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ABSTAINED – Matters of Urgency — Pensions and Benefits

David Van

The Senate will now consider the proposed matter of urgency which the President has received from Senator McKim:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I give notice that today the Australian Greens propose to move "That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

Poverty and homelessness disproportionately affect women and are compounded by gendered violence, with single mothers and their children particularly vulnerable.

The upcoming Budget must scrap Stage 3 tax cuts and instead fund measures to support those most at risk, including by raising the rate of income support, investing in social housing, and extending Parenting Payment Single".

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in the ir places—

With the concurrence of the Senate, the clerks will set the clock in line with the informal arrangements made by the whips.

Larissa Waters

At the request of Senator McKim, I move:

That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

Poverty and homelessness disproportionately affect women and are compounded by gendered violence, with single mothers and their children particularly vulnerable.

The upcoming Budget must scrap Stage 3 tax cuts and instead fund measures to support those most at risk, including by raising the rate of income support, investing in social housing, and extending Parenting Payment Single.

In recent weeks, we've seen reports from ACOSS and analysis by Anti-Poverty Week confirming that poverty and homelessness are disproportionately impacting women and children. This is a crisis, and it demands an urgent response. We know that women make up more than 60 per cent of those relying on the lowest income support payments. We know that women and girls made up more than 60 per cent of clients of homelessness services last year. We know that rental prices are skyrocketing and that the fastest-growing group of people at risk of homelessness is women over the age of 45. Across the country, people are living in tents and cars. And we know that all these risks are compounded for women and children leaving abusive relationships. Women are given an impossible choice: stay in an unsafe home, or leave and put themselves and their kids at the mercy of a system of inadequate support, stretched DV services, housing shortages and punitive income tests.

I spoke last week in support of the bill to help close the gender pay gap in workplaces. As I said at the time, that is critical, but it's only one piece of the puzzle. We cannot address economic inequality without looking beyond work and reviewing our approach to income support, to housing and to unpaid care work. The JobSeeker rate is too low. Austudy is too low. Pension rates are too low. Parenting payments are too low. In a wealthy country, there is absolutely no excuse for keeping income support below the poverty line, and there is certainly no excuse for keeping the most vulnerable in poverty while offering tax cuts to the wealthiest Australians.

At a forum last week, we heard from single mums struggling to make ends meet. Brave mums Jacinta, Aradia and Angela talked about how, for each of them, their already strained budget was stretched to breaking point once their youngest child turned eight. At a time when it's getting more expensive to feed kids, to meet their public school fees, to pay for sports, and to pay for braces and basic health care, that's when single mums are getting punted from parenting payment single onto the even lower JobSeeker rate, losing around $200 a fortnight. This could mean missing a rental or mortgage payment. For Angela, it meant possibly losing her home and genuine fear that she would not be able to keep a roof over her kids' heads. It could mean putting off their own doctor appointment to make sure the kids can eat. For one mum, her own disability needs took second place to make sure her disabled son could get the help he needed. It could mean putting further study on hold because they need to take on extra shifts to make ends meet. For Jacinta, further study would have helped her get higher-paid work, but she had to defer completing the course for years after the drop in income support made it impossible to continue.

I was encouraged to hear Sam Mostyn say that the Women's Economic Equality Taskforce has advised the government to focus on the needs of women in the most precarious situations. They should start by reversing the terrible decision of the Gillard government to cut off parenting payment single when kids turn eight. Doing so would cost $1.4 billion, a fraction of a fraction of the stage 3 tax cuts and the AUKUS spending, but it would be life-changing for 500,000 single mums and their kids. Cost-of-living rises, housing shortages and the ongoing national crisis of gendered violence demand urgent action.

The upcoming budget is the government's chance to start turning this around. Raise the rates, restore parenting payment single, invest in housing, fully fund frontline domestic violence services, scrap the stage 3 tax cuts and the billions for submarines, and fund the things that will actually help the people who need it.

Paul Scarr

I'm very pleased to rise in this place to speak against this resolution. The first point we need to note is that there are millions of Australians who are going to benefit from the stage 3 tax cuts. This notion that it's just the billionaires at the top end of town who are going to benefit from the stage 3 tax cuts is simply false.

Let me give you some examples. A hairdresser earning $60,000 a year will benefit by $400 every year from the stage 3 tax cuts. A teacher earning $70,000 a year will benefit by $620 each year from these tax cuts. An executive assistant earning $80,000 a year will benefit by $900 each year from these tax cuts. A scientist earning $90,000 a year will benefit by $1,120 each year from the tax cuts. A qualified diesel mechanic earning $100,000 a year would lose more than $1,370 a year if this Greens resolution were accepted. These are ordinary, hardworking Australians who are benefiting from these stage 3 tax cuts.

The fact of the matter is that in Australia we have a progressive income tax system, as we should have. The more you earn, the more tax you should pay—absolutely. Let me just give you an insight with respect to how progressive our tax system is. Someone earning $200,000 a year pays eight times more tax than someone earning $50,000 a year. That's appropriate. That's a progressive tax system. Sixty per cent of the personal income tax received by the government is provided by the top 20 per cent of earners. Again, that's a progressive income tax system, as it should be. In fact, the top five per cent of earners contribute 33 per cent of the personal income tax receipts of the federal government. Again, that is a progressive tax system. When you have seven per cent or eight per