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Wednesday, 1 October 2014
Page: 7435


Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (11:27): I rise today to speak on the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 1) Bill 2014. I have been critical of this government's budget. It is quite possibly one of the most divisive and unfair budgets we have ever seen in modern Australia. And I am not alone in this view. I have received hundreds—no, thousands—of emails and letters and phone calls from angry, disaffected Australians. They have told me this budget is unfair, unreasonable and ideologically driven. I and many others accept the government has budgetary challenges. But why should those with the least have to pay the most? Why should thousands of good hardworking Australians—those with families, those with mortgages, those who each day step up and step out to do the right thing—pay the most? Why should those who are struggling, those looking for work, those impacted by disability, those who care for others, those who are sick, those on the pension pay the most? Why should those Australians on low incomes be targeted by this ideological—some would say pathological—numbers driven budget? Why should those with the least pay the most?

Over the past six months I have received a clear message from people across Victoria and across Australia. This is a bad budget. People have told me they are angry and distressed about the changes to the Newstart waiting period. They are angry and distressed about changes to family tax benefit part A and part B. They are angry and distressed about changes to pensions. They are angry and distressed about the increase in the pension age to 70.

I have often spoken about a constituent I know called Phil. Phil works in a forge and is supporting five children. He lives outside of Melbourne. Phil earns $43,000 a year, with another $8,000 on overtime. Phil's is backbreaking work. Phil is a big and strong man, with the strength and resilience of a draft horse, but he has often said to me, 'John, I'll never last until I'm 70.' Treasurer Joe Hockey expects Phil to keep doing what he is doing for another 24 years. I say to Mr Hockey: 'Mate, you're dreaming.'

As usual, I will be brief in my remarks today. I will let my voting do the talking. But, as this legislation affects families and job seekers, I cannot help but share my view. Families are the building blocks of strong societies. A strong family makes a strong individual. Strong people are the backbone of a strong country. The relationship between government and families should be one of mutual respect. Governments should support families.

Forcing both parents to be in the workforce when the youngest child turns six is not the kind of help families need. It is not the kind of thing our nation needs either, because the nation and the family are interdependent. Families are doing it tough. Most parents, particularly those in the paid workforce, recognise the importance of spending time with their children. But, for hundreds of thousands of Australian parents, the financial concerns they face overshadow their ability to do this. This is something our tax system, and my amendments, can address.

House prices add to a family's financial burdens. Single- and even dual-income family first home buyers are forced to compete with baby boomer investors as well as foreign nationals to buy their home. Today in Australia, families are often second-class citizens in the housing market. Why don't we look at negative gearing, amongst other things?

When we look at the economy and job security, we must further consider how Australians can focus their energy on their families. But we in this place are not discussing legislation which will make it easier for these families. Instead we are discussing how we can take more of their taxes away from them by doing away with benefits which were originally given to them in recognition of the important role they play. Take, for example, the removal of the current end-of-financial-year supplement, the freezing of the indexation of the family tax benefit allowance or the removal of the child add-on supplement. This legislation is not about supporting families. It is about making life harder for them.

I have circulated amendments which address these issues in a reasonable fashion. Most Australians are happy to do their bit, I believe. Most Australians are happy to take part in some of the heavy lifting our nation needs right now. But no Australian should be expected to break their back in the process.

I would now like to address the issue surrounding the government's proposed changes to Newstart. Job seekers are in a tough job market. One only has to do check the Ballarat Courier or the Latrobe Valley Express from Saturday to see how many jobs are being advertised. When the government allows the employment market to be flooded with 457s, what do we expect? When the government goads industry upon industry to leave our shores, what do we expect? When the government cannot figure out how to manage its defence procurement needs over a long period, what do we expect? When the government cannot figure out how to use our abundance of natural gas for our own cheap electricity, what do we expect?

For these and many other reasons, Australians' expectations of government are at an all-time low. Why should it be job seekers, people who are prepared to work, people who want to work, people who are trained, equipped and able to work, who are punished because of successive governments' poor decisions which have led or contributed to their redundancies?

If people opt to work for the dole then they should be entitled to their full allowance during the six-month waiting period. If people have spent years studying as a student then that period should be recognised as work to be deducted from the exclusion period. If people would prefer to spend the exclusion period not working for the dole but rather concentrating full time on finding a job then they should still be able to receive 40 per cent of the Newstart rate.

We must create hope. We must create opportunity. We must increase the cake, not diminish it. The future of our country and the welfare of our people depend on it. We often hear about business and individuals being told to innovate. It is about time the government innovated.