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Wednesday, 12 February 2014
Page: 261


Mr BROADBENT (McMillan) (17:23): Never mind the children. For most children in Australia an eighth birthday is a milestone worth celebrating—a day of gifts, cakes, ice cream and laughter, a day when you are special; a day when all the bright prospects of life are still before you. But, sadly, there is a legion of children in this country for whom the eighth birthday is something quite different—a day of misery, a day when dreams are put on hold, a day when the poverty slide becomes even steeper. The youngest children of sole parents forced onto Newstart allowance know that Mum or Dad will have to fight even harder to survive. They know that when the youngest turns eight the family will lose up to $110 a week despite the daily grind that poverty brings. Mum and Dad are under further pressure for every moment of every day for every decision, even for the most minor, because there is no margin for error. Every financial decision becomes a major financial decision because there is no flexibility in your ability to have a choice in your spend.

You may think a child would be unlikely to know so much about her parent's or parents' finances. But the children of the poor are always acutely aware of how much they do not have compared to other children. The children of the poor are acutely aware of the social stigma of poverty. They are acutely aware of what it means to wear the wrong clothes, to miss out on meals, to shrink their dreams to fit their circumstances, to hope for less than other kids. These children are equally our future, yet we seem to continually say to them, 'Never mind the children.'

Whilst the terrible scourge of domestic violence tears at the fabric of communities and families, and we all in this House stand united against it, we do our best to stamp it out because we know how insidious and destructive it is. While we fight against that terrible cancer we not only turn our backs on sole parents and their children but enshrine their poverty in legislation, giving their misery and discrimination the nation's and this parliament's stamp of approval.

There are 15,610 sole parent households in the electorate of McMillan, my electorate, with many at risk of or already living in poverty. It is often a hand-to-mouth existence, an existence that sees children getting on with meagre rations of food and lots of hope. Textbooks are hard enough, let alone breakfast. In McMillan households, the financial picture is often bleak, with 29.3 per cent scrounging together a gross weekly income of $600. Often it is much less and too often there are children ensnared in this poverty trap. The previous Rudd-Gillard government said to struggling sole parents: when your youngest child turns eight, we are going to plunge you into even deeper poverty. Never mind the children, they told the nation.

If you are lucky enough to have the love and financial support of a partner, your worries are fewer. You have the support of the welfare system too. A single mother raising children on Newstart begs for help from the Salvos. A woman with the emotional and financial support of a husband and partner has fewer concerns. If she has two children under 12 she will only lose family tax benefit part A when her family's wages are close to $113,000. She will only lose family tax benefit part B when her partner's wage or their combined income is $150,000. The same rules apply to our sole parents but such astronomical wages can only be dreamed of by a Newstart sole parent—and never mind the children, we say. We continue to support one group while attacking the other.

Last year 600,000 children were living in poverty, 300,000 from sole parent families. I made a solemn promise to the people of my electorate to work in their best interests. I made a solemn promise to myself that I would call out injustice against children and fight to ensure that none are forced to live in poverty because of decisions made in this House. I will not say, 'Never mind the children.' In my home town of Pakenham, 135 eviction notices were served in the past three years. Sole parents tied to an existing lease and then pushed onto the Newstart allowance were the most vulnerable in becoming homeless along of course with their children—never mind the children. One local mother of five who was studying full-time, searching for a way out of the poverty trap lost so much money when her youngest child turned eight that she now has been forced to work the whole weekend to pay the bills, just to survive—never mind the children or who is looking after them when mum is at work.

Leongatha Salvation Army captain Martyn Scrimshaw said that many desperate sole parents had knocked on his door, with one woman spending 70 per cent of her Newstart allowance on the basic household expenses of rent and power. 'Thirty per cent of Newstart doesn't leave much for anything else, especially if you're raising children,' Martyn told me. In fact, it leaves about $160 more or less.

A former government minister once famously said she could survive on $35 a day—and changed her mind later—but why force families to take this mean-hearted challenge? It is too easy to say, 'Never mind the children,' for the sake of the budget or the bottom line. But what lessons are we teaching the children about their worth? 'You're not worthy of our support'? 'You're being punished because you don't have a father or a mother'? 'Life's tough, kid; good luck'? Some may say, 'Never mind these children,' but I will not.

If you are a family with mum and dad and three kids and you get family tax benefit part A and part B and you are on, say, $63,000 a year, you do not get a health card to support you at all. But, if you are an older person, retired, with an $80,000 income, you are able to access a health card, which means you can get your prescriptions at the concession rate. But the family with three kids and a mortgage and one income cannot get a health card. They have got to pay the full tick if their kid has got asthma. There are a lot of anomalies that are facing this parliament—and that faced the previous parliament and the parliament before it—that have grown up and that are detrimental to children's health and wellbeing across this nation, especially the children of sole-parent families. It is totally inappropriate for us.

