Social Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2017

I just want to congratulate the member for Cowan on that speech on the Social Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2017. Like her, I know from my own experience what it is like to do it tough. I was prepping for my contribution this afternoon, and as part of that process I was going through my first speech. In my first speech I spoke about the experience of my family—my working class matriarchy, my background: my great-grandmother, in a country house out in the western district of Victoria, bringing up 13 children on her own as a single mother. She was a domestic. 

She cleaned the properties and washed the clothes of the wealthy in the western district. And she did it very, very tough, bringing up those 13 children on her own as a single mother, cleaning and washing until her hands were red raw. It was a tough life, and there was not much money to go around, particularly with those 13 mouths to feed.

And then, to reflect on my grandmother, who I actually did not meet: my grandmother died when she was 54, when I was just six months old. She died of an undiagnosed heart condition, because, like her mother, she was from a very disadvantaged background and lived from week to week, a life of disadvantage and poverty. My grandmother brought seven children up on her own when my grandfather walked out on her when my mother was just born. She brought up those seven kids on her own in a housing commission house in Preston in Victoria. Again, she did it very, very tough. She was also a domestic. She had three cleaning jobs and basically worked around the clock: one job in a hospital, one in a theatre and one in a factory. Those three cleaning jobs kept food on the table. As I said, this poor woman, who worked so hard to keep food on the table for those seven children, bringing them up on her own, died of an undiagnosed heart condition at 54. So, that is another layer of my history where I do have a keen appreciation of what it is like to do it tough.

And then there is my mum. My mum left school at 15, dragged kicking and screaming. She was desperate to be educated and acknowledged that education is the great transformer, the great way of breaking that cycle of disadvantage. But unfortunately she had to pay her way, so to speak, and she had to contribute to putting food on the table, so she was dragged kicking and screaming from Preston girls' school and had to go to work at 15.

You would have thought that that cycle of disadvantage, that cycle of poverty, that cycle of doing it tough would have ended with my mother and with my sisters and me. But, unfortunately, my father walked out on us when I was 11, and that threw us, too, into a potential cycle of disadvantage and hardship. It was essentially only education that broke that cycle. But I know what it is like to do it tough, because I have done it, and I have a family history of doing it tough, of being born on the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak—of being born to a matriarchy of cleaners. When my father walked out of us when I was 11 he left us with $30 in the bank and my mum on her own with three daughters to bring up: me at age 11, my middle sister at nine and my little sister at six. Through those first few years particularly, life was pretty tough, because Mum was not actually working at that stage. It was very tough given the fact that we did not have money for food, so every second night we would go to friends and families for dinner. Quite often, as so many single mothers do—they do not eat at dinner; the food is reserved for the children—my mother would not eat, so she got very thin in that process.

As I said, I know what it is like to do it tough. I come from a family that has done it tough—three generations of a working class matriarchy who have done it tough. That is why I say that this bill is outrageous and just underscores the Turnbull government's completely unfair treatment of low- and middle-income Australians. Labor is not being obstructionist in any way on this bill. What we want is a bill that is fair but that does not target the lowest income earners in our community, the most vulnerable in our community, and that is what this government has done with this bill and with so much of its agenda. We thought it was going to be over in 2014. We thought those dark days of 2014, when that hideous budget was launched on the Australian community, were over. Yet they continue and they continue and they continue, because essentially it is part of the coalition government's DNA to target low- and middle-income earners while giving a $50 billion tax break to the big end of town, to big banks, to big business.

Labor has made it clear. We are not being obstructionist in any way. We are standing up for what we value. We are standing up for what we believe in. And we are standing up for policies that support our values. We will not in any way support policies that cut across Labor values, that cut into the very fabric of society. Our social fabric includes access to education for all, no matter what your background is, no matter where you grow up, no matter how much your parents earn and no matter what your postcode is—access to education, access to universal health care, access to opportunity, access to disability services. Labor will never, ever support any proposal or policy that cuts into our values and cuts into what it basically is to be Australian, that cuts into our social fabric. We will not support any policies that target low- and middle-income earners and the most vulnerable in our community. That is what we have here—this is 2014 reheated. It is 2014 over again.

