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Thursday, 30 March 2023
Page: 29

Senator RICE (Victoria) (11:38): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I table an explanatory memorandum and I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

Poverty is a political choice. I have said it repeatedly, and I will continue to say it, in this place and across Australia, for as long as we have to.

The Australian Greens believe that a socially just, democratic and sustainable society rests on the provision of an unconditional liveable income, complemented by the provision of universal social services. That is why we took a clear platform to the last election, calling for income support payments to be lifted above the poverty line, to $88 a day.

We have continued to advocate for that immediate increase, including through amendments to legislation that were opposed by both the major parties. We will continue to advocate for that immediate increase that is so urgently needed.

But we also need an approach that ensures that if government makes that immediate increase, we have protections, ensuring that payment rates are adequate so that people aren't living in poverty in the future. We cannot allow a once-off increase to become an excuse for further decades of inaction.

Travelling across the country, as Chair of the Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee's inquiry into the extent and nature of poverty in Australia, we have heard powerful evidence from individuals and community organisations. It has reinforced the devastating impact of poverty on those who face it, and made it clearer than ever that poverty is a political choice—it is something government could choose to act on, but has failed to.

The idea of an independent body, to provide clear advice to Parliament, is something the Greens have long advocated for. In 2016, in the election policy document Equality and Compassion: Strengthening Our Social Safety Net, the Greens election platform set out a clear proposal for an independent equality commission, saying:

The Australian Greens will establi sh an independent Equality Commission. The Equality Commission will provide independent advice to the Government and Parliament on setting rates of income support as well as guidance on broader strategies to reduce inequality within Australia

In additio n to providing regular, independent advice to the Government and Parliament on income support payment rates, the Equality Commission will advise Government and Parliament on the impacts of policy and legislation on inequality. It would undertake and overse e work on how to transform our income support system into a more flexible and responsive system able to support a productive modern economy. This would include examining best practice models from around the world and trialling new approaches, such as a gua ranteed adequate income model.

We have had a similar proposal in subsequent platforms. We have continually called for an urgent, immediate increase to income support payments, and for the changes that will ensure there is a clear analysis of what needs to be done no-one is living in poverty.

This bill is a constructive step towards ending poverty in Australia. As I have said, repeatedly, we think the first step is an immediate increase to income support payments to $88 a day. And then this Bill is an important part of the longer term work that is needed.

There are a number of features of this Bill that we think are important, and that as well as setting out a clear proposal, set out components of a framework that we will use to analyse any government legislation in a similar vein:

A focus on poverty—we think that the framework you use is important. This is, fundamentally, about addressing poverty—and the legislation should reflect that.

A clear requirement for the development of a national poverty line—for far too long, governments have used the lack of an accepted measure of poverty as an excuse to keep people living on inadequate payments. We need a national definition of poverty—one that takes into account different needs and contexts, and one that government can be held accountable to.

A requirement for government to respond to recommendations—we think government must respond publicly to recommendations made by an independent commission, and this Bill would ensure that happens.

A clear requirement for legislated reviews—we think to preserve the independence of the body, it is important that we have a legislated requirement for reviews of payments, and for reviews of the poverty line.

An independent Parliamentary Committee, that can scrutinise appointments to the body. This cannot be another place that the old parties stack with retired ministers and staffers—it must be where the right people with the right skills and experience are appointed.

A focus on lived experience—this bill specifically enables people with direct experience of poverty to be Commissioners; and we think that is an important benchmark, so that it is not a set of politicians making decisions, but rather draws on people who understand the issues they are discussing.

We think this is an important bill. It sets out a clear framework, and it goes further than any other proposals in this place. We urge the other parties to support it, and we will be using it as a blueprint for our deliberations on legislation in this area.

Senator RICE: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.