exactly what it is going to do, so the member for Barton is exactly right to highlight the

arrogance of those opposite.

This government is known for its incompetence on a whole lot of things, whether it be the Centrelink robo-debt

disaster or whether it be the ABS failure—on it goes. But it is now getting a name for itself in the community as

an arrogant government that is completely out of touch. I am sick and tired of the language that this government

uses about 'lifters' and 'leaners' and 'double dippers' and 'rorters'—fingering everyone else, blaming everyone

else, but not taking responsibility for its actions. It seems that those opposite think this is a good idea, that they

think ripping up the safety net and support for working families in my electorate and in other electorates across

Queensland is a good idea. I note that none of the marginal seat members from Queensland are walking in here

to defend these measures. Where are the member for Petrie, the member for Flynn, the member for Leichhardt,

the member for Dawson? None of them have the guts to walk into this chamber and explain to their communities

or to the broader national community why they think it is acceptable to rip up the social safety net. But we are

not surprised, because this is a pattern writ large by this government. The priority of this government—as we see

week, in week out—is looking after the top end while the bottom end has to pay for it. Time and time again we

see that—lining the pockets of the large corporations, the big banks et cetera with a large tax cut of $47 billion

but at the same time hitting Australian families, pensioners, jobseekers and people living with a disability to pay

for this voodoo economics, this trickle-down economics.

Let us look at this bill. This bill will cut $1.4 billion from Australian families. It is crystal clear that this Prime

Minister, shackled to the extreme right of his own party, thinks it is okay to cut family support and to cut the

payments that people rely on. Labor speakers have talked about case studies demonstrating what these sorts of

payments mean to people, but the government thinks it is okay to cut these payments and look after the large

multinational companies and banks. Those are the government's priorities; we know that and the Australian

community are seeing that day in, day out. We know the genesis of this policy framework: it came out of the

horrific 2014 Abbott-Hockey budget. I note that the former Treasurer was back in Australia yesterday, in this

building. Who can forget those images of the then Treasurer and the finance minister on budget night chomping

down on their cigars, having a big laugh, cranking the music up, 'The best night of my life,' dancing in the office

and then the Treasurer, minutes later, walking into this place and telling the rest of Australia, 'Look, sorry about

that; I know we didn't mention it during the federal election campaign, I know we didn't mention it before the

election, but, by the way, you are all going to pay for it, and you are going to pay for it through the nose.' We saw

how that all unfolded and, as a result, we saw the disastrous reforms that they attempted to introduce. We then

saw a leadership regime change within the Liberal Party because of that disaster, and now we see the government

again go back to form—nothing has changed; there is no new sense of leadership and no new sense of responsible

government. The government is trying to ram through these measures. It is still the bedrock of this government's

policy framework to rip out support and the safety net for those who need it the most.

If I am wrong, if I am not speaking the truth, then one member of the government should get up and say so. One

member should have the guts—the minister, or the assistant minister at the table, if he feels inclined. The member

for Hughes is in the chamber; he always has something to squawk about. He is always on his feet ripping out the

salary of low-income workers or defending the extreme right-wing racial hate speeches from his own party. He

is always up for that challenge, yet he is eerily silent today on this important matter. It is not a minor matter; it is

not a tinkering of legislation—it is a major sledgehammer for the thousands of families who call my electorate

home. Let us be clear about what this bill intends to do: it will freeze for three years the income-free areas for all

working-age and student payments on support programs such as Newstart, youth allowance, parenting payment

and carers payments. And all of this when inequality is at a 70-year high—2½ million Australians live below

the poverty line and hundreds of thousands of Australians are unemployed. These new measures would affect

204,000 Australians living on the lowest incomes. I want to underscore that: the lowest incomes.

