Standing up for Canberra

Social Services Legislation Amendment(Family Payments Structural Reform and Participation Measures) Bill (No. 2) 2015

I rise to oppose this bill, the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Family Payments Structural Reform and Participation Measures) Bill (No. 2) 2015. In doing so, I join my Labor colleagues in calling, as we have been doing since 2014, for this government to go back to the drawing board on family payments and to come back with fair savings that will not target and hurt low- and middle-income families.

This bill that we are debating today demonstrates that, while we might have a new Prime Minister, nothing has changed. It is 2014 all over again. This is still the same government making the same cruel cuts that target lowand middle-income families. In fact, the Prime Minister's new cuts to families will leave some families worse off than the former Prime Minister's cuts would have done.

I remember 2014. I remember that hideous budget. That budget attacked and cut at the core of what Australia is all about. It cut at our values. I remember that around the time the budget was released I went and did a number of mobile offices to take the pulse of my community and get a sense of what Canberrans were thinking about the budget. It was shocking seeing how many Canberrans were terrified about the plans of the then Abbott government in its 2014 budget and its incredibly harsh cuts. The harsh cuts targeted low- and middle-income families and the most vulnerable in our community, such as those on the disability support pension, single mothers and families doing it tough. That budget targeted them and many others. As I said, I remember doorknocking at the time and discovering that Canberrans were terrified. They were fearful. They were in shock that a government could do this to them and that it could cut at the values that Australians value so strongly and into the very social fabric of our community.

There was one woman in particular I remember. She was a single mother. I knocked on her door and said, 'I would be grateful for your feedback on the budget.' She said to me, 'No, I really don't have much to say.' Then obviously she collected her thoughts because she came running down the street after me in tears. She talked about the fact that she was terrified about what was going to happen to her and her child. She was terrified about the fact that she would not be able to send her child to university. She was terrified about the fact that she would not be able to support her child through school. She was terrified, running down the street in tears to pass on her views and have her say. That is what the government did in 2014 to Canberrans and other Australians. I am sure her experience was not unique.

It is absolutely outrageous that this government, as it did then, continues to target low- and middle-income families. Under this bill, 1.5 million families are going to lose their family tax benefit part A supplement, a cut of more than $700 per child every year. Around 600,000 of these families are single-parent families. We are talking about the size of the Tasmanian population plus an extra 100,000. Here in Canberra we are going to reach a population of 400,000 shortly, so that is the population of Canberra and 200,000 extra. Around 500,000 of these families are on the maximum rate. Many are on a combined family income of less than $51,000 per year. About 1.3 million families will lose their family tax benefit part B supplement, which is a cut of more than $350 per family every year. Single-parent families will be hit even harder, having their family tax benefit part B reduced to $1,000 per year when their youngest child turns 13 and then cut entirely when their youngest child turns 16. Age 16, when things start getting really expensive when it comes to clothes and shoes, is when the family tax benefit part B will cut out entirely.

When it comes to fairness, this Prime Minister, as I said, is no better than the former Prime Minister. He still refuses to make multinationals pay their fair share in tax. He still refuses to curb generous tax concessions for wealthy superannuants. Instead, he would rather take money from the pockets of ordinary Australians in lowand middle-income families and then slug them with a 15 per cent GST. Of all the cruel cuts that those opposite have inflicted since coming to government— and I just recall again that hideous, harsh and cruel budget of 2014 —to me this one feels especially personal.

I have spoken many times in this place about growing up in a single-parent household, about my father walking out on us when I was 11, leaving me, my two sisters and my mother with just $30 in the bank. I have spoken about how hard this made life for my mother, my sisters and me, especially in those early years. In the early years, just after he left, mum had $30 in the bank and was not working at the time. We were eating dinner out at the homes of friends and family every second night because Mum could not afford to put a meal on the table every night of the week. So I thank our dear friends and our dear family, who I acknowledged in my first speech in this place. They helped us out during those very, very difficult times. It was not just for a short period of time; those difficult times went on for about two years, when we were eating out every second night at the homes of family and friends. Again, I thank those people. They know who they are. I love them dearly, and I again want to thank them for getting us through those tough times.

I was reminded about how my sisters and I could not afford to go on school camps and about seeing friends go off on school camps but Mum could not afford to send us. I know what it is like to be the child of a single mother, and I know what it is like to be the child of a single mother who is doing it tough. That is why I oppose this bill and these cruel cuts, which are targeted at single-parent families.

In the last couple of weeks, children across Australia have gone back to school. As we celebrated the start of the 2016 school year, I reflected on my own back-to-school experience growing up. Despite our financial hardship, my mother would save all year so at the start of the school year my sisters and I would get a new pair of school shoes. At the time, as a young girl, this annual shoe-shopping trip was not a pleasant experience, because I was filled with envy and despair—envy of my friends who got the fancy Mary Janes with the little heart shapes on them or the school shoes that left tiger paw prints on the ground as you walked; I think they were called Adventurers and the Mary Janes with the little hearts were called Lipsticks. I really, really coveted those shoes. Despite that, my shoes had to last for a whole year—as did my sisters' shoes. So we got the very sturdy and the very utilitarian basic issue shoes with laces and round toes, and that was about it. There was not much excitement about our school shoes. They were the most economical school shoes that mum could afford, and they had, as I said, to last for a full year. So, each night, we had to polish them and we were not allowed out the door if they were not polished. I talk about these sorts of experiences because they really do make me empathise with those people who are going to be experiencing these cuts from this government. It is only really as an adult that I realise what enormous sacrifices my dear mother had to make for us to meet the most basic school needs.

