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Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Page: 5426

Senator SIEWERT (4:08 PM) —I seek leave to take note of the ministerial statement by Minister Macklin on supporting Australians under financial pressure.

Leave granted.

Senator SIEWERT —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

While we commend the government for undertaking some research into looking at the impact of the economic downturn on Australians, and particularly on the stress this is putting on non-government organisations and community service and support organisations, the report outlines just how much the call for emergency relief has increased in the community. However, for the government to then claim that it is making some new announcements on emergency relief in response to this is very disingenuous. Not only has it made re-announcements, it has also said it has decided to magnanimously allocate $50 million in additional emergency relief and to provide extra funding for organisations to provide financial counselling. And yet again the government has made announcements, but does not mention that the Greens negotiated these outcomes through the economic stimulus package.

The government announced today this supposedly new initiative of $50 million to fund innovative programs to help the financial capacity of people with very low incomes, including the unemployed. That was the $50 million that the Greens negotiated out of the economic stimulus package to help those in need and which the government was not providing for them through the economic stimulus package. There is not one word in the ministerial statement that that was as agreed with the Greens in negotiations on the economic stimulus package.

On top of that, they say that they have other measures of additional emergency relief for those who are suffering the impacts of the economic downturn and they acknowledge that the economic downturn is being felt enormously by those on income support. Yet the government did not, when they increased the pension, increase payments to single mothers who are on income support. They did not increase payments for those on Newstart, to the point where those people are now $106 a week below those on the age pension. While we acknowledge that the age pension is not adequate, we are still prepared in this country, apparently, to let people who are on income support exist on $106 per week less than those on the age pension. It is no wonder these people need emergency relief, because this government did not and will not act to give those people in most need in our communities the income support that they need.

Not only that, but the government would not include any economic stimulus package payments to those on income support. Again, this government would not support that section of the community that most needs it. So what have they done? They have given more money for emergency relief. As I said, that in itself we support. To use an expression that the minister for the environment used the other day, that is putting the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. They are not helping those most in need where they should be helping them, by increasing their income support, by allowing them to take part in the economic stimulus and get the bonuses that other people got. If you had an income, you got it. If you did not have an income, if you were on income support, you did not get it. I am sorry, but it makes a mockery of the government’s supposed caring for those who are hardest hit by the economic downturn. Where is the true support they need in terms of increased payments, in terms of the bonuses? It is not good enough. Go back and try again I say to the government. Do not come in here and say that you are doing a good job, that you are helping those most in need. When they could have offered the most support, they did not. They are parking the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff and leaving community-based organisations to pick up the pieces and it is not good enough.

Question agreed to.