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Monday, 20 August 2018
Page: 7679


Mr WILKIE (Denison) (10:24): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

In 2012 the Gillard government made a terrible decision that, sadly, didn't get the attention it deserved. In essence, it decided to shift single parents from parenting payment to Newstart when their youngest child turned eight. This reduced fortnightly payments from $683.50 to $537.80. Moreover, to add insult to injury, income over $62 per fortnight was reduced by 40 cents in the dollar as opposed to income over $176.70, as had been the case with the parenting payment. ACOSS called the impact on single-parent families 'devastating', while the Single Parents Action Group quite rightly pointed out that the rationale for this move—to get people into work—was ludicrous, because the majority of single parents were already working. Even some members of the Labor Party admitted after the fact that this was a mistake, which is refreshing seeing as it's not often you hear politicians admitting to mistakes. But hand-wringing and apologies mean nothing unless you back it up with action. That's why it's shameful that, so far, neither party has committed to reversing the cuts.

The bill I table today, the Family Law Amendment (Review of Government Support for Single Parents) Bill 2018, would provide for the Australian Institute of Family Studies to conduct a review into three things: firstly, the impact of the 2013 cuts on single-parent families; secondly, the high instance of poverty in single-parent households and what effect the rates of government pensions and payments have on this; and, finally, what the government can do to better support single parents. The review would be conducted within six months and the AIFS would be required to report to the minister, who would table the report in both houses of parliament.

The raw deal single parents have got from a succession of Liberal and Labor governments is in part borne of naive idealism. For a start, as much as the government would like us to believe it, it's simply not the case that people can just go out and get a better job, if only because wages are stagnating and jobs are hard to find at the best of times, especially in rural and regional areas such as in many parts of Tasmania. How can many of these single parents be expected to find gainful employment between dropping the kids off at nine and picking them up at three? Yes, many workplaces have taken steps when it comes to flexibility for parents but, sadly, many more businesses have not. Add to that cuts to the family tax benefit, rising costs for health care and soaring rental prices, especially in my Greater Hobart electorate, and there's no wonder that rates of poverty in single-parent households are so high.

I could quote lots of statistics to illustrate the problem here: ACOSS's poverty reports, for example, which found a significant increase in child poverty from 2012-14, and a survey conducted this year by the National Council for Single Mothers and their Children. They surveyed nearly 1,000 people from single-parent families, over half of whom said their children had need or disabilities that required substantial extra parenting time.

The detailed figures are shocking, and I urge every member of the parliament to study them. In the last 12 months, for instance, 12 per cent of respondents had difficulty paying the mortgage and fell behind, incurring late fees. Thirty-three per cent had difficulty paying the rent. Six per cent had received an eviction notice or been forced to relocate because their housing was too expensive. Fifty-five per cent had lived with housing stress, meaning that more than 30 per cent of their income went towards housing. Sixty-six per cent had experienced food insecurity—for example, running out of food and not having money to replace it. Sixty-eight per cent had skipped meals. Forty-two per cent had struggled to ensure that their child had school lunches. Sixty-three per cent didn't allow their child to participate in an activity like sport because they couldn't afford the uniform. Thirty per cent said their child wants to take up part-time work to help with the family budget. Twenty-six per cent of children had hidden school notes that require money from their parents. Fifty-six per cent of parents had been forced to say no to children's birthday parties, family gatherings or sports events. Sixty-five per cent of parents couldn't afford a low-cost treat once a month, such as a takeaway dinner or a movie. Thirty-nine per cent couldn't afford toiletries or other household items, such as washing powder. Fourteen per cent were forced to give up the family pet. Sixty-eight per cent struggled to pay utility bills or had received late fees or threats of disconnection. Forty-two per cent of children had missed medical appointments or other healthcare needs. In a clear example of how these single parents are going without so much, so that they can provide for their children, 71 per cent of parents have missed their own medical appointments or gone without their own health care for themselves.

It goes on: 72 per cent of single parents have struggled with school fees, books or uniforms; 50 per cent couldn't afford school camps; 45 per cent have had inadequate clothing in winter; 33 per cent have reduced or ceased internet access; 40 per cent have reduced or ceased using their mobile phone; 61 per cent have limited the use of their car or can't maintain a roadworthy car; 46 per cent have ceased insurance, like health or home and contents insurance; 56 per cent said they have run out of savings and need to rely on the goodwill of charities, friends or family; 36 per cent have borrowed money, including high-interest or payday loans; and 18 per cent have been forced to cash in their superannuation due to financial hardship. All of this is appalling and completely unacceptable in a country as rich as ours and it's all the more shocking because it's preventable. Yes, we need to do a lot to fix our broken healthcare system, invest more in schools and rein in housing prices, but a lot of this starts with fixing the abysmally low rate of government pensions and payments. The review enabled by this bill would look into the impact that these payments have on the high rates of poverty in single-parent households.

I urge both parties to support this bill because it's an undeniable fact that the 2012 changes to parenting payment are disastrous. Surely it isn't too much to hold this review, conducted by the experts, so that the government and future governments can be better informed about what single parents are going through. I say to the ALP in particular: cutting parenting payments was your idea and now is the time to put things right. If you really are committed to a root-and-branch review of Centrelink payments, then this bill should be an easy one to support. I'll be interested to know what your members on the selection committee have to say.

In conclusion, I'd like to thank Terese Edwards from the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children in South Australia who is a tireless advocate for single-parent families and has helped me with the preparation of this bill. I now invite the member for Mayo, who is seconding the bill, to make a contribution in my remaining time.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Rob Mitchell ): Is the motion seconded?