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Wednesday, 20 June 2018
Page: 3378


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (09:33): When I left off my contribution last night, when the adjournment intervened, I was talking about how I would spend the $26 billion a year of tax cuts in the areas of my portfolio. I realise that other senators also have priorities for their portfolios, but I am focusing on my portfolios. I went through issues about Newstart, reparations for the stolen generations and making sure that we have adequate housing in remote communities. I'd also make sure that we were properly addressing redress for those affected by institutional sexual abuse and making sure the cap was $200,000, for example, instead of the $150,000 which was in the legislation that passed this place yesterday. I'd also make sure that we had adequate services in emergency departments for people suffering from a mental health crisis. I'd also make sure that grants for organisations delivering vital services in our communities were indexed so that community organisations weren't suffering a reduction every year in the funding and services they could provide. I'd make sure that Centrelink actually worked and that we had a functioning system where people actually answer the phone and calls are answered the first time people ring.

We Greens would increase the minimum wage by 60 per cent. I reckon that's a much better way of spending the money this government is spending on these tax cuts. And, from the feedback that we have had, Australians would prefer that's the way the money was spent. They would prefer that we were delivering good, strong public services rather than funnelling this money to the big end of town. We need to address inequality in this country. We need a poverty plan, not a plan to make the wealthy even wealthier, which is what these tax cuts do. Most people won't benefit at all. The rich will get even richer. The fact is the majority of the benefits flow to the top 20 per cent of income earners. We have a plan to make the rich richer. We don't have a plan in this country to address poverty. Three million Australians are living in poverty and 3.6 million Australians do not have food security, according to the latest Foodbank report. We have people living in poverty, and the people that are most vulnerable are those trying to get by on the inadequate payment of Newstart and the youth allowance. We have people who are trying to survive below the poverty line, but the government's argument is: 'They're not really in poverty. The Anderson line and the poverty line are just an indication.' The research shows that there's a very good correlation between the poverty line and the expression of the poverty line as a measurement and the deprivation measures and deprivation structures. The research finds there's a good correlation between those in deprivation and where those poverty line measurements are.

The government likes to play fancy with words to imply that those on Newstart are doing relatively okay, thank you very much, because those poverty lines not a very good indication. But we know they are a good reflection of those suffering from various measures of deprivation, such as how often they've eaten, what they can buy to send their children to school with and whether their children are missing out on going to school because they don't have the necessary resources and supports to be at school. Those measures of deprivation are reflected well in the poverty line. The government also says, 'Those living on Newstart get other benefits.' But we know that, for the vast majority of those receiving the Newstart allowance, the main additional payment is the energy supplement, which is a whole four bucks a week. Hurray! They could go out and buy a cup of coffee. And that's the very measure that the government wants to take away and still has on the books to take away. In terms of the so-called supplementary income for income support payment recipients, as I've just said, the only payment received by the majority of people is the energy supplement, and we all know the government plans to cut that. Thirty-eight per cent of people receiving Newstart do receive rent assistance because they pay private rent. The maximum rate for single adults without children is $67 a week. In what we know is an unaffordable rental market, that goes very little way to being able to pay rent. Anglicare does a study every year about access to housing. From their recent study, we know that three properties out of 67,000 nationally were affordable for a single person on Newstart receiving rent assistance. So it is just a joke that the government thinks that rent assistance goes anywhere near addressing the need for affordable housing or making sure people aren't living below the poverty line.

The Salvation Army reported a couple of weeks ago that their latest study has found that, when you take out the cost of accommodation, those on Newstart have $17 a day to try and survive on. Again, I renew my challenge to those on the other side of the chamber to try living on Newstart, even for a week. A week gives you a taste of what it's like to try and survive on Newstart. Other additional payments, such as family tax benefit, are only received by 19 per cent of the people on Newstart—again blowing a massive hole in the government's argument that those living on Newstart really aren't living below the poverty line and there's no need to increase Newstart. The family tax benefit is actually to help parents raise their children.

There is only one job available for every eight people looking for paid work. Two-thirds of people receiving Newstart are having to rely on the allowance for 12 months or more. When this payment originally came in, when we were calling it the dole and other previous names, it was about people being temporarily out of work for around six weeks, and people could survive on the payment for that length of time. That situation, of course, has changed. So many more people are having to rely on Newstart for much longer, work is not as readily available and there is much more active age discrimination against older workers trying to find work. And we all know the appalling statistics for young people who are unemployed. We used to talk about this affecting people in their early 20s. Now we're talking about those over 25 being unable to find permanent full-time work; they're more likely to be in temporary or part-time work. So our work situation is much more precarious than it used to be. People need to rely much more on income support.

