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Monday, 19 March 2018
Page: 1512

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (20:13): The Greens will be supporting these amendments. These are in fact the same amendments that the Greens also have on the running sheet. In my second reading contribution, I made a contribution about all these issues, but that was some time ago now.

Schedule 3 relates to the cessation of the wife pension. There's a deep concern around those women who are currently living overseas who are not anticipated to transition to an income support payment and should continue to receive a payment in line with schedule 2 of this bill. That's what we think should happen. That grandfathers widow B pension recipients from changes to the applicable portability rules. We don't see why that shouldn't apply to the women who are caught up by this provision. We think it basically shows the mean-spiritedness of the government but also just how keen they are to punish people who have to rely on income support.

With schedule 4, I've also made clear the Greens position on bereavement allowance. And we believe that people are being disadvantaged by the change to 'job' made in bringing in the jobseeker payment.

On schedule 9, which relates to older working Australians, I will say that a number of organisations made comments to the Senate inquiry into this bill about the impact this particular measure would have on them. In fact, we got evidence about regional organisations and the impact it would have on volunteering in regional organisations. I accept that the government did make a few amendments. At the time, we did note that we thought that was a slight improvement. Nevertheless, a number of older Australians are going to be caught up here. And, particularly into the future, we know that a large number of those long-term income support recipients are those over the age of 45. I think I've said in this place before, while they say that the new 30 is 20, in fact, you go the other way; the new 45 is actually around 55 or 60, the way that older jobseekers are being treated in the job market. To think that you can be unable to get a job or be discriminated against when you're over the age of 45—that is in fact what's happening—let alone when you get to the age of 55. This is going to be a growing area, and I can hear the minister already saying, 'And that's why we need this.' No; in fact, that's why this will hurt more and more people.

We are deeply concerned about the impact of that schedule, just as we are deeply concerned about schedule 10, as I have articulated previously, and the start date for some participation payments. We have deep concern about the impact that will have. Again, it's a mean-spirited approach that's more about saving money than the welfare of income support recipients. We just had a discussion about schedule 11 and the removal of the 'intent to pay' provisions. Again, there were some changes made by the government. In fact, we don't support the replacement of the schedule with the amendments that the government brought in tonight. We still don't support this approach. We don't think it's the way we should be treating people who, as I said earlier, have a right to social security in this country.

Schedules 13 and 14 relate to the government's obsession with demonising people who have addictions. Addictions are a health issue. They can't be dealt with through the income support system. We have heard endlessly from experts on addiction that you need to treat this as a health issue, and you can't tackle it through the income support system. This will hurt very vulnerable people who have an addiction. It is not the way that we should be treating people who have drug or alcohol dependency or, in fact, a crisis relating to it. And before I hear those opposite say, 'You're just being soft on those who have a drug or alcohol dependency, and you don't care,' yes, we do care, which is why we oppose these two schedules. They will hurt people, not help people, with drug and alcohol dependency. This is not the way to address it. We agree that we need to help people with a drug and alcohol dependency and addiction. Yes, we absolutely do. I'll say it again: we do care. We do need to help people who have drug and alcohol dependency and/or addiction, but this is not the way to do it, which is why we oppose schedules 13 and 14. They're related. Schedule 13 removes the temporary exemptions from mutual obligation requirements for income support recipients with drug and alcohol dependency. Schedule 14 relates to reasonable excuses. Again, this is not the way you address helping those with drug and alcohol dependency. It's a multifaceted problem, it is a health problem and we do need to address those underlying causes. This will very quickly see people with drug and alcohol addiction fall off income support. There's not a doubt in my mind that that's what will happen. What happens to those people who end up out of the system with no means of support? If they do have accommodation, they'll lose connection with that and become homeless, amongst a whole range of other issues. This is a health issue and should be treated as such.

We also have an amendment to oppose schedule 17 as it relates to information management. This schedule contains provisions which repeal the privilege against self-incrimination, subject to immunity, in relation to the use of information or documents. We believe this is a significant change and it should not be dealt with as part of this bill so we will be supporting the ALP amendments. While we have a large number of amendments to schedule 15, this amendment doesn't clash with our other amendments to schedule 15, and we indicate our support for that as well. They're the same as Greens amendments, so we will be supporting them.

These schedules will have significant impact on those that will be affected by them, and we don't think this is the way we should be treating income support recipients. We think there are alternative ways to deal with a number of issues the government has brought up. While we're not necessarily opposed to the overall creation of a jobseeker payment, we are deeply concerned with the measures to put that particular payment in place, which is why we oppose schedules 3 and 4 here. We oppose some of the other schedules, which I'll come to later, which are not included in this particular set of amendments.