Speeches Chris has made in the Australian Federal Parliament.

Bills - Social Services Legislation Amendment (Budget Repair) Bill 2015

February 04, 2016

Mr HAYES (Fowler—Chief Opposition Whip) (13:12): The previous speaker on this bill, the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Budget Repair) Bill 2015, said that matters of budgetary consideration in relation to social services are difficult. I accept that they are difficult, because they directly impact on people who are least able to protect themselves. It will not come as a surprise to you, Mr Deputy Speaker Vasta, that, like other colleagues on my side of the House, we oppose these measures. This bill introduces measures from the 2015 budget that change the proportionality of payments for pensioners who travel outside Australia. It reintroduces measures contained in the 2014 budget that the government has been unable to legislate. Those measures deal principally with the pensioner education supplement and the abolition of the education entry payment. Further, the bill deals with other measures of the 2014 budget, particularly in relation to indexation.


I would like to concentrate on only a couple of these measures. I am happy that the member for Hughes is in the room here, because he will understand—and we have adjoining electorates. My electorate, in particular, is the most multicultural electorate in the whole of Australia. It is something that those who visit there—and I have noticed that the member for Hughes frequents there—


Mr Craig Kelly interjecting


Mr HAYES: I understand he likes yum cha. That is why he goes there. He will understand when I say that the colour, the vibrancy and the diversity of my community is something to be very proud of. More than 60 per cent of the people in my community were born overseas. My community is also one of significant need. It is not a rich community. My community certainly has a significant proportion of residents who live with a disability. We have high unemployment and, regrettably, dreadfully high youth unemployment. These are things that we need to work, hopefully, in partnership with the government to do something about. My area is also one where the vast majority of refugees have come to this country. I will just take a couple of groups. Forty years ago was the fall of Saigon. We commemorated that last April. After the fall of Saigon, in 1975, the Fraser government opened the doors to the first wave of Vietnamese refugees to this country—some 50,000. I think we are all indebted to his foresight in doing that. Opening the doors to those 50,000 did not mean that that was it. Refugees flowed from Vietnam for years and years to come. As a matter of fact, some 200,000 have joined us and have made a marvellous contribution.


One of the things to note, when dealing with an immigrant and refugee based community, is not only the way that they adapt to their adopted country but also the way that they continue to support people at home. They take responsibility for the elderly. They take responsibility for those who could not escape. They take responsibility for them in a family capacity by looking after their welfare. In my office—and no doubt the member for Hughes experiences this as well—we are forever helping people bring relatives in for visitations and ensuring that people from Australia can visit overseas. Some of those visits overseas, whether they are for funeral arrangements, the welfare of families or are in relation to various matters of property settlements, take many weeks—a lot more than six weeks. I know that the government has a view that after six weeks the proportionality test for those who are travelling overseas will reduce the age pension. As it stands at the moment, after 26 weeks the pension is reduced. The government want to reduce that to six weeks. I do not know what the experience is of other members here, but I know for a fact that for people in my community who have left the workforce and who travel overseas to undertake family and community responsibilities, to look after the interests or the welfare of family members et cetera, their visitation is normally longer than six weeks. We are going to say to those people: we are going to cut your pension; we are going reduce it by up to $61 a fortnight. That is pretty significant. We are talking about age pensioners. We are not talking about superannuants; we are talking about age pensioners. They are not going to be able to come back and say, 'I will make up that money with an extra shift or some more overtime.' These are people who lack the ability to make that up.


Surely the government is not trying to tell people that if you are an immigrant to this country and an age pension, if you are a refugee to this country, if you have worked and participated to the full and contributed to the Australian community, not only by paying taxes, you are not entitled to go away for six weeks, regardless of how long you have been here. That is a pretty harsh position being adopted by this government.


I think when members participate in this debate they should not try to say, 'Well, this was in the 2015 budget, so therefore we're trying to deliver budget repair' and all the other things that flow off the tongue. I think they have to start thinking of the people in their electorates—the people who are dependent on an age pension. I know that my electorate is not unique. I know that the member for Gellibrand also has many Vietnamese in his electorate. We need to think of the composition of our electorates and about the contribution that people have made. The fact is that we are now going to say to these people: unless you have been here for 35 years we are going to reduce your ability to travel, and we are going to ensure that by having a disincentive. If you are away for more than six weeks, we are going to cut your age pension. I just think that is un-Australian.


If the government is going to make changes to deal with the budget, if what those on that side of the House are trying to tell us is that debt is a problem, then I am sure—if I can use the words used long ago by Joe Hockey —'more debt is not the answer'. You only have to look at the increase in debt since the coalition took office to see that there is only one way that they have gone—and that been to increase the debt of the nation. But even with all that, the thing that they should not do is target those least able to afford it.


There is some reluctance by those on the other side to target international businesses, which, according to all the reports, have been very successful in minimising and sometimes totally avoiding paying tax in this country. I would have thought that that would have been a priority. I would have that having very, very generous provisions in superannuation, catering for the high-end earners would have been a priority. Again, I would have thought that those would have been the priority, not doing what they started to do in the budget of 2014 and target aged pensioners and people supported by disability payments and those who are on carer payments. That is not the message a government that cares about people should be putting out.


I say the government generally because we are all in this place as a parliament, and I think we are all here hopefully for the right reasons—that is, making a difference for the better in our respective communities. If we are going to do that, the priority can never be to target those least able to afford it. This is a bill which is one of many that seems to do just that. And that is why we say that this is inappropriate and it should not proceed. If the government is as concerned as they say about the budgetary position, I am sure that they will find the support of the opposition in measures such as multinational corporations paying their fair share of tax. They will get support to address gross inequities in superannuation. There are many issues that we would work together on but, when the attack is on those who are most vulnerable in our society, you can always expect the Labor Party will stand up to protect them.