Newstart

20 March, 2013

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:42): I move:

That this council notes that—

1. The recent federal amendments to the Social Security Act will further impoverish already struggling single parent families when their youngest child turns eight by moving from the parenting payment and on to News tart over 100,000 single parents who were previo usly protected from the Howard government's Welfare to Work reforms;

2. Support for this move was at odds with both the Senate committee and the Joint Parliamentary Human Rights Committee which stated that it could 'deprive' single parent families and their children 'of minimum essential levels of social security'; and

3. This attack on single parents has drawn concern from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights.

I rise today to talk about an issue which in some ways is a national and federal parliament issue, but it has caught the attention of the United Nations and it certainly will become a state issue as we see the impacts of the federal government amendments to the Social Security Act with regard to those single parents whose children turn eight.

As of this year, when the youngest child of a cohort of single parents in Australia turns eight, over 100,000 of that group will be moved off the parenting payment and on to Newstart. Obviously already many have, for those who have children over eight, and increasingly, as their children grow older, that group, which was originally grandfathered and protected under the Howard government's regressive Welfare to Work reforms, will also be moved to Newstart.

What is the problem with that, one might wonder? Newstart means that those children and those single parent families will be condemned to live in poverty. The move was actually at odds with both the Senate committee and the Joint Parliamentary Human Rights Committee which stated that should such a measure be undertaken by the Gillard federal government it would deprive single parent families and their children of 'minimum essential levels of social security'.

Newstart is in fact 77 per cent of the poverty line. In fact, Newstart is no start for any child. It is touted that this is an effort to move these single parents into work. The reality is that approximately 68 per cent of those single parents are already in some form of paid employment. They are the ones who are the most financially disadvantaged by these so-called reforms. They are the ones who will be most penalised. There will be no pensioner education supplement under Newstart for those who wish to engage in future or further study. I have spoken to parents in this state who have now dropped out of their studies as of this year and have given up on pursuing educational training as an option for better employment.

I have heard from parents who have been advised by Centrelink that in order to raise their income to levels at which they can continue to pay their bills, pay the rent, feed their children, that they should leave their children at bus stops after school because they cannot afford the after school hours care. These parents are expected, somehow, to find work—mythical work—that would be incredibly flexible around the needs of a single parent, a single parent who has a child or children to care for as well as undertake all the other activities, whether that be education or training.

I observe that it has drawn the attention of the United Nations and, in fact, the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights has asked the Gillard government to justify this measure. The only justification I have seen from the Prime Minister so far is that it already applies to a different cohort of parents who are affected adversely under the welfare to work payments. Well two wrongs don't make a right.

I remember the days when the then prime minister actually promised that no child would live in poverty in this country. Now that was a vision to be proud of. Of course, it is well known and much celebrated, I think, that he actually strayed from the script that day and he had, of course, meant to promise that no child need live in poverty. The Gillard government is ensuring that children will live in poverty and that their parents may have little choice about the matter. Should they be unable to get employment which ensures they can afford quality care for their children, they will be forced to make difficult decisions. I have been speaking to many of these parents and I would advise members to check out the single parents action group websites. They are around the country in both rural and regional and metropolitan areas.

These single parents, with the load that they carry, are fighting back. They are wondering what they did on the day the Prime Minister made her now infamous around the world misogyny speech to cop these particular cuts. These cuts did not make worldwide media but they have now drawn the attention of the United Nations. These cuts, I believe, are misogyny in policy and practice of the federal government. These cuts significantly attack women and the most vulnerable women in our country and, of course, they plunge children into poverty. The repercussions for non-government organisations and our state institutions will be felt over coming months and years should these cuts not be reversed.

Over the Christmas/New Year break Greens' member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, was our acting leader for the party and he challenged the minister responsible for these cuts, Jenny Macklin to live a week on Newstart.