This bill hurts the most vulnerable in our community because it freezes the income-free areas for all working age and student payments for three years. These are people who are on Newstart, who are on Youth Allowance, who are on the parenting or carer payment. It will freeze indexation of the rates of family tax benefit parts A and B for two years. It will extend the ordinary seven-day waiting period that currently applies to Newstart or sickness benefits to additional payments to parenting payment and Youth Allowance.

Labor has stood up for Australian families again and again since the coalition government was elected in 2013 —not this one, the previous one, the Abbott government. We now have a different iteration; the leader may have changed but their policies are exactly the same—exactly the same targeting of low- and middle-income earners. Despite all the rhetoric and despite the fact that this man was going to be different and was going to make a difference, there has been no change at all. As I said, we have the policies of 2014 reheated and we have a leader of our nation who essentially stands for nothing. He is a leader who has backed down on his commitment to a republic, on his commitment to marriage equality, on his commitment to climate change—a leader who has abandoned all the policies he feels strongly about simply to have the job of PM under his signature block. That is essentially it.

People in my community are constantly telling me, 'We had so much hope for this Prime Minister. We thought he was going to make a difference, and yet he has let us down significantly.' He has not delivered on what he fundamentally believes in—marriage equality, climate change and the republic. He has abandoned all those principles and all those views that he once promoted, advocated and clung to for the sake of having the title of Prime Minister on his signature block. Members of my community throw their hands in the air because they cannot believe a man could abandon so much of himself to achieve this title. They say to me: 'We have a Prime Minister who is agenda less, a Prime Minister and the government that is visionless and that has no idea what it wants for the Australian people. There is no vision and so there is no plan for us to get there—just ad hoc ideas that are thrown around. They are floated for 24 hours and spiked the next day, floated for 24 hours and spiked the next day and so on. We have seen that on superannuation, on tax, on GST, on states collecting income tax. Late last year we saw the emissions intensity scheme proposed and spiked the next day. This government is running from one policy to another policy and another policy, because they have no idea, no direction, no vision and no agenda.

One member of my community told me, 'We have a Prime Minister who treats this job like hobby.' It is so true —he does treated like hobby. He has no agenda—

Mr Keenan: Really?

Ms BRODTMANN: You have no agenda. Don't take it from me—this is actually from a member from my community. I think I am repeating the truth. This is the perception, and I am just sharing with you some views of the people of Canberra. I can share more with you, if you would like, Minister. I have imparted some of those, but the one thing that keeps coming up to me is that the Prime Minister is one big disappointment and the government is another big disappointment. They say to me, 'We had so many expectations.' The bigdisappointment government is completely out of touch with what is going on in Australia and completely out of touch with the needs of Australians, are deeply those on low and middle incomes –

Mr Keenan: You're very negative today.

Ms BRODTMANN: I am not negative; I am speaking the truth, Minister, and I am speaking the truth that is coming from the people of Canberra. I am passing on the views of Canberrans to the minister and he should appreciate this feedback. I do not know that he would get it from the other side of the chamber—

Ms Macklin: I think he would get a strong message from Western Australia—from these two West Australians. They should have got the message.

Ms BRODTMANN: Indeed. That is right. They should have—exactly.

I am passing on the views of the people of Canberra, Deputy Speaker. They passed on their views on what happened in 2014 to me. In 2014 I went out doorknocking just after the budget. I always like to go out doorknocking after a budget—be it our budget or a coalition government's budget—to get a sense of what the community feels about it. Is it good or bad? What are the good elements, what are the bad elements? You cannot get a purer form of feedback than from knocking on someone's door, cold calling on someone, and asking them what they think about a piece of legislation or a particular budget. I spoke to one mother who was absolutely petrified about what was happening with the cuts to Newstart and wondering how on earth her child could survive all those weeks with no support. That was a very common theme in 2014—concerns about the outrageous cuts to Newstart. There was one mother, and I will never forget her. When I knocked on her door and asked if she had any feedback on the budget, she said, 'No, I don't have any feedback.' I left and, as I was walking down the street, she came running down the street in tears. She basically said, 'I'm so upset by the budget that I couldn't speak when you knocked on my door. But I want to tell you as a single mother I'm absolutely terrified about the opportunities for my child in getting access to education and also about my future. I'm terrified about what this budget will mean for my family.' I have done it tough, Deputy Speaker, and I do not want any Australian family to do it tough.  

That is why this government's proposal is absolutely outrageous; it is the 2014 budget reheated. The government should be ashamed of itself.

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