Social Services Legislation Amendment (Omnibus Savings and Child Care Reform) Bill 2017

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Whitlam) (17:09): It is a pleasure to be here but a very sad subject matter. I oppose the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Omnibus Savings and Child Care Reform) Bill 2017. This bill contains the same measures and the same provisions that were contained in the 2014 budget, which led to Tony Abbott, the member for Warringah, losing his prime ministership and brought the government to the very brink of losing the election in 2016. I oppose the bill. It is unfair. It must be defeated and the message that we have got from many members in the other place is that that is exactly what is going to happen. We can only wonder why it has been brought into this House, this week, in this form. Perhaps it is because the government do not have anything else for us to debate. Whilst they are off somewhere else debating their own internal troubles, they have put this in here for us to fill in time. It is an unfair bill which introduces a range of cuts which have already been rejected by members in this place and in the other place. It contains cuts to family payments, to pensions, to families, to new mothers and to young people. I will go through a whole range of the measures and how they impact on some of the areas throughout regional Australia—because I think this point needs to be brought home. Perhaps throughout the course of this debate, I will be able to change the opinions and perhaps the votes of some of those coalition members who represent regional electorates, because they really do need to be considering their position and how this bill is going to impact their electorates.

I have talked about the impacts on family payments. A whole heap of these measures are going to have a devastating effect on families and pensioners. There are some measures, if they were separated, that we could support. We are not bloody-minded. There is a provision in here, for example, which deals with automating the income stream review process. On its face, that is something that makes good sense. We have some reservations. You, I am sure, Mr Deputy Speaker, like every member in this House, have had your electorate office absolutely inundated with complaints from Centrelink clients saying that they have been sent a letter or had a contact from a debt collection agency for a debt that they do not owe, because the Minister for Human Services has absolutely mishandled the existing debt and data-matching services that are in place for Centrelink. So you can understand in these circumstances why we are very nervous about the competence of this minister and this government and about extending these provisions to other clients of Centrelink. We will look at that in the Senate and allow a Senate committee to examine it in some detail.

I want to go through some of the provisions and point out why any member in a regional electorate should not be supporting these measures. Let's look at the impact of the family tax benefit changes, which are going to leave people currently receiving family tax benefit A $200 a year, on average, worse off per child if they are affected by these changes. The member for Dawson has threatened all sorts of things over the last couple of weeks. He threatens almost on a daily basis to either resign his position, resign from the party or cross the floor. This is a bill and these are measures which he should be crossing the floor on. If he was thinking about the 9,653 people within his electorate who are currently in receipt of family tax benefit part A, he would be concerned about the impact of this bill on his constituents.

If he is not moved by that, he might be moved by the impact of this bill on young jobseekers. If ever there was a measure that was going to create rigidity within the labour force and that has not been thought through when it comes to how it is going to impact on regional Australia, it is this provision. This provision is going to force young jobseekers who are under 25 to wait five weeks before claiming benefit. I am not sure what they are supposed to live on for five weeks. Presumably, everyone assumes that they have wealthy parents and are living at home, but I can tell you that is not the case. This is going to impact on a lot of people indeed. I said it is going to build rigidity into the labour market, Mr Deputy Speaker. You will recall that, a few months ago, we were gripped in debate over something called the backpacker tax. We were looking at ways that we could put in place taxation arrangements to encourage more overseas workers to come into the country to assist our farmers and horticulturists during picking season because they could not find the domestic labour force. In electorates and areas where there is very high unemployment, including youth unemployment, this measure is going to make that worse.

I have singled out the member for Dawson. In his electorate there is 8.6 per cent youth unemployment. That is not going to get any better because of these provisions. These provisions are going to make it harder for people trying to take on short-term work as a pathway to full-time work, particularly in the agricultural sector. Why would somebody pick up two weeks work picking fruit or working in agricultural industries only to lose an additional five weeks of benefit? Each and every time they have to reapply they are going to have their benefits cut for an additional five weeks.

The member for Gilmore has had a bit to say. She has not exactly covered herself in glory in this House in the last 24 hours. There is 20 per cent youth unemployment in her area. This measure, as well as the proposition to force young jobseekers aged between 22 and 24 onto the lesser youth allowance and off Newstart allowance, will impact on those people. It will cost those people $48 a week. As I said, there is 20 per cent youth unemployment in the electorate of Gilmore.