The Hon. R.L. Brokenshire: And she said she could.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: And she said she could, as the Hon. Robert Brokenshire rightly observes. She did say she could, except then apparently, according to the transcript the minister put out to the media later that day, that question and answer were inaudible. I would say the answer to that question was untenable and impossible because it is impossible to raise a child and to live on what equates to—when you pay all of your bills and you meet all of your commitments—$35 a day. I would not do that to my child as a single mother; I would never take that challenge. However, to their credit, both Adam Bandt, the member for Melbourne and, previously, the Greens' senator, Rachel Siewert, have taken that challenge and discovered what I think anyone in this chamber would, that is, it is almost impossible to live on $35 a day, even as a single person let alone when you have kids to support.

One thing goes wrong—somebody's glasses break, somebody has a car accident, your child, as happened in that week to mine, gets head lice and you have to go out and buy some Quit Nits, which costs quite a pretty penny—and that $35 a day is looking completely untenable. This measure is putting those parents under enormous stress, many of whom believe that it will put other parents in a position where they may stay in situations of domestic violence to escape and avoid this poverty. They believe it has also heightened anger and hatred towards single parents in our community.

On this I want to mention a particular single mother who went on Today Tonight to put the case of single parents under these cuts, pushing them off parenting payments and onto Newstart. That particular program chose to focus not on the poverty and the struggle she was facing but on the fact that she had had her nails done that day and used that to vilify and, I believe, demonise single parents. The back story to that was that she rarely gets her nails done, and her sister did the nails for free because she is a nail technician and because she was going on television and therefore wanted to look her best. That is just one example of the many stories I have heard from single parents around this country about the backlash they are facing.

I urge members of the opposition and the government to look at the Facebook pages and the hatred that is being spewed forth at these single parents who are trying to stand up for themselves and their kids not to live in poverty. Enabling that vilification to be given credence is the fact that it is getting support in our federal parliament. But, I commend them and I have been inspired by many of the single parents I have been working with, and I look forward to the national day of action on 13 April. They will not let this issue rest; they know it is too important for their children not to live in poverty. They know this is not the Australia where the former prime minister promised that no child shall live in poverty.

They know that it is not only the Prime Minister slipping up on the wording of the script but it is that she is reading from the entirely wrong document on this. They know that this move is wrong, as do the Greens, and the United Nations have called into question what is going on in this country where children are being forced to live in poverty.

On a more positive note, they have creative ways of bringing attention to their cause, and I wish to commend them for the resilience they are showing and the inspiration they provide. They have created a campaign called 'the government do not care bears', and they have basically taken stuffed toys, soft toys, that have been donated through many of the charities that are now having to find extra food parcels, and so on, to help support these families. If you see them, they are often taped to the window of the Prime Minister's office, but increasingly around the country they are being positioned in prime spots near local MPs' offices, and they have a little slip of information. Each bear is different: I have seen Scooby Doos and various Disney characters and also traditional teddy bears, but they are fighting back with their 'government do not care bears' and they are putting them out there and spreading the word.

On that, I had a Twitter altercation with a Labor supporter on this issue. He took me to task because he was a little annoyed that I was advocating for the rights of single parents, and he did not really seem to think that that was necessarily appropriate. He thought that perhaps, as many people seem to think, they should get out there and get a job. Then he had a little look into the issue and we actually had a meeting and a discussion about it, and the more he looked into the issue, the more he realised that these were not Labor values that were being implemented here.

As I say, on the very day that the Prime Minister delivered her now infamous misogyny speech, she stripped the rights of these single parents to live a life with dignity, to live a life above the poverty line. I hope there are more Labor members like him in the party's rank and file who are willing to have a look at these issues, who are willing to look at the real statistics, who are willing to actually acknowledge that many of these parents are in fact working and that it is the ones who are working who will be most punished by the new regime and who are willing to reverse this decision.

I think if members opposite have any faith and commitment to the promise made by Bob Hawke back when he was prime minister, which I believe was an inspirational promise, they will go back to basics and they will go back to their grassroots and they will revisit this decision. With that, I commend the motion to the chamber.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. Carmel Zollo.

May 1, 2013

(Continued from 20 March 2013.)

