Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

BILLS: Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 6) Bill 2014

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (12:32): This morning, in the House, the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 6) Bill 2014 was passed very quickly. That is no surprise in terms of the way the House operates with the current numbers; but, nonetheless, when our shadow minister Jenny Macklin got up to speak on the bill, she made it very clear that it could have been brought in this form up to four months ago. Directly after the budget was delivered, our leader pointed out the elements in the budget to which we were completely opposed, and they were the reductions, the cuts, to pensions. Of course, the government continues to say that they are not cuts, but everybody knows-from the seniors groups, the different community organisations and, indeed, individual pensioners themselves-that changes in the indexation to pensions constitutes a cut. So Labor said that we would not support any cuts to our pensions.

We also said at that time that we rejected the range of attacks on people who are unemployed that were in the budget papers and that were in the original social security bills. We said that we did not believe in the attacks on people defined as 'young'-and the definition of 'young' seems to vary across various elements of legislation. However, in this legislation, 'young' is defined as people who are under 30. We said that the attacks on these young people, using the government's definition, seemingly in an attempt to encourage them into work, would require unemployed people to live without any support at all from the social welfare system for a series of rolling six-month periods. We questioned that. We clearly identified that we would not support those elements proposed by the government.

We also went on to talk about a range of other issues. Only earlier this week I seemed to have been making a very similar contribution in this place. A range of issues in these two pieces of legislation were put before us earlier this week, and Labor opposed them-and we listed them. We also said at the very start that we were prepared to look at individual proposals on budget savings put forward by the government. Despite the rhetoric from the other side, we were not unilaterally saying that there was no need to look at the budget proposals being put forward. Despite the rhetoric from the other side, we on this side of the chamber said that we would consider the proposed budget savings that were brought forward. We would give them consideration to see whether they were effective, whether we felt they were fair and whether, within our overall budget process, our overall social welfare process, we believed that those changes would benefit our society. There was no doubt about the issues which we supported and the issues which we did not support. That was four months ago. In that time there have been innumerable meetings, to say a nothing of an extensive Community Affairs Legislation Committee process, where, again, there was no doubt about the proposals in the legislation which we supported and those with which we disagreed. Anyone looking at the report put forward by that community affairs committee would surely see the outrage, the concern, the fear and the worry that was expressed by a range of community organisations about the proposals in those two social security bills. Those two bills were live before this Senate until this morning. There was no doubt about those concerns, and we responded to those concerns.

Some of the proposals that are before us to which we have agreed from the start are not easy

They are not easy things to make a decision about but we looked at them and felt that, within the context of what we would do into the future and the need to be careful about budgetary expenditure, we were prepared to consider those aspects and agree to them. At any time in the last four months there could have been a response from government to say that these things could be presented in another form. We actually asked for the bills to be split. There was no response from the government.

It is deeply offensive that we heard only yesterday through the media that some kind of deal has been established between the government and the Labor Party about what legislation would go forward. People have been ringing and asking us why we were making deals. It is absolutely essential that it is put on record in this place and for the community that there has not been any deal. In fact, there have been months of consideration and no movement from us about what we consider to be appropriate. There have been attempts by the government to portray a four-month old response that we were prepared to make an agreement as some kind of magical deal being arranged and imply that, somehow, the Labor Party had been involved in such a process. That is not on. It is not accurate. It takes away from the reality of what happens in this place. Proposals are put forward for consideration and there are a range of negotiations. Indeed in this case, the full process took place.

Two bills were brought forward after the budget very early. The bills were not late after that budget process. They came out very early in terms of the government's wide range of proposed savings within social welfare. At the same time, the government is talking about a major review of our whole welfare process, the McClure review, which is happening now. The government says that this is the range of changes they wanted to bring forward. They identified and costed them. Throughout the estimates process, we asked significant questions about where the costings came from, how the numbers were established, what the proposed impact on the community would be and whether any modelling had been done. When you ask people in the current government's departments about modelling, it is almost like you are using some kind of offensive language. We wanted to see what the actual impact on people in the community from these two pieces of legislation would be. It was very difficult to get those answers. In fact, we still do not have some answers to our questions from the Senate estimates process and also from the Senate community affairs process. That is the difficulty in looking completely at any piece of legislation. Nonetheless, we went through that process. We established clearly which proposals in the legislation we would support. We also established extremely clearly the ones for which there was no support, such as attacks on pensioners, attacks on unemployed people and also attacks on single parents. These are all groups of people who have been impacted by so many changes from the legislation. We listened to concerns that not only a single change proposed by the government but the series of changes imposed by the government would have a cumulative effect which would have a deeply troubling impact on different people in our community. We said, without any doubt, that we were opposed to these changes. So the process continued. The Senate legislation committee reported to this place. Again, there was no doubt. The opposition senators' minority report pointed out clearly the elements of the two previous pieces of legislation to which we had objections and established what those objections were. The minority report even at that time suggested that it would be a preferable option to split the bills if the government was determined to move forward on the savings that they hoped to achieve by making changes to the social welfare system. It would seem to be eminently sensible to come up with a proposal and, when it had agreement, bring it forward. We are pleased that, finally, that seems to have been happening.

We found out this morning that there was going to be a new bill before the parliament which would look at what we already had on record. There were 12 separate proposals in the original legislation to which Labor did not have any opposition. Magically, a new bill is before the parliament today which lists those 12 proposals. You will not be surprised, Mr Acting Deputy President Bernardi, that we will be supporting that, as we said we would do four months ago, as we said we would do three months ago, as we said we would do two months ago and as I said in this place talking on the previous legislation earlier this week. I said these are the things to which we would offer support. I put clearly on record that there is no deal. There is movement from the government, which finally accepts that achieving over $2.5 million of savings-which was assessed clearly by the opposition as those savings which we would not oppose-is a better result for any government claiming that there is such a need to harvest savings. That is a better result than continuing ineffective and increasingly acrimonious debate about issues where the positions have been made absolutely clear.

It is important that we have the opportunity to have discussions around the issues that have been in the public agenda for months. As I said earlier, some of the proposals continue to create great uncertainty, fear and anxiety amongst many people in the community. I would trust that members of the government have been receiving the same emails and letters that many people on this side of the chamber have been which have been crying out to say that people are fearful and utterly at a loss as to how their government could have such little understanding of the reality of their lives that it could be putting forward- (Time expired)

Debate interrupted.