I rise today to speak on the very important matter of the impact of the Abbott government’s proposed budget cuts on pensioners, families and young job seekers. If you want to find a definition of ‘unfair’, you need look no further than the Liberal Party’s 2014-15 federal budget. If you want to find a manual on how to penalise and target marginalised people in our society, you need look no further than the Liberal Party’s 2014-15 federal budget.
This MPI debate is a very important one because almost every Australian is affected or cares for somebody who is affected by these changes. These cruel cuts to pensions, family payments and young job seekers do not hurt faceless, fairytale bludgers out in tabloid TV land; these changes hurt Australian grandparents, sons, mothers, nieces, nephews. For those listening at home, these changes could hurt your aunt, your sister or your pop. These cuts do not hurt abstract figures on a spreadsheet; it is your family and your friends who are being hurt by these cruel cuts It is people you care for who will be affected.
These cuts cannot and should not be looked at in the cold, calculating way that this Liberal government has been looking at them. Real people will be hurt. The Liberal and National senators opposite should have the fortitude to look those people in the eye and explain why they think that those who are the least well off in Australian society should pay more than those with a high capacity to pay, because, before the election, the Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, said there would be no cuts to pensions. He said that there would be no changes to pensions and yet he has already passed the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 1) Bill and the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 2) Bill in the House, and we will be debating them here in this place very soon—although, if this afternoon is anything to go by, it might be a few days off.
Two point three million aged pensioners will have less money in their pockets as a result of the Prime Minister’s lie. Australian pensioners feel absolutely betrayed by this government, and so they should. This government was happy to promise no changes to pensions but then turn around and attack them immediately. Mr Abbott and his government, as I said, should be very, very ashamed. Because of their cruel budget, pensioners will need to decide between heating their homes and eating. They will put off visiting the doctor or buying their medicines because health care will become unaffordable. Australian pensioners will experience pain and suffering because of the cuts and the taxes of this government. This is absolutely despicable, especially in a nation as prosperous as Australia. To think that this government wants to rip away support for people who have worked their entire lives to build this nation I find quite disgusting. I believe Australian pensioners deserve better, as do our young job seekers.
There are many harsh measures in this budget but perhaps none as harsh as the cuts to young job seekers. The government is willing to throw an entire generation on the trash heap. This measure will see young people left without any income support at all for a period of six months, and possibly longer, when they become unemployed. What are they supposed to live on? How are they meant to pay their rent? When the number of job seekers outnumbers the jobs by five to one, what is this measure supposed to achieve? How exactly will it help? Who will it help? It will not help at all.
The government want to shift the blame onto young job seekers for not being in work rather than do the hard yards to ensure that young job seekers find work. They know that they are tens of thousands of jobs behind in their promise to create one million jobs, and they want to blame unemployment on the unemployed. The Liberal-National government are saying to young people who lose their job, ‘Sorry, mate, you’re on your own.’ If, after six months without income support, the young person has not found a job, the Abbott government will require them to take part in the Work for the Dole scheme. If, after six months in Work for the Dole, they still do not have a job, they will lose their payments for a further six months. This measure confines young people to an endless cycle of periods without income support. In my book, that is unfair. It is cruel and it is counterproductive. This measure will see many young job seekers pushed into poverty, crisis and homelessness. Unfortunately, it could have even worse effects for those with no income and no support base.
This budget includes extra money for the emergency assistance that the government believe will be required as a result of this measure. They know this budget is so cruel that they will need extra emergency assistance for around 500,000 young Australians, yet they still made these cuts. They knew how cruel it is going to be, but they still went ahead and did it. The government are making decisions which they know will push people into poverty. It is deliberate; it is callous; it is unwarranted. Those opposite should all be ashamed. Nowhere in the cruelty of the government have I seen anything more on display than in the harsh measures that they are going to impose on young job seekers.
Unfortunately, though, Australian families are also under attack by the Abbott government through the cuts to family payments. The social services and other legislation amendment bills, which we will be debating soon, include $7.5 billion in cuts to family payments. Once again, who is going to suffer? Low-income couples with children and single parents will be those who suffer the most. These bills seek to freeze the rates and thresholds for family tax benefits, including the low-income free area of $48,837 for those who receive the maximum rate of FTB-A. According to the Department of Social Services, a freeze to the low-income free area for FTB-A alone will see more than 370,000 families around $750 a year worse off in 2016-17.
This comes at the same time that the Prime Minister, with the Palmer United Party’s help, has abolished from December 2016 the schoolkids bonus, with eligible families losing $410 per year for primary school aged children and $820 a year per secondary school aged child. Low-income parents will have to make hard decisions about what excursions they can afford to send the kids on and whether the kids can last another term without a new uniform.
There are no two ways about it—this budget is cruel to families. As a result of this budget, a single-income couple family on $65,000 with two school aged children will be around $6,000 worse off each year by 2016. That is around 10 per cent of their entire family budget. This is an utterly extraordinary attack on Australia families. They were promised by Mr Abbott and his cronies that they would be better off under his government. Can you really tell Australian families that they are better off when you have ripped $6,000 straight out of their pockets? These cuts are so terrible that you think they have to be a joke, but, unfortunately, they are not.
I would like to take a moment to remind the crossbenchers that, if they vote for the social services and other legislation amendment bills, they will be voting to cut pensions for millions of senior Australians, to lift the retirement age, to cut family tax benefits and to leave unemployed young people without any income for six months, along with a host of other changes that will attack the most disadvantaged of their constituents. If they vote for the social services and other legislation amendment bills, they will be absolutely complicit with this attack on Australian families, pensioners and youth. They will have to explain to the families, pensioners and youth why they voted with the government to support ripping away money from those who need it the absolute most.
The Prime Minister has talked a lot about ‘Team Australia’ lately. He wants everyone to be on his team. If so, maybe he needs to start treating all players with respect. He needs to not attack the most vulnerable. He needs to start paying attention to their views rather than riding roughshod over them. Mr Abbott’s Team Australia is not going to be built on attacking families, attacking pensioners, and attacking young job seekers. This government need to take their cruel changes off the table and think about their purpose of governing for all Australians. This government are completely out of touch. Their priority is to help their mates in the mining sector and help big polluters at the expense of everyone else. Australians are angry at this government’s callous cuts to families, young job seekers and pensioners—and they have every right to be so.