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Social Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 - Second Reading

On it goes. The coalition are continuing to try to hurt the Australians who can least afford it. They are happy to let the big end of town go without paying the tax that they should rightly be paying and are instead attacking the most vulnerable people in our society. That really sums up the ideological bent of this coalition government. It has continued from day one until today. What we see today is a belligerent attempt to ram this Social Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 through at any cost without any consideration for what came through the recent inquiry into the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Omnibus Savings and Child Care Reform) Bill 2017 by the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee.

Labor listened to the evidence provided to that inquiry on the omnibus bill and could reach no other conclusion but to provide a dissenting report. That bill has now been split into two. A lot of that bill is now before us in the bill we are debating. We could not support it. We listened to all of the evidence that was put forward and read the submissions that were put forward that reiterated we should reject the cuts that are included in this bill. Why? Because of their impact on low- and middle-income families. In particular we are talking about single parents, pensioners, jobseekers, young people, people with disabilities, and carers. These are the people that this government wants to attack. These are the people that this government wants to make life harder for. The government does not even acknowledge how hard they are currently doing it yet it wants to make it even harder for them.

What does that actually mean? A young person on the Newstart allowance will now have to wait up to five weeks before they can get any kind of income. Where is the fairness in that? Again there are cuts to paid parental leave, leaving 70,000 new mums in Australia worse off. Where is the fairness in that? There is no fairness in the measures that this government puts forward. There is simply pain, suffering and hurt for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. What is having to wait five weeks for the Newstart allowance, forcing young people to live off nothing for five weeks, going to do to homelessness levels in our country? What is that going to do to those suffering mental illness in this country who need the support of their state to do the right thing and provide that safety net for them? Labor will never support such unjust and unfair laws that will hurt the most vulnerable in our society and that is why we strongly oppose and condemn these hurtful changes.

If the government needs to find revenue, we are all up for that. We are all up for working with the government in finding the revenue it needs for its budget. We know that as each day passes the government's budget deficit keeps blowing out of control—something you never hear them talking about anymore. It has increased astronomically since 2013, since the Liberals took office. Of course, they do not want to talk about that. They do not want to talk about where they can find genuine savings that do not hurt the most vulnerable in our society, because they do not understand what it means to be vulnerable—at least we know the Prime Minister does not.

Instead of the government looking at the big end of town, instead of looking at making sure multinationals pay their fair share of tax, instead of looking at the fact that their ideological corporate tax cut policy is simply ludicrous in providing $8 billion a year more to the budget bottom line by giving corporations a big tax cut, instead of looking at all of that—they do not want to do any of that—they want to go straight to single parents, to people on a disability payment, to people seeking Newstart, to young people, to job seekers and to aged pensioners. They are the people they are focusing on. They are the people that they are attacking. Their way of finding money for the budget is by cutting the basic means by which a lot of these people try to make ends meet, to get that leg up so that they can get back into the job market or make their life decent and meaningful and live with some kind of dignity. It is in fact the dignity that they are taking away from them, and that is absolutely outrageous. It is not something that Labor would ever, ever support.

It does not even stop at some of the measures that are in this bill, even though it is certainly bad enough. What this government has done in relation to cuts to some of the most vulnerable has been going on now for some years. We only have to look at community legal centres, which we know are used by some of the poorest people in the country. Community legal centres turn away around 160,000 people per year due to a lack of resources. Why do they have a lack of resources? They are facing a 30 per cent cut from 1 July this year. Again, the ability to access legal support should be a mainstay in our society. There is also not enough money in that realm for family violence support—something that I think both sides of this chamber agree needs a further focus on so that we can end family violence in this country and its effect on so many women and children. Also, if you look at the clients that access community legal centres, 50 per cent of them receive government benefits. If 50 per cent are receiving government benefits, we know already that they are some of the most vulnerable people.

Why, I ask, is our government in this country trying hurt the Australians who can least afford it? They are the questions that Australians are asking out there on the streets. They are not asking: 'Gee, we need to reform our Racial Discrimination Act so that we have more of a right to be a bigot. We think our Racial Discrimination Act does not give us enough free speech.' That is not what Australians are talking about on the streets. If the government would actually listen to Australians, hold a town forum like our leader has done on so many occasions and listen to the people, they would find out how out of touch they are. They would find out that the idea of cutting family payments, cutting pensions, attacking the rights of people with disabilities and limiting access to community legal centres and family violence support is not what people want. People want to ensure their government is providing those basic services that governments should provide for.

Instead, this government is living in some kind of Canberra bubble where it thinks: 'What are we going to do today? How about we bring the Racial Discrimination Act back on the agenda. It's only been three years since we did it last time. Why don't we bring it back on again? We've got a different Prime Minister now. Maybe we can convince him to move on this.' This is despite the numerous times Prime Minister Turnbull has said he would not make changes to the Racial Discrimination Act. It was a slight moment of wisdom when former Prime Minister Tony Abbott threw out the idea of making changes to the Racial Discrimination Act. He knew the huge backlash that the government was receiving from so many within the community against such changes—changes that go to the heart of the idea of a country based on social inclusion and multiculturalism. But no; instead, we are back here again debating the same old pet issues that the far Right of the Liberal Party seem so fixated on. Now they have new helpers with the 'lite' Liberals in One Nation, who are ready and willing to support them and who are probably egging them on to do so. Labor will not stand for the types of measures that break down the social inclusion of our society. We will not stand by measures that hurt some of the most vulnerable people in our society. That is why in our dissenting report we make clear the fact that we cannot support the majority of savings measures in a bill that have such a massive effect on those who certainly need our protection.

