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Tuesday, 13 May 2014
Page: 2410


Pensions and Benefits

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (14:31): Mr President, my question is to the Assistant Minister for Social Services, Senator Fifield, representing the Minister for Social Services. Over the last few months, Treasurer Joe Hockey has said that the age of entitlement is over and that spending cuts will do most of the heavy lifting to reduce the deficit. It is obvious from comments to the media and leaks to the media that these cuts will be focused very strongly on income support payments, yet even economists at big banks, such as Saul Eslake, at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch, say it is 'virtually impossible' to cut government spending in ways that do not disproportionately affect people on low to middle incomes, meaning that people will be living in poverty—widening the gap between the wealthy and the poor, the haves and the have-nots. Has this government done any modelling on the impact of growing inequity and inequality and the impact of people living in poverty and its intergenerational impacts?

Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Social Services) (14:32): I thank Senator Siewert for her question. This government tonight in the budget will set about the task of getting the budget back on track. I am glad that Senator Siewert talks about equity issues and intergenerational equity issues, because consistent deficit budgeting is nothing more than intergenerational theft, and this government is determined to put in place a plan to put to an end that intergenerational theft.

Those opposite, both Greens and Labor, consistently put forward a false dichotomy. They present economic policy and social policy as alternatives. They are not. They are two sides of the one coin. You need to have a good economic policy so that you can sustain a good social policy. And at the heart of a good economic policy is a good budget policy and a government that lives within its means. Unless government lives within its means, unless it stops intergenerational theft through the form of deficit budgeting and debt, it does not have the capacity to sustain the sorts of social programs that we all want to see continue.

That is why this government is taking these steps tonight in the budget—which will in many cases be difficult decisions to take. We are doing that because of our deep and profound commitment to a good social safety net in Australia, for pensions—for the disability support pension, for the age pension—and also so we have the capacity to introduce, in full, a National Disability Insurance Scheme. That is why the government is taking these steps. It is because we understand the importance of a social safety net in Australia.

So I would urge senators opposite to read the budget very carefully so that, after 7.30 pm tonight, they can go through the Australian community and explain the good work that this government will be doing and the effort that we are taking to make sure that there is a social safety net there for the long term.

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (14:34): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I will take that as: 'No, there has not been any modelling of the impact of growing inequality.' It is interesting that the minister mentions the growing budget deficit. When you look at ACOSS's report today, it shows that in fact payments such as Newstart, family tax benefits and DSP are growing far more slowly than other government spending, yet these are the payments that the government apparently are targeting for cuts. How do you justify cutting these payments when in fact they are not growing as fast as you—the government—make out?

Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Social Services) (14:35): What the government will be outlining tonight in our Economic Action Strategy is a plan that will see the economy grow, a plan that will see more jobs created. When we see more jobs created, there will be fewer people on Newstart, because our objective on this side of the chamber is to see fewer people on Newstart and more people in work. Our objective on this side of the chamber is to see fewer people on the disability support pension and more Australians with disability in the workforce, where they want to be. Far from seeking to target people on Newstart or people on the disability support pension, we want to help those people with their hand up saying, 'I want to work,' to work. The best way to do that is to create the environment that is conducive for business to create jobs. When there are jobs, these people on the DSP and on Newstart with their hand up saying, 'I want to work,' will have the opportunity to work. That is what this budget is all about: providing jobs and providing opportunity.

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (14:36): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. What evidence do the government have that throwing and dumping people into poverty actually helps them into employment? In fact, I bet they have none, because the evidence shows—does it not, Minister?—that living in poverty is yet another barrier to employment.

Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Social Services) (14:37): What this government is seeking to do tonight in the budget could not be further from the assertion of Senator Siewert. We want to see jobs created so that people on Newstart and people on the DSP can move into the workforce. We want to see jobs created so that older Australians who want to continue in the workforce can do so.

The other thing we want to do in the budget tonight is to make sure that we live within our means so that governments—not just this government but future governments—have the capacity to provide the social safety net that all of us want to see in place and see continue in place. We want to walk and chew gum at the same time. We want to have a growing economy that can employ more people, but we also want to have the capacity to provide a social safety net. That is one of the important things about Australia: we have the commitment to help people who face extra challenges for reasons beyond their control. We are committed to those people. We want to support them in times of need and we want to help them into work.