As I said, I know all too well the pressures of a single-parent household. Yet a lot has changed since that time. When my father left, there was no such thing as the Child Support Agency let alone the family tax benefit. So we relied, as I said, on the generosity of friends and family. But what we do know—what we all hear every day when we are out and about in our electorates—is that single parents are still doing it tough. Just last month I received an email that exemplified this from a single mother. She was writing to me about the cost of parking at her work, which had recently increased. This increase was going to be enough to break her carefully planned, carefully managed weekly budget. Now in her email she was despairing at this increase in the cost of parking, but what I read was that the parking was simply the straw that broke the camel's back. If your budget is so tightly configured that an increase in parking costs can break you, then times are tough. There are many people out in my community, as there are right throughout Australia, for whom an increase in parking costs can send them over the edge. It is really painful to receive those letters and to speak to those people—women, particularly— who have all their budgets mapped out in an Excel spreadsheet. A number of them that I speak to have spent time talking with their mother or their father to try and get their budget under control. Every penny is accounted for; every penny is saved. They are just trying to do their best by their kids, they are just trying to get them through school, they are just trying to keep a roof over their heads and they are just trying to keep food on the table. They do it tough, and every penny is watched.

As I said, this is the reality for many single parents today. I am sure that every member in this place from every side of the chamber knows this. They have met those single parents in their electorates who are struggling to make ends meet, and an increase in parking costs can send them over the edge. Yet with this legislation, this Turnbull government is seeking to make things even tougher for single-parent families. Under this bill, there will be a reduction in family tax benefit part B for single-parent families when their youngest child turns 13. There will be around 136,000 single parents with children aged over 13 who will have their family tax benefit B reduced to $1,000 in 2016—a cut of around $1,700 a year. Single parents with children over the age of 16 will have their family tax benefit cut entirely, and that means they will lose $3,100.

Some of my colleagues have pointed out—and I agree with them—what will this mean for the 16-year-old child? Will they stay in school, or will they feel pressured to leave school to start work to earn some much needed money for their family? I echo my colleagues' concerns that this measure could be a disincentive for 16-yearolds to stay in school for their final two years. This government goes on about the innovation nation. So much for an innovation nation when people are having to pull out of school and cannot even build their skills to take part in that future in an active and productive way.

But it is not just single-parent families that are being targeted with this bill. Over two years, there is also going to be a rapid phase-out of family tax benefit A and B end-of-year supplements. The family tax benefit A supplement will be reduced to $602.25 from 1 July this year, then to $302.95 from 1 July next year and abolished entirely the year after. This will impact 1.5 million Australian families, and we know that around 500,000 of those families are on combined incomes of less than $50,000 a year. The impact of these cuts will be compounded by cuts to family tax benefit part B, which will be reduced, as I have mentioned, in a range of ways.

But, among all of the cuts in this bill, we can also see the reintroduction of the baby bonus—a new baby bonus in the form of a new rate of family tax benefit part B that will be introduced for families with children aged under one. Despite all of this government's rhetoric about simplifying the welfare system, despite the government's rhetoric about budget repair, despite the rhetoric and that famous line that 'the age of entitlement is over'—a new baby bonus! Deputy Speaker Mitchell, can you believe it? This bill just defies logic.

Labor has demonstrated time and time again that we are not opposed to fair and reasonable changes to family payments. We have already accepted around $2.5 billion in savings from the family payments system since the 2013 election. We have also agreed to $500 million in savings that restrict eligibility for family tax benefit part B. But we will not support those measures that target the most vulnerable in our community—and this bill does just that. Labor has fought hard to protect these families and we will continue to do so, because the measures the government has proposed are fundamentally unfair. Because of Labor's campaign, the government has backed down on two of the measures from last year's budget—their plan to freeze family tax benefit rates and certain eligibility thresholds. And because of Labor's pressure, the Turnbull government finally scrapped its appalling cuts to grandparent carers, which was absolutely outrageous.

I want to echo the words of my colleague the member for Jagajaga, who, in her contribution on this bill yesterday, implored the Prime Minister that 'enough is enough'. Enough is enough, Prime Minister. These changes to family payments will result in families being up to $5,000 a year worse off. How is this fair? How is this equitable? This bill demonstrates just one thing: it does no matter who leads the Liberal Party, the policies remain the same. We have seen again and again that the policies of this government target those who can least afford it. This government targets low- and middle-income families and, in this case, single parent families. Think of the children of those single parents. They are being targeted as well. Enough is enough, Prime Minister! Labor will not support these cruel cuts and nor will the Australian people.

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