Social Welfare Changes

October 1, 2014

Senator DAY (South Australia): I rise to support the second reading of this bill. In the last financial year the national social services budget was $140 billion, rising to almost $170 billion by 2017-18. This represents more than a third of the total budget. It is unsustainable. The measures in these two bills are, on our best estimate, worth approximately $12 billion in savings over four years—so roughly $3 billion per annum out of a $140 billion to $170 billion budget, which is a saving of about two per cent.

I know every little bit helps, but someone has to go in to bat for families by trying to save those measures that will help low-income families most. The crossbench was part of the solution on the mining tax debate, pushing for the de-coupling of the family support and low-income support measures, and we succeeded. There will, until the next election at least, if not at some time after that, be a Schoolkids Bonus for those who need it most, and a low-income support bonus—and they said it could not be done.

Well, here we are again with the crossbench endeavouring to play a constructive role in this debate. I make no apology if colleagues get sick of hearing me say this, but I have been clear from day one, and I will be saying it for the next six years: debates about social security, like this one, would end tomorrow if the government would stop making it illegal for young people to work on terms and conditions that suit them. Let me repeat that: debates about social security, like this one, would end tomorrow if the government would stop making it illegal for young people to work on terms and conditions that suit them. The only reason the government has to go down this tortuous path of cutting welfare measures is that they will not let young people do their own thing.

Young people working and earning income takes them out of the social security spending costs for government, and in fact sees them paying income tax, accruing payroll tax in the states, and spending the money in the economy to generate GST receipts for states. Every day I hear captains of industry and commentators and others saying that Australia needs labour market reform. I agree. But where I differ is that I want to see job-seeker-driven labour market reform. I could not care less about what industry wants. I want what is best for job seekers. Why not let them pursue work opportunities on terms and conditions that suit them, rather than suit the government. Young people are beating a path to my door encouraging me to keep up the fight. Some of the nation’s best and brightest young minds want labour market reform, where they can take steps towards building up their skills, start a successful career, get a house, start a family, travel and so on.

Now, there have been various reports that I am trying to find a compromise pathway on this bill. That is definitely true. The alternatives for budget repair—increases to taxes, charges, levies and the like—are just too ugly to contemplate. I support the second reading and the bill, subject to the compromises I have been advocating.