SOCIAL SERVICES LEGISLTATION AMENDMENT (FAMILY PAYMENTS STRUCTURAL REFORM AND PARTICIPATION MEASURES) BILL 2015
I rise to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Family Payments Structural Reform and Participation Measures) Bill 2015.
The government has circulated amendments this morning. I understand that the government will move these amendments later on in the debate.
Everyone should remember that it has been 18 months since the 2014 budget was handed down.
For the last 18 months, we have heard each and every member of the Liberal-National government try to con Australian families that cuts to family payments are both, according to the Liberals, 'fair and necessary'.
For 18 months Labor has stood side by side with families in the face of some of the harshest cuts to families ever attempted by any Australian government.
Last year, the first Liberal Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, tried to cut $8.5 billion from family tax benefits.
Those $8.5 billion of cuts would have made it so much harder for families to receive the support they need to help with the costs of raising their children.
Labor fought these cuts and we won. This year, in what the Liberals touted as a compromise, they tried again—this time with cuts of $4.8 billion.
Eighteen months and two prime ministers later, it now appears that Labor have again defeated the harshest of these cuts.
Today, families will be protected once again. Because of Labor's campaigning, because we have stood side by side with families, we have defeated these cuts.
Single-parent families and grandparent carers have been spared and 1.6 million families and three million children have been spared the cuts that these two prime ministers, Mr Abbott and Mr Turnbull, wanted to impose on Australian families. They have been spared from cuts to their family tax benefit supplement and from cuts to family tax benefit part B.
Today the government are admitting they cannot get these cuts through the Parliament.
Australian families now want to know what this Liberal government are going to do next.
Are they still committed to these cuts or will they be abandoning them forever?
It is time today for this Turnbull government to come clean with Australian families. Next week is the last week of the Parliament before Christmas. It is time for this Prime Minister to give families the certainty that they will not be faced with another round of cuts in 2016.
If these cuts had gone through, next year a single parent with two teenage children would have lost $4,700 or $97 a week when the impact of the cuts to family payments and the schoolkids bonus were combined—$1,806 in family tax benefit A and B end-of-year supplements, $1,712 as a result of the abolition of the schoolkids bonus and $1,785 in family tax benefit part B as the base payment was to be reduced to $1,000 a year.
They would have gained just $525 from their fortnightly increase to family tax benefit part A, but this would have still meant that a family like this would have ended up a total of $4,700 a year worse off. That is what this Liberal government wanted to impose on families in this country.
Yet this Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, said in an interview with The Guardian just last month after this legislation was introduced into the Parliament:
“Fairer is what is it all about. Fairness has got to be the key priority …”
Mr Turnbull, in this legislation, wants to see single-parent families $4,700 a year worse off, yet this Prime Minister says fairness will be the key priority. On the Prime Minister's own criteria, his proposed changes to family tax benefits fail the fairness test.
Labor will not let these vulnerable families be ripped off by yet another Liberal Prime Minister's cuts. We understand just how damaging these cuts would be to Australian families.
If the government is determined to go ahead with any of these cuts, it would mean 1.5 million families would lose their family tax benefit part A supplement. That is a cut of $725 a year for every single child. Around 500,000 of these families are on family incomes of less than $50,000 a year.
There are 500,000 of these families and yet this government wants to slash their family tax benefits. Also, 1.3 million families would lose their family tax benefit part B supplement. That would be a cut of $354 a year per family. Single-parent families would lose both.
In total, more than 1.6 million families would be left worse off. Three million children are set to lose the support their parents need. Is this what the Prime Minister meant when he said that fairness means the burden should be borne by those most able to pay? Is that what he meant?
These cuts would hurt families. They would hurt families just like the cuts to the government's paid parental leave scheme will. They would hurt families just like the cuts to the income support bonus will and just like the harsh cuts to young people will. The government wants to leave young people with nothing to live on for a month. These are harsh cuts that would hurt families.
Of course, the minister knows this. He knows that these cuts would hurt. Because of this incompetent Liberal government that is completely bereft of any understanding of fairness, these new measures are no better; as I have just mentioned, some of them, in fact, are harsher.
I want to share some stories from individual people who have contacted me detailing how these cuts would affect them.
