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Thursday, 26 November 2015
Page: 13841


Ms RYAN (LalorOpposition Whip) (10:17): I rise to join this debate on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Family Payments Structural Reform and Participation Measures) Bill 2015. We have heard this morning that the government has removed from the family payments bill all the measures that Labor opposed. And we have heard from those opposite, and we have just heard, that this is perceived by those opposite as demonstrating that we on this side of the House are recalcitrant and stubborn—I wear both with pride in this chamber today. We have heard that we have been playing politics with the social security net—we are not playing politics; these are people's lives.

My stubbornness in the face of the changes those opposite sought to bring to the family tax benefit regime are motivated by care for my community and the 21,000 families in my community who were set to lose up to just under $5,000 a year and for what that would mean for our local economy with the cumulative impacts as that came through. So, far from being obstructionist, we on this side have stood up for our communities and stood up for families across this country. We stood up for families in Lalor, in Chifley and in Holt, and we stood up for families across the Hunter, and we are proud to have done so.

The only measure that now remains in this bill is one that Labor does not oppose. Today this government has admitted that, because of our hard work, they cannot get these changes through the parliament. We have stood shoulder to shoulder with families since the night of 2014 budget to tell this government and to tell those opposite, as clearly as we could, that fairness matters in this country, that trickle-down economics will not bring us prosperity, and that changing the way this country operates, increasing inequity, will not bring us the better future we all want.

I have said many times in this chamber that when it comes to these changes the community in the electorate of Lalor would be the hardest hit. I have said many times that it is not because people in Lalor are not working—these changes were going to hit hard-working families on combined incomes of $56,000 a year. These changes were not aimed specifically at people to get them to work. Most of the people this change would have impacted on in Lalor are working families. I think getting this straight in the chamber and through the media has been some of the best work that my colleagues and I have done since the 2014 budget.

The first Liberal Prime Minister tried to cut $8.5 billion from family tax benefits in the 2014 budget. Then, this year, in what they touted as a compromise, they tried again, this time with $4.8 billion worth of cuts, and they tied it to changes to early child care and education.

Of course, we all know that the word education has gone missing in all of the rhetoric on that side around any kind of child care arrangements, but on this side it is still important because in electorates like mine it is the education element of early child care and education that is so critical to future prosperity. It is early education and people's access to it that is going to make a significant difference in electorates like mine. Tying the two together—a favourite trick that we have seen several times—was a way of obfuscating what they were actually trying to do, obfuscating the impact it was actually going to have on families and on economies across the country. The tens of thousands of people in my electorate that were set to lose thousands of dollars did not see this second tranche as a compromise. They saw it as a continuation of the first attack. They saw it for what it was.

Labor fought those cuts, and today we can stand here proudly and say that we have protected families across this country. Because of our campaigning, because we worked side-by-side with those families, those cuts are now not before this chamber. Eighteen months and two prime ministers later, it appears that Labor have defeated the harshest of these cuts.

As I said, I represent hardworking, low-income families, and the up to $4,700 less that there could have been in the budgets of 21,000 families in my electorate would have had an extraordinary impact. That is a third of the families that live in a community of over 200,000—a third of the families. We on this side of the chamber understand that those measures were an attack on families across mainstream Australia. They were wrapped in rhetoric about fairness, and we have asked a thousand times: fair to whom? To those in the most vulnerable position?

Those opposite continue to talk about fairness. I heard it today on my way to the chamber. Being 'fair to taxpayers' is how it is phrased. In this country we have a goods and services tax: we are all taxpayers. Everyone is making a contribution to the taxation system in this country. I find it offensive when people try and separate those who are receiving support while they are raising their families and working hard, and those who are taxpayers. We are all taxpayers.

Today we are talking about a win for Labor, really, in getting this legislation amended. Single-parent families and grandparent carers have been spared. Across the country, 1.6 million families and three million children have been spared. They have been spared from cuts to their family tax benefit supplements, cuts to family tax benefit B. Unfortunately, I cannot say that everything has been saved, because the schoolkids bonus cuts are still there, waiting to come into the system, and we still do not know what is happening around early childhood education and care. We still do not have clarity about what this government intends to do in that space. But the schoolkids bonus will go in the middle of next year, and this will be felt by families with children heading to school in 2017. For Lalor, the total amount of schoolkids bonus paid to local families is $17 million. That is $17 million that will not be spent in our local economy. So there are still hard things for people to face. This will still hit families hard.

So, while we are discussing this legislation, I call on Prime Minister Turnbull and the Minister for Social Services to come clean on what their future plans for families are. Are you still committed to those measures? It is not too late. You could still reverse that, continue with the schoolkids bonus. You could still do that. And will this be the end of it, or will we see these come back in another budget? If the government is committed to these cuts further down the track, then families deserve to know. It is time this government came clean with families—completely clean—on what its intentions are.

We have been having this conversation over the last few weeks in this place. In my electorate, the conversation we have been having is about our local economy. We have been in a two-year conversation about the measures in the 2014 budget and whether they are gone or whether they will come back in another form. We are still waiting for the failed GP tax to come through in the indexation freeze; we are still watching that work its way through the system and measuring the impact that that is having on our local economy.

The rhetoric that this government uses around 'lifters' and 'leaners' is another thing that needs to be discussed in this place. I have an email with me that I received during question time a few weeks ago, after the family tax benefit cuts became clear, and I think it sums up the impact of these cuts to people. It reads:

Dear Ms Ryan

Firstly, I am a single parent of 2 teenagers 15 and 13. Secondly I study a course full time, work 2 part time jobs and also studying another course part time. I volunteer at church and struggle to make ends meet.

I rely on my family and friends to assist with driving my children around to school and various activities.

I also got caught in the last lot of activity changes by the government and in the last 3 months have applied for over 150 jobs and wasted numerous hours sitting in my job agency. I have no idea how I can fit anything else in my life, yet am easily targeted as a welfare bludger. I am baffled by how out of touch Mr Porter and the government is about single parent families.

It is highly offensive, that the government continually targets single parents as easy target. The society assumption that single parents don't want to work and sit and watch soapies all day is continually being perpetuated by the government.

I for one would so love not to receive any money from the government, however in reality there is one of me.

My fear is that in 10-15 years I will be totally burnt out and not able to do anything at all. (I might add I have private health insurance). What good will I be to society then? Ask it is my children are already saying they hardly see me, the guilt I feel leaving them home alone while I work is hard, but what other options I have. With school fees at a public school costing over $1k each and the government taking away the school kids bonus and now trying to take another $2.5k a year off me. The future is bleak.

I say today to the person who sent me that email that I proudly stand here as a member of an effective opposition holding this government to account. I proudly stand here as a member of an effective opposition, led in the area of families and social services by the member for Jagajaga. I am proud to stand here and thank her for her email because it is emails like this that make it easy to get up every day and do what needs to be done in this job—to come into this chamber and defend families across this country. It is emails like this that remind everyone in this chamber who it is we are talking about. These are not numbers. This is not about playing politics. This is about people's lives. It is really important that those opposite come to understand the nature and shape of electorates like mine. They are the epitome of mainstream Australia: families working hard every day to raise their children. The family tax benefits are about supporting those families to ensure that they can get the things they need while they raise their children. It is incumbent on every member of this place to understand that, when they sit in committee hearings and look at numbers, at the end of those numbers are families—people working hard every day to ensure a future for their children. It is about families who are looking to us to provide the levers that are going to ensure that their children get the education they need, the skills they need and the agility of mind they need. It is incumbent on us in this place to be agile of mind, but it is also incumbent upon us to be empathetic and to seek to understand how people on the ground live their lives.