I did a mobile office in my electorate on Saturday, and a young mum came to see me and said she wanted to ask

me some questions about what was going on in politics in Australia. I said, 'Absolutely, let's have a chat.' She

wanted some straightforward answers from her representative about why the parliament and why this government

focuses on one thing—how to make more wealthy people more wealthy and how to look after big corporations

and the top end of town. She just wanted a simple answer, and she wanted a government that would focus on

her needs—on what her family needs. I have to be honest, she admitted to me that she did not vote for me. She

told me, 'I believed the lie'—her words—'about what the Prime Minister said about jobs and growth.' There are

no jobs for her and her family, and she does not see any economic growth happening for her community. I can

be pretty sure she is not going to waste her vote on this government again. I know that is just one person, but

one person makes a difference. All the stories I have heard from families, young people, pensioners and the

people who rely on government support show that this government is only interested in one thing: ripping apart

the social safety net.

We know that, at the same time, they want to make it harder for people who are in difficult financial situations. We

heard this week that members of parliament have been lobbied by the community sector. The people who provide

financial support, community support and outreach programs, community legal centres, support for domestic

violence services—all of those homeless and at-risk services that operate in my community and some of the

disadvantaged areas across Australia are facing a cut from this government. A billion dollars ripped out of the

community sector; 30 per cent cut to legal aid; all of this happening while at the same time this government

thinks it is okay to impact Australia's social safety net by $1.4 billion. When will this government start listening?

The real kicker in this bill is the 1½ million Australians who will suffer at the hands of this government under

their proposed plan to freeze the indexation of family tax benefits. That is 1½ million Australian families who

are part of this government's relentless plan. They want them to do the heavy lifting for them, for their trickledown

economics, at the same time handing over that big tax cut to big business. These are the payments to lowand

middle-income families to help them cover the costs of getting their kids to school, of paying family bills

and helping them to get ahead. We have seen this attempt by the government to cut family tax benefits, which

affects 14,330 families in my local area who receive Family Tax Benefit Part A, many of whom will be worse

off as a result of this latest cut, in addition to 11,477 families who will lose $354 as a result of the abolition of the

Family Tax Benefit Part B end-of-year supplement. This means that, as a result of this bill, payments to families

will not keep up with the cost of living.

When you go out and about in the community and talk to families, people are doing it tough. Despite all the

nonsense and slogans we hear from this government, the feeling on the ground, the actual feeling of what is

happening in the community, is that people are struggling. This government does not say, 'How can we help

you?'—it says, 'How can we hurt you?' Of the 1½ million families that I just mentioned, 600,000 will be directly

affected by the cuts to Family Tax Benefit Part A, and these are families whose income is less than $52,000 per

year. I will say that again: families who are on less than $52,000 a year are going to take a hit. The impact on

families, as we have heard from Labor speaker after Labor speaker, is that a family on $60,000 with two primaryschool-

age children will be around $440 worse off, a single parent on $50,000 with two high-school children

will be around $540 worse off in 2018-19, and a single-income couple on $60,000 with three children under 12

will be $600 worse off in 2018-19. That is money taken out of the pockets of hard-working Australian families.

This government's priority is not to look after them, but to look after big banks and multinational companies.

That is their priority. Everyone knows that. The Australian community is seeing that time and time again.

The truth is that the focus and vision of this government for Australia's future is about destroying the social

contract for this country. We have seen that over and over again. This is even before we get to the appalling

situation where this government thinks it is acceptable that penalty rates should be cut—that the 10,000-odd

people in my electorate who rely on penalty rates, who get up early and go to work, sacrificing time away from

their families on Sundays, should get a pay cut. I do not support that, and mainstream Australia does not support

that. Time and time again we are seeing the extreme right wing hijacking this government. Once upon a time

we kind of understood what the Prime Minister stood for. Now he only stands for what will keep him in office.

Listening to the right-wing zealots in his own party, whether it be about supporting more racial hate speech

or now, in today's debate, which those opposite are refusing to engage in, either arrogantly or ashamedly not

wanting to engage in this debate today, or too afraid to acknowledge that they are impacting the family budgets

of 1½ million Australians.

I will say it again: Labor will fight these changes every step of the way. Labor will always stand up for fairness

and Labor will always stand up for the family who needs it most. Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, will

continue to lead this fight. Every single Labor member of this House and the other place will fight right to the

end, because Australian families deserve a fair go. They simply are not getting it under the Turnbull government.