It appears the main aspect of this bill is the freezing of indexation for three years on most working age allowances and for parenting payment single, as well as the freezing of indexation for two years on family tax payments. It does not matter how you package the new social services bill, it still cuts almost $2 billion from Australia’s most vulnerable families. In the four years it will take to raise almost $2 billion from families who need it most, a modest financial transactions tax on Australia’s highest high-frequency share traders could raise four times that amount. We are wasting our time arguing over crumbs when 600 out of 1,500 companies do not even pay tax. The Liberal government wants to hand over $50 billion in tax cuts to their big-business mates, and that is a tax on profits, not revenue, so we know businesses are not losing.
But do you know who is losing out in this deal? It is the everyday families who are struggling to make ends meet. If the government cuts $50 a fortnight from families, the government has cut the family’s power budget or their insurance. On the other side of the tracks, high-frequency share trading companies will not even notice a 0.01 per cent or 0.1 per cent financial transactions tax. A financial transactions tax would have the capacity to raise $1.4 billion a year, with little impact to the economy, and it would fund the Liberal government’s childcare reforms, and more, and that does not even include other economic reforms I have been talking about for more than two years now, which includes a 15 per cent death tax on estates worth more than $5 million and a cap on the capital gains tax exemption for houses worth more than $2 million. Combine those measures with a financial transactions tax and the government could be raising almost $10 billion a year of the budget, without taking from Australia’s poorest families
If the Liberal government had the political courage to tie these measures to the childcare reforms instead of playing the game of: ‘how much money can we get away with taking from poor Australians this time’, we would not still be debating this bill. If the Liberal government had the political courage to tie these measures to the childcare reforms then perhaps they would have the funds to expand the childcare reforms to the children who need them most so they can access early childhood education and childcare. There are many families out there who have no desire to meet the generous activity test the Liberal government have proposed, and it is these children who need childcare the most. It is these children who are a part of broken homes, surrounded by devastating circumstances that no child should have to be subjected to, let alone live in. Twelve to 15 hours of child care a fortnight is not enough to rescue these children from their environment.
It is established that disadvantage perpetuates disadvantage and that is why we are stuck in this intergenerational welfare cycle. We also know that the first five years of a child’s life shapes their attitudes, health and wellbeing for the rest of their life. Intergenerational welfare will continue to be a burden on the federal budget unless we nip it in the bud right now. Spending money on our children and families now is an investment in Australia’s future.
Please do not take my word for it. Perhaps my colleagues would be persuaded by Harvard University research. In 2010, Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child released a document called Core Concepts in the Science of Early Childhood Development that stated:
When we invest wisely in children and families, the next generation will pay that back through a lifetime of productivity and responsible citizenship. When we fail to provide children with what they need to build a strong foundation for healthy and productive lives, we put our future prosperity and security at risk.
Cognitive, emotional and social capabilities are inextricably entwined in the brain. Likewise learning, behaviour and both physical and mental health are highly interrelated throughout the life course. One domain cannot be targeted without affecting the others. The brain’s multiple functions operate in a richly coordinated fashion. Emotional well-being and social competence provide a strong foundation for emerging cognitive abilities, and together they are the bricks and mortar that comprise the foundation of human development. The emotional and physical health, social skills and cognitive-linguistic capacities that emerge in the early years are all important prerequisites for success in school and later in the workplace and community.
The Harvard University paper also said:
Scientists now know that chronic, unrelenting stress in early childhood, perhaps caused by extreme poverty, neglect, repeated abuse, or severe maternal depression, for example, can be toxic to the developing brain. While positive stress … is an important and necessary aspect of healthy development, toxic stress is the strong, unrelieved activation of the body’s stress management system in the absence of the buffering protection of adult support.
The government is supposed to support the Australian public and not be the source of toxic stress for families. I know that protecting family tax benefits for Australia’s most vulnerable and providing a safe, positive environment for disadvantaged children on their own will not end intergenerational welfare dependency. We need a holistic approach, which is why I will be submitting a motion to the Senate encouraging the government to include the Cashless debit card in their May budget. My motion will note that, as per the Cashless debit card trial evaluation: wave 1 interim evaluation report of February 2017, of the 66 per cent of CDC participants who reported drinking, gambling or taking drugs before or during the trial, 33 per cent reported a reduction in at least one of these behaviours. Thirty-one per cent of the participants indicated they had been able to save more money. Thirty-one per cent indicated they could care for their children much better. Thirty-one per cent logged an improvement in technology use. Forty-six per cent of non-participants said life in the community was better; only 18 per cent disagreed. Only six per cent of all participants explicitly raised stigma or shame associated with the CDC as an issue. Community leaders and stakeholders generally responded that they had seen an increase of between 32 and 56 per cent in ability to afford basic household goods, in ability to pay bills, and in nutrition, health and wellbeing.
It is common for adolescents to begin drinking alcohol at 14 or 15 years of age, with the behaviour increasing as they get older, with its ability to impair judgement and coordination. Excessive drinking contributes to crime, violence, antisocial behaviours and accidents. Adolescence is often characterised by rapid physical and psychological transition, experimentation and risk-taking behaviour. This includes illicit drug use, causing both short- and long-term mental and physical health issues. Those who participate in early drug use are more likely to continue with future illicit and problematic drug use.