Labor has been very constructive. We secured a number of amendments that resulted in the government caving in and dropping its baby bonus payment and amendments that secure $800 million in funding for ARENA, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, over five years. We got the amendment for the energy supplement measure to protect those pensioners and people on Newstart allowance.

We also, very importantly, worked hard to protect Labor's child-care dental scheme—I know that is a scheme used often and importantly so in my home state of state of Tasmania—by having that removed from the legislation. It does not just stop, as I said, at attacking some of the vulnerable people in our community, as this bill does at its very heart. It actually then goes on to attacking children—children who need at the first stages in their lives the best start possible, and that means accessing a dentist. We all know that good dental hygiene sets us up for everything else in life. If you have good teeth and good dental hygiene you are going to then have that opportunity to get a good job and have those opportunities presented to you. Yet that is something the government wants to get rid of. Why? It all comes back to this user-pay system ideology this government is based on. That is, if you have a big, fat wallet you can afford to pay. If you do not, too bad for you.

That dog-eat-dog attitude is not Australia. It is not the Australian way. It may be the American way. We all know how their health system has gone down and the attempts made by former President Barack Obama to change it. But that is not the Australian way. The Australian way is that we provide for all. We provide a safety net for all. That is what Medicare was about and what Labor provided. That is why we have Medicare. That is another piece of public policy legislation that this government has tried to attack. These are the things Labor stands solidly for. That is why I am proud to be a member of the Labor Party—we stand up for people. No matter your background, no matter where you come from, no matter where you live and no matter your circumstances, you should be able to have the same opportunity as someone else.

That is why we stand for a good, decent public education system. This morning I was so proud to join my Labor caucus colleagues outside the front of Parliament House with our leader, Bill Shorten, and our deputy leader, Tanya Plibersek, to stand up for Gonski. This government certainly does not want to talk about the Gonski reforms because, again, it does not suit their ideological agenda that if you have a big wallet and lots of money you can pay, and if you do not it is too bad.

What are they in government for? To me, the whole idea of being part of my party and being in government is to provide for people. It is to provide that basic safety net for people and to build our economy. They are the two things that make our country work. One would think the government would have some understanding of that because it went to the last election with a slogan of 'jobs and growth'. Do not talk about jobs and growth anymore. If we look at jobs, we do not want to go near jobs because they are attacking jobs. They are attacking penalty rates for some of the lowest-paid workers in the country—retail workers and hospitality workers—and it will affect some 700,000 Australians. So jobs are out the window because jobs are something they want to attack; they do not care about them anymore. As for growth, growth is not going to happen because, again, they are cutting the fundamentals for some of the most vulnerable people in the country, so they are not going to be able to spend money. That is not going to add to our economy; that is going to limit their opportunity to even get a job. You will not hear 'jobs and growth' from this government anymore because they have completely lost the plot on that one.

They have completely lost the plot full stop. That is why yesterday, on Harmony Day, the government picked out of its hat the reintroduction of the debate on racial discrimination and watering down protections against race hate speech. If this government had some kind of plan for the country or some kind of agenda for this country they would not be just picking here and picking there or introducing bills here and introducing bills there—bills that do not get through this place because, of course, there is not much consultation with any of us and also because they do not fit with any plan or any strategy for our country.

It is such a disappointment that with the change of leadership this government went through from former Prime Minister Abbott to now Prime Minister Turnbull we have had a shemozzle of any plan for our future. Even those of us on this side of politics thought that things would change. We actually thought we now had a Prime Minister that believed in climate change, believed in marriage equality and actually wanted to make some kind of a difference. Maybe he would even move Australia towards an Australian republic; we knew that once upon a time he certainly invested a lot in wanting to make that happen. But every issue one would have thought Prime Minister Turnbull stood for he has sold out on. He has completely sold out. Now, with this bill, he is selling out on the most vulnerable people in our country. What kind of legacy does he want to leave for this country from his term in office? At the moment, he is going down in history as the biggest fizzer of a Prime Minister that I think we have ever had, and the biggest seller-out of his values. He certainly does not believe, I think, in the things he is doing. He is simply hamstrung because he chooses to be hamstrung by those far right members of his cabinet, party and caucus, and by the fringe dwellers, as I call them, in One Nation.

We on this side of the chamber will always stand up for all Australians in the hope that we will win government at the next election and be able to implement some of the ideas, policies and values that Labor stands for and holds. They are ideas, policies and values that we have been consistent on for many years. They are things we debate within our party, within our caucus and with the community. We know we are on the right track because we listen to people and people tell us how they are living and what is important to them. What is important to them is that their kids get a decent education, that they can access affordable health care and that they can get a decent job with decent pay and conditions.

It is not rocket science to go out there and talk to people and find out what is important to them. But this is not something this government wants to do. It wants to live in a little bubble here in Canberra, away from the real people, protected by the walls in this place and instead bring in legislation that is so out of touch to everyday Australians that it is hurting them. We will fight tooth and nail for that legislation not to pass, because we want Australia to be recognised and listened to in our democratic systems. The only way to do that is to prevent the government from getting its way in its strange ideological obsession with the bills that are currently before us today. (Time expired)