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Monday, 25 February 2013
Page: 653

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (10:51): I rise today to speak to the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Income Support Bonus) Bill 2012 along with my colleagues Senator Siewert and Senator Milne. You have to ask yourself what has happened to the Labor Party and what has happened to the party who, under the Whitlam government, introduced the single parent pension because they knew that doing things on your own was a tough job. You have to ask yourself what has happened to the Labor Party when their values to do with looking after the most vulnerable in our community are now being traded off for what is in the best interests of people like Gina Rinehart and of the big mining magnates.

This morning the Prime Minister has announced the appointment of a new children's commissioner. It is fantastic to see this country finally catching up with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which we signed over 20 years ago. But it took us 20 years to even take the crucial first step that that convention required of us, to appoint somebody at a national level to advocate for the rights, needs and interests of young people and children in this country. It took us 20 years to do that and now we have a children's commissioner, appointed today, and I congratulate the government for doing that. But this legislation is precisely the type of issue that 12 months ago a children's commissioner, if we had had a commissioner in place then, would have been screaming blue murder about given the fact that single parents and their children have had to suffer as a result of the callous cuts to the budget that the government have introduced. The fact that we are debating today a bill that gives parents an increase of only $4 a week despite their copping a reduction of up to $100 a week beggars belief. The Labor Party have truly lost their way when they are slugging single parents more when they are not prepared to stand up to the mining industry. The government wants to save $700 million by making single mothers in particular—we know that the majority of single parents in this country are mothers—pay for the government's budget savings, rather than introduce a proper mining tax that actually would have covered the necessary costs. Rather than making Gina Rinehart pay more tax, this government is telling single mothers around the country that they have to skimp and save.

My office has been inundated, as many of ours would have been, by stories of hardship from single mothers and single fathers across the country about how tough the changes introduced by the government last year are and about the effects that they are already having on their family. Parents are telling us that they cannot afford rent and that they have had to tell their kids, when they went back to school at the beginning of this year, that there would be no school camps. Their kids will not be going to school camps this year because the government has cut their payments, some by more than $100 a week.

Of course, we hear from the government that this is all about making single mothers work harder. Well, I can tell them that single mothers are probably the hardest-working people in this country. Not only do they have to hold down jobs and put food on the table for their kids; as everyone knows, they have to do the hardest job of all of being a parent—and when you are doing it on your own it is a tough gig. These parents have been kicked in the guts again by the Labor government. Rather than standing up to the miners and telling Gina Rinehart she should pay more tax, it has said, 'Single parents, you cop it.' Where are the values that were introduced by the Whitlam government when Mr Whitlam said that single parents deserved a bit more support and that looking after the most vulnerable in our community was something that all of us as elected representatives had a duty to do?

This bill gives recipients an extra $4 a week despite the reduction in payments across the board. Senator Siewert, as we all know, has a bill before the parliament to increase Newstart by $50 a week. That is a minimum as to what should be done. It is just giving people a fair go. What happened to the idea of looking after the most vulnerable and helping those who need a little bit of a hand up every now and again? It seems to have been forgotten. Meanwhile, as Senator Milne points out, Mr Marius Kloppers walks away with $75 million cash in hand. That is not a fair go for the rest of the country. It is obscene. That is what that is.

In South Australia, my home state, there are 25,000 single parents and about 40 per cent of them are going to be impacted by the changes that this government rushed through the parliament, with support from the coalition, only a few months ago. Some of those impacts are already starting to be felt. Welfare agencies are telling stories of how the number of single parent families applying for charity assistance has grown and schools are reporting that children are not being enrolled in their school camp programs. In Adelaide over the last few weeks, many of the public schools have been having swimming week, and about $25 is required for your kid to be allowed to be involved in it. When you have just had a cut to your fortnightly payment of anywhere between $100 and $200, $25 to send your kid to swimming classes, along with all the other kids in their class, is a pretty tough ask and there are parents who have had to make the decision that their children would not go to swimming week classes because they simply could not afford them. This is the reality of what this government's callous policies do to the most vulnerable in our community.

