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Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Page: 296

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (18:07): Before starting, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which are meeting and pay my respects to Ngunawal and Ngambri elders past, present and future. I think it is particularly important that I acknowledge Aboriginal ownership of the land on which we are meeting. It is not only important that we acknowledge their ownership but also addressing the issues of disadvantage and closing gap have to be at the centre of policy development and policy implementation in this country.

The Governor-General said something very important at the start of his speech yesterday. He said:

Electorates across the country have vested in you their trust to deal sensibly, responsibly and diligently with a multitude of policy choices important not only to how Australians live today but to what sort of society we bequeath to future generations.

He went on to say:

… my government will work constructively, cooperatively and creatively with each member and senator to focus on policy that improves the wellbeing, and secures the future, of all Australians, their families and their communities.

The Australian Greens take that responsibility very seriously. We know that Australia faces challenges over the course of the 21st century. The choices we make as a country mean a lot to the community and will have far-reaching consequences, which is why I have to say I was disappointed in many of the points that were made yesterday about the direction that the government intends to take.

The choices that were outlined in the speech seemed to rely more on trickle-down economics that in fact do not work and do not float all those boats. The evidence shows that in Western Australia—for example, through the boom—there was no such thing as trickle-down economics. The approaches that have been outlined by the government cut funding, support and programs to some of the poorest and most disadvantaged members of our community and seek to give money to the rich, banking yet again on the flawed approach of trickle-down economics.

We believe we can and must choose a different approach that cares for the most vulnerable, that works for social justice and that acknowledges that we need to be making choices that invest in programs that support the most vulnerable in our community. How as a nation we choose to respond will mean the difference between having a fair, equal and caring society or a society that is increasingly unequal. So when it comes to improving the wellbeing and the future for all, we agree: this is essential. We disagree on the method. We know the impact of inequality, on health outcomes and productivity. Even the IMF acknowledges that inequality is harmful to productivity. So, if in fact people do not care about the wellbeing and fairness in our community, which we Greens do, and believe that the way to achieving fairness and equality is increased productivity, and even if they do believe in the trickle-down effect, inequality means that productivity will be harmed. So we in fact disagree with some of the measures that were outlined yesterday.

The Governor-General spoke about supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and said:

The commitment to do things with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, rather than doing things to communities, remains steadfast.

The Australian Greens believe that this commitment is incredibly important. I only wish that the coalition's approach matched their rhetoric. Not long before that in that speech were comments around the government's approach to the healthy welfare card—that is not working with communities. It is a top-down, paternalistic harmful policy.

We have seen the Northern Territory intervention, which was then followed up by the ALP's Stronger Futures policy, entrenching income management. We have seen reports that show that income management has failed, that it is top-down, paternalistic and did not achieve any of its objectives. Again, it is not working with communities.

The Community Development Program is not working with communities. It is imposing, yet again, a punitive, destructive, paternalistic and discriminatory approach to policies, because the programs that apply there do not apply to the rest of Australia. So it simply is not working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians—it is doing things with them rather than to them. It is simply not doing it.

The healthy welfare card is a policy that is being imposed on communities. The only reason the government is not seeking to impose it in Geraldton is because, fortunately, the federal election got in the way. It is not very popular, and the government did not do the consultation in that community; we, the Greens, did the consultation in that community and Aboriginal organisations did the consultation in the Geraldton community. Quite clearly, it was opposed by the community, and Aboriginal organisations in Geraldton have come out very strongly and rejected a healthy welfare card. The broader community at the public meeting we had clearly rejected the healthy welfare card. That is not working with the community; it is doing things to the community.

So are programs like the Community Development Program. It is punitive and harmful. Clearly already the harm is being felt in communities with the government's approach to the Community Development Program, because we have seen nearly 50,000 extra sanctions through that process in Aboriginal communities. Aboriginal people in communities talk to me about not being able to get back on once they are sanctioned off and about the system purposely being made so complex as to stop people going back onto income support. It is not helping develop employment in the communities.

I will acknowledge that the government has now said that it will extend funding to the Indigenous Rangers program, the program that has been evaluated and shown really clearly to have benefits to employment, to health and to land management—an overwhelmingly positive response. I am glad to see that the government has now at least said it will extend funding to 2020. Unfortunately, there are very strong rumours—more than rumours, because I know that there is an overhead presentation circulating that shows—that the government wants to change it and wants to make it an employment program like the CDP. So here we have a program which works, which the government wants to come along and fiddle with to reduce its effectiveness, when the community is asking for a doubling of funding and for the ensuring of certainty for 15 years. That is a position that the Greens strongly support.

The Greens have a different vision from the government's vision in this area. To the 2016 election we took a platform of supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. We want to work with Aboriginal communities. We have listened to Aboriginal communities, Aboriginal peak organisations and Aboriginal community organisations. We want to make sure that the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples, the representative body of first peoples, is properly funded and can do its work representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We want to re-form the Indigenous Advancement Strategy because that has been chaotic. You cannot go anywhere in any communities without hearing concern about the flawed approach in the Indigenous Advancement Strategy. We want to restore the funding of over half a billion dollars that was taken out of Aboriginal programs. We want to see genuine consultation that supports Aboriginal communities, and we want to genuinely work with Aboriginal communities, not do things to Aboriginal communities.

