Speech - Social Services Legislation Amendment (Youth Employment and Other Measures) Bill 2015






MONDAY, 22 JUNE 2015



I too rise to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Youth Employment and Other Measures) Bill 2015, which has a particular draconian impact on unemployed young people. It is not, as the member for Cowan said, about making the young unemployed job ready. It is actually about punishing the young unemployed for being unemployed—in effect, blaming the victim. The measures in this bill continue the undeclared class and intergenerational warfare against young people and those on lower incomes that was at the core of last year's budget, and it is still central to this year's budget. It was central as well to the Commission of Audit report, which in effect recommended the original proposal, which was to knock people off unemployment benefits for a much longer period of time in the coalition's first budget.

In this budget there has been an attempt to cover over the stench of unfairness that characterised the 2014 budget. That is why this budget has not repeated the Ayn Rand rhetoric of 'lifters' and 'leaners' that so much characterised last year's budget. But it is there in intent. It is there in intent when it comes to the suspension for four weeks and when it comes to moving unemployed people onto the lower youth allowance.

The coalition have attempted to camouflage the stench of unfairness in this is year's budget by a lot of rhetoric, pomp and ceremony and stupidity about the instant asset write-off, which has come back as a boost to small business—that is, reconstructing a measure which the government abolished in the Commission of Audit and the midyear update after they were elected, and bringing it back and clothing it as somehow this fantastic employment measure. No doubt it will boost employment somewhat but it is not going to boost employment to the extent being claimed by others.

So far in the budget this year the Treasurer has not repeated the rhetoric of lifters and leaners but at the core of this budget is the coalition's absolute commitment to trickle-down economics, a doctrine that guides everything they do when it comes to the economy. In short, unfairness lies at the heart of their agenda and all of the pumped up rhetoric about Labor's repackaged instant asset write-off does not disguise the continuing unfairness in this year's budget.

What other measures are unfair? There are the sorts of measures described by the member for Cowan as being about job readiness. First, the Abbott government will attack young Australians by seeking to introduce a one-month waiting period for Newstart. Let us consider what that means. At the moment, youth unemployment is 13.5 per cent. It is a level not seen since 2001. That means there are about 280,000 young Australians unemployed at the moment. Think about that. That is about the population of Wollongong. So the government's legislation will leave some young job seekers with nothing to live on for a month. And just to rub salt into that wound, it also seeks to move some job seekers from Newstart onto youth allowance, which is effectively a cut of at least $48 a week. That is extraordinary. That is not about job readiness; that is about punishment. So they are stopping people from getting Newstart for a month, moving those onto youth allowance with a big hit to their weekly income. That is what this bill is all about.

The assumption over on that side of the House is, 'They'll be able to be supported by their families. Nothing's wrong. All should be okay. It's not too tough out there trying to live on $100 or $150 or on what they have left over after they meet the necessities of life.' The truth is that many families are not going to be able to support these people if, indeed, they are living with their families. And if they are living with their families, it does impose a very significant burden on households. It increases the pressure. At the heart of the measures in last year's budget and at the heart of the measures in this year's budget is the assumption that, if you cannot get a job, it is your fault. If you cannot walk into a job straight away then you are really not trying. They have this view even at a time when unemployment is at levels not seen in the last two decades.

So the Liberal Party are abandoning young Australians and casting them into a winner-takes-all bear pit where only the fittest survive. I can think of nothing more appropriate than the imagery of Ayn Rand and all of her writings, which I know members opposite are very familiar with. I know they are big fans, which is why it surfaces so frequently in their policy making. Policies like this one show that the government have not learnt a thing from last year's budget. They think that by reducing the Newstart withholding period from six months to one month is better. They simply do not get it.

The Labor Party will never support a measure which pushes more young people into poverty and at its core is fundamentally unfair and the Labor Party will never support a measure which will reduce social mobility and entrench unfairness like the coalition's $100,000 degrees policy. They simply do not get fairness because they have a policy agenda which favours those who are better off. The government simply do not do fairness very well. They simply do not understand the concept. They shy away from reforms that affect those who are better off but get stuck into those who have very little. It is a stingy measure to withhold money and it simply reflects their priorities.

We can see all this when we look at the analysis of what has happened with this budget—the sort of analysis the government refuses to do and which once upon a time was standard fare in a budget but is now abolished from the budget papers because the analysis tells the inconvenient truth of the impact of these measures. ACOSS and NATSEM have shown just how harsh their first budget was on low- and middle-income families and again as is their second budget. ACOSS estimates that the 2015 budget will cut $15 billion over four years from basic services which support vulnerable groups. NATSEM modelling shows that nine out of 10 of the lowest income families lose out under the Abbott government's budget while nine out of 10 of the wealthiest families will benefit. And above all, NATSEM modelling shows that Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey have their sights firmly set on low- and middle-income families. Under this budget a family with a single income of $65,000 and two children will be $6,165 a year worse off by 2018-19, over $115 a week. A family with a dual income of $120,000 and two children will be $3,272 a year worse off by 2018-19, over $60 a week.

