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Wednesday, 24 February 2010
Page: 1751

Mr CHAMPION (5:01 PM) —The Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform and Reinstatement of Racial Discrimination Act) Bill 2009 is a very important bill for the House to consider, and I certainly join with the member for Makin in supporting it. This bill irons out the harshness of the previous government’s Northern Territory Emergency Response. It irons out all the nastiness of it. Secondly, and most importantly, I think it launches a quiet revolution in our attitudes to social security and welfare. This quiet revolution, which has gone on largely beneath the radar of the media and to some extent the community, really does reflect the values of this government and the values of the great majority of hardworking Australians. It is a tremendously important bill and the minister should be commended for bringing it before the House. It is far reaching and will have a great positive effect on all of Australia’s communities, in particular its poorest communities.

I would like for a moment to talk about ironing out the harshness of the previous government’s Emergency Response. It is not unreasonable for everybody to expect equal treatment before the law, and it is not unreasonable for citizens to expect equal treatment from their government. This is important both for the people who have been affected by the previous government’s measures—those people who were affected by the laws that were implemented through the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act—and for those who were not affected by those laws but perhaps should have been. That is important because we do not want to set up a double standard for the people. We do not want to set up a situation where a set of rules applies to one group of people but not to another. It is tremendously important that rules apply fairly and consistently across the board. It is a very Australian notion. To maintain the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act would be both unfair and unsustainable. So I commend the minister for taking the action that she has.

In terms of income management, there are often a lot of reactionary headlines whenever welfare is discussed within the community—often some rather intemperate calls for harsh acts or measures to toughen up on people. In my experience, most people want a better life for themselves and an even better life for their kids. Recently we had a jobs expo run by Centrelink at the Playford Civic Centre in the heart of my electorate in Elizabeth. Before it was opened there was a line-up. There was a line-up to get into a jobs expo. Once you got in, it was like going to the Royal Adelaide Show. All of the stores were full. All of the corridors were packed. You could not move in the place. There were 2,500 people through in no time at all. There was a queue five deep in front of the jobs board. That is a tremendous sign that working-class communities, communities that have been damaged by previous recessions and damaged by intergenerational unemployment, want to work. That is what they want to do. They want to do work. Often they just need the opportunity. I would like to thank Annie White from Elizabeth Centrelink for helping to organise that event and also Pippa Webb, their local employment coordinator. They are doing great work on the ground. I did think to myself what good might have been done if we had done a jobs expo during boom times. We might have done a lot of good, and we might not have been behind the eight ball so much.

Most people want to work. Often they do not get the chance. Sometimes they fall into a cycle of hopelessness and despair, and other issues begin to intrude on their lives—injury and ill health, poor decision making, poor budgeting, poor lifestyle choices, bad behaviour, lawlessness, antisocial behaviour, homelessness, domestic violence, drug abuse and that sort of thing. Often it only takes one damaged person or one damaged family to disrupt a street, a school or a community. Often not much gets done about such behaviour, tragically. The local community watches, sometimes aghast, often powerless to intervene. Often there are only sporadic, incoherent or inconsistent interventions from the three levels of government.

Under the previous government we had big cash payments for baby bonuses and the like, which came without any obligations. We are talking about $4,000 in one hit going to families which were on very low incomes and had very low earning capabilities. Often the money was spent responsibly. I met many people who spent it responsibly. But we heard plenty of stories about when it was not, when it was spent on drugs or given to boyfriends. Sometimes people were fleeced out of it or they made poor choices. That offended many of the hardworking families in my electorate. It made people quite anxious about the integrity of the social security system. This bill begins to put the government’s values and the community’s values back into social security. In that respect it really does represent a great leap forward. It says that if you are on the wrong track, if you are making the wrong choices, if you have lost hope, if you are letting your kids down or if you are vulnerable then the community, through the government, has both a right and an obligation to intervene.

This bill will send a consistent message to the entire community that if you get social security you have an obligation to be a good citizen and a good person, to have good values, to seek help if you are in trouble, to try and get work, to make sure your kids go to school, to make sure they are fed and safe and to make sure that you are, as best you can, making the right choices. These are pretty basic Australian values, but for too long they have been absent from the social security system. This bill is probably one of the most important bills to come before this parliament. I think it really will change Australia and, in particular, some of the communities I represent, communities which for too long have really worried about the integrity of the social security system and the open-ended and sometimes valueless assistance people get and which wanted the system to respond. Today the minister and the government have responded to that desire.