Social Services Legislation Amendment (Family Payments Structural Reform and Participation Measures) Bill 2015

The Social Services Legislation Amendment (Family Payments Structural Reform and Participation Measures) Bill 2015 started its life with the 2014 budget decision to slash family payments to vulnerable families in communities like mine and, I suspect, in communities like yours, Deputy Speaker Kelly. 

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Since the 2014 budget, Labor has been fighting hard against the Liberal coalition plans to cut to cut family payments and other payments. These plans are falling upon the most vulnerable in our community. Labor has fought these changes because they were fundamentally unfair. They would have seen low- and middle-income families lose thousands of dollars every year. That is money that is supposed help them and money that is relied upon—particularly at this time of year when the bills are coming in, the expenses are mounting and people are wondering about whether they will have enough money left over to buy a few modest presents for their kids and for family members at Christmas time. So this is important legislation and it is important that Labor does its job of holding the government to account and ensuring that they do not succeed with these devastating cuts.

The member for Franklin made this point, and it is worth repeating: over a week ago the Prime Minister stood at that dispatch box and said in relation to his plan to introduce a new GST that no government in their right mind would introduce a GST that would harm families and low-income Australians without putting in place compensation. That makes sense, but the compensation that he was talking about would have to be compensation such as that which is provided through family tax benefit parts A and B. Is there any wonder that Australians do not trust this government, this Prime Minister and this Treasurer when they propose to provide compensation to families and compensation to low-income earners when they introduce their GST? Is it any wonder Australians do not trust them when they see legislation such as this, the flipping and the flopping, and the constant changes between one Prime Minister and another? Legislation such as this is designed to rip family payments and benefits away from some of the most vulnerable Australians, who rely upon them.

I know a fair bit about this because in my electorate there are lots of vulnerable families who rely on their family tax benefits to help them meet their household expenses. In fact, there are over 10,500 people who receive family tax benefit part A and another 9,400 families in my electorate who are relying on family tax benefit part B. So we are relieved on their behalf that, at the very last moment, the government has pulled away from this reckless proposal to rip thousands of dollars from the pockets of families such as these in my electorate. These are the communities who are at risk and actually relying on government to reach out, understand and provide them with a little bit of support at this time of the year.

In July this year we saw two high-profile studies. You may have seen these, Deputy Speaker Kelly, because they touch on electorates like yours and mine. The studies confirmed what many of us already knew—that disadvantage remains a real and ongoing challenge for many in our community. The studies have told us that the coalition's first and second budgets have hit low- and middle-income earners the hardest. The NATSEM report which I alluded to recognised that those households worst hit by the coalition's first two budgets were those that could least afford it. NATSEM found that families on the lowest incomes with children were bearing the highest brunt of the federal government's budget cuts. What about high-income families? That same independent report found that they will be actually seeing their disposable incomes increase, albeit slightly, over the next four years. What this means is that this government is addicted to regressive budget measures. Whether it is its plan for the GST, its plan for slashing family benefits or its plan for slashing income support for people who are looking for a job, it is addicted to regressive measures.

The second budget was supposed to be a little gentler on people who reside in electorates such as mine, but it was all a ruse. The authors of the NATSEM report found that the last budget did little to reverse the unfair redistribution of its first budget. In my own electorate, the worst hit areas—like Berkeley, Warrawong, Warralong, Windang and Warilla—are the households where average householders would lose between $500 and $550 in the period between 2018 and 2019. These are not high income households. These are households that rely on modest support from the federal government. These are households and the suburbs that have been hardest hit by these regressive measures.

The report I referred to was followed by a second report. I note there are many in the coalition parties who are very critical of the NATSEM report. They suggested this independent academic body is somehow a tricked-up branch of the Labor Party research. They find it very difficult to make those same claims about the report that was produced by Jesuit Social Services and Catholic Social Services Australia. That report—you may have read it—was titled Dropping off the edge 2015. It was just as damning. Those opposite should pay careful attention to this: it found that entrenched locational disadvantage is actually getting worse, not better. The poorest communities are not catching up. In fact, many families are falling further and further behind, and they are suffering under real pressure. Nothing that this government has proposed in its first, second and, I warrant, its third budget has anything to provide any relief to those households and those families.

The Dropping off the edge 2015 report was particularly alarming for MPs who represent electorates like mine. That is because in my electorate of Throsby, as it currently stands, suburbs like Warrawong, Port Kembla and Berkeley are listed some of the most disadvantaged in the state. In fact, they are in the top five per cent of disadvantaged postcodes. This includes rates of criminal convictions, unemployment, domestic violence and lack of internet services—the basic services that people in electorates like the Prime Minister's take for granted. These are things they can only dream of in some of the suburbs I am referring to.

The suburb of Warrawong, in particular, has a high proportion of people on Newstart, looking for work. It has lots of students not meeting the minimum maths and reading standards and large numbers of residents who regrettably have left school before the age of 15. These are the households, areas and schools that need intensive support, and they are just not getting it. Is it any wonder that they have got some of the highest rates of psychiatric hospital admissions and some of the highest rates of chronic diseases and other preventable diseases? There are households on less than $600 a week, and a high proportion of residents in these areas are struggling on Disability Support Pensions. These are the areas that this government does not have the slightest clue about; otherwise, they would not have proposed the sort of measures that we have seen in the bill being debated before the house today.

We call upon all of those opposite to make their plans clear. This flipping and flopping over cuts to family tax benefits is not good enough. Households need some certainty. They want to be able to budget for the year ahead. They want to know as they are going into the Christmas break that they are going to be able to afford the bills that they know are going to be coming in next year. They take no relief from the fact that the Prime Minister wants to have this broad ranging debate about tax reforms and introducing a GST, offset by compensation, when they see initiatives such as this in the last budget, and the budget before that, which are ripping out payments to those who can least afford it.

Labor opposes the coalition's plans to cut family benefits, because, just like the 2014 measures, they fail the fairness test—that is what it has to be all about. That should be the touchstone of all of us in this House: is it fair and is it sustainable for those households? Clearly, the answer that to that must be no.

With those comments, we look forward to hearing more details of what the government's plans are actually going to be. We see that, as we draw towards the close of the parliamentary year, the legislative agenda is as haphazard at the closure of the year as it was at the beginning. We see bills put on the agenda only to be withdrawn. We see a legislative agenda that that is absolutely barren for weeks, and weeks, and weeks on end. We have the Senate up there virtually twiddling their thumbs because the government has not made its mind up about what it wants to do. But when it does make its mind up about what it wants to do, it changes its mind again.

It seems that the changes they have had in the leadership in last few months has done absolutely nothing to put any more certainty in either the legislative agenda or the conditions that families, in electorates like mine, are struggling under. I call upon all of those members opposite to do some deep reflection over the Christmas break to ensure that measures such as this never see the light of a legislative day again.

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