Standing up for Canberra

Omnibus Bill

Before I embark on a discussion on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Omnibus Savings and Child Care Reform) Bill 2017, I want to thank, congratulate and commend the member for Moreton on an incredibly powerful speech on the Parliamentary Joint Committee Report on Human Rights report on free speech. As always, he has given a very eloquent speech, a very moving speech. I worked on the 18C legislation when I first started my career in the Public Service, so it is something very near and dear to me. It was there at the beginning of my career.

He knows all about that because the views that my husband has and that I have are quite different. It has been an abiding part of our relationship since 1992. That was when the public consultation was conducted on the 18C legislation, and we have always had disagreements on it. We have been together for a very, very long time, and 18C has been part of that relationship from way back. As people say, 'Only in Canberra'— but so true. Congratulations, member for Moreton, on that speech. It was very powerful. Thank you so much for the work that you did, with the member for Brand. Who else was on the committee? It was wonderful having the member for Cowan in here, as well as the member for Lingiari and the member for Isaacs, to hear that speech.

As I said, I have a very close and abiding connection with 18C. I was there in 1992, when I was working in the Attorney-General's Department and I was engaged in the public consultation that took place right throughout Australia, like the committee has done this time, on the 18C legislation. I was there in Alice Springs, hearing from Indigenous communities about the trauma and the heartache that they experienced as a result of racial discrimination and vilification. I was there in Darwin, hearing from migrant communities who experienced the same slights, abuse and about harm that it causes. I was there in Perth, talking to Indigenous communities, Italian communities and Greek communities about what that experience was like for them. I was there in Townsville, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, talking to Jewish communities. 

We also went down to Hobart. But the one that really sticks in my mind in terms of public consultation was the Adelaide event. I am a huge fan of Adelaide, and so this is certainly not a slight on that great city or on South Australians. What really struck me—and I am hoping it did not happen this time—was that we experienced white supremacists at the public consultation that evening. Neo-Nazis, skin heads, turned up—and we are talking 1992—and they were just filled with hate, and they had huge vicious dogs with them. We had to get the police to come in and basically break up the consultation, which was a real tragedy, because it was one of the best crowds that we had had. But there was the presence of the white supremacists there, and they were filled with so much hate. They were solely intent on shutting down that consultation, solely intent on shutting down that conversation, about people who do experience racial vilification, who do experience racial discrimination, who do experience hate speech and who do experience slights and nasty innuendos. We are talking here of a time before social media—this is years before the internet; 1992— but racial discrimination was alive and well then. 

The member for Moore said that a lot has changed—yes, a lot has changed since 1992—but, with all due respect, a lot has not changed. In fact, there are more opportunities now for people to engage in anonymous hate speech, anonymous ghastly trolling and anonymous vilification and discrimination towards people based on their race and ethnicity. So I say to the member for Moore: yes, things have changed, but a lot has not changed.

I think it is interesting that the recommendations in this review were basically focused on procedural issues, process issues and access issues. They do not change the substance of the 18C legislation, because it is not broken. Yes, there have been issues of process, there have been issues of access and there have been issues of procedure, and those have been addressed in this report. But the legislation and its original intent—I was there in the consultation, I was there when it went through the chambers and I was there in the Attorney-General's Department—is still workable. There is no need for substantial change; this review found that. So it is most telling and most interesting that the recommendations were only done on the procedural, access and process front.

So it was an honour to have been here, having had that very longstanding connection with 18C, going right back to the early days of my career, 1992, and the early days of my relationship with my now husband. As I said, it has been part of our relationship for all that time, and it was a real honour to be here for the report on this review as well as to hear the very powerful, moving and eloquent speech of my colleague, the member for Moreton.

I will now go to this omnibus bill. I have been in the chamber for a large part of the debate on this bill, the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Omnibus Savings & Child Care Reform) Bill 2017, and it has been just extraordinary to hear the stories of the impacts that the proposals in this bill will have on communities. The really strong message that I have got from the speeches that my colleagues have made is that this government has no qualms in pitting the most vulnerable people in the community against families. They are essentially saying that young unemployed, pensioners and others need to pay for these significant changes to child care—according to the Prime Minister, the most significant reform of child care. This is just outrageous. It is just pitting those who are vulnerable against families, those young unemployed people against families. It is quite extraordinary.

