The Australia I grew up in is in the rear-view mirror. When I was a child, I was told that if I did the right thing by others, if I kept myself out of trouble and if I worked hard, I would be successful. Today, that promise isn’t true anymore. We still think the key to improving your lot in life is hard work, but that’s increasingly not the case. The link between work and reward is being eroded.

Compared to the Australia of the previous generation, today we’re still working hard but we’re a nation working for lower wages with less job security. The generation who grew up being told that the way you moved up in the world was with education and training is now in charge of this place, and is making policy saying that students should pay more and that universities should get less. House prices are growing faster than income and trying to save up a deposit for a first home is like chasing a piece of string on the ground that keeps getting further away from you every time you go to grab it. Median house prices grew four per cent in Launceston last year and they grew eight per cent in Hobart. Meanwhile, incomes are going nowhere and there’s still a big problem with unemployment and underemployment. Young people are being told to work hard and save for their first home, but they don’t have the jobs to get their foot in the door and they are getting no help from this government. Of course, the Turnbull government thinks it’s helping by giving young people an internship that pays them nothing and offers them no guarantee of employment at the end.

Where has the big picture thinking gone? We have a government that says, ‘If you want to study then you should pay more to do it and, if a university wants to teach you, it should have to pay more to do that too.’ We have a government saying that there is not enough money to increase Youth Allowance payments for students. The result is that students can’t afford to spend their weekends studying because they’re spending their time making coffees or waiting tables, because they need to be able to feed themselves somehow. Then the government looks at the money those students are making on the weekends and they say: ‘You’re making too much money. We’ll have to cut some of that too.’ Where does this all end? Where is the logic? Are these students working too much or not enough? Every hour they spend working in a pub or in a supermarket is an hour they’re not spending on their study. We wonder how we’re going to get people to finish their degrees. Well, here’s a thought: why don’t we give students enough time to actually study in the first place?

The Greens put forward a bill this morning that would have increased Youth Allowance by $110 a fortnight. The effect would have been to give students a little bit of breathing room. It would have meant that missing a shift because you’re sick or studying wouldn’t mean starving for a week. It would have meant more students doing more study, which is what we’re supposed to be encouraging, which is supposed to be the purpose of the Youth Allowance payments in the first place. The bill was voted down by the champions of equality and opportunity in the Australian Labor Party. You’d expect it from the government but it’s particularly shocking from the Australian Labor Party.

What’s worse is that it wasn’t just students who would have benefited from the increase; those on Newstart would have been better off too. But, instead of backing an increase for those who can’t find a job, they backed a review instead. Another review won’t change the fact that there are more unemployed people than there are job vacancies. It’s simple arithmetic. If there are more people looking for a job than there are jobs, then not everyone will find one—it’s pretty simple. Rather than punishing those who can’t get a job, not because they don’t want one but because there aren’t enough jobs, we should be looking at the other side of the equation. We should be doing more to create jobs that will employ those people looking for work.

Looking after the vulnerable means actually looking after the vulnerable. It isn’t a promise to say the right thing; it means actually doing the right thing. Let’s be real. Pensioners aren’t asking for the world. They aren’t asking for a mansion, a jet ski and an investment property on the beach. Pensioners are simply asking for an age pension that gives them enough to turn on the heater in the morning. That’s what they are asking for. Is it too much to ask? This government spends all its time fighting itself. What do we do to get a government that fights for the rest of us? Well, do you know what? I’ll tell you who else is struggling: there are job seekers, there are students, there are veterans and there are small businesses. I can tell you they’re in trouble. 

Chamber Senate on 14/08/2017 Item MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE – Australia Speaker :Lambie, Sen Jacqui Parliment Transcript used for News Reporting