Hidden_Speech The Hon. G.A. KANDELAARS (17:28): I rise to give the government's position on this motion, which is to oppose the Hon. Tammy Franks' motion. In moving this motion, the Hon. Tammy Franks would have been well aware that the recent amendments to the Social Security Act are a federal matter and that the state government is not in a position to influence this process. As I understand it, the federal government continues to provide additional support for families whilst ensuring unemployment remains low. The federal government has introduced initiatives such as dad and partner pay as well as parental leave for the first time across the nation.

Furthermore, on 20 March 2013, the Hon. Bill Shorten announced that more than one million Australian income support recipients, including those on Newstart and single parent payments, will receive an income support bonus as part of the Gillard government's $1.1 billion battler bonus that comes into effect. The bonus will help households to cope with unexpected costs like urgent repairs on the family car or essential appliances, medical expenses or bills that are higher than expected. The income support bonus will provide more than one million Australians with an extra $210 each year for eligible single and $350 for eligible couples.

The state government also recognises that people who rely on income support often find it hard to manage unexpected costs and we understand that many South Australians on income support are feeling the pinch of rising cost of living pressures. I am pleased to advise the chamber of what this government is doing to help more vulnerable members of our community. For example, this government has increased the rate and the number of concessions for several major charges to help eligible South Australians meet those living costs. We currently provide a concession on council rates of up to $190 per year or up to $100 per year if you are on a Seniors Card.

When this government was elected, energy concessions were $70 and had not been increased since the last Labor government. Yet, this government has consistently increased energy concessions and on 1 July last year we increased them to $165. In recent years the government has significantly increased other concessions for water, sewerage charges and the emergency services levy. It is estimated that the government will provide funding of over $220 million in 2012‑13 for concessions for eligible pensioners and low income householders to ease cost pressures.

On 1 July 2012 the following concessions were further increased: a $30 increase in the maximum and minimum levels of the water concession for owner occupiers and an $18 increase in the minimum and maximum concession for tenants, and a further 5 per cent increase in the sewerage and emergency services levy fixed property concessions. The total annual value of water, energy, sewerage and emergency services levy concessions will have increased by up to $291 or about 50 per cent over the period from 2001-02 to 2012-13. We also provided a one-off rebate for all SA Water residential customers of either $45 or $75 in the 2012-13 budget at an estimated cost of $45.7 million.

South Australia remains one of the most affordable places to live in Australia. Recent research by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling has shown that Adelaide is the most affordable major city in which to live in this country. Many of the greatest pressures on household budgets relate to matters outside the control of the government such as food prices and utility costs. Nevertheless, this government recognises that the cost of living pressures are putting strain on household budgets which is why this government has already committed to a raft of programs to support those in need.

We have increased a number of concessions, but we recognise that concessions alone are not the only answer. We have also established a raft of programs to support people, to reduce their utility usage and to be more efficient when consuming power and water. We have invested an extra $4.2 million over four years for utilities literacy support in an effort to reduce financial hardship caused by cost pressures for households on lower incomes.

We also recognise that for many South Australians housing is the single biggest cost they face each week and, while South Australia has the most affordable housing prices on the mainland, we appreciate that more can be done. That is why we have made an affordable place to live as one of our seven strategic priorities for our government. On that basis, the government opposes the Hon. Ms Franks' motion.

 

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (17:35): Having listened to the contribution made by the Hon. Mr Kandelaars, I can only comment: how the mighty have fallen in relation to the old Labor lefties who were there from years ago, pledging to support the impoverished and single parent families. The old Labor lefties, like the Hon. Mr Kandelaars, who for a variety of reasons sold out and joined the Labor right, are now standing up in the parliament and defending what, over the years, they would have trenchantly opposed should it have been introduced by a conservative federal government. I guess everyone has their price, and the Hon. Mr Kandelaars and the Hon. Mr Wortley and others have their seats on the red benches in the Legislative Council.