Australia wide, people 17 years and under are learning to become productive members of our community, so introducing the CDC to this age group and breaking the cycle of addictive behaviours would be beneficial in the future to their own development and to the communities that they live in. I will be calling on the government to support the inclusion in the upcoming May budget of a further rollout of the CDC for all persons 17 years of age and under who are on ABSTUDY, living allowance, assistance for isolated children, carer payment, disability support pension, parenting payment (partnered), parenting payment (single), special benefit, youth allowance, apprentice youth allowance, other youth allowance, and students across Australia on 1 January 2018.
The Liberal government suffered a great loss at the last election in Tasmania, and it is because of bills like this. This bill affects Tasmanians disproportionately, and any money the government takes from families is money that is snatched from the engine that runs the Tasmanian economy, which is small business. Trickle-down economics does not work. When you give money to a multinational corporation, more often than not that money does not stay in the country; it is sent offshore. But, if you give some money to families, they spend it all in their local communities, keeping small businesses alive, keeping their doors open. They do their groceries at the IGA down the road, they buy their gifts from the cute little gift shop in town, and maybe they take their kids out for a hot chocolate and a trip to the cinemas once a month. For families living pay to pay, the family tax benefit forms a vital part of their household budget, and I cannot sit back and let the government make cuts to that.
I want to tell you a little bit about my story. I want to tell you very quickly what happened to me when I was medically discharged from the armed forces in 2000. When I was medically discharged, I thought, ‘No worries—the Department of Veterans’ Affairs will help me get back on my feet and they will look after me.’ That did not happen to me. So for me to be able to survive as a single mum with two kids I had no other choice but to go to Centrelink.
I had worked. I had been serving at Rotary tables from the time I was 10. I was working at the speedway at 12 and I had my first job at Kmart when I was 14 years and nine months. I worked in nightclubs and I worked in a supermarket during that time. I took a gap year and went and worked in the real world. That is what I did. So you can imagine what it was like to me, how shameful it felt and how demeaning it was for me, to work my whole life to become a single mum living with two kids and to try to support them on a disability support pension.
During that period, times were tough. There were times when I had to say no to my son, who was great at football, great at athletics and great at basketball, and who had the vantage of being able to represent his state. I told him on two occasions, ‘I’m sorry, mate, but you can’t go because I can’t afford for you to go.’ At one stage there he was wearing football boots that were too small for him, from the winter beforehand, because I could not afford to get him some. He had to wait. There were times when I would sit in a corner and cry because I felt so ashamed. For two days, I did not know how I was going to put bread and milk on the table. There was a time when my fridge broke and for three weeks we lived out of an esky. I put the esky under the house, so the ice would last longer. That is what my life was like. There were three occasions where I could not afford my rego—for four weeks one time, six weeks another time and 10 weeks another time—and I drove around without a registered car. On two separate occasions, I drove around without a licence because I could not renew it.
In 2006, I was going bankrupt and I would have lost my family home. I struggled for another 12 months until I went into Nick Sherry’s office and begged him to help me to get my super released. Nick Sherry was very good to me—former Senator the Hon. Nick Sherry. He got that money for me within three weeks. But I paid dividends for that, because there are no clauses in there to cover when you are sick or injured or in dire straits. You will still get taxed because you are taking it out early. I lost a great deal of my super. But in the meantime, at least it saved my house. It gave us a little bit more breathing space. Had it not been for the honourable Senator Sherry, then I can assure you, Madam Deputy President Lines, I would have gone bankrupt. That is what my life was like for seven years.
I had to beg and borrow to fight a government bureaucracy in the court system until I won and paid that money back. But I can tell you that I was so far behind by the time that I won that case—and my money was backdated—that my bills had piled up. Seven years on a disability support pension; I sure as hell did not come out in front. This is what it is like. It is not a choice for many of us to be on welfare. It is shameful and it is embarrassing and it is bloody tough. But we do it not because we want to but because circumstances put us there.
For you take to more money off those people—you have no idea how bloody tough it is. Every little cent counts to those people. What you are doing is shameful. If you really realised the damage that you are continually doing to that part of society, you would stop doing it. I know you have not been through that so I am just asking you. But there are some of us in this place who have, and it was difficult in our lives and our kids paid the price for that, through no fault of our own. I just wish you would reconsider what you are doing. We are not living when we are like that; we are surviving. We are in a bloody war zone and we are surviving, and that is all we are doing—each day we are surviving. We are surviving to try and put bread on the table. We are surviving to try and make sure that our kids can get the basics in life. We are trying to make sure our kids are better, so our kids can go to decent schools if we want that choice. I was really lucky in some areas, and I thank St Brendan-Shaw College. When I got in very difficult situations, they allowed me not to pay school fees for three years for my children. But they let them stay there. I want you to know: that is what it is like to be at the bottom of the crap pile; for many of us, through no fault of our own.
Source Chamber Senate on 22/03/2017
Item BILLS – Social Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 – Second Reading
Speaker :Lambie, Sen Jacqui