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Monday, 2 December 2019
Page: 6583

Dr ALY (Cowan) (15:22): The Social Services Legislation Amendment (Payment Integrity) Bill 2019 is yet another example of this coalition government's attacks on pensioners and people on welfare. This bill contains more cuts to vulnerable Australians. There are three parts to this bill. The first part is to increase the residency requirements for age and disability pensioners from 10 to 15 years. The second part is to stop the payment of the age pension supplement after six weeks overseas for Australian pensioners who travel overseas. And the third part of this bill extends the liquid assets waiting period that applies to Newstart, to youth allowance and to other allowances.

The thing about this bill is that it's not a new bill. It's not a new bill at all. It was first introduced by this coalition government in 2017. It was a bad bill then, it's a bad bill now and it will continue to be a bad bill. The government want to punish pensioners. It's not enough that they demonise people on welfare. It's not enough that the Minister for Social Services claims that people on welfare will be spending all their money on drugs and sending their money to drug traffickers. That's not enough, no. They also have to attack people on welfare with every part of their breath. This bill will rip $185 million—think about that—from who? Not from big business, not from those who aren't paying their taxes—no: $185 million will be ripped from Australian pensioners.

This government has proven itself to be the enemy of Australian pensioners. It has tried to cut the pension and increase the pension age in every budget, including in three budgets when the current Prime Minister was the Treasurer. In the 2014 budget it tried to cut pension indexation, which would have meant that pensioners would be forced to live on $80 a week less within 10 years. That cut would have ripped $23 billion, again, from the pockets of Australian pensioners. Also in the 2014 budget the government cut $1 billion from pensioner concessions. Again in the 2014 budget—wow, that 2014 budget was a doozy—it axed the $900 seniors supplement and, in that same budget, tried to reset deeming rate thresholds that would have seen 500,000 part-pensioners made worse off.

What do we have in 2015? This government did a deal with the Greens to cut the pension to around 370,000 pensioners by as much as $12,000 a year by changing the pension assets test. What about 2016? In the 2016 budget they tried to cut the pension to around 190,000 pensioners as part of their plan to limit overseas travel for pensioners to six weeks—the same plan that they're trying to pull with this bill. But also in the 2016 budget they tried to cut the pension to over 1.5 million Australians by scrapping the energy supplement for new pensioners. By their own figures, that measure would have left over 563,000 Australians, who are currently receiving a pension or allowance, worse off. Over 10 years, in excess 1.5 million pensioners would be worse off. On top of all of that, this government has spent five years trying to increase the pension age to 70, and it took five consecutive rate cuts before it even adjusted the deeming rates—and only then after a concerted campaign and pressure from seniors groups and from Labor.

This bill, as it is, will have a differential impact on migrant pensioners—people like my mum. My mum's a pensioner. She's been in Australia for 50 years. For most of those years she worked as an aged-care worker. It is quite well known that my mother actually nursed former Prime Minister John Howard's mother in her final days. She was very close to Mrs Howard at that time. I believe my mother's earned her pension, as have many other Australian pensioners and as have many migrants who came to Australia and worked hard in building Australia, building the infrastructure that we need and looking after our elderly, like my mum did. They've earned their pensions.

In my electorate I've got pensioners from the United Kingdom, from South Africa, from Portugal, from Macedonia, from Greece and from Italy. Every now and then, they like to go back to their mother country. They like to see their extended family. My parents spent 50 years here, and not once did we have any family come to visit us. They spent 50 years away from their sisters, their brothers, their nieces, their nephews, their great nieces and their great nephews. That's not unusual for migrant families who come here. It's not unusual for them to want to go back and visit their extended family and reconnect with their extended family. So this bill cutting the pension for six weeks away is going to differentially impact on them.

I've already had migrant pensioners from my electorate come to tell me just how much this is going to affect them. I've had them in tears telling me that they really want to go back, but six weeks is not enough and they're not going to be able to afford to go back if their pensions are cut after six weeks. Think about this. Many pensioners are older, they're frail and they have health issues. For some of them, it's a really long way to travel. For some of them, it's a 25-hour aeroplane trip. When they get there, they want to be able to spend as much time as they can there. In other cases, they might go there and there might be circumstances which keep them there. This is a really unfair measure that's going to differentially impact on migrant pensioners across all our electorates.

When the member for Barton was talking about this particular part of the bill, the member for Goldstein interjected. I'd like to challenge the member for Goldstein to actually go out and talk to some of the migrant pensioners in his electorate and ask their opinion of this bill, because I'm pretty sure that the migrant pensioners in his electorate—people who came here 30, 40, 50 years ago, who worked hard, who contributed to the Australian economy in so many different ways, as well as to our social fabric, and who deserve the pension that they are on—will have something to say about this to the member for Goldstein.

One of the other things that this bill does is seek to increase the liquid assets waiting period, which is currently at 13 weeks. It's currently at 13 weeks for people with modest savings. We believe that 13 weeks is long enough. I want to talk here about what this means for people in the electorate of Cowan who have found themselves on hard times, who have found themselves relying on the social welfare safety net—something which Australia should be very proud of and which we are very proud of. There aren't a lot of countries in the world where, if you lose your job or if you find yourself on hard times, you don't have to suffer in many of the ways that people suffer in countries without the robust welfare program that we have here in Australia.

In my electorate, people aren't waiting 13 weeks to get a job. People, many of them over the age of 50, who have found themselves retrenched after many years of working for an organisation or company, are waiting, on average, 22½ weeks to get a job. That is the average waiting period in the northern suburbs of Perth. In the north-east it's 25.9 weeks. These are the longest job queues in the state. People in the electorate of Cowan who, for reasons beyond their control, lose their jobs and find themselves reliant on our social security safety net aren't getting jobs within 13 weeks. They are waiting, on average, well over 20 weeks.

What does this bill mean to them? Many of those in the northern suburbs are also suffering high household debt and mortgage stress, which means they have very meagre savings, if any, because all of their wages are being spent on rent or on keeping a roof over their heads and keeping their families heads above water. This means that those who have any kinds of assets may have to sell those assets just in order to be able to survive until they find a job. These aren't people who want to be on social security, the people who this government seeks to demonise with every breath. These are people who are trying to find work. These are people who have worked, who have paid taxes, who have contributed. Maybe they've worked two jobs, maybe three. But the state of the economy at the moment means that they simply can't find more work. Many of them are older workers and they simply can't find more work and are having to wait over 20 weeks until they find a job. Putting in this liquid assets waiting period also means that, after 13 weeks, after people have run down their savings, they may be forced to sell their homes, they may be forced out of their homes, they may be forced into poverty. If they lose their home, if they lose their car, if they're forced into these situations, then finding employment will be just that much more difficult.

This entire bill is nothing but a cash grab. And it's really telling that a number of bills that we've seen this government introduce over the last few weeks have all been about reaching into the pockets of the pensioners, of people on welfare and of people on Newstart, and it seems to me that this government is reaching into the pockets of the wrong people. It seems to me that this government is trying to reach into the pockets of the most vulnerable.

Labor cannot support this bill. We cannot support this government continuing to demonise and to hit and attack pensioners and people on welfare—this is who they are; this is in their DNA; this is what this government stands for.