The Liberal Party's position has been consistent on this. The only aspect of the Hon. Mr Kandelaars' contribution we do acknowledge is that this is a federal issue, and increasingly we are seeing more and more federal issues and international issues: the Hon. Mr Kandelaars is asking us to comment on New Zealand parliament issues in another motion. But putting that aside, the member for Morphett (Dr McFetridge) has had carriage of this for the Liberal Party. Having consulted our federal Coalition, he took a position to the state parliamentary party room, and our position was to support our federal Coalition colleagues on this, and on that basis we will not be supporting the motion of the Hon. Tammy Franks.

The only aspects I would address, in terms of the notes provided to me by, firstly, the member for Morphett (Dr McFetridge) and indirectly by our federal Coalition spokespersons, is to make the comment that if this federal government were genuinely committed to assisting parents back to work it would be providing additional assistance in terms of assisting those parents in finding work and seeking jobs. At the same time as this federal government has been making these changes, it has been slashing $162 million from Job Services Australia assistance for job seekers, and they have also cut a further $44 million from outcome payments for Job Services Australia providers.

If the intention was to actually move people into jobs—and that is something the federal Coalition supports in terms of genuine long-term reform—as opposed to just budget savings measures, in making this change the government would be either maintaining job seeker assistance for people being affected by these changes or increasing assistance in finding jobs. So if you are going to make a change ostensibly to say, 'Okay, we want to move individuals off a particular benefit into a job and via a different benefit to get them into a job,' then at the same time, if that is your purpose, you should be at least maintaining job-seeker assistance, retraining packages or providing additional targeted training packages to assist that particular process.

Our federal Coalition position is to support the notion of getting more and more people off benefits and into employment. The Coalition's position—and it is supported by the state party—is that long-term generational unemployment and having to survive on benefits is not healthy for the individuals, the families and the long term. Clearly it is in their best interests if people can be moved out of benefits and into work.

Of course, that is affected by the health of the economy and I do not propose at the moment to talk about everything that is wrong with the federal and the state government's management of the economy and the fact that the jobs that should be there are not being provided at the moment—that is a debate for another time. Clearly you need other changes as well.

The final comment I would make of a personal nature is that, of course as individuals, I am sure most of us are sympathetic to the difficulties that individuals and families have in terms of surviving on benefits. The insensitive comments made by the federal Labor minister in relation to this issue which attracted much criticism is a further indication of a government and a party which has lost all touch with its former constituency.

It is no wonder that working-class Australians have lost faith in federal Labor and state Labor when you see such insensitive comments being made by a federal Labor minister, and I note no criticism of that from any member of the state Labor government here in South Australia. They are often out there tweeting or criticising comments made occasionally by federal Liberal spokespersons or state Liberal spokespersons, but not one tweet of criticism from anyone of the federal minister's insensitive comments in relation to the level of benefits and whether or not someone could live on those particular benefits on a particular day.

With that, I indicate the Liberal Party's position is to support the position the federal Coalition has adopted on this federal issue and we therefore will not be supporting the motion.

 

The Hon. R.L. BROKENSHIRE (17:42): I want to speak briefly to this motion because Family First has had a close look at it and I advise that we will be supporting the Hon. Tammy Franks.

I am surprised that a federal Labor government would have actually moved the way it has towards making it even more difficult for single parents. Whilst I know the federal Labor government and some others have argued that allegedly some single parents are just focused on having children and do not want to actually get into the workforce and so on and so forth, I think that it is fair to say that that would be a very small minority of people and that the absolute majority of single parents who are not in the workforce at the moment are not in the workforce because they are not in a position to be.

I want to put on the record an example. In particular, I use the example of a mother in this case, even though there are fathers who are subjected to domestic violence. The fact is that, sadly, it is generally women who are subjected to domestic violence. A mother may have tried her very best to keep the marriage together but, because of domestic violence, it is just impossible for her to do so, she then becomes a single parent with perhaps three or four children to raise. That is a fairly big ask. The fact is that, if that mother is then forced out into the workforce, those children will suffer more because, when they get home at night from school or day care or wherever they have been, the mother will, under the federal government's policy, have been expected to be in the workforce. We just do not think that is fair or reasonable in our society and with the strength of a country like Australia. It is not the fault of single parents that the federal government has made such a mess of the national budget.

