25 February 2020
In 1964, Donald Horne wrote:
Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second rate people who share its luck … most of its leaders so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise.
As we stand in this place tonight, over three million Australians are living in poverty; 774,000 of them are children. That's not a small or discrete portion of society that should be ignored, that is one in eight Australians. Families are feeling the effect of the rising cost of living right across the country, including in my electorate of Lilley. Local businesses are closing at an alarming rate in Nundah and Sandgate villages. Wages are stagnant. Too many people are struggling to find stable and secure work. Families are fighting to stretch their pay cheques to the end of the week while looking for the extra money needed to pay for child care, dentist appointments and school excursions.
People who are possibly the most at risk of slipping below the poverty line are those who rely on social services like Newstart to survive. Newstart was designed to give a hand up to Australians who are doing it tough and who are struggling to find a job. It's an emergency life jacket to help keep Australians afloat in hard times. Unfortunately, according to the Morrison government, keeping afloat appears to mean having your nose above the waterline while the rest of your body is submerged and sinking. A person on Newstart with no children has to survive on just under $40 a day. A single person with children or a person over the age of 60 looking for work has to make ends meet on just over $43 a day. The Morrison government has told Australians that $40 a day is sufficient to get by on, while demonising recipients as dole bludgers.
Instead of treating vulnerable Australians with compassion and with empathy, this government has introduced demeaning and contemptible legislation that further stigmatises and isolates people who are down on their luck. In the last year we have seen legislation that implements mandatory drug tests for welfare recipients and a cashless debit card system to control how welfare allowances are spent. The government's Minister for Families and Social Services said she won't raise the rate of Newstart because that money would go 'straight into the pockets of drug dealers'. Shame on you!
People who live on Newstart in the real world are far from the caricatures they're being slandered as by their own federal government. They are Australians in their 50s and their 60s who have been retrenched and who are struggling to return to the workforce because of age discrimination. They are single parents who have raised children and who are looking for a job now that their kids are going to school. They are carers who have been looking after a family member and who, due to a change of circumstances, need to find a different type of work. They are young people who can't find or can't enter the job market because of catastrophic youth unemployment—it's nearly 25 per cent in different parts of Queensland. They are people like Mrs D, one of my constituents in Lilley, who reached out to me to share her experience living on Newstart.
Mrs D is in her 40s. She was married and left the workforce to become a stay-at-home mum. She told me that she thought her life was set on a straight path. She never thought that she would end up on Newstart. She never thought she would be someone who would need that assistance. But that's when life happened. Mrs D found herself getting divorced, navigating the complicated Family Court system and looking for a part-time job to support her kids. She struggled to find the time to go to job interviews while balancing her schedules, her kids' schedules and fighting for custody in the court. She wasn't receiving child support from her ex-husband, so she had to start receiving Newstart. And like most Australians on Newstart, every single week she barely scraped by. Happily for Mrs D, she now works at one of our local schools. She is thankful that life on Newstart is behind her, but is wary that things could take another unexpected turn—something completely out of her control—and she may end up needing the Newstart allowance again.
This is something I heard time and time again as a workers compensation lawyer, where bad things happen to good people who are just trying to go about their work. They shouldn't be punished for that. The government should stop punishing them for that. That's why Mrs D contacted my office, so I would share her story and so that I could advocate on her behalf and on behalf of others just like her, on behalf of all Newstart recipients in Lilley who want us to raise the rate. Newstart should be a hand up, not a punishment that forces Australians into poverty. The Morrison government like to brag about their economic management and their prowess, but these Australians know, in their day-to-day life, that this government's policies are not working for them.
I came to parliament to make policies that help people like Mrs D. I refuse to close my eyes to what is happening in my community. The Morrison government need to get out of their bubble and stop assuming that if you work hard then you'll get a go. That is not what is happening. It's time they acknowledged that Newstart is a hand up, not a handout. It is time to raise the rate.