There is an inherent contradiction in the government's approach when they are talking about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues, because, on one hand, they are supposed to be talking to and working with Aboriginal communities; at the same time, they are imposing top down, punitive approaches. We will continue to oppose programs that are punitive, that are harsh and that are imposed top down. We want to get rid of the contradiction, within government policy, that they want to, on one hand, work with and, on the other hand, do to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The same goes for justice targets. In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, peak bodies and people in communities have been crying out for justice targets to address the appalling incarceration rates in this country, but that takes genuine reform, genuine change and, again, working with communities, not continuing to support the states and territories that apply mandatory detention and not seeing states and territories put in place punitive approaches instead of working for justice reinvestment. I would have liked to have seen a more supportive approach to justice reinvestment, for example. All these measures have been worked on and promoted by Aboriginal communities. Please listen and work with Aboriginal communities to address these issues.

One of our central pillars for the Australian Greens is social justice. We are deeply concerned about poverty in this country. We are deeply concerned about the government's agenda on what they call welfare—we call it our social security system—with the constant claims that the numbers are rising and that we have to keep cutting income support. We have a flawed approach to income support in this country if the government think they can fix things by just continuing to cut funding—the energy supplement, for example. If you are living in poverty on Newstart, every dollar counts. Taking away the energy supplement basically cuts Newstart, plunging people further into poverty.

The government want to continue their policy of chucking people off the disability support pension and dumping people with disability onto Newstart. That does not increase the wellbeing of our community. It is punitive. It is mean. And it is self-defeating because people living in poverty find it even harder to find work.

This takes us back to the issue that this country is always proud of its approach of a fair go. That is not a fair go. People should not be limited in a fair Australia by where they are born or how much their parents earn or the colour of their skin. We believe that everybody has the right to access adequate resources to allow them to fully participate in society. Australians as a country believe that fairness is an important issue. We have staked our reputation on fairness. But the approach that the government outlined in the address yesterday is not fair. We believe that people should be given and deserve a fair chance. We talk about mateship. We are quite proud of that. That is about helping one another. That is what we used to define mateship as and see mateship as: helping one another. We do not believe that that is the approach that the address outlined yesterday.

We know that in Australia today not everybody gets a fair go. The Prime Minister said it himself. He said:

I don’t believe my wealth, or frankly most people’s wealth, is entirely a function of hard work. Of course hard work is important but, you know, there are taxi drivers that work harder than I ever have and they don’t have much money. There are cleaners that worked harder than I ever have or you ever have and they don’t have much money.

That is an acknowledgement by the Prime Minister that we do not have an equal society and this is where the coalition's policy falls down, because its policies do not deliver a fairer or more equal society. We need a social security system that is fit for the 21st century. Instead of that, the government is continuing to talk about cuts to our income support system, is ripping big holes in our social security net and is making the most vulnerable members of our community pay for the largesse of the coalition. It was the coalition that introduced tax cuts, that introduced payments for those that are doing very well thank you very much. The coalition thinks it can put in place more tax cuts and all of a sudden they are going to trickle down and help the most vulnerable members of our community. That is in fact not proven in economic analysis. Inequality is going to damage our community. We know, from the social determinants of health, that people will end up less healthy thereby making it even harder for them to participate in the workforce.

We are not envisaging an economy that is fit for the 21st century. Just the same, we do not have a social services system that is fit for the 21st century. But instead of a vision of how we are going to develop a social services system, of how we are going to develop an economy that is fit, that addresses renewable energies and that ensures we are in fact the clever country, we are taking money out of ARENA when that should be a key investment because that is the future. That is where the future jobs are.

People are often lucky because of where they were born, in which community they were born into, in which postcard their parents lived in. That was demonstrated again and again by the Dropping Off the Edge: Persistent Communal Disadvantage in Australia report from the Jesuit Social Services and Catholic Social Services Australia. Dropping Off the Edge clearly articulates that where you were born and what postcode you live in can determine your future outcomes. That is not an Australia that we should be proud of. We should make sure we are helping people in those postcodes and making sure that we are not increasing inequality in our society.

I chaired the Community Affairs References Committee inquiry into the extent of income inequality in Australia last year. The committee heard significant evidence about the impact of inequality, about measures to address it and about how we need to be addressing unemployment of our young and our older Australians, who are dropping out of employment and not able to regain it. We have a job service system that is failing the unemployed, that is failing people who are not able to access work. There is increasing homelessness, and a failing of many people to be to get access to services in the places they live.

We would put in place a series of measures to address this inequality, to make sure we are building a strong social safety net, to make sure we do have universal access to social services—social services that we can be proud of. We would build a strong health system and education system in this country to ensure inequality is addressed, to ensure for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples that we can meet the promises we made to close the gap by 2030. As Senator Di Natale outlined earlier this morning, we are not on track to meet the Closing the Gap targets that we currently have and we are not putting in place the justice targets that we need such as the ones we outlined.

Where is the vision where we move to an economy based on the 100 per cent renewable energy? We know we can do it. As they say, we have the technology. We can rebuild our energy system to be 100 per cent renewable. Where was the outline and the vision for that? Nowhere, of course, because the government is so beholden to fossil fuels and to the dinosaurs that cling on to coal. The government lacks the vision to make sure we move there. The government will be responsible when places like Collie in Western Australia are left to die because the government did not have the foresight to put in place those transformational plans. There was no vision in that statement. We need to have a vision in this country and that statement failed.