That is how we see it. Obviously we want to encourage people into the workforce where appropriate, but we see this as being over the top. For those reasons we will be supporting the Hon. Tammy Franks, particularly at the moment, because anyone who has talked to people trying to get jobs will know it is probably one of the toughest job markets we have seen for a very long time. It probably will not get any easier in the near future; the problem will only be exacerbated and we will end up with a serious budget issue anyway, unless we get our economic policy and management right and start to grow job opportunities and the economy. This Labor government has clearly demonstrated, over seven years, that it fails.

 

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:46): I would like to thank those who made a contribution. On behalf of the government it was the Hon. Gerry Kandelaars, and I noted that his speech was, in fact, almost word for word the contribution that the Hon. Russell Wortley gave to a different motion in this place. They are singing from the same song sheet on this but they are certainly not singing from a Labor song sheet as far as I can tell.

I also thank the Hon. Rob Lucas for his position. I did not necessarily expect Liberal members to support this motion, having been, at the federal level, the architects of Welfare to Work when, of course, once true Labor (as I would refer to them) opposed those measures. I also thank the Hon. Robert Brokenshire for his comments and Family First for their support. I note that the Hon. Ann Bressington has indicated strong support but, due to the time restrictions we have at the moment, has decided not to speak on this occasion. However, she has been very vocal, and I thank her for that support.

Members who actually read this motion and realised which motion they were speaking to—and I particularly draw government members' attention to this—would have understood that these are statements of fact. They are simply noting facts. It may be a federal issue, it actually may now be an international issue; it will certainly become a state issue as these people are pushed further and further into poverty. The most vulnerable people in our society, single-parent families, have not only been put into poverty but plunged into poverty. While it is welcome that the government has some so-called raft of measures to try to help them along, I think they will need a cruise liner when the impact of these policies takes effect, not just a raft.

What I would say to the government is that it also needs to look at its federal colleagues, and the words of those federal colleagues over the past months. Have a look at those members who have had the courage of their convictions. Doug Cameron has spoken out vehemently against this policy, saying he did not join the Labor Party to put single-parent families into poverty, and I doubt many people would have joined the Labor Party for that reason. Certainly, I believe Labor has lost its way on this.

There has also been strong and consistent opposition from Stephen Jones, member for Dapto, Queensland Senator Claire Moore and, I believe most notably, the former human services minister, the man who was responsible for implementing part of this policy, the man who was responsible for the departmental stuff-up that told these single parents to cut up their concession cards at the beginning of this year—erroneously told them to cut up their concession cards. He has come out against this policy now that he is no longer part of the cabinet and has to toe the party line. He has been hugely critical and I commend him for that, because he is actually being true to Labor values.

At a South Australian level, I also note the words of Tony Zappia, the member for Makin, who has written back to single parents. He has actually said that he does not support this change and is doing everything he can to fight against it. Certainly, he turned up a few weeks ago to support the single parents when they rallied on the steps of Parliament House here and, of course, across the country.

I commend those Labor members for actually being true to Labor values. To plunge single-parent families into poverty is not a Labor value. It was not the Labor values of the Hawke government, and it should never be a policy put into practice by any Labor government in this country.

I also draw the attention of the Rann-Weatherill government members to other members of their party who have had the guts to stand up for single-parent families, particularly Yvette Berry MLA, who is the member for Ginninderra in the ACT. Yvette Berry has put out a press release on this issue in the past two weeks in which she called on her federal Labor colleagues to reconsider their decision to cut the single-parent payment which took effect in January this year. She said in her press release:

I know a lot of single mums and dads in my electorate, especially around West Belconnen, who are struggling to make ends meet and I think the cut is having an unnecessary impact on family’s budgets

The changes to the single parent payment mean that when a single parent’s child turns eight, they lose their entitlement to the payment. This amounts to a reductio n of approximately $100 a week.

