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Thursday, 24 May 2018
Page: 4547

Ms MACKLIN (Jagajaga) (11:07): Two weeks ago, we saw a Joint Select Committee on Intergenerational Welfare Dependence magically appear on the Notice Paper as a joint select committee. It was the first time anyone in this House had heard anything of it. Far be it from me to tell those opposite that the definition of the term 'joint' generally implies that something is shared. How could it be joint if no-one was ever consulted? Nobody ever spoke to anybody on this side of the House and, as far as we know, there was no consultation with anyone in the community sector.

So we actually went out, on the Labor side, and did the government's job and actually spoke to the key stakeholders in this area. Labor consulted with ACOSS, the Brotherhood of St Laurence, Catholic Social Services and St Vincent de Paul. You know what? They all opposed the establishment of an inquiry framed to demonise those suffering disadvantage. These groups told me that family poverty, entrenched disadvantage, the structural and geographic forces that contribute to disadvantage, and best-practice interventions in breaking cycles of disadvantage should be the focus of any select committee.

Of course we agree that getting people into work should be a top priority of any government. Anyone who can work should be able to. The problem is there are 1.1 million Australians underemployed. We currently have around seven applicants for every job. We have very high youth unemployment, and long-term unemployment is actually on the rise. So Labor's view is we need to do everything we possibly can to address poverty and disadvantage and help people into work. The difference is we want to do it in a way that doesn't demonise vulnerable Australians who rely on our social security system. We don't agree with the terms of reference that are proposed by the government for this committee. I'm very concerned that the government wants to use complex social and economic problems to score political points. We do fear that the government will use this committee to just drop out sensational stories to push its political objective, which, we have seen over the last five years, is all about cutting our social security system.

You'd have to say this lot over there have got a lot of form—cutting hospitals and Medicare, cuts to schools, cuts to pensions, cuts to family payments, cuts to Newstart. Who could forget this is the government that wanted to make young unemployed people wait six months before they could access any income support? Who could forget that it was this government that wanted to cut the aged pension by $80 a week over 10 years? Who could forget that it was this government that wanted to cut family tax benefits by $8½ billion? The Liberal National Party government wanted to take $8½ billion out of family tax benefits. They still want to increase the aged pension age to 70. The conservatives' idea of welfare reform seems to just be, when you look at their record, to drive people into poverty and make it impossible for them to get out.

Australia does not need more unfair cuts. We don't need any more sensational stories that conform to the conservatives' ideological view of the undeserving poor. What we need in Australia is a new agenda for tackling inequality, a new approach to social policy, a new approach to addressing entrenched disadvantage. That's what this committee should be looking at. We actually believe, on this side of the House, in a society that protects and invests in people. A significant body of evidence also emphasises the need to focus on areas of deeply entrenched poverty and social exclusion. That's why Labor is committed to developing proposals to address severe disadvantage but we want to do so based on an understanding of the complexity of entrenched disadvantage, that it requires support and investment from before a child is born, in the early years—health and parenting support—to early and ongoing education, drug and alcohol and mental health supports and intensive efforts to help people into work.

There's already some great work going on around the country with different groups tackling disadvantage through collaborative location based approaches. I'm very glad the member for Rankin is in here because I wanted to mention the excellent work going on in Logan in South-East Queensland, an area that does have a very high percentage of children who are considered to be developmentally vulnerable and at risk associated with pockets of deep social disadvantage. For a long time, the service delivery system in Logan was considered to be inadequate to address these issues, but Logan Together arose from the local community as a means to address these issues and aims to reduce the number of children who are developmentally vulnerable, and develop strong and stable families that have adequate access to resources and opportunities. That's the sort of thing that this committee should be looking at.

Labor also believes that social security payments should be targeted to those who need them most. Our priority is to make sure that vulnerable Australians have an adequate income. That's why we oppose the Turnbull government's plan that's in the parliament right now that would see Newstart cut by $8.80 a fortnight. That's actually what this government opposite wants to do. By contrast, Labor recognises that the current rate of Newstart is very low and is a barrier to finding work. That's why we want to undertake a root-and-branch review into Newstart. It is important to make sure that the changes are appropriate and fit within this broader framework that we think should apply to our social policy. We also believe we should be trying to ensure that people affected by disruption and change have the skills and support necessary for them to participate in Australia's economy. We believe in employment centred economic growth that ensures opportunities are available to all Australians, including the long-term unemployed, to succeed. We don't accept the failed theory of trickle-down economics and unfair cuts to our social security system.

We are very, very disappointed with the terms of reference that the government wants to propose, but, of course, the government has the numbers. They're now creating this committee not as a joint committee; just as a committee of the House of Representatives—they've got the numbers to do so. Labor's representatives on the committee will do everything they possibly can to develop policies that will protect and support vulnerable Australians.

Question agreed to.