I have lived in relative wealth all of my life. Bron and I have had our tough times, but I have lived in relative wealth. My children have never gone without a feed and my grandchildren will not go without a feed. But there are many families in my electorate and across this nation, up and down the east coast of Australia and around every part, that do go without. Kids go without breakfast sometimes. You might wonder why I am up on this issue. It is because, when I came here in 1990 for the first time—after missing out on two elections before that and finally getting to this place—I said in my maiden speech that I would look after families. And yet here I am all these years later, from 1990 till now—and I know I have been out a few times—and I stand here today knowing that there are children in our community that are discriminated against for one reason and one reason only: by no fault of their own, they happen to live in a single-parent household. I am not going to judge why it is a single-parent household. I do not know. But what I do know in regard to women single-parent households is that, in 40 per cent of these households, the women are in part-time work. They are already trying to eke out a living. And we come along when their child turns eight. If you are in a nuclear family and your child turns eight, guess what—you do not lose a penny. You do not lose a cent. You continue on. And I am very happy that they continue on—we want to support families. But I want to make this point before a quorum is called. It is unfair, and every member of parliament in this place should look at the responsibility that they have to single-parent families and especially to the children within those families. (Quorum formed)

I turn now to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and I offer a warning to this parliament and to the people of Australia. There are those, as we work through the process of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, who believe today that they will be a part of that scheme. I am saying today that the criteria for the National Disability Insurance Scheme will not include all those people today who think they are going to be included. I have warned previously in this parliament that the leaders of the day when this scheme is introduced are going to face the ire and wrath of people who believe that their politicians have told them that they will be supported into the future through the National Disability Support Scheme.

Today we have a disability support pension. Those with manifest disabilities will clearly be part of the new scheme and have that disability support pension as well. There are those on the disability support pension who believe that they will be part of the services provided by the National Disability Insurance Scheme that will not be part of it. There will be those that have minor disabilities who think they will fit the criteria for the National Disability Insurance Scheme who will not. It is not a panacea for everybody with a disability in this country, and the previous government, with our support, have possibly lined the nation up for an expectation that can ever be met. It cannot be met financially and cannot be met in the spirit of the scheme.

I do not want to be the one that puts a damper on the expectations of people with children with disabilities. I say this because I have a background in disability services and have been at the coalface of disability service. I say every day of my life that I cannot enter into the life of a parent of a child with a disability, because I do not have that experience. I can empathise, I can help them support their family and children, but I can never live it because you can never understand what a parent goes through in those situations.

On the National Disability Insurance Scheme, I want to say that this scheme has to be worked through. It is going to take a lot of effort by state governments, federal government and, particularly, the providers, and a lot of issues are going to arise out of the trials that we are currently going through. I say again: it is not going to be what the expectation of the current Australian community is. In the past, I have spoken in similar terms about what were the 'Gonski reforms'. I want more money poured into my public schools, into my public secondary colleges, into my public primary schools and into my low-fee Catholic schools, because that is a major base. We have had some great benefit from the Howard government previously in the area of low-fee Catholic schools. They have new facilities, and I am proud of the facilities that my primary schools have received. But, again, we are raising expectations of funds to be poured out of the federal government, which, to my view of looking to the immediate and greater future, we may not have.

We have prime ministers come and go who say, 'This is my dream,' while laying into the Australian community an expectation, but then they are not the Prime Minister that has to deal with the issues of the day, as the Prime Minister of this day, Mr Abbott, his cabinet and the next cabinet do. I think we have got good people working in the areas of disability, education and health, and I think that with proper financial management of this nation in areas we can deliver better outcomes for our community, but they may not fulfil the great expectation, ambition and hopes that have been laid out for the Australian people in these specific areas.

I notice members have taken the opportunity to thank all the people that re-elected them to this House. Having come to the House and been thrown out several times, I have had the great generosity of many people over a long period of time who have had to suffer Russell Broadbent.

Mr Wood: They still do.

Mr BROADBENT: They have suffered me to come back to this place, and I have come back to this place each time. The last time I came back, I was honoured to go from a Labor seat to a marginal seat to a seat that is held by nearly 12 per cent in a country area, where the demographics are basically a Labor seat. That is not down to anything I have done; it is down to the generosity of people who live in my electorate.

If your child is disabled, if your family is going through a tough time and if you do not have people who will speak for you, there are people in this House on both sides of the parliament who are keen and desirous to explore the options as best we can to support you and your family and their values and opportunities. After all, our great desire, whether you have disability or not, is that each child in this country reaches their full and great potential. We are not asking them to be heroes, we are just giving them the opportunity to reach their individual full potential as Australians.