While I understand that the Government needs to balance their spending, I do not believe that this should come at the expense of those who are doing it tough in our community.

I hope when the Budget comes around that my Federal colleagues can find a way to restore this payment.

This is a good Labor member standing up for what I believe is a traditional Labor constituency—a constituency who will leave you in droves if you leave them.

I have spoken to many single parents in the course of the last few months since these cuts have really started to make an impact. These cuts are having a massive impact in the community, and they will really start to kick in at a state government level when these people can no longer get by on the $35 they know they are left with to live on, which is, as federal minister Jenny Macklin has now conceded, pretty much impossible. It means that when one thing goes wrong, you are without the resources to have a life of dignity.

I draw members' attention to the story of Jasmine and her nan. Jasmine did not choose to be a single parent; she became single when, at three months' pregnant, she was being beaten by her partner. She knew that she had to get out of that situation because she would have miscarried had the beatings continued. She does not, therefore, get child support, and she does not want to apply to pursue the child support that she is owed.

She is looking at a very bleak future. Her youngest child is currently 18 months old, and her eldest is an eight-year-old child. He has ADHD and therefore she cannot get after-hours school care because that school does not accept children with behavioural disorders. Not every school, of course, has out-of-school-hours care. She actually has a rare form of cancer and needs spinal surgery and shoulder surgery. She has needed several operations, and when I last spoke to her, she was about to go into hospital for biopsy of a tumour and needed to be in hospital for three weeks.

Jasmine was relying on her nan. Her nan is over 70 years old and has had well over 20 operations on her back and knees. Jasmine's nan injured herself at work and did not qualify for WorkCover because it had not yet come in; there was no compensation for her 70-plus-year-old nan. Neither Jasmine nor her nan qualify for a disability pension. Jasmine cares for her nan and needs to shower her, and so on, yet her nan has to care for Jasmine's children while Jasmine is in hospital or receiving medical treatment. This is the situation you have put these people into.

Jasmine is just one story of many. I have seen children who fear turning eight because they know that their mums or dads will be so much poorer after that eighth birthday. These children are stressed, these people are stressed, and it is a Labor government who is putting them under this stress. It is no wonder that the United Nations is paying attention to this.

What is of absolute wonder is the fact that the Rann-Weatherill government cannot even bring itself to support a motion that simply notes the facts: the fact that these people are in poverty; the fact that the parliamentary committee that inquired into this was unanimous in its opposition to this move. It had Labor members, it had Liberal members, it had crossbench members and each and every single one of those people in that human rights parliamentary committee opposed this motion—the fact that the United Nations is concerned. If you cannot bring yourself to even support a motion that simply notes the facts, I fail to see how you are going to be able to do anything to support these people as they are plunged further and further into poverty as this policy really starts to kick in.

Today is May Day and it is a proud day for the labour movement. However, what I ask Labor members today is: whose side are you on because you are not on the side of single parents here today? You are singing from the wrong song sheet, you have lost the light on the hill and you need to take a good hard look at yourselves.

With that, I commend the motion to the chamber—and I will divide on it because I would like to see you all have your names listed as to where you vote on this particular motion. I think single parents across the country would like to see it, and I think Labor voters in general would like to see it.

The council divided on the motion:

AYES (6)

Bressington, A.

Brokenshire, R.L.

Darley, J.A.

Franks, T.A. (teller)

Parnell, M.

Vincent, K.L.

     

 

NOES (13)

Dawkins, J.S.L.

Gago, G.E.

Hunter, I.K. (teller)

Kandelaars, G.A.

Lee, J.S.

Lensink, J.M.A.

Lucas, R.I.

Maher, K.J.

Ridgway, D.W.

Stephens, T.J.

Wade, S.G.

Wortley, R.P.

Zollo, C.

 

 

     

Majority of 7 for the noes.

Motion thus negatived.

 

Stay Connected

Sign Up to news and updates from Tammy.