Social Security Legislation Amendment (Stronger Penalties for Serious Failures) Bill 2014

The cruelty of the Abbott government's budget knows no bounds. This legislation is just another example of how out of touch those opposite are with what goes on in the real world. I have just come from a meeting with the Leader of the Opposition and a couple of constituents from the ACT, Michaela and Lauren and, between them, their three children. In that meeting we discussed the impact of the budget on their day-to-day lives—on their cost of living, on their futures, on their education. Those women expressed considerable concern about a range of measures that are in this budget.

First up, was the deregulation of higher education and also the costs that are going to be imposed to those seeking to improve their lives, who aspire to higher education. Lauren talked about the fact that she is really concerned about this. She can cope with a $50,000- HECS debt, but what she is really concerned about is the prospect of a $100,000- or $200,000-higher education cost where the interest goes up. She is very, very concerned about what that is going to mean. She is a single mum. She is aspiring for a better future for her son and herself. She is doing all the right things. She has a part-time job and is seeking a degree through the higher education system—she is starting a law degree. She is fearful and terrified about the prospect of her HECS debt being in the range of $100,000-$200,000.

Just recently—last week, actually—I held two community forums. One was in Griffith; the other was in Woden. One of the messages that came from those community forums was concern by one woman whose daughter is aspiring to study medicine. She is incredibly concerned about the fact that her daughter's degree is not going to cost the $50,000 that Lauren mentioned but in the vicinity of $400,000. She is really concerned about the fact that a $400,000 debt means that her daughter will be incapable of ever aspiring to own a home. With a debt of that magnitude hanging over your head, how can young Australians—those who are undertaking higher education—expect to save up for a home with a debt like that? This is the concern that this woman has expressed about her daughter's future—not just because of the fact that she has a huge debt hanging over her head but also that she could potentially not aspire, like most Australians, to own her home. Also, this woman is concerned about the fact that this debt is probably going to be dogging her daughter until she is in her 50s.

The women I met today also expressed great concern about the fact that the fuel tax is going to have a huge hit on their cost-of-living expenses each week. As Michaela said, 'It is not just the fact that I use the car to go to and from work—and that is going to have a hit on my day-to-day, or weekly, budget—but also the fact that I do a lot of running around, dropping the kids off at child care and running around town dropping kids off at the doctor.' It is going to have a huge hit on her cost-of-living expenses.

They are incredibly concerned about the GP tax and also the increase in the costs of scripts. Like any parent with young children, they are at the doctor quite frequently. Each time they go to the doctor, there is going to be an extra slug on the cost of those expenses. They are very concerned about what is going to happen to them. They understand that the budget that the Abbott government has imposed or wants for the Australian people and wants for the people of Canberra is completely out of touch with reality. It is completely out of touch with the real lives of Australians and of Canberrans.

The bill we are debating today is a bill that seeks to punish people for being unemployed rather than support them back into the workforce. This bill —Social Security Legislation Amendment (Stronger Penalties for Serious Failures) Bill 2014—amends changes that Labor made in government to ensure that job seekers who suffered a penalty for not actively seeking work or training were encouraged to re-engage in their search for a job and to seek employment and training. Under the current job seeker compliance provisions, job seekers receiving a payment such as Newstart may incur an eight-week non-payment penalty for serious failures consisting of either their refusal of suitable work or persistent non-compliance with their participation obligations. However, these non-payment penalties may be waived if the job seeker then begins to comply with the serious failure requirement, such as by working for the dole, doing job search training or undertaking more intensive job searches. The non-payment period may also be waived if the job seeker did not have the capacity to comply with the serious failure requirement and would be in serious financial hardship if the non-payment period was not ended.

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