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Wednesday, 22 October 2014
Page: 11698


Ms MACKLIN (Jagajaga) (18:24): Well, here we are again to debate some of the government's harshest budget cuts—cuts that will leave millions of Australian families worse off; cuts that will leave many, many young people destitute; and cuts that will see the standard of living of Australian seniors attacked. This is not the first time that these matters have been debated in this House. Indeed, not one of the measures in these three bills has not been through the House before. You might ask, 'Well, why is this?' It is because, thanks to Labor, the government has not been able to get any of these cruel cuts through the Senate. Each of these measures has already been rejected by the parliament, and I can assure each and every Australian listening that we intend to do everything in our power to reject them again.

These three pieces of legislation are a direct attack on ordinary Australians, an attack on the fair go in this country. We should not allow this government to get away with it. It is not only the cruelty of this budget that has Australians so offside; what has also got people offside is the sheer incompetence of how the government has gone about it.

Just today, again we see the Minister for Social Services in TheGuardian making a very frank admission that the government cannot get these cruel cuts through the parliament. Even so, here we are debating these savage measures, and the government is clearly determined tonight to ram them through, even though the government must know that it does not have the numbers in the Senate and it certainly must have heard from the Australian parliament that the Australian people think that these measures stink.

The minister told TheGuardian today that he would consider any reasonable offer from the crossbench to salvage his cruel cuts—a frank admission from the minister himself that he is fresh out of ideas about how he is going to get this legislation through the parliament. I will be telling the minister loud and clear tonight that there is only one reasonable offer that will come from the Labor Party, and that is one I will offer him right now: he needs to dump this cruel budget, and dump it once and for all.

The first of these bills, the Social Services and Other Legislation (Seniors Supplement) Bill, seeks to abolish the seniors supplement. When before the last election did any of the Liberals or Nationals opposite tell the 300,000 seniors in this country that they were going to have their almost $900 a year supplement axed completely? When did they tell them this before the last election? Of course this measure also goes to 29,000 veterans. All of these people have worked hard all of their lives. They do not deserve to be punished by this government for their hard work. For many of these people, this payment is critical to help them with their bills and other rising cost-of-living pressures. Yet on 24 June this year this Prime Minister said that this payment was a cash splash. That is the disrespect and disregard that this Prime Minister has for senior Australians.

On other legislation, of course, the government is proposing to slash the indexation arrangements of the pension. This will see $23 billion—that is how much it is; it has been announced by the Treasurer that this is how much will come out of the pockets of pensioners by 2023. And it will see pensioners left $80 a week worse off within ten years of the change, according to the Australians Council of Social Services. This is despite the Prime Minister coming in here day after day denying that he is cutting the pension, denying that it is a broken promise—even though he said the day before the last election there would be no changes to the pension. No wonder pensioners are angry. And they are angry: it does not matter where I go around Australia, pensioners are angry—angry at having their very modest retirements cut. They also extraordinarily angry that the Prime minister stood there the day before the last election, looked them in the eye and said there would be no cuts, no changes to their pension.

Labor are out there campaigning against these cuts—and the Council on the Ageing are out there talking with pensioners and seniors across the country—and making sure that we do everything we possibly can to stop this cut to the pension. As the Leader of the Opposition mentioned just a few moments ago, we saw the Prime Minister stoop to an extraordinary low just last week, writing a misleading letter to Australia's 2.3 million pensioners—and spending $1.2 million of taxpayers' money for the privilege. Of course, he did not tell the truth in the letter. He did not tell pensioners that he is in fact going to cut the indexation of their pension.

The bills that we are debating tonight are a full-scale attack on the living standards of Australian families. In these bills we see the most extraordinary cuts to family benefits and parenting payments—and they are being slashed at the same time the government is proposing a new GP tax and a new fuel tax. These bills tonight contain billions of dollars of cuts to families. I will just go through a few of them. Nearly $2 billion will be cut from family tax benefits as a result of a freeze to the rates of family payments for two years. Nearly $2 billion is going to come out of the pockets of low- and middle-income families. According to the Department of Social Services, a freeze to the low-income free area for family tax benefit part A alone—just this one measure—will see 370,000 families around $750 a year worse off in 2016-17. So make sure when you are going to the ballot box at the next election, which will probably be in 2016, that you remind those families that you are taking $750 out of their pockets through that measure alone.

