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Thursday, 9 February 2017
Page: 573

Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (16:49): It has been a big week in politics, and it has been a big couple of months as well. We know that people, particularly in regional electorates, are really starting to struggle not only because of the cost-of-living pressures that they face day-to-day but also because of the cuts that this government continues to bring about—whether it is by getting agreement in this place or whether it does it by regulations or other means.

Yesterday, when the government tabled the latest round of cuts in their omnibus bill, I had a number of people contact me quite distressed. Having seen cuts off once in 2014, then in 2015 and in 2016, we now have them back on the table: cuts to Newstart, cuts to pensions and cuts to family tax benefit. From the government's own admission, we know that at least 1.5 million families will be worse off because of the cuts tabled in their omnibus bill yesterday.

One person in my electorate who is affected by the cuts that the government has proposed contacted me to say: 'Can you ask the government how I can survive with these cuts? I'm on Newstart. My rent is $300 a week, and, after bills and rent, I'm left with $34 a week for food. $34. I don't have any savings. There's no emergency account if my car blows up or if there's a medical crisis. $34 is all I've got, and I rely on friends and family and our welfare agencies to get by.' This is the kind of poverty and these are the kind of circumstances that the government wants to condemn millions of Australians to. It is the role of this place and government policy to ensure that those people get support. It is the role of a social welfare state to help those when they are in need. This person, Natalie, said: 'I mean, I don't plan to be on Newstart forever. Right now I need some help, and it's just so heartbreaking and disappointing the government is not there for me.'

There are just over 5,000 people in the Bendigo electorate on Newstart, about 19,000 age pensioners, 11,000 or just over on family tax benefit part A and just under 9,000 on family tax benefit part B. All of these people, particularly those people on family tax benefit, have had a tough Christmas. I want to acknowledge the work of our welfare agencies—and, in particular, St Vincent de Paul in Bendigo, UnitingCare on Forest Street and UnitingCare at Kangaroo Flat—who made sure that these families, the ones who were really struggling over Christmas, did not go hungry and that they also had toys for their children. My office assisted UnitingCare at Kangaroo Flat. Generous locals donated toys, which then went to UnitingCare Kangaroo Flat to go to those families. As the Leader of the Opposition said and as was agreed by Max at UnitingCare, the indignity of a parent not having the means to give their child a Christmas present should not be endured by anybody in this country. The government have no compassion, or, if they had compassion, they lost it. This week, the introduction of their omnibus bill reinforces that statement.

People do not always get the dream run. From time to time they hit the wall. Not everybody has had the same opportunities as those in this place. A compassionate society takes care and helps them out. It puts its hand out and helps them back up. That is why we need a social welfare state that helps those people. Trying to survive on Newstart is hard, particularly for people with families. The loss of the schoolkids bonus has also hit a number of families in my area. The funding cuts that schools will cop next year because the government has backed away from needs based funding will make it even harder for the kids in these families to get ahead. The fact that the government will not back away from lifting the aged pension age demonstrates how out of touch they are with working people and people of regional Australia. It is hard to be a nurse at the age of 70. It is hard to be a construction worker at the age of 70. Most workers in those professions choose to retire before that age. We also should not force them to continue to work if it is not safe to do so.

Over the weekend, before the parliament comes back next week, let us hope that the government discover compassion. Let us hope that they discover some heart and help those who are the most vulnerable in our community. Ranting about electricity prices is not enough. Ensuring people have enough to live on is what matters. (Time expired)