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SOCIAL SECURITY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (NEWLY ARRIVED RESIDENT'S WAITING PERIODS AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 1996
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- Start of Business
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
East Timor: Australian Journalists
(Senator SCHACHT, Senator HILL)
(Senator FERRIS, Senator ALSTON)
(Senator SHERRY, Senator NEWMAN)
(Senator MacGIBBON, Senator HILL)
Social Security: Regional Offices
(Senator NEAL, Senator NEWMAN)
(Senator KERNOT, Senator HILL)
Guest List to Reception with Mrs Clinton
(Senator CROWLEY, Senator HILL)
Trade with the United States of America
(Senator HARRADINE, Senator HILL)
Taxation: Syndication Arrangements
(Senator COOK, Senator PARER)
Economy: Capital Expenditure
(Senator CHAPMAN, Senator KEMP)
Hong Kong: Mainland Dissidents
(Senator CHILDS, Senator HILL)
(Senator MURRAY, Senator HILL)
(Senator MURPHY, Senator PARER)
Higher Education Contribution Scheme
(Senator SANDY MACDONALD, Senator VANSTONE)
(Senator FAULKNER, Senator NEWMAN)
- Taxation: Syndicate Arrangements
(Senator ABETZ, Senator Sherry, Senator FERRIS)
Guest List to Reception with Mrs Clinton
(Senator CROWLEY, Senator Abetz, Senator Panizza, The DEPUTY PRESIDENT, Senator Kernot, Senator PATTERSON)
- East Timor: Australian Journalists
NOTICES OF MOTION
- Consideration of Legislation
- AIDS Awareness Week
- Victorian Auditor-General
- Select Committee on Uranium Mining and Milling
- Australian National
- Human Rights
- Aboriginal Deaths in Custody
- Climate Change
- ORDER OF BUSINESS
- ORDER OF BUSINESS
- LEAVE OF ABSENCE
- CHAIRMAN OF THE SENATE OF THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
- CONSIDERATION OF LEGISLATION
- CONSIDERATION OF LEGISLATION
- ORDER OF BUSINESS
- TAXATION LAWS AMENDMENT BILL (No. 3) 1996
CUSTOMS AMENDMENT BILL (No. 2) 1996
IMPORT PROCESSING CHARGES BILL 1996
CUSTOMS DEPOT LICENSING CHARGES BILL 1996
- ASSENT TO LAWS
- STATES GRANTS (PRIMARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION ASSISTANCE) BILL 1996
- PAYMENT OF TAX RECEIPTS (VICTORIA) BILL 1996
- SOCIAL SECURITY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (NEWLY ARRIVED RESIDENT'S WAITING PERIODS AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 1996
- QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
Monday, 25 November 1996
Senator BOLKUS(5.25 p.m.) —I rise to put on the record the opposition's position in respect of the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Newly Arrived Resident's Waiting Periods and Other Measures) Bill 1996. Our initial approach in assessing this legislation has been that the government must be held to its word. During the election and since, the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) has said, `All we have done is extend Labor's six-month waiting period to two years.' Our position is that, if you do not have to wait six months for a payment at the moment, you should not have to wait two years for a payment after the bill is dealt with.
We also maintain that the waiting period of two years should not apply retrospectively. We also maintain that those who are currently exempt from serving a six-month waiting period should continue to be exempt. We believe that refugees, humanitarian migrants, their families, Australian citizens and their families must be protected. We also believe that this legislation should not act in a discriminatory way and should not override the Racial Discrimination Act.
For us, this legislation is regressive. It is intended to dismantle the underpinning of a very successful migration program. Its effect will be to erode the success of that program. It was just the other day that these comments appeared across our national newspapers:
This city has people who traced their origins to more than 140 different nations . . . Australia has a higher percentage of immigrants who came here and built decent lives and strengthened your country through hard work than almost any other country on Earth.
