Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 24 June 2021
Page: 110

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (17:42): I move general business notice of motion No. 1174:

That the Senate notes that the Morrison Government's 2021-22 Budget left people on low incomes behind.

Budgets are all about choices. The government's latest budget completely misses the opportunity to address the growing inequality and poverty in our community. In fact, it works to further entrench it. Instead of ensuring everyone has enough to live a good life, ensuring people's wellbeing, the government has decided to spend $62 billion a year in handouts to big corporations and billionaires; $8.5 billion in tax rorts for property investors, with no new funding for public housing and community housing; $213 million and counting on compliance measures for people on income support; and $42 million to further entrench the cashless debit card. The budget should be used to address long-term problems as well as the most immediate issues. Inequality is increasing, wages have flatlined, work is more insecure and the cost of living keeps going up. Far too many Australians are living in poverty.

Australia is in the middle of a housing crisis. In a wealthy country like Australia, no-one should be without a roof over their head. Instead, there are 116,000 people sleeping rough in Australia every night and even more experiencing extreme housing stress, and there are many people couch surfing. This budget further strengthens a housing system that actively impoverishes people and makes inequality worse. Instead of guaranteeing everyone's right to a safe home, the government has given $8.5 billion in tax breaks to wealthy investors and property speculators in this budget. Despite the housing crisis, this budget has not allocated any new funds for public or community housing. Public housing should be universally accessible so that no-one is living without a roof over their head.

Housing prices and rents have skyrocketed, particularly during the pandemic, squeezing the most vulnerable into extreme housing stress and insecurity. Home ownership is increasingly out of reach for a majority of young people in this country. In Perth, in my home state of Western Australia, the medium rent is 460 bucks a week. This is not even close to being affordable for someone on income support, particularly when the payment is $44 a day, or for someone working at the minimum wage, with a yearly income of $38,480 a year. This budget gives $62 billion a year in subsidies to billionaires and big corporations, but the government says there's not enough money to increase JobSeeker to $80 a day, which we know is the level that would lift people out of poverty and ensure they're not condemned to poverty.

During the height of the pandemic the government acknowledged that the rate of the JobSeeker payment was inadequate and chose to immediately increase the payment to above the poverty line with the introduction of the COVID supplement. This one decision immediately lifted hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty. They knew they had to do that to ensure that people weren't living in poverty during the pandemic lockdown. It had a remarkable impact on the lives of people receiving income support payments. People were able to eat regular meals, pay off existing debts, save for education and training and go to the dentist—things that other people take for granted. When you're living on $44 a day you can't afford to go to the dentist or afford the essential medications—they were putting it off because they simply couldn't afford it.

It is a disgrace that this government does not significantly increase the JobSeeker payment to ensure that millions of Australians are not living in poverty. It must be acknowledged that people on the disability support pension and carers were cruelly excluded from the COVID supplement, a point the Greens raised in this chamber many times. Despite all evidence that expenses for disabled people and carers increased in the pandemic, they were simply left out from receiving extra assistance. This is despite the government knowing very well that disabled people face additional costs of living generally. That is very clear in work that AFDO has done on the cost of a disabled person's living expenses.

Despite paying more for health care, medical supplies, PPE, transport and utility bills, disabled people and carers are still struggling to make ends meet. There is nothing in this budget to help alleviate these costs. As quickly as the COVID supplement was introduced, it was then taken away. Once again, people looking for work, students and single parents are forced to live below the poverty line. This is a choice by this government to drop those people back below the poverty line.

People on income support payments have gone back to regularly skipping meals and missing their medications to try and keep a roof over their heads. They have articulated all those things so many times to us through various inquiries. It has been spoken about in this chamber. That's the reality for people looking for work. And this government does not care. They don't care for the consequences. This has been their policy choice. Half of all households in Australia who receive parenting payments live in poverty, with single mothers—because that's the majority of single parents by far; they're clearly overrepresented in this group—being particularly at risk of financial stress.

It should also be noted that parents, when their youngest child turns eight, are put on to the lower rate of the JobSeeker payment. That's a policy that has still not been reversed despite its adverse consequences and despite the data clearly showing an increase in poverty for single parents when those changes were made. The changes were made and came into effect after the decision of the Howard government and after the decision of the Gillard government to move the grandfathered cohort on to the then Newstart payment, now JobSeeker payment. This forces parents into poverty, and it significantly undermines their caring work. We know that poverty is a barrier to finding work. There are more than 1.1 million Australian children in homes where an income support payment is the main source of income. These children live in poverty. There is nothing in this budget to reduce this shameful statistic. Further, the government's First Home Loan Deposit Scheme for single parents will help very few single parents. How does the government expect single parents to save enough money to purchase a house when they are living in poverty? There is no greater evidence that the government is out of touch than this.

Our aged-care system is in crisis. While additional resources were committed to aged care, they were not enough to address the dire need for reform and to do the job properly. This budget does not address fundamental workforce issues. Nor does it properly fund the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. Older Australians and aged-care workers continue to suffer because of poor conditions and a lack of regulation, problems this government has allowed to fester. Aged care needs total reform, and the government is neither acting with the urgency that is required nor committing the funds necessary. We have an ageing population, and we don't have the workforce to keep up. No money was committed in this budget to increasing wages for the aged-care workforce. If the government were genuinely committed to addressing this issue and offering more hours of care, they would have committed, in this budget, the money for an increase in wages. They wouldn't hide behind the fair-work case. They know very well that this is needed. Some workers in aged care are working on very low wages. We need to ensure that our aged-care workforce and our caring workforce is paid properly. A sustained commitment to the care sector is fundamental to guaranteeing access to essential services for all, regardless of their income or where they live.

The budget takes away from employment services. Australia is one of the lowest spenders in the OECD on employment services. The pandemic has resulted in hundreds of thousands more people accessing income support, but this government still can't give up on its obsession with making savings out of our social safety net. With more than 50 per cent of jobseekers on the payment for more than two years, this also is urgent. We need to be putting more resources into employment services, not punishing people through ramping up mutual obligations. There is very little in the budget to help long-term unemployed people find work. Instead, the budget provides $213 million to strengthen so-called mutual obligations. This is more money to punish, threaten and bully people who are looking for work.

This is a budget that continues the ongoing disdain this government has for people doing it tough—people on income support, older Australians, young people, single parents and disabled people. In budget after budget, this government has failed to address entrenched poverty. Instead, it expects charities and the not-for-profit sector, which are under increasing strain, to pick up the slack, while, on the other hand, it tries to gag them further using ACNC governance standard 3. A strong social safety net and properly funded public services are the bedrock of ensuring equality and opportunity for everyone. Budgets should prioritise this. A budget for the community, rather than billionaires, would invest in reducing poverty.