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Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Page: 2341


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (15:33): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Special Minister of State (Senator Ryan) to a question without notice asked by Senator Siewert today relating to government data concerning income support payments.

I rise to take note of Senator Ryan's answer to my question on the article about welfare paying more than work, and the comments that were made by the minister in response to that data. The report said that there is new government data. My question was fairly simple and straightforward and was: 'Did any member of the government, their staff or anyone from the Department of Social Services provide the so-called new government data?' Senator Ryan could not answer the question. He could not answer whether the government had that data. What I am interested in knowing is whether they had any hand in developing the new government data? Did they provide an analysis of that data? And, if they did, why did they not include the family tax benefit in the working families' income when quite clearly there is a nearly $31,000 difference when you do a fair comparison between the single-parent family of four that is on income support compared to a family that is working? It is a lot of money. Thirty-one thousand dollars in anybody's book is a lot of money. So the comments it is reported the minister said are irrelevant. With comments comparing the two based on flawed information, you can draw no other conclusion than that it was about having a go at people on income support and about actually undermining the social security system. Either the government supplied the data knowing what the analysis showed and went ahead and did it anyway with an unfair comparison, they did not review the data or they had nothing to do with supplying the data but went ahead and had a go without doing a proper analysis.

Anybody with access to the Department of Social Services who knows anything at all—and I give the government and the minister credit for knowing something about income support—would have known that that analysis was very suspect and they should have looked deeper at what was included. It would not take two seconds—in fact, it did not—to work out that it did not include family tax benefit. The only reason the government would jump on that data would be to start undermining the social security system. Unfortunately, this is part of a trend. The government jumps on any bit of data—flawed data and misquoted data—they can. If you look at the cashless welfare card, which I spoke about in this place last night, they have done exactly the same thing: misquoting data, taking data out of context or excluding external influences on some of the results that we have seen. It is completely flawed anecdotal evidence. Here are the government again either knowing what was in the data and going ahead and commenting anyway and drawing flawed comparisons, or they did not know and did not bother to check. You would think the government would check that sort of data.

So, unfortunately, I must admit that I am more tempted to think that the government actually knew that that was a flawed comparison and went ahead and did it anyway because it is part of that story about trying to demonise people on income support and trying to keep perpetuating the myth that the so-called welfare budget is getting out of control when they know very well that they are including the aged pension in there and that they are including the factors in there. They are trying to, as I said earlier, persuade people that those on income support are not doing too badly when we know very well that people on Newstart and other income support payments are living below the poverty line. The critical point there is that it obviously has very poor outcomes for people living in poverty, but it is also a barrier to employment. The very thing the government say that they are trying to do is get people into work, and yet what they are doing is having a negative impact on those people and making it even harder to find work. Shame on the government.

Question agreed to.