On Monday 27 November 2023, I made a speech in Federal Parliament on the cost of living crisis and lack of safety net. You can watch the full speech here or read the transcript below.
Tonight, across Australia, there will be half-a-million households who won't be able to put enough food on their table. Over the past year, 1.2 million Australian kids have gone hungry. Right now, 3.3 million people are struggling to pay their bills, living below the poverty line in Australia. More and more Australians are just one big medical problem, a couple of missed shifts or another interest rate rise away from complete disaster, yet the big banks brag about record profits, Coles and Woolies have profiteered to the tune of billions, and coal and gas companies pay nothing in tax. There have been 13 consecutive interest rate hikes since I became an MP in this House in May 2022. Rents have spiked and spiked again.
I've chatted to so many locals in Ryan going through absolute hell to try to just get through each day in these tough times. Parents are having to make the completely cruel choice between sending their kids to Saturday soccer and the mortgage payment. People are skipping meals to pay the rent or are simply unable to pay for much needed medication or health care, because Medicare has been gutted too. And where's the safety net? Where's the support when times are tough?
What's this government's response? Raise JobSeeker to above the poverty line, raise the pension, built hundreds of thousands of public homes, crackdown on price gouging? No! It's a new committee! Labor's bill doesn't even include a national definition of poverty, effectively allowing the government to keep its head firmly buried in the sand about the scale of the problem.
The Australian Council of Social Services has also raised concerns around the lack of transparency and independence of the permanent committee. Can it be truly independent if, as this bill allows, the government has ultimate control over what the committee investigates and what the committee reports on? And now, get this, because frankly it's laughable: nowhere in the bill is there a requirement for the committee to have representation from everyday people, people with direct experience of poverty. It's an inclusionary committee without inclusion—but there is room for the chair of the Business Council of Australia! And, if the committee dares to say something that might actually address the problem? Again, I think my constituents back in Ryan are probably a little sceptical that it will actually be listened to, and with good reason.
Credit where it's due, ahead of the federal budget earlier this year the interim committee released a report which had some very good recommendations, and most important is this one:
The Government commit to a substantial increase in the base rates of JobSeeker Payment and related working age payments as a first priority.
It's sensible stuff, but what was Labor's response? To raise JobSeeker by $4 a day! Is that a substantial increase? For those who end up listening to this speech on YouTube, drop me a comment about whether you think this counts as a substantial increase. Four dollars—it's actually insulting to people who have fallen on hard times, absolutely insulting. It's a genuine kick in the guts from this government that many hoped when they were elected would actually do something. Four dollars—that's not even a coffee in many places now. That's not even a loaf of bread from Brumbies these days. It's so offensive. Labor's not going to raise the rate of JobSeeker so people have something to fall back on, so they can find their feet.
What about mutual obligations? Anyone who has dealt with Services Australia knows what a rort it is with the hoops people have to jump through just to stay in the system. It's an incredible grift for private service providers and genuine stress, anxiety and misery for people who just need a little bit of help.
Last financial year, almost two million payments were suspended. Over half were because people could not meet their mutual obligations. We've met so many people in Ryan who've been through this horrendous and punitive process. Often people are kicked off payments because of a technical error, and we hear time and time again, in the electorate office, just how frustrating it is taking the time off work to wait in hours-long queues to fix a mistake they didn't even make. It is a hostile system. It's a punitive system. As I said, it's absolutely designed to be frustrating and demeaning, and Labor apparently won't touch it.
Where's the Commonwealth Employment Service we used to have in this country? Where's the vision for finding appropriate work for people, not just punishing them? Take away the safety net of an income support payment, and workers are scared. Workers are scared of losing their jobs, they're scared of losing their houses, and it seems the Labor government is very happy for them to feel scared.
A few months back, property mogul Tim Gurner was, rightly, absolutely ridiculed for his comments on the economy. He said he wanted to see 'pain in the economy' and an increase in unemployment. Unemployment is at almost four per cent, and that's only the official figure. We know it could actually be much higher. There is so much pain already. Australians are struggling. At the time of those comments, most people were justifiably outraged, but Gurner was pretty much just stating what the entire corporate and political farce, the corporate and political gang, actually thinks.
The RBA governor, Michele Bullock, said in a recent speech that the Reserve Bank wants to soften labour market conditions. That's technocrat code for increasing unemployment—kicking people out of work so that they'll accept lower wages and harsher work conditions. This is Reserve Bank and Labor government policy while they refuse to intervene. They will happily ignore the price-gouging corporations and blame inflation on workers and wages. They'll hide behind their interest rate hikes and their failing committees, but, at the end of the day, they want workers scared of unemployment. Scared workers are compliant, and compliant workers are easy to exploit. Come on; is this the Australia we want?