I thought 2014 was bad, with the outrageous budget that the then Abbott government introduced that ensured that young unemployed were potentially cast on the street because they could not access Newstart. I remember doing a doorknock around the streets of Canberra just after that budget was introduced. My community were in shock. They could not believe that a government could be so brutal to so many people in one fell swoop. They could not believe that a government could introduce these cuts that it said during the election that it would not introduce —cuts to the ABC, cuts to SBS, cuts to health and cuts to education. The government made a commitment when it was in opposition and just prior to the election that it would not make cuts to those areas. Yet we saw in the 2014 budget cuts to health, cuts to education, cuts to the ABC and cuts to SBS—it was endless. Not one sector of society was immune from those cuts.

As I said, I was out doorknocking in the community, and my community was in shock. Canberrans were in shock that this government could implement such a brutal budget. I remember speaking to single mothers who were in tears and absolutely petrified about how they were going to be able to educate their kids and put their children through university, given the fact that the government was looking at these $100,000 degrees. I spoke to young people who were fearful that they would become unemployed and worried about how they were going to survive. I spoke to parents whose children were working or at high school or at university. They were not unemployed but, there but for the grace of God, their child could be unemployed and they were worried about what the Newstart changes that the government proposed would mean.

So I thought that things were pretty bad in 2014—not just because of what the government did on health, education, SBS and the ABC but also in terms of what the government did to my community. Coalition governments have form when it comes to Canberra. In 1996, under the Howard government, we lost 15,000 Public Service jobs here in Canberra and 30,000 nationally. Then, under the Abbott government, we lost around another 10,000—I have heard larger figures. Again, we were subject to attack, as always, because coalition governments have complete and utter contempt for the nation's capital.

The nation's capital was built up by Sir Robert Menzies. He had a vision for this town as the nation's capital. He brought to Canberra government agencies that were scattered right through out Australia—mainly in Melbourne, though—because he wanted to create a great national capital. He invested money and effort in his vision to make this a great national capital. But, whenever we have coalition governments, all they do is basically bring the capital down. They cut the Public Service and they cut the national institutions—to the point where, with the national institutions, we are not cutting into fat or bone; we are now cutting into vital organs.

Like the 2014 budget, these cuts are cuts to our basic social framework, cuts to Australia's DNA. That is what this bill does. It is so reminiscent of 2014. There can only be one winner here, and the losers from this will be the most vulnerable people in our community—low-income earners, the young unemployed and pensioners. There can only be one winner, because this government is completely incapable of prioritising and getting an approach that ensures equity in this nation, that ensures that there is fairness in the way we go about our social and public policy and that ensures that there is equality. With this government, the losers are always low- and middle-income earners and those who are doing it tough already, like young unemployed people and pensioners. They are always attacked.

We saw the derision this government has displayed towards those people on Centrelink benefits. We on this side of House believe that we need to ensure that those who are getting benefits that are funded by the Australian taxpayer get the right benefit. We are not in any way advocating that those who do not deserve a particular benefit should get it. What we want is fairness. There have been 20,000 letters sent out each week and, of these, 4,000 have been found to be incorrect. So 4,000 people have been incorrectly targeted, with the suggestion that they are fraudsters. One can only imagine the stress they feel when they get this letter from Centrelink, from a government agency, suggesting that they have ripped off the Australian taxpayer, that they have ripped off the government, when they have done nothing of the sort. Great trauma has been caused by these letters, and for some reason the government will not accept any responsibility for it, which is just breathtaking. Particularly after the changes that you introduced to the way that these benefits are processed, the fact that you will not actually accept any responsibility is just outrageous.

I am nearly out of time, but, as I said, this bill pits families against the most vulnerable in our community. It is another showcase of this government's complete contempt for low- and middle-income earners, for those who are doing it tough and for the most vulnerable in our community. This bill robs Peter to pay Paul—that is the underlying philosophy of this. The fact that you could not be more creative about ways of saving money and you had to have one person or the other benefiting in our community is just outrageous and underscores the government's complete contempt for those who are doing it tough and those who are unemployed. The government is just interested in the big end of town. We have seen that with the outrageous $50 billion tax cut to some organisations, such as the Commonwealth Bank, which made a $5 billion profit in the last six months. These are the sorts of organisations that Australian taxpayers will be underwriting, or funding, in many ways. I ask all Australians how they feel about giving big business and banks $50 billion worth of tax cuts.

Download this speech.