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Thursday, 9 February 2017
Page: 442


Senator GALLAGHER (Australian Capital TerritoryManager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (11:58): I move:

At the end of the motion, add, "but,

(a)   in respect of the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Omnibus Savings and Child Care Reform) Bill 2017 the provisions of the bill be referred immediately to Community Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 20 March 2017; and

(b)   in respect of the provisions of the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Amendment Bill 2017, the Education and Employment Legislation Committee report by 27 March 2017."

I also foreshadow that I will ask that the question on the two referrals as part of that amendment be put separately. The amendment I have moved seeks to refer two important pieces of legislation to committee inquiries. The first is the government's recently introduced omnibus bill. We are seeking a short inquiry to look at that. There are very significant matters to be explored as part of that bill. Some of them have been looked at in other inquiries, but there have been further changes to family tax benefits that will impact on a million families around Australia. There have been further changes and cuts to the paid parental leave scheme which, again, will impact around 70,000 new mums negatively. It includes the scrapping of the energy supplement, again affecting pensioners, people with a disability and Newstart recipients. There are cuts to payments to young people between the ages of 20 and 24 by pushing them onto the youth allowance, scrapping the pensioner education supplement and education entry payment, and cutting the pension to migrant pensioners who spend more than six weeks overseas.

Importantly, we need to understand the combined effect on families from some of the revised changes that the government has introduced in this bill. They are significant changes. They are affecting vulnerable and low-income households. It is only right that the Senate, performing its job as the chamber of scrutiny, is allowed access to departmental officials through a committee inquiry process to explore the combined impact of these measures prior to debate in this chamber, which I understand is being sought during the March setting. So I urge other senators to consider supporting that. It is still a very compressed time frame, when you are looking at the savings that are being supported by the omnibus bill—around $8 billion in savings. These are significant changes to the way people are receiving income support that they have made plans around. It is only right that the Senate, prior to debate, has full understanding and access to departmental officials to question them on how these changes are going to impact on these households.

In terms of the second part of my amendment, again this is to refer to committees so that we can understand the agreement that has been reached over summer by the government with members of the crossbench. Again, this is a highly contentious piece of legislation. There were many hours of debate late last year. My understanding, in my discussions with people who work in this industry, is that they have put time and effort into understanding the legislation that was passed in December and how that was going to impact on their businesses and agreements that they have in place with their workers. Now they are being told that this is changing again. I have certainly received quite a bit of feedback that these further changes will cause chaos in the building and construction industry and that it will impact on things like apprentice numbers at a time when we are already seeing low apprentice numbers and workforce shortages in certain areas. So again I would urge senators to consider that. It is a reasonable time frame. It is not a length inquiry. It is only right that we are fully briefed, because we have certainly not been briefed over the summer about the changes that have been negotiated. We would like a full understanding of them prior to debate in this chamber.