On top of that, another $2 billion is being taken out as a result of the decision to cut family tax benefit part B when the youngest child turns six. This measure alone is going to leave families around $3,000 a year worse off —$3,000 a year. That is what you are taking out of the pockets of these families. This is going to see so many families so much worse off. Unsurprisingly, we have heard very little about that from those opposite. It will be very interesting to see whether any one of those members opposite speaking on these bills tonight tries to defend these extraordinary cuts to families. The Department of Social Services revealed at Senate estimates that, if this legislation gets through the Senate, around 700,000 families will lose their family tax benefit part B when their youngest child turns six. So which one of you is going to front up to your single income, single parent families and tell them that they are going to lose $3,000 when their youngest child turns six? I can assure you that we will be fighting this all the way.

These bills will also see a billion dollars cut from end of year supplements. These bills will put more and more pressure on the lowest income families in this country. We have seen the analysis from NATSEM which found that around 1.2 million families will be on average $3,000 a year worse off. In contrast, the top 20 per cent of households will have either no impact or a negligible positive impact. That is the attitude of this government—so arrogant and so out of touch. It does not care that millions of Australians are going to be worse off because of these savage cuts.

We saw today the analysis from NATSEM on the hardest hit electorates. For example, in the electorate of Watson and the electorate of Blaxland, both in Sydney, the average household is going to have to give up $990 each year; whereas, in the Prime Minister's electorate, families will only be worse off by $144 a year. This is no fluke; this is what this conservative government is all about—looking after those at the top end of town and whacking those who are not so well off. This analysis from NATSEM—described by the Prime Minister as `Australia's most respected modelling outfit'—shows that the hardest hit people in the country are those who are already doing it tough. They should be told by this government that, as a result of these bills, the poorest people in Australia must shoulder the burden of the Prime Minister's cuts. In contrast, Labor will stand up for low- and middle-income families who will be so savagely hit by the cuts in this legislation.

But perhaps, as I have said a number of times, the cruellest measures in these bills are the Prime Minister's brutal attacks on young job seekers. These bills will see young people under 30 who are looking for a job forced to wait six months before receiving any income support—and in some cases they will have to wait even longer. So the government is saying to young people, 'You are on your own.' If after six months without income support the young person has not found a job, the measure will require them to go on Work for the Dole. And if after their time on Work for the Dole they have still not found a job they will lose their payments for another six months. What do those opposite think these people are going to live on? Where are they going to get their food from? Who is going to pay the rent?

Every single Australian that you talk to understands how harsh these measures are and what it is going to mean when you push these hundreds of thousands of young people into poverty, crisis and homelessness. In fact, the budget actually includes money for emergency assistance, because the government knows that these young people will have absolutely nothing. I can make it very, very clear to the government that we will not be supporting this measure. It is cruel, it is harsh, and we will not support it at all.

The government are out there trying to suggest that there may be room for a compromise. They do not have it in the legislation, of course. Tonight we are debating the same proposal that has been around for the last six months. The government want to see young people with nothing to live on for six months. I want to make it very clear: there will be no compromise. We will not be providing any support for any compromise by the government that might suggest people should have nothing to live on for a month or some other period that the government might pull out of their hat.

Also as a result of this legislation the government want to push young people under 25 onto the lower Youth Allowance. Once again this is a huge cut—$2,500 a year. We will not support this punitive measure. How on earth does the government think these young people are going to survive on these considerably reduced levels of support? How is it fair to say to a young person, 'You're going to lose 20 per cent of your income support, whereas somebody on $200,000 will pay around 0.2 per cent through a reduction in their income. That is why Australians understand that this budget is grossly unfair. They look at the reality of these bills—of who will pay the price. The price will be paid by the poorest Australians. It will be paid by those families who are doing it the toughest.

For months, Labor have been campaigning against this government's savage budget. We will continue to stand side by side with pensioners, with young people, with families. Our message to them is: we will continue to stand with you and we will vote against these savage cuts. We will continue to fight this cruel budget every day from now until the next election.

Debate interrupted.