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Monday, 28 November 2005
Page: 39

Senator LUNDY (3:09 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Special Minister of State (Senator Abetz) to questions without notice asked today relating to proposed changes to welfare legislation and to industrial relations.

Several questions were put to Senator Abetz covering issues relating to the so-called Welfare to Work proposal and linked to the extreme industrial relations agenda. The answers provided by Senator Abetz showed how completely incompetent the government’s position is and, indeed, how unreasonable. The bottom line is that Australia is facing a Howard government agenda that will set us upon the low road, not the high road. It is the low road that accompanies low wages with a tax on the most vulnerable in society. It is the low road where Australian society relegates those most vulnerable to the bottom of the heap, and then sits back and watches their suffering with little assistance and certainly no compassion. This is John Howard’s Australia in 2005.

We are facing a double-edged sword from the government: the so-called Welfare to Work program, which is really a welfare to welfare program, combined with the extreme industrial relations changes will victimise those most in need in our society. But, first, I would like to take the minister to task because I believe that today he misled the Senate.

Senator Ferguson —Mr Deputy President, on a point of order: I know you were writing at the time, but I do think you might draw Senator Lundy’s attention to the fact that she should refer to the Prime Minister by his proper name or title.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Yes, that should be adhered to, Senator Lundy.

Senator LUNDY —Senator Abetz today suggested in his answer to questions without notice that the government had somehow reduced the effective marginal tax rates for welfare recipients who move from welfare to work. In fact, the opposite is true. In dumping people onto the dole, the government is in fact increasing their effective marginal tax rate when compared with the tax rates under the current arrangements. It is indicative of this government’s incompetence that its welfare changes will put people onto a payment where they will lose more from every dollar they earn than under the current arrangements.

That exposes Senator Abetz’s pitiful, whining rhetoric today that somehow there is a benefit for people affected by these changes in the Welfare to Work program. The fact is that the Howard government is reducing the rewards for people to work, and that is no way to get people from welfare to work. I urge the minister to come back into the chamber and amend his response. When he does, it will expose his shallow denials of the true impact of this so-called Welfare to Work policy deception. It is really a welfare to welfare system.

Instead of moving people from welfare to work, they are just dumping people from one welfare payment onto a lower welfare payment. This will not reduce the number of people who depend on welfare, it will just move them from one database to another. In fact, the government has admitted that around 300,000 Australians will be financially worse off under these changes, but only an anticipated 109,000 will gain any work from the exercise. That is hard evidence that this is not about helping the most vulnerable people in our society; it is about penalising them, and it is a punitive action on those most in need.

Those who do find work may actually end up poorer than they were before, because the Prime Minister is planning to take more off them under these incompetent changes, as I have said. The link with the industrial relations extreme agenda proves that these people will have little bargaining power to try and extract a decent living wage for themselves. Imagine the combination of the extreme industrial relations agenda and the push for Australian workplace agreements, or indeed individual contracts, for someone, say, with a disability who, by rejecting any workplace offer, no matter how appalling, will lose their benefits.

It is a pincer movement on those currently on the disability pension. It is a pincer movement on sole parents, who are most in need in our society and who are worthy of support to help them bring up Australia’s children and to help them in their fair efforts, I think, to try and find work. Labor argues for an appropriate investment in skills and education and a facilitation of the efforts of these people to find work, rather than punitive victimisation, which is exactly what the Howard government is going to do. The industrial relations changes and the welfare to work combine to render Australia into an American system—one that we have never admired—where we create a society of haves and have-nots. When we look at what has happened in America, we see people working under the poverty line. That is not what we want for Australia. (Time expired)