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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 7940

Senator NETTLE (5:16 PM) —The Australian Greens supported the splitting of the Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (Australians Working Together and other 2001 Budget Measures) Bill 2002 to remove objectionable provisions, including the extension of the activity test requirement, under threat of fines, to sole parents receiving the parenting payment. Regrettably, the Labor Party has not held firm to its original opposition to extending these requirements and the breaching regime to sole parents and older unemployed people. Labor's leader, Simon Crean, told the nation on Tuesday that he wanted to improve life for Australian families—that he wanted a fair, more tolerant and compassionate society. But here Labor is abandoning those Australians who are most vulnerable—those people who struggle every day to support themselves and their families. If this is what we can expect from a modernised Labor Party, Australia will reject it.

The level of income support this country provides to those of its citizens who do not have paid work, who are carers of the aged, ill or young or who themselves are too ill to work is barely enough to keep people out of poverty. The breaching regime imposed under this government's flawed mutual obligation policy is punitive and does nothing but make life harder for these people. The government uses the policy to create a false impression that taxpayers are getting something for their investment in income support, while it avoids focusing on the causes of unemployment, on unequal distribution of paid work and on barriers to training and education and refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of other roles through which people choose to contribute to society.

The government has no difficulty handing out public moneys to corporations and wealthy Australians: witness the goods and services tax—a regressive tax that hurts most those with the least income—the low company tax rate, the subsidisation of multinational companies to lure them to Australia and keep them here and the propping up of energy intensive and greenhouse polluting industries. The list is endless. It seems that all of this is permissible, supportable and desirable but providing a decent level of income support, access to secure and affordable housing, genuine training and education and investment in job creation—investment in a fairer, better society—is all too difficult.

Labor's amendments will expand the minimal safeguards in the bill for sole parents receiving parenting payment, but we say that these people should not have to enter into a participation agreement or lose their income support in the first place. The Minister for Family and Community Services says that these measures are designed to assist parents to make a transition to paid work when their children are older. By all means let the government assist people to make this transition, but there is absolutely no need to compel them and threaten to plunge them even deeper into financial stress.