We also know living in poverty is a barrier to employment. We know that many people on Newstart have a number of vulnerabilities. Due to cuts from the Howard government, the Rudd-Gillard government and then the Abbott government, people with disability applying for the disability support pension have not been able to access it, and there's been an active push by this government, started by Mr Abbott and followed by Mr Turnbull, to try and kick more and more people off the disability support pension. Rather than enable them to remain on the disability support pension and improve their prospects of finding work, they are being actively assessed to kick them off the disability support pension. So they're living on the poorer payment of Newstart while they're trying to find work. This all adds up to a mess, where we have hundreds of thousands of Australians living below the poverty line while they are trying to survive on Newstart.

Because of the way the government chose to index Newstart, it has not adequately kept pace with the true cost of living. It is not indexed the same as the age pension, so it has fallen further and further behind. The money that is being given away to the big end of town should be spent on those people that are living below the poverty line, that are trying to find work on Newstart, on youth allowance and on other payments. That's where we should be focusing that money.

We should invest in the services that support Australians, as I articulated earlier. We have a commitment in this country to universal service. The Greens are deeply committed to universality to ensure that we have a health system and an education system, and a social security safety net that truly is a social security safety net. That's where we should be spending the money that the government is giving away to the big end of town. As I said, the majority of it's going to the top 20 per cent of income earners. That money is not addressing inequality in this country; in fact, it will be driving inequality. Instead of focusing on those on the very lowest incomes, the government's saying, 'Big end of town, work on the trickle-down effect.' We in Western Australia know very well, from when we had the mining boom, that that money does not trickle down to those on the lowest incomes.

Let's remember a little bit of history. I was in this place when John Howard decided before the 2007 election that he would hand out money hand over fist for tax cuts. Let's have a quick look at where that ended up. Mr Rudd came in and continued with those tax cuts. Then we had the GFC, but those tax cuts were in place. That largesse was still in place. Instead of spending that money on services that would have better supported those who would be most affected by the GFC or by a downturn from good economic times to bad economic times, those tax cuts were allowed to flow through. Then we got to Mr Abbott, who came in and slashed the social security safety net—he absolutely slashed it—and came up with a brilliant idea: 'Oh! We'll force young people to wait six months before they can access Newstart or youth allowance.' Fortunately, this Senate stopped that ridiculous plan. It would not support that ridiculous plan. The government also took half a billion dollars out of funding for Aboriginal services. This can be related directly back to the fact that they gave away all that money in tax cuts. Now we're seeing a slight increase in revenue, and the government rushes to give it away.

And what does the ALP do? It wants tax cuts that are 'bigger, better and fairer'. I don't know where the ALP came up with the term 'fair' in terms of tax cuts, when they are not supporting an increase to the most vulnerable people in our community, those who are struggling on Newstart, on youth allowance, on the age pension and on disability support pension. Those are the people that we need to be supporting not only through an increase in Newstart and an increase in youth allowance but by making sure that we are addressing and supporting the services that really will make a difference in people's lives.

The 10 richest families in Australia own as much wealth as the poorest four million Australians combined. Three million of those poorest Australians are living below the poverty line. As I said, 3.6 million, part of those four million, are suffering from food insecurity, and yet what does this government want to do? It wants to hand over more money to the wealthiest in this nation, to those earning the highest incomes. We Greens say no, that is not good enough. We need to make sure that we are funding Australians who need the support, and we do that by making sure that we can fund Newstart and youth allowance, that we can fund those most in need.

How about we have a redress scheme for those children who were in institutional care but suffered other forms of abuse, such as physical and mental abuse, who still have not received reparations and who will not be able to access the counselling services under the National Redress Scheme—limited though they are, because they're not lifelong services? How about a redress scheme for those survivors, for those care leavers? Many of them were brought to this country by our government, were subjected to abuse and have not received redress. How about spending some money on them? How about providing services that all the community wants?

When you ask Australians if they want public services or tax cuts, they'll tell you they want public services. They want to make sure that they and their children can access a top-quality education system. They want to make sure that they can get health services when they need it. They want to be able to ring Centrelink and the Department of Human Services and get the information they want without having to keep dialling and dialling. They want a social security net for when they fall on hard times. I want to be able to look in the faces of people with disability and say that our country can provide them with the support and services they need, instead of demonising them and making them jump through all sorts of hoops, trying to find work for 18 months before they can access the disability support pension. That's not the country I want to live in. (Time expired)