One of the most hypocritical things I find about the new government is their use of the word ‘review’. Reviews are something they abhorred when they were in opposition. They railed against them and described them as a waste of time and money. But what a hypocrite the Abbott government have turned out to be. Now they love reviews! They have found it is a great way to pay their mates large sums of money to get the answers that they want. When they want to cut something they order a review into it. They pay their mates a bunch of money and, miraculously, the report comes back saying that they should cut whatever it was the review was about.
We have a major review of workplace awards to hack away the pay and conditions of hardworking Australians. We have the Commission of Audit, which will recommend wholesale cuts across the board. We have a review into the efficiency of the ABC and SBS to slash funding and make the government’s mates in News Corp happy. Would you believe that at least 50 reviews have been commissioned within this government’s first few months? But, worst of all, we now have a review into the welfare system.—not the whole welfare system of course, just the disability support pension, or DSP, which costs $15 billion a year, and Newstart, which takes $7.5 billion out of the welfare budget of $90 billion.
The ‘acting government’ would have you believe that welfare is growing out of control and that all the taxation dollars raised by this country go straight to Newstart recipients. This, of course, is not true. Of the 35 OECD countries, Australia in 2013 ranked a mere 30th on welfare spending. We spent around 8.57 per cent on all welfare payments—less than the United States. If you look back 10 years, Australia was ranked 24th out of the then 28 OECD countries. The number of people receiving welfare has dropped from 24.9 per cent of the population in 2002 to 22.1 per cent in 2012. This is slightly higher than the low of 21.6 per cent in 2008; however, it is not the dramatic growth that those opposite are claiming requires a review—and over 70 per cent of that small increase came from people claiming the age pension.
This six month review into welfare, headed by Patrick McClure, is estimated to cost $1.7 million. Mr McClure started this review, interestingly, on 17 December, weeks before the government even announced that there was going to be a review. Funnily enough, he did a similar report in 2000—and, although I had difficulty locating it on a government website, I did eventually find it. It is available at http://www.brianwilliamson.id.au, if anyone is interested in having a read. It will be interesting to see whether this new $1.7 million review is substantially different from Mr McClure’s previous report. I am sure that it will also report a need for compulsory mutual obligation and more stringent assessment for people on the disability support pension. If I were cynical, I would think of it as a review to justify all the cuts the Abbott government have always wanted to make to Newstart and the DSP but did not have the guts to tell the public before the election.
Those on the government benches do not like people on Newstart or the DSP. They think they are selfish. They think they are bludgers. This was so helpfully illustrated by Mr Ken O’Dowd, a Liberal National Party member in the other place, at a community forum recently. As reported by Fairfax, Mr O’Dowd said:
You won’t get anyone on dole coming to these sorts of meetings, because they don’t care about the community. They care about themselves and how they can screw the system.
That is a despicable attitude for those on the other side to have. To think that people on Newstart only ‘care about themselves and how they can screw the system’ is a disgusting attitude and is typical of this government.
I know that there are thousands of organisations that support our communities and that many people on Newstart and other government benefits volunteer millions of hours every week to these organisations. They do so because they are active in their communities and they care about their communities. To say that people on Newstart do not care about their community does a great disservice to many people. It vilifies a section of the community merely for being on a certain kind of payment. It vilifies a section of the community because they might have worked in a sector that has slowed down; or because they live in a regional area where there are limited opportunities; or because the Australian dollar is higher and their business could no longer compete; or because the Abbott government did not realise the importance of supporting car manufacturing at Holden and Toyota or canning facilities at SPC Ardmona.
Australians are a caring and generous people. It is in our national conscience to help a mate. So why is it that when conservative governments are elected they want to destroy these values? Why do they constantly attack those in our society who have had less opportunities and who have faced unlucky circumstances? Why do they seek to place the blame onto them? Is it because they are the least powerful and do not have the resources to kick back? Of course it is. Mr O’Dowd is also reported to have said that he hoped Mr Andrews would drill right down into the hole and stop people scamming the system. Very few people try to scam the Australian welfare system, just as very few CEOs embezzle and defraud the companies that they work for. Mr O’Dowd continued his attacks with comments against those on the disability support pension. Once again, quoting Fairfax, Mr O’Dowd said:
With the disability and the NDIS, no-one wants to deny anyone with a disability any taxpayer money, but it’s a fact that there are a lot of people on disability that should not be on it.
I would like to point out that these are not only ignorant, intolerant and judgemental statements but also completely inaccurate—and I do not believe Mr O’Dowd has any medical training to comment on that sort of thing. Perhaps Mr O’Dowd needs to spend more time with his constituents and talk to people with disability and carers groups about how difficult it is to get on the disability support pension and to access appropriate care and support.
I am disappointed that those opposite have already named the NDIS launch sites as ‘trial sites’. I am concerned that soon they will launch a review into the NDIS. Those opposite are developing a pattern of vilifying those on Newstart and the disability support pension. Mr Andrews is proposing to hold more reviews of younger people on the DSP and he also wants new recipients to be assessed for how long they might need it if their disability is deemed temporary. The minister is also considering establishing a specialist panel of doctors to provide advice on how long someone is likely to need the DSP before they can return to work.
Those opposite are trying to make it seem like the number of people on the DSP is spiralling out of control—but, in reality, it is falling. According to figures published widely, in 2011 there were 832,000 people on the DSP, in 2012 that number fell to 827,512 and in 2013 it dropped to 824,082. That’s right, the number of DSP recipients is falling. So either Kevin Andrews—
The PRESIDENT: Order! You need to refer to people in the other place correctly.
Senator BILYK: So either Mr Andrews does not know what he is talking about or, as cover for a savage round of cuts, he is deliberately spreading falsehoods. I wonder which it is. We have to ask ourselves why those opposite would want to cut the welfare system. Handily, Mr O’Dowd gives us the answer to that as well. He is reported to have said—note this, Mr President—that Ms Gina Rinehart told him: ‘Ken, you blokes in Canberra have got to stop the welfare system. There is 60 per cent of Australians on some sort of welfare payment. They can’t be all that badly off’.’ So now we know the real reason for this review. Mr Abbott’s corporate overlords think that too many people are on welfare and the system should be stopped, and those opposite just lie down and comply. We know Gina wants to import labour from overseas. Now she wants to destroy the social safety net to drive down wages.
It is disappointing that the Abbott government deliberately targets those in our community who are most vulnerable through so-called reviews that only give the results the government wanted all along. The government needs to start governing for all Australians and stop targeting people on Newstart and the Disability Support Pension in order to pay for their wasteful, ridiculous policies like their Paid Parental Leave scheme for millionaires and their direct action policy.