The electorate of Gilmore has some of the highest numbers of pensioners and people approaching retirement age in this country. The energy supplement in this bill will be removed for people who apply for a pension. That is to say that it is grandfathered but anybody applying for the pension after the implementation of this legislation will not get the energy supplement. It is about $14 a fortnight for single pensioners and about $21 a fortnight for a couple of pensioners. You would think that, if you represented an electorate where over the next few years there will be over 22,000 people approaching retirement age—you heard that right; over 22,000 people—you would think twice before you came in here and voted for this bill. There are over 22,000 people between the ages of 55 and 64 in the electorate of Gilmore who will lose access to this provision if the member for Gilmore comes into this House and votes for this bill. She is not alone; the member for Leichardt has over 20,000 people in his electorate who will also be impacted.

I was in Western Australia last week. I had the great pleasure of being in Kalgoorlie, amongst other places. I met with Labor's candidate for the seat of Kalgoorlie. He is going to give the conservatives a run for their money in that seat. The member for O'Connor will not be doing his party any favours in either the Western Australian election or the federal election if he votes for this bill. Over 10,000 people currently in receipt of family tax benefit part A are going to be impacted if he votes for this bill. There are over 8,000 people on family tax benefit part B. These are the people who are going to be affected by the abolition of the FTB part B end-of-year supplement. It is $354 per year. It might not be much to many people in this place but for the families who are relying on it—and there are over 8,000 of them in the electorate of O'Connor—it matters a lot.

If a member of this place were interested in representing the interests of their electorate, they would be very concerned about the changes to the jobseeker provisions, particularly for young people. I have in mind the electorate of Page where there is very high unemployment in general and very high youth unemployment. We need to be doing things to encourage employers to find jobs for these people. We need to be doing things to make it easier for these people to get into training and get into the workforce. In the seat of Page there is very high youth unemployment. There is over 8.6 per cent youth unemployment in the town of Grafton alone. I expect the member for Page to come in here and oppose this bill because of the impact it will have on them.

I see the member for Cowper is in the chamber at this time. There is over 8.6 per cent youth unemployment in the town of Coffs Harbour, which is in the member for Cowper's electorate. I expect him to stick up for these people.

Mr Hartsuyker: Coffs Harbour's youth unemployment rate is less than the national average.

Mr STEPHEN JONES: He has got a bit to say at the moment. Let us see how he votes on it. Let us see if he votes in the interests—

Mr Hartsuyker: What's your unemployment rate?

Mr STEPHEN JONES: The member asks me what youth unemployment is in my electorate. Mr Deputy Speaker, I am very happy to take this as an intervention, as a question. It is atrocious. In some of the lakeside suburbs in my electorate, in Berkeley—

Mr Hartsuyker: What are you doing about it?

Mr STEPHEN JONES: He asks me what I am doing about it. I am ensuring that these people do not have their benefits cut. I am ensuring that we do everything within our power to ensure that they get a decent education and to ensure that you and your state colleagues do not gut the TAFE system, so that these guys get a decent chance in life. All you can do is cut their pensions and cut their benefits and make it harder and harder for them to get a decent go. I will not take a lecture from the member for Cowper, who will not stand up for the people in his electorate. At least there are some people on this side of the House who will stand up for people in their electorate who are struggling. He is worried. He makes a lot of noise. I know that he is worried. He can see other parties and Independents champing at the bit—

Mr Hartsuyker interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Vasta ): Order! The member for Whitlam has the call.

Mr STEPHEN JONES: for the defeat of the people of the National Party who thought that they could take their electorates for granted. When political mortality flashes before their eyes, they jump up on all sorts of things. But they will not stand up for the people within their electorates who are struggling. They will not stand up for the people who are their heroes. There are absolute lions in their own electorates. I am sure the member for Cowper gives a fine speech on the stumps in Coffs Harbour about the importance of looking after people who are disadvantaged but, when he comes down here along with all of his other National Party colleagues, he falls in like a lamb behind Malcolm Turnbull and sticks up his hand for all of the cuts which are going to damage and hurt the interests of the lowest income people and the most disadvantaged people in his electorate.

He came close at the last election. He had a bit of a scare himself at the last election, if I recall correctly. There is a reason for that. It is because he and every other one of the National Party MPs are taking their electorates for granted, and their electorates are starting to wake up to them. We will ensure that every day that this parliament sits and every day between now and the next election we will hold them accountable for the fact that they are voting against the very interests of the people they are sent here to represent. I oppose the bill and I support the second reading amendment.