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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 343

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (16:34): I am delighted to participate in this debate, because I entirely agree that there is no leadership from Mr Turnbull. You have no better display of that than today's debacle—the latest debacle, I should I say; I will come to the other one that we have been talking about, Centrelink, in a minute. But today there is the debacle of the government's announcement of their latest omnicuts, in the guise of, 'Here we are we, we are providing better child care for you and we are providing better paid parental leave for you.' But they are sneaking a whole lot of their other zombie budget cut measures back in. These are the budget cut measures that this Senate has been resisting ever since they started showing up in the Abbott budget of 2014. Remember that awful budget, which was overwhelmingly rejected by the community? They tried to force young people off income support, off Newstart, for six months. This government think they can get away with reducing the period to five weeks—four weeks plus the normal one-week wait period. Clearly this Senate has been resisting that and not supporting it. Now they bring it back, supposedly to pay for child care. Even if you accept the premise that child care is all fixed, they are saying, 'We will look after your kids while they need child care, but as soon as they reach the age of being more independent and they look for work and become unemployed, we will not support them.'

Then you look at what they are trying to do to age pensions and portability. They are trying to reduce that to six weeks. Then they will have you believe that they have fixed things by improving the changes they are making to family tax benefits, but young families will still be worse off. Where is the leadership?

'That's right: we're leading by picking on the most vulnerable members of our community, those that are struggling, those that are trying to buy a home, those that are on low incomes. We will still decrease your family tax benefit: if you are on family tax benefit A, by about $8 a fortnight; if you are on family tax benefit B, which is where there are a lot of low-income families, we will reduce it by over $13 a fortnight.' This is not leadership; it is demonising people. It is demonising the most vulnerable members of our community.

Then let's get to Centrelink. What great leadership there! How to lead a complete debacle! Again, it is subjecting people that are trying to rely on our social security safety net to scare tactics, to debt notices, to potentially having to open the door to debt collectors, and to errors in Centrelink which they do not even count.

Today during senators' statements, I read out the accounts of three people who have been affected by this. Great leadership by the Turnbull government: how to pick on and make vulnerable people even more vulnerable; how to make sure that they have more mental health issues. That is what is happening and that is what is being fed to our offices. I am sure those on the government benches have been getting those phone calls—in fact, some of their own are so affected and so concerned that they have been making statements about their concerns. Great leadership, Mr Turnbull!

Where is his leadership in taking the issues to President Trump? It is completely lacking; it is not there. He is failing Australians, and particularly failing those that rely on our social security safety net and families that are struggling to get ahead. We know they are struggling to buy their homes; we know they are facing greater costs of living; we know that inequality in this country is increasing. So he is leading the charge to increase inequality in this country. That is the only thing he is leading on. That is not the way.

By victimising and picking on the most vulnerable in the community, he increases inequality and makes it even harder for people to find work. By keeping young people in poverty and off Newstart for five weeks, he actually makes it harder for them to find work. That is what the evidence shows.

So I support this matter of public importance because the Prime Minister is not— (Time expired)