Social Services (Strengthening Income support) Bill

House of Representatives 17/03/2021

Mr KHALIL (Wills) (10:55): This social services legislation amendment bill 2021 is named, in parenthesis, ‘strengthening income support’—’strengthening’ income support. Let’s think about what this government thinks this word ‘strengthening’ actually means. They’ve tied it to a miserly $3.57 per day increase. That’s what they mean by ‘strengthening’. So it’s gone from $40 a day with some silver coin, a bit of spare change, up to $44.34 a day for a person on JobSeeker looking for a job. That’s the ‘strengthening’. They might want to check their dictionary or their thesaurus when they are trying to name amendments to bills, because that is barely enough for anyone to survive on—$3.57 per day.

People have told me time and time again that on the current $40-odd a day they often skip meals and can’t afford fresh food. Let’s say you’re at Woolies. What can you get on your shopping trip with the extra change the government has so generously given you? Well, you can get 1½ florets of broccoli. You can get one punnet of fresh strawberries—actually, you probably couldn’t, because strawberries are pretty expensive. You can get four lemons—which is probably what this bill is: a lemon. You can get one punnet of cherry tomatoes. That will see you through the day. You can get a bag of salad mix. You don’t get all of these things; you get to pick one. You can’t have all of them.

Or maybe you just forget about the fresh food section, as I know so many people are forced to do, and go to another aisle. In the rest of the supermarket, what does your $3.57 extra get you? You could choose to blow the whole thing on two litres of milk—of Woolies brand milk, to be specific. Oh, sorry, hold on. That’s $3.59, so you’d actually be 2c over your budget if you tried to buy two litres of milk. You can scale it down to one litre for $2.39. With the $1.20 that you’ve got left after you’ve bought your milk, maybe you can get a can of tuna for $1.15, or a can of beans or a cup of two-minute noodles or a can of Heinz tomato soup—but you’d be very lucky to get that one, because that’s on special at the moment for $1.10; usually it’s a lot steeper than that.

In all seriousness, these are the choices, the actual choices, that 1.3 million people in our community who are on JobSeeker are making. They will be making that choice with their miserly $3.57 increase—the ‘strengthening’ increase this government has so generously proposed. These are the choices that people who have been on the old Newstart know all too well; they’re all too familiar with making those choices every day.

These are the choices that await the around 100,000 Australians, according to Treasury’s own estimates, who may lose their jobs when the government cuts out JobKeeper payments on 28 March and they are forced to turn to JobSeeker and the very generous increase being proposed. Locally, in my electorate of Wills, the government ending JobKeeper will affect 2,898 of the people that I represent who operate businesses. It will actually affect 11,996 workers in my electorate.

Those of us on this side, I and all of my colleagues in Labor, want a substantive increase to JobSeeker. We’ve been calling for this. I’ve been calling for this substantive increase for years—since I got elected to this place—an increase that means that people can live in dignity while they’re on their job search, not in poverty. Clearly, $3.57, even though you might label it ‘strengthening’ is nowhere near that. It goes nowhere near enough. It doesn’t go far enough. However, we will pass this bill. We’ll pass it now because we don’t want to delay even this miserly increase reaching people that actually need it, because it’s better than zero. We’re pragmatic, and we’re realistic. That’s why we’ll do the right thing. But we’ll be very clear that Labor, as a party of government, will do the work as an opposition ahead of the next election to come up with a plan for the right increase, a substantive increase, and support an investment in jobs for these 1.5 million Australians.

Others in this place will play their political games with the usual empty political stunts, like the Greens political party, who will no doubt put up amendments to the bill with increases that can never pass because only the government can pass money bills—we know that. But it won’t stop them and others, potentially, from moving such amendments, even though they have no chance of success in this place or in the Senate and will actually, potentially, delay even this minor increase—which you have so generously decided to bequeath upon these Australians! But, playing politics with people’s livelihoods is not good enough.

I refer to the government so generously bequeathing $3.57! In contrast, Labor and I are committed to a substantive increase if we win government. That’s why we won’t play political games right now. We’re the only political party that can form government and deliver the increase that will change lives for the better.

This is a complex issue. We don’t doubt that. Many people have been focused on the rate itself—rightly so, because it has been too low for too long. But it’s also much more than the dollar rate itself; it’s about getting the balance right throughout the whole framing of this, about making sure that people can live in dignity, not in poverty, and making sure that there are jobs out there for people to actually apply for, because, right now—there’s what?—one job for every 13 or 14 unemployed Australians. Some of the minor parties will tell you the rate should be $80 a day, but it’s not as simple as that. That would mean that people, mostly women, would have the perverse incentive or disincentive to leave their part-time work, because mostly women have part-time and casual work, in favour of JobSeeker. So, some of these other plans, these political stunts that we might see in the coming days, would actually incentivise women to leave the workforce. So, it is also about the type of work that’s out there for women in society and the issues around part-time work and the casualisation of the labour force.

Some of these minor parties won’t really care about this. They’ll talk about the rate as a dollar figure, but they won’t tell you about the consequences, because they don’t have to worry about the consequences—minor parties don’t form government. Nothing that they put forward will ever become a reality, because, after all, they’re not a party of government. But, unlike the minor parties, who have no regard for the consequences, or the government, which is actually ideologically bound to the consequences of its own bill, we actually will do the work necessary to take this issue seriously in all of its entirety to look at the rate, to look at the issues that people face in the workforce, to invest in job creation and to deal with the broader issues that are facing what is almost 1.5 million Australians today.

A future Labor government will actually look out for them in the best possible way. We won’t delay this bill, even though this $3.57 is miserly and pathetic. We’ll make sure that it gets to them. But we, as a responsible opposition, will also do the work necessary to look out for them in the economic recovery that this nation faces going forward.