Think about how every day in every way when you bring in people who are those, like me, who trace their roots to England or Ireland or Scotland, to various Asian countries or South Asia or Latin America or the Middle East, every day you do that when the world is looking at you, you offer a rebuke to all those who would take away the lives and the futures and the fortunes of the children of this world, because they are different from them.
And I cannot think of a better place in the entire world, a more shining example of how people can come together as one nation and one community than Sydney, Australia.
I would like to thank President Bill Clinton for those observations because they do go to the success of what we have done in this country, to the success of our migration program. In making those comments, President Clinton goes to four major points, which are worth putting on the record.
President Clinton makes it very clear—he has brought home the international awareness that our single greatest achievement as a nation has been how we have developed by taking and absorbing into our community some five million migrants over five years. He has sought to educate us about ourselves, and I think in a very striking way has done so.
He has made us dramatically aware that the world knows what is happening in Australia. He has put it on the front pages both here and overseas. He has highlighted the extent of our diversity. He has emphasised that it is not easy to do what we have been doing. He has emphasised that we have done something special. He has also emphasised that we have a particularly different and special approach—and I would maintain very strongly that this is through our settlement programs.
Secondly, in saying that I think the President of the United States has sadly shamed the Australian Prime Minister—the man who cannot find it within himself to use the word `multiculturalism', the man who does not understand the importance of our diversity, the man who does not stand up for multiculturalism and indeed rejects it as more and more evidence shows, the man who does not attack the racists and the bigots in our society, and the man who has advocated racial discriminatory policies. Sadly, I think President Clinton has shown by his example that this government and this Prime Minister do not care about settlement policies.
The third thing President Clinton has done has been to expose the boring and insensitive nature of our administration. Standing within two yards of the dispatch box in the House of Representatives last week, I was embarrassed as an Australian member of parliament to see that, while the whole of that chamber—downstairs and up in the public gallery—applauded the President of the United States a number of times, our Prime Minister did not.
I was particularly concerned that, when the President of the United States mentioned the issue of race in the House of Representatives, Tim Fischer, Alexander Downer and everyone else on that side of the parliament applauded him except two people—our Prime Minister, John Howard, and Ms Pauline Hanson.
I think it really reflects on this Prime Minister, the person who has as his responsibility engaging this country with the rest of the world, that he stood there in stark isolation in his own parliament. I think what the President of the United States did last week was to very starkly highlight the difference between the leader of the United States and the person who claims to be the leader in Australia.
President Clinton would not have read the Hansard to know why John Howard was not applauding him. He would not have understood the niceties that the Prime Minister wanted to stick to. All he could see from his position was that the person in closest contact to him was the one person in the parliament who was not applauding him on the issue of race and on other matters.
I was also particularly embarrassed to see, for the first time in a number of years, at an official function for a visiting head of state, that there was no reflection in the performances of the day of, for instance, our multicultural society, particularly the people of Aboriginal descent. The President quite pointedly referred to the talents of Aboriginal Australians the next day when he not only went shopping for some of their craft work but also referred to Aboriginal entertainment as part of the vital contribution Australians are making to the world scene. The other thing the President of the United States did last week was make it very clear at one critical point when he said:
I want you to know the world is looking to you, and I want you to know that America will keep looking to you.
In this global environment, you cannot hide and you cannot run. What you do within your own society is something that very quickly gets currency throughout the rest of the world. President Clinton, I think, showed that we are doing something especially important. The opposition would maintain that there are dividends, both socially and economically, in how we handle not just migration but also migrants when they come here. There are huge benefits if we get it right and there are losses socially and economically if we get it wrong. It does not just happen.
What President Clinton was alluding to last week does not just happen by the wave of a magic wand or whatever. Getting people into a country is one thing. How they fit into that country and what infrastructure and support they get from their own families, from their direct communities and from the broader community is the most critical part. What this legislation is about is dismantling that very important social policy infrastructure.
