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Tuesday, 13 May 2014
Page: 2424

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (15:31): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Assistant Minister for Social Services (Senator Fifield) to a question without notice asked by Senator Siewert today relating to income support.

The question related to a society that is going to have a growing gap between those that have access to resources and those that do not, between the rich and the poor, and between the haves and the have-nots. Whichever way you put it, we are going to see growing inequality. It is quite obvious that this government has not modelled the impact on society of growing inequality.

The minister said that we have to live within our means. But of course when we see these cuts, it means that those on the lowest incomes and those on the income support will have less means with which to live within. The government talks about a safety net, but the holes are going to be so big in this so-called safety net that people are going to fall right through. The government is talking about potential cuts to indexation of the pension—a pension where we saw a rise of $32 not too long ago. If indexation of the pension is cut, we will see that rise in the pension completely undercut.

We have a community where we already have 35 per cent of those aged over 65 living in poverty or near poverty. The government is talking about potentially changing the taper rates to Newstart, which will mean that people have less money to live on. When those opposite say they are going to review eligibility, what they mean is: we are going to kick a whole lot of people on the disability support pension on to Newstart, which will inevitably mean they will live in poverty. The Commission of Audit report, which we know was commissioned and directed by the government, raises the issue of cutting indexation to parenting payment single—again, these are people who can least afford it.

The week before last, Anglicare in Sydney released a report entitled Locked out: deep and persistent disadvantage in Sydney. What that report points out and the recommendations it makes are just as pertinent to any other town or city in this country. It talks about deep and persistent disadvantage. That is what you face when income support is cut so low that you are living in poverty and that is what you face when you are living on Newstart. This government plans to dump, potentially, hundreds of thousands more people from the disability support pension on to Newstart. Those opposite are talking about changing pensions. Even though they said they would not, they are talking about changing pensions.

When children grow up in a household with deep and persistent disadvantage, those childhood experiences affect children's ability to acquire capability and opportunity, and that closes doors to their future prospects and wellbeing. So those opposite are right when they talk about intergenerational theft—they are thieving children's opportunities into the future. Already, we have five per cent of Australians living in deep and persistent disadvantage. What we are going to see with these cuts is that number grow quite substantially because we will have even more people living in deep and persistent disadvantage, which leads to their exclusion from not only economic participation but social participation also. Disadvantage affects children into the future because those experiences stay with them for the rest of their lives, which is referred to as 'intergenerational impacts'. So not only will a child's life prospects be damaged but their children's life prospects will be damaged also.

The government made promises about not changing the pension. What do they think changing the indexation of pensions is going to mean? Already, we have nearly 200,000 people over the age of 50 on Newstart. That has gone up by 41 per cent over the last three years. If you extend the pension age or if you change indexation for the pension then you affect those people too. The government will make people stay on Newstart longer, exist in poverty even longer, wait to get the pension and then that will be affected by indexation. We are condemning not only younger people but also future generations into long-term poverty, into persistent disadvantage. We are blocking off their future aspirations and we are growing a society where we have more— (Time expired)

Question agreed to.