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Thursday, 7 December 2017
Page: 10149


Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (18:18): I now go to schedule 9. I'm happy to get through ours as quickly as I can. I know the Greens have some questions. I just want to put our position on the record. Labor opposes schedule 9. The amendment that the government has proposed ameliorates this to a very small extent, but schedule 9 removes the ability of Newstart allowance and certain special benefits for recipients aged between 55 and 59 to be taken to satisfy the activity test by engaging in voluntary work alone. Instead, it requires them to undertake a minimum amount of paid work. The amendment, as I understand it, allows jobseekers to be taken to satisfy the activity test through voluntary work alone after 12 months. But we still think that this schedule is another attack on those that Robert Menzies described as falling through the cracks—people that Robert Menzies, the icon of the Liberal Party, indicated should be looked after. And I'm sure Robert Menzies would not understand what is going on with the Liberal Party these days. But this is about punishing community groups by cutting the amount of time people can volunteer and still receive jobseeker payments. So the amendments are there. We don't like it. We are opposed to this bill generally but, given that this does ameliorate some of the issues, we will support the amendment.

We go now to schedule 12, which is on drug testing. Thankfully, the professionals who deal in this area were so loud and so vocal about the stupidity of the coalition position that they've been forced to remove it from the bill. I think that's a great credit to all the community groups—and the Labor Party and the Greens—who have been opposing this, that the Liberal Party have been forced to understand the stupidity of this position. So we're glad that that's been removed.

Schedule 13 removes the exemptions due to drugs or alcohol for people who are not declared program participants. Item (2) allows the secretary to make a legislative instrument that defines a declared program participant and modifies provisions in the social security law as they apply to declared program participants. This amendment removes this latter power. But I think it still does make a minor improvement to what is an egregious bill—a bill that typifies the coalition, a bill that attacks poor people in this country and a bill that I am absolutely amazed that the NXT team have agreed to support. I just haven't quite got to the bottom of what baubles the NXT team have been offered to cave in to these egregious changes to welfare systems in this country. So, I think that's basis of where we are at.

We think this is a terrible bill. I just don't understand how anyone can sit in this chamber on a $200,000 basic salary—anywhere up to $400,000 for ministers—and vote for this and try to justify cutting the welfare payments for the poorest in this country. I'll summarise our position: we think this is an atrocious bill. We think it typifies what this coalition government is all about. However, we've got no option, given the capitulation by NXT to the Liberal Party and the coalition, once again, but to actually agree to these small amendments that ameliorate it in a very small way. I hope I've made our opposition to this clear and how terrible this is for people on welfare in this country.