The difference between us and other migration countries is that we do have a settlement policy. It is based on inclusiveness. It is based on social justice. It is not just words; it is also programs. This is the bill that tries to dismantle so much of that social infrastructure, and it does so with blind disregard for the consequences. You do not expect this Prime Minister to understand the implications on migrant families, because he has shown a disregard for their plight. But what you see here is legislation without the preceding policy review, without any assessment of the impact of the legislation on individuals, on families and on the broader community, without any recognition of the role or the need for some of these programs of support that this legislation tries to dismantle.
This legislation is the work of serial wreckers because it is not preceded by any policy review; it is merely preceded by public opinion polls. The only research available to the government on the impact of this legislation is not on how it will affect our society. The only research available to them is the research they get from their public opinion polls.
Migrants have been marginalised under this government. They are being used as a political football. The problem with that is that, though it might resonate in some parts of the community, we are playing politics with the cohesiveness of our society. We are introducing legislation driven more by prejudice than policy review.
As I say, social justice is the critical distinction between us and other countries with migration. We have always worked on the basis of a couple of simple principles. We invest in migrants when they come here, and they do pay back. In the immediate sense, they pay back through indirect taxes and direct taxes. They contribute to society. In another sense, what we are doing is providing a springboard for them and their families—a springboard which ensures that they do not fall into the underclass nature of society but have a chance to establish themselves and their families in a new environment.
Nowhere is this better shown that in Australia's Vietnamese community, having come here as refugees some short 20 years ago. Okay, they have got problems, and problems in terms of accessing jobs, but they are the community which already achieves high retention rates at schools and high participation in the workplace. They are the community which is already in the business of exporting and trading with overseas countries, particularly the country from which a lot of them have come.
Respect for family is also critical. One concern we have about this legislation is that it does not adequately ensure the capacity of families to reunite on the basis of the experience of a successful family migration program. This legislation makes it much more difficult for families to unite because it places in front of people that hurdle of the need for extra resources for families to come together.
This bill is, to the opposition, a wholesale attack on the social infrastructure. It is a pernicious one as well. At the same time as having this legislation, we get concern expressed to us by the government that they want debate. If they wanted debate, they would not have done away with the office of multicultural research and effectively abolished it. They would not have effectively abolished the Bureau of Immigration and Population Research and so on.
This legislation has met with comment from quite a number of people in the community. One person I do not often quote but whom I would now like to quote is Bob Birrell. In his advice to the Senate committee on legal and constitutional affairs he said that, through this legislation:
The Coalition Government is in effect saying that it washes its hands of responsibility for their welfare, unless they fall into the Humanitarian category.
This is to advance down the American road, that is, to allow continued migration but without a commitment to help the migrants in question become secure and productive citizens.
Bob Birrell is, and I think has been for some time now, a strong supporter of the government, but I think he has got it dead right here. What this legislation does, paraphrasing Bob Birrell, is take away the difference between Australia and other migration countries. We feel it is racially discriminate. It is not just the opposition who says that. It was also the concern of the Race Discrimination Commissioner, Ms Zita Antonios, in her evidence to the committee—evidence which the Attorney-General's Department sought to rebut but at the same time acknowledging that there was some force in Ms Antonios's argument.
We feel this legislation breaches some of Australia's international obligations. The International Bill of Human Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the Convention on the Rights of the Child all have principles that ensure that one has, for instance, a right to social security, that children have a right to their best interests being taken into consideration, and so on.
In the case of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, I think it is worth noting the evidence of Mr Stephen Langman, solicitor with the National Welfare Rights Network, who explained:
In our view, these provisions are certainly going to create suffering amongst children. For families with nothing to live on but the basic rate of family payment, which we think is going to happen, there is no doubt that children will suffer as a result. Even if the family is given the special benefit, the new provisions do not apply the same tests for giving additional family payments to those families. So those families will be living on special benefit, which is limited under the act to the amount of a jobsearch allowance and $22.70 per child by itself.
