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Thursday, 26 November 2015
Page: 13839


Mr PASIN (Barker) (10:07): I rise today to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Family Payments Structural Reform and Participation Measures) Bill 2015. Our social services system is unfortunately a maze of overlapping schemes and measures which all deliver taxpayer funds to eligible recipients. It is a complex and convoluted system which sadly grew out of control under the stewardship of those opposite. The social services space is one which requires a responsible and reasonable approach. Fairness is something I think we all agree is characteristic of the Australian way of life, but fairness cuts both ways. Whilst we must ensure we have a fair social security system, we must also ensure we give taxpayers a fair go when it comes to the expenditure of their hard-earned taxes.

Australia's welfare system is one of the most comprehensive, and one of the most generous, in the world with an annual expenditure of some $145 billion, or 35 per cent of our overall expenditure. Assistance to elderly Australians came at a cost to the taxpayer of $50 billion in 2012-13, assistance to people with disabilities came in at $24 billion, assistance to the unemployed and the sick was $8.5 billion and we spent some $7 billion assisting veterans and their dependents. When it comes to assistance to families, with which this bill is directly concerned, the nation spent some 27 per cent of our social welfare expenditure on those measures, which included family tax benefit, parenting payment and child-care assistance programs, at a total cost of some $35 billion. Clearly our social security system costs a significant amount of money to run. It is a reality all governments have to face up to.

Another reality is that between 2002-03 and 2012-13 social security and welfare spending grew by a whopping 43 per cent, or 3.7 per cent annually. This exceeded corresponding GDP growth of 34 per cent over the same period. Whilst there was a significant spike around 2008-09, due principally to some of the stimulus measures taken under the previous government, the trend is clear and the trend is up. Under the Rudd government's fiscal stimulus in the form of one-off payments to households, some $20 billion was expended in 2008-09 alone. In fact we saw the social welfare spend in 2008-09 double that of the previous year. What an alarming spend that was. We saw our hard-earned fiscal stockpiles delivered inefficiently and ineffectively across the board. We can all remember the $900 cheques that fuelled little more than a mini exporters' boom for whitegoods out of Asia.

We have failed to make sustainable changes to our social welfare systems and it has fallen to this government, a coalition government, to make the responsible decisions. We have allowed our social welfare system to grow faster than our economy consistently over the past decade. The reality is this sort of growth in our social welfare spend is unsustainable, it is untenable and it is downright unfair. On top of the structural issues we face, we have seen evidence today that some $5 billion of taxpayer funds may have been rorted from our welfare system. The reality is a simpler system is far more easily monitored. The current system is too complex and too convoluted and it lends itself to rorts. Not only is it immoral for Australian citizens to abuse our welfare system but also it is unconscionable that we allow ourselves to take from our children by allowing these structural deficiencies to be maintained. If we allow social welfare spending to outstrip economic performance we are committing a grave injustice on our children and our grandchildren. We must live within our means. That does not mean we cut unnecessarily, nor does it mean we disproportionately hurt those in need. But we must ensure that any additional expenditure is matched by commensurate savings.

We must make our system fairer and simpler, more efficient and more effective, and ultimately more sustainable. We must remove waste and use each and every dollar more wisely and in a more targeted manner. That is why the structural reform delivered in this bill is so important. It is not the complete solution but it is part of it. It is recklessly irresponsible to continue to promise more and more welfare spending without regard for the economic realities confronting our nation, as seems to be the approach of those opposite. We should not look at our social welfare system as anything other than a system that is intended to project recipients into work.

One of the biggest frustrations of the social security system, as expressed eloquently in a report by Patrick McClure entitled A new system for better employment and social outcomes, is that there are far too many payments and allied supplements. Comprehensive? Yes. Complex? No. The intent of a social welfare system is fundamentally to deliver assistance to those who are in need, to maximise opportunity and to unlock the full potential of our citizenry. That is a thoroughly liberal goal and I for one am proud to pursue that agenda. Yet increasingly it has become evident that the system itself is standing in the way of better outcomes for our welfare recipients—it is thoroughly counterproductive and costly to the taxpayer. This bill seeks to go some way towards remedying this problem.

Currently there are some 20 main payment types and 53 existing supplements. There were, of course, 55 but the government has already removed the senior and low-income supplements. We must continue to assist families in raising their children over the long term because it is only through strong families and through delivering opportunity to our children that we will ultimately succeed as a nation. We must fund the necessary childcare reforms this government has designed, thus enabling and encouraging greater workforce participation and national productivity. We know that funding the child care-reforms will encourage higher workforce participation. We have seen some 165,000 families tell us that they would benefit from these reforms. It is only though a strong childcare system that we can best maximise workforce participation and strengthen families and the economy more generally. Concurrently, we must continue to simplify our social welfare system more broadly and the FTB more specifically, consistent with the recommendations of the McClure review, which highlights the unworkability of a system that maintains 20 main payment types within excess of 50 categorised supplements.

This government is making progress towards a sustainable social welfare system. This bill delivers on our ever-present commitment to the Australian taxpayer to expend their precious taxpayer funds in the most efficient and effective manner possible. We are making the system more efficient, more effective and, most importantly, more sustainable. We cannot afford to falter in our pursuit of that goal. If our children and our grandchildren are to enjoy the quality of life that we do, then we must ensure that we live within our means. We must commit to unlocking the potential of all Australians through our generous social welfare net, which, of course, is a critical component of that aspiration.

It is true that, due to the recalcitrance of those opposite, we have had to amend this bill and strip some measures from it. That stubbornness has been the norm, disappointingly, for those opposite since I came to this place. It is a shame that they have played politics once again with our social welfare system and its sustainability. A system which has, as they know, grown uncontrollably through measures enacted by them in government.

This government, in the face of obstructionism from those opposite—including my good friend the member for Hunter, who is in the chamber this morning—remains committed to a social welfare system that is comprehensive, sustainable, effective and affordable, and this bill is part of that endeavour. This bill is one step on the road to a fiscally-responsible budget position. Another mile on that road which, sadly it would seem, the coalition government will be walking alone. I commend the bill to the House.