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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5527


Mr SULLIVAN (2:05 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister outline to the House the government’s approach to welfare reform, as set out in the welfare reform bills currently before the Senate?


Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —This government is about the business of reform—reform in the economy by keeping our economy strong in the midst of a global recession; reform in making sure we are bringing our budget back to surplus in three years time, three years ahead of time; reform in productivity investments, in education, skills, training and infrastructure; reform in regulation, creating a seamless national economy; and also reform in the tax system—because what we want is a stronger economy but also a fairer share for all Australians.

Social policy reform is equally important—the reforms brought about in education by the Minister for Education, the Deputy Prime Minister: the introduction of the national school curriculum; the introduction of the My School website, which enables people to look at the performance of individual schools; and the interventions in the literacy needs of individual schools.

Similarly with health reform—ensuring, through the agreement which was reached with the states and territories for a National Health and Hospitals Network, funding will flow for those reforms from 1 July. We are also committed to critical reform like paid parental leave. For 12 years they did nothing about paid parental leave. This government acted and, depending what happens in the Senate, this will be a core reform on the part of this government.

There is a further element of reform as well, and that goes to the future of welfare reform. The reason I raise it in the parliament today is to leave a very clear challenge with the Leader of the Opposition as we look at the future of these two sitting weeks ahead of us, and that is our commitment to making welfare reform work by encouraging individual responsibility, by fighting passive welfare, by helping people move from welfare dependence into work, education and training, and by making sure that welfare payments are spent in the interests of kids. We are of the view that welfare should not become a way of life for any Australian and that encouraging welfare dependency helps no Australian. Also, taxpayers expect that their support for our welfare system is properly invested, including bringing younger Australians into the workforce or into proper training arrangements for them.

Right now we have inadequate incentives in Australia to bring about a break from welfare dependency on the part of those families which have had a long experience of it, often going back a number of generations. What we need are new incentives to do that. This is a core element of this government’s welfare reform. From 1 July this year, provided these reforms are considered and supported by the Senate during this sitting fortnight, these welfare reforms will commence in the Northern Territory for Indigenous Australians and for non-Indigenous Australians. They will extend the benefits of income management to Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in need of financial structure and support. They will also ensure that more welfare is spent on life’s essentials, like food, clothes and rent, and less goes to alcohol. They will also support and encourage families to make positive decisions about the critical things for their families, like education, health and nutrition. In practical terms, this means that this reform extends to the entirety of the Northern Territory community.

My challenge is very simply this: on the key questions of reform will the Leader of the Opposition commit to ensuring that these reforms are passed during this sitting fortnight? He shakes his head, or he nods his head—I am not quite sure which it is. But it would be very useful for the country to know which side he will come down on in this debate. I appeal to him and encourage him to enable his senators to give positive consideration to this. This is welfare reform, which the previous government did not entertain. I challenge him to do so for this sitting fortnight so that we can get on with the business of long-term social and economic reform for Australia.