Appropriations - Social Security - 18/09/2019

18 September 2019



The Social Services portfolio should be about providing a social safety net to support Australians who are unable to work, to prevent poverty and to ensure our community is inclusive. The department's mission statement is:

… to improve the wellbeing of individuals and families in Australian communities.

Well, they are certainly not being empowered to do that under this Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government. As the adage goes, usually attributed to Gandhi, you can judge a society by how it treats its most vulnerable members, and Australia is failing them under this government.

The most obvious and No. 1 priority that needs to be urgently addressed in the Social Services portfolio is increasing Newstart. New research released this week by the Centre for Social Research and Methods at the ANU shows that households surviving on government allowances, such as Newstart or youth allowance, are twice as likely to be living in poverty than they were 25 years ago. In 2017 around 80 per cent of households with government allowances as their main income were considered to be living in poverty after housing was paid for, compared to 39 per cent in 1993. A really important thing to consider as well, though, is the poverty gap showing the depth of poverty—the amount by which households fall below the poverty line. This has increased massively. Households with allowances as their main source of income were living $124 a week below the poverty line in 2017, a huge increase from $25 a week below in 1993.

Poverty in Australia is not limited to those receiving social security payments. Around 1.26 million households are considered to be living in poverty after housing is paid for, including households where income comes from wages, salaries, business or pensions. Everything is going up, everything except wages and our disgracefully low unemployment benefit. The Morrison government is suffocating an already weak economy that is getting weaker, and it's trapping vulnerable Australians in poverty by refusing to increase Newstart.

The Reserve Bank governor is calling on the government to do more to boost the economy but they are ignoring his advice, along with that of other economists. The government have no plan to address poverty and won't even accept that Newstart is too low. Instead of addressing serious issues in the social services area, the government are dredging up the worst parts of their disgraceful 2014 budget. Instead of actually developing policies to address issues, they are continuing their mission to demonise and stigmatise anyone receiving social security and our system itself.

These sittings we have seen the government reintroduce the disgraceful policy to drug-test social security recipients. There is no issue here to actually address; it is just part of an ideological crusade. Labor are proud to oppose this abomination, as we did in the last parliament. The government know, just as the experts do—those doctors who treat people battling addiction—that people need to be ready to seek help. This just puts pressure on services that are already desperately stretched. If the government are so concerned about people battling addiction, why don't they invest in rehab and treatment services? There is no evidence that there is an issue with drugs among social security recipients; I'm not sure how the government thinks they can even afford drugs. The reality is it's desperately hard to survive on the Newstart allowance, let alone find a job.

The Prime Minister says that everyone who has a go gets a go. What an insult to people desperately seeking work in this insecure job market and to single parents desperately trying to give their children the best start in life. What's the Prime Minister's answer to them? It's inadequately low payments and humiliation. Drug tests won't create one job.

The government is also again attempting to cut the pensioner education supplement, a relatively small payment for single parents and people with disability who are seeking training to help them re-enter the job market to cover things like textbooks and bus fares. They are having a go, but this government has no agenda but cruelty. It has no agenda except to attack people receiving social security—a system that is so important to ensure we have an inclusive society and to support people who are unable to work, people who are doing things like caring for older people or caring for children, victims of a job market that is not creating stable work, or people who have jobs but don't have enough to live on because they can't find stable employment. It's an absolute disgrace that the government has no plan for these people, and Labor will stand up for the most vulnerable in our community, as we did in the last parliament. We will oppose these bills that, again, are just an attack on the most vulnerable in our community.