Rather than standing up to the big miners, rather than saying, 'We could get our savings and fund an increase in Newstart of $50 a week, make sure that single parents are not slugged and make sure that we actually get something back for the community from this massive mining boom that we are having,' the government has gone to water, buckled at the knees and handed over to Gina Rinehart and her mates everything that they wanted. It is time this government stood up for the interests and the needs, and understood the vulnerabilities, of those in our community who need proper support instead of kowtowing to the needs and desires of the big miners.

As I said at the beginning, today the government has announced the appointment of the National Children's Commissioner, Megan Mitchell. Her role will be to make sure that people understand the full impact on the country's children and young people of pieces of legislation and policy decisions enacted by this parliament. I would be interested to hear what the new children's commissioner thinks of pushing single parent families into poverty, because that is exactly what this government is doing. Rather than taking the opportunity to lift people up, give them a helping hand and get them into work in an effective way, and a way that empowers and inspires them, we have seen this government just kick and kick and kick. It beggars belief that it is the Labor Party that has followed the coalition down this path of get tough, get mean, cruel policies affecting vulnerable people rather than standing by the principles of former prime ministers like Whitlam, Hawke and Keating, who knew that government had to stand up and help single parents and their families and ensure that children were not sacrificed just because the government of the day wanted to make some budget savings.

We should be seeing an increase to Newstart of $50 a week. The government does not have the guts to do that. From the bill on the table it looks as though it does not have the guts at all. There is $4 extra a week, when all of the social welfare organisations, industry groups and everybody who is in the know understand that a $50 increase is an absolute minimum to help people get back into the workforce and provide for their families. The big myth about cutting the single parent pension is that it will force people back into work. This is despite the fact that over 40 per cent of single parents are already working. They are juggling working the hours they can get, squeezing them in during school hours, being able to do the school drop-offs and pick-ups and being able to make ends meet and put food on the table, providing a safe, loving and caring home for their children.

Cutting people's payments by $100 does not really help them—particularly those who are already working—find more work. How do they pay for the before- and after-school care now? How do they make sure that their kids have everything they need? How do they keep themselves fit and able to go back to work? This is a backwards policy, a cruel policy, and it is absolutely a rejection of the very values that people like Gough Whitlam brought into the parliament when they advocated the single parent pension in the first place. It is a short-sighted policy, it does more harm than good and all the while the big miners, Gina Rinehart and her friends, are being let off the hook.

This government has to recognise that, if it wants to fund the services that our community needs, it has to get the revenue from somewhere. Fixing the mining tax, plugging the loopholes that the miners had cleverly had put in, would be a step towards making sure we had the money in the coffers to fund an increase for Newstart, to implement the Gonski reforms in a meaningful, effective way and to fund an NDIS program. And what about affordable child care? We have just slugged single parents with a reduction in their pension, and yet childcare costs continue to rise. What is the government going to do about that? This bill is an insult to the hard work of single parent families, to anybody who is struggling to survive on the paltry Newstart allowance, and of course to all those young people who suffer on $175 a fortnight under Youth Allowance—way below the poverty line. The Greens will continue to advocate that Newstart be raised by $50 a week and that we allow single parents to earn what they can in the jobs they have without suffering the callous cuts proposed by the Labor government.

The Greens remain in this place the only ones prepared to stand up for single parents and their children, and we are proud of that. While the Labor Party has forgotten who it is meant to look after and the coalition and the miners are laughing all the way to the bank, the Greens are the only ones with the guts to stand up to the big miners and say single parents do not deserve the kicking they are getting from the Labor Party. The government should seriously consider passing Senator Siewert's bill and fixing the loopholes in the mining tax so that we can get on and start supporting people rather than pushing them into further poverty and pushing them down to a point where they become voiceless as the government forgets totally the values it was meant to uphold.