Peter Khalil: A government has a responsibility and a duty of care to the most vulnerable in a society. It’s a sign of a civilised country. In government we should have a heart; we should have a soul. Governments should have enough heart that they don’t just callously throw people on the rubbish heap because they are not strong enough or rich enough. Wealth is not a sign of worth.
You will hear those opposite say individuals should pull themselves up by their bootstraps. But what if they don’t have boots? What is a sign of true strength? Is it that we as a society, as a government, as a parliament should look after people less fortunate than ourselves, the disadvantaged and vulnerable in society, no matter where they come from or their age, ethnicity, gender, voting preference or ideological stance? A good government doesn’t govern for just a select few; it doesn’t just rule. A good government governs for every Australian. Yet we have seen, time and time again, this government making decisions based on ideology. In all of their decisions, prior to and during the pandemic, they have managed to leave out of the packages they have put forward the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society. And those who have become more vulnerable because of the pandemic have also been left out. These people, through no fault of their own, are socially and economically disadvantaged.
Instead of offering a helping hand to those who have fallen through the cracks created by COVID-19—and those cracks are now so big they are chasms—this government has wilfully ignored these people. Instead of providing adequate support for the unemployed, they sought to cut payments at every turn. Instead of owning up to their mistakes when mistakes have been made, they’ve washed their hands of responsibility and looked away. They have looked the other way when it comes to the needs of millions of Australians who work in aged care, casual workers, those looking for work who are older than 35, the thousands of Aussies stranded overseas, the 4.4 million Australians who live with a disability and their carers, and temporary migrants.
The NDIS, a vital service that Labor created, has been gutted by this Liberal government over the past seven years; it’s no longer fit for purpose. And the NDIS commission that was set up to investigate its compliance and investigative capacity has stopped short on many occasions, issuing only two infringement notices in the last two years. This is despite receiving 8,000 complaints. On many of them, no further action has been taken. This year it was revealed that 1,200 Australians with disability had died over the past three years while waiting to be funded by the scheme. The minister responsible denied these cold hard facts; he looked the other way.
When it comes to JobSeeker, again and again we’ve called for this government to support people who are doing it tough. We’ve called on this government to maintain the JobSeeker coronavirus supplement of $250 per fortnight. We’ve called on the government to permanently raise the rate of JobSeeker/Newstart. There will be 1.8 million Australians relying on unemployment benefits this Christmas season—one million more than last year—and 11,000 of those people are in my electorate of Wills. That’s why we voted to support the increase in the rate. No-one is surprised that the government refused—blocked that amendment. Today the government announced they are cutting the supplement in December. Cutting, cutting, cutting—they are cutting another $100 a fortnight. The impacts of the virus are far from over. People looking for work don’t need cuts. People struggling to support their families on JobSeeker don’t need cuts.
Let me talk about pre the pandemic and the obscenity of those opposite, squeezing money out of the most vulnerable in society with their travesty of a robodebt policy. That was obscene. They made a choice to go after the most disadvantaged people in society to pad up their so-called surplus at the time. Thousands of Australians who are suffering, who are disadvantaged and who are vulnerable were given false debts by those opposite, by their robodebt scheme—the travesty that it was.
Australians need a government that will support them during the tough times. Labor has a plan to get people back to work and to create jobs in manufacturing, in renewable energy, in affordable child care, in restoring public housing. We have a vision for a fairer Australia.