Let us hear from the people who will be hurt by these cuts if the government decides to proceed: grandparent carers, single-parent families, low- and middle-income families struggling to make ends meet—people like Marleen Lamb.
Marleen is a grandparent carer in the electorate of Petrie who has cared for her 12-year-old granddaughter since she was four years old, due to tragic circumstances. Marleen wrote to me asking:
“How the hell will I manage if I lose $100 a fortnight because of this government's cuts to Family Tax Benefit Part B?”
Of course, this government's heartless response to the concerns that Labor raised about grandparent carers was, 'Go out and get a job.' It said these cuts are designed to encourage workforce participation.
[Mr Frydenberg interjecting—]
That was the message. That was the attitude of this Liberal government, the out-of-touch Minister for Social Services and the out-of-touch Minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia at the table.
We had the Minister for Social Services train wreck interview on Sky, when he was asked whether a grandparent carer with a 15-year-old child in their care would be $2,500 a year worse off. The minister said:
Well, that depends on their capacity to access childcare and re-enter the workforce.
Labor questioned the minister about this answer the following day in question time, and he gave a similar response. Within minutes of the Minister for Social Services putting forward this argument in the House of Representatives, Rita Beckman, a grandparent from Queensland, emailed me saying:
I am a single aged pensioner and I am the legal guardian for my 10 year old granddaughter. She has been in my care since she was 5 years of age. I am now 75 years old and am slowly being crippled with osteoarthritis and have problems with my balance.
I notice that the minister at the table is now studiously avoiding the point. Rita went on:
I will be 78 when she turns 13 and 81 when she turns 16. I do not wish to seem complaining as I love having this little girl in my life but for goodness sake how can anyone possibly think an employer would take me on. The arrogance of the Minister for Social Services is breathtaking.
Does the Minister for Social Services still think that grandparent carers should just go out and find a job?
What does the Minister to say to someone like Emma Marks, a single parent from the electorate of Flinders in Victoria? Emma works three days a week at a local hardware store. She writes:
I am a single mum and my daughter's father is, unfortunately, one of the many men who make up our tragic suicide statistics—I certainly never chose to be a single parent.
Emma fears that when her child turns 13 and she loses access to family tax benefit part B she will be pushed to the brink of homelessness. She writes:
Please do not take away from the most vulnerable members of our society what little we have that helps us to keep our heads above water.
These are real people—Marleen, Rita and Emma—real families. They are not numbers. They are not talking points.
They are real people for whom these cuts would have very real consequences—real consequences for their incomes, real consequences for their standard of living and, most importantly, real consequences for the wellbeing of their children.
These new cuts to family tax benefits have rightly been condemned by key stakeholder groups such as the Australian Council of Social Service, The Parenthood and Catholic Social Services Australia.
In assessing the package, Cassandra Goldie from ACOSS stated:
On our numbers a low income single parent family with 2 children will take a hit of more than $60 per week … once their youngest child turns 13, due to the reduction in Part B and the withdrawal of end of year supplements. We cannot support this.
Jo Briskey from The Parenthood has also condemned the new families package stating:
It is simply unfair of the Turnbull government to expect families who depend on FTB payments to be the ones to front the cash to fund the changes so desperately needed in childcare. And it's clear that sole-parent families will be the ones hardest hit …
Marcelle Mogg from Catholic Social Services Australia stated:
It is not in the interests of Australian families or the Australian economy to expect low income families to do the heavy lifting when it comes to economic reform.
But that, sadly, is exactly what this Liberal government wants to do—forcing low and middle income families to do the heavy lifting. It is not right, and it is certainly not fair.
Of course, Labor welcomes the government's decision today to remove the harshest of these measures from the legislation, and, when the minister moves these amendments, we will not stand in the way of the amended bill passing the House.
But the government needs to make very clear what its intention is.
Is it going to proceed with these cuts in a new bill or will it abandon them? It must make this clear today.
Let families go into the Christmas period knowing that they will not have to spend 2016 with the same shadow hanging over them as they have had in 2014 and 2015.
It is time for the government to drop these cuts, take them out of the budget and rule out further attacks on low income families.