Not only do we have those certain concerns; we have concerns about retrospectivity. We also have particular concerns about how this legislation has been implemented across the country, sporadically I must concede, before it has even come into effect. All these concerns build that basic picture in our minds that this legislation is all about bad policy, policy by prejudice and policy which, in effect, will undermine much of what has been done as part of a successful settlement policy in this country.
As I said at the start, we are taking an approach to this legislation which tries to hold the government to its word. We in government imposed a six-month waiting period in respect of some payments. I accept now, as I did before, that there is some concern about that six-month waiting period. We maintained then that six months was a good balance. We also maintained then and we maintain now that two years is not a good balance; it is a poverty trap that migrants and this society can least afford. When the government said that all it would do would be to extend our six-month waiting period to two years, we said that if you do not have to wait for six months at the moment then you should not have to wait two years for payments after the bill is dealt with.
Senator Tambling —Did you have a review of your six months?
Senator BOLKUS —Senator, there is a major difference between six months and two years. If you do not understand that then you are not fit to be in this place. Six months is a reasonable period but you are talking about two years now. You are talking about a wide raft of benefits and you are talking about a pernicious undermining of migration and settlement programs in this country.
You have come in and pressed every trigger to try to divide this society in respect of migration. You have a Prime Minister who refuses to stand up to racism bigots and wants to kick this political football for all it is worth and does so. You have someone who is against multiculturalism on the record as such. You have someone who refuses to even acknowledge the word and someone who does not respect and recognise the real cultural diversity in this country. You do not come into this debate with clean hands, Senator Tambling, and that is what you should recognise.
We are the ones who, consistently over a period of time, put together not just the social infrastructure but a racially non-discriminate program—a program that took in the needs of families. In doing so we also respected and recognised the importance of a family in terms of migration. We also recognised the importance of one family feeling as though it had sufficient rights, equal rights, with another family in terms of sponsoring their families into Australia. This is where this legislation has a pernicious effect. It will be much harder for those from non-English speaking backgrounds across the world in so many different circumstances to be able to sponsor their relatives, because of the combined impact of this legislation and some of the regulations that you have tried to bring into play.
There are some changes that the government has picked up as a consequence of the deliberations of the Senate committee that we accept but there are some government amendments that we deplore—amendments, for instance, which extend the two-year waiting period to yet another class of visa holders, the 826 visa holders. We especially deplore the introduction of a new schedule to the bill which, for the avoidance of doubts, ensures that the waiting period applies retrospectively to former jobsearch allowees now that the jobsearch allowance has been stopped.
We are also concerned that the government is signalling and has signalled in the recent budget that a two-year waiting period will apply also to Austudy and to what is left of labour market programs. We are also concerned that we have received legislation out of left field, I must say, in the last few weeks which would apply the two-year waiting period to the child-care cash rebate. This is not legislation which is in the best interests of Australia.
This is legislation, as I said, driven by prejudice and driven by a Prime Minister who knows nothing but prejudice, a Prime Minister who refuses to acknowledge the massive contribution that non-English speaking Australians have made to this country, and continue to make, and respect for their diversity in the process. We are concerned, as I said at the start, that the infrastructure that has been quite critical to our successful migration program is in fact being undermined by this legislation. It is no small thing. I will close on this particular point because it is the most critical point in terms of policy in this area.
We do it better. We are recognised internationally as doing it better because we are prepared to put the investment in those first couple of years. That investment has paid off for Australia. Migration policy does not cause ghettos; it is social and economic policy that cause ghettos. If you do not want to divide this country then you should not be bringing in legislation which takes away that basic safety net, the springboard, that families need when they migrate—when they take the huge step of migrating from one country to another.
There is a difference between us and the rest of the world. Professor Birrell made it very clear in his submission that this legislation takes us down the wrong road. For that reason, the opposition will oppose a number of the government's amendments but also move our own.