The Prime Minister has been quick to criticise this modelling because he says it does not take into account second-round effects. The budget never has taken into account second-round effects. Even if you leave that to one side, the fact that the budget is not crafted on second-round effects, thousands of people are going to be worse off. He is taking money out of the pockets of households and undermining confidence.

The Treasurer and the Prime Minister used to say that surpluses were in their DNA. They do not say that anymore and for obvious reasons. When a budget which is designed to be less unfair than last year's manages to produce these kinds of terrible effects, we know there is one thing that is truly in the DNA of the modern Liberal Party— an inability to practice fairness in anything they do. When the Abbott government proposed the six-month wait on Newstart last year, it was the single most vicious, unjustified and utterly punitive measure I have ever seen a government take anywhere in my time in public policy. And what was the rationale for the policy at the time? According to the former Minister for Social Services, New Zealand had a one-month waiting period which drove young people into the workforce

There is just one problem—New Zealand did not have a one-month mandatory waiting period and it never did. The former minister simply made it up. There is not a shred of policy research or advice to be found anywhere on the planet—not in New Zealand, not in Australia and not even with the wing nuts at the IPA—that gave any rationale for that policy. Nonetheless, they pushed ahead with a policy that denied upfront support to the most vulnerable labour market group at the very time they needed support to find work quickly—because that is just what Liberals do.

This really shows that the coalition do not understand jobs, they do not understand unemployment and they do not understand the macro economy. If they did, they would not have spent five years undermining confidence with their false debt and deficit emergency campaign, which they waged not only in opposition but also in government, ironically against themselves. A lot of that rhetoric has been ditched in this year's budget, along with the lifters and leaners rhetoric.

The fear campaign they ran about the budget and the economy smashed confidence to the point where, before this current budget, consumer confidence was down 13 per cent and business confidence was down a staggering 23 per cent. Only when confidence was reeling did the coalition seem to realise that, if you constantly talk the economy down and talk up a fictitious budget crisis, businesses are not going to hire extra workers, expand their business or invest in new equipment. Then hey presto, having decided that they should not be doing this and they should not have abolished the instant asset write-off, it makes reappearance as a new Liberal stimulus, with very little mention of where it actually came from. With confidence so low over the past year that is what has actually happened. They have been forced to change their rhetoric and to change some of their policies, but nowhere near enough.

Their forecasts have unemployment with a six in front of it across the forward estimates, and that is for the first time in many years. Right now there are 750,000 unemployed Australians. We are simply a small economic shock away from having one million unemployed in Australia. In what are, by and large, benign global economic conditions, this result is absolutely shameful—and the coalition do not have a plan to fix it. The budget papers show that they are not expecting unemployment to fall below six per cent until 2018-19. So the coalition has the mantra: 'Let's be brutal to young unemployed Australians and cut them off from support because that will motivate them to get back into the workforce,' despite the fact that we have got record high numbers of both unemployed young people and unemployed people overall in our economy.

The coalition's approach to this whole debate has been shameful. They have sought to perpetuate the outrageous fiction that somehow welfare is a career choice. You hear this from the Prime Minister almost daily in the parliament. Of course he is doing what Liberals have always done—concocting scenarios that malign certain sectors of society and turning people against one another. They know that if they repeat them often enough their cheer squad in sections of the media will promote their agenda without question. This is the divide and rule mentality writ large of the modern Liberal Party.

Young Australians do not want to be on welfare. They want to work. They want to contribute to their community and to society. The measures in this bill smack of the divisive politics that are the hallmark of this government, and Labor will not have a bar of it. We will offer young Australians a hand up when they are in need and we will never divide society into lifters and leaners, as that crew opposite do almost every day.

Over the past 30 years societies across the world have become increasingly divided as income and wealth inequality has grown, but Australia has bucked that trend so far. This is something that we on this side of the House are extremely proud of. In fact, we reduced poverty and shared wealth when we were in government in a far better way than any other government in the Western world. The Australian model is now recognised as the gold standard for achieving inclusive economic growth. An IMF report released last week confirms that Australia is one of the few countries that have resisted the trend of a shrinking middle class. This is largely because of initiatives put in place by progressive Labor governments over the last 30 years—a decent industrial relations system, a decent minimum wage, universal access to health and education, a progressive tax system, a decent and targeted transfer payments system and a decent retirement income system. They are the basis for inclusive growth. They are the basis for strong economic growth fairly shared. When it is fairly shared you grow much more strongly than otherwise. The trickle-down brigade over there are heading in the opposite direction.