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Thursday, 15 October 2015
Page: 7793


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (13:41): This is national Anti-Poverty Week, and I am sure people are aware that it is in fact also National Carers Week. This is a week where we strengthen our understanding of the causes and consequences of poverty and hardship and, hopefully, take action to address it. We encourage research, discussion and action to combat poverty. Unfortunately, what we see here in Anti-Poverty Week is the government attempting to cut a measure that is in fact designed to help the very people that we want to help during national Anti-Poverty Week.

A 2014 report by the Australian Council of Social Services shows that poverty is still a real and very significant challenge in Australia. In fact, there has been another report that they have just put out on poverty in Australia. The CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie, says that it is unacceptable that after 20 years of economic growth our wealthy nation is going backwards in the numbers of people falling into poverty. There are 2.5 million people living below the poverty line of 50 per cent of median income. Single parents are at a very high risk of poverty, more so because they have been dumped onto Newstart and are struggling to survive. In the latest figures a third of single parents are trying to survive in poverty. People with a disability face a significantly higher risk of poverty than other people. Forty-four per cent of people with a disability live below the 60 per cent poverty line.

Just yesterday St Vincent de Paul released the report “Sick with worry…”: stories from the front-line of inequality, 2015. They summarise the challenges of people living in poverty: a shortage of stable, affordable housing; low incomes that are not sufficient for a decent standard of living; that it is very difficult to find stable work, particularly for people struggling with poverty; and that those struggling with poverty who have a disability are even further behind the eight ball.

There are fundamental challenges for people living with a disability. I just mentioned the shortage of affordable housing. If you are a person living with a disability, it is even harder to find stable, affordable housing. In fact, that was highlighted in the recent community affairs report about young people with disability living in residential institutions and the fact that one of the barriers of them being able to move out was finding affordable housing. One of the barriers to the rollout of the NDIS is affordable housing for people with disability. People may get a package and not be able to find housing. These are real and significant challenges, and St Vincent de Paul have made some clear, simple recommendations: a national jobs plan; proper funding for government services, rather than cutting social services; and adequate income support. These are all issues that the government needs to take action on.

The low-income supplement is a $300 annual payment originally introduced to offset the impacts of the carbon price package. This is a small amount of money, but for people who are struggling below the poverty line, and struggling on income support, it is very important. Before the election, the former Prime Minister said that the government would keep the compensation package associated with the carbon price. This is another broken promise. It is, unfortunately, typical of a government that seems to be permanently on the hunt for savings from the most vulnerable in this country. Analysis of the 2014-15 and the 2015-16 budgets show that they hit hardest those on low incomes and those on income support. The measures the government still has on the books somewhere—raising the retirement age, having job seekers wait five weeks for payment, cutting funding to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cutting $270 million from social services—all have an impact on the most vulnerable in our community. And that is not to mention the planned cuts to family benefits.

The Turnbull government, just like the Abbott government, is looking at and making cuts that impact on the most vulnerable. We have a minister who, hand on heart, said that he thought the five-week waiting period was a fair measure. I can tell him that most Australians, most of the people I talk to and most of the people the majority of senators talk to—because the Senate has rejected this measure—do not think it is a fair measure. It is a fundamentally unfair measure. This Senate rejected this measure, and within days the Turnbull government had brought it back; it is bringing back the old policies of the Abbott government.

These cuts to the most vulnerable in our community are unfair. We do not think that the most vulnerable members of our community—those on the lowest incomes—can afford to lose any money. We do not support the cutting of the low-income supplement, because we know from repeated recommendations that Newstart, youth allowance and payments to single parents who are struggling on Newstart need to be increased by at least $50 a week. The recommendations that have come out in the reports this week, in Anti-Poverty Week, highlight that. We need an increase in these working-age payments so that people are not living below the poverty line, because if you live below the poverty line you face yet another barrier to work. It is really clear. It is pointed out in these reports as well. The Greens will be opposing this measure because we will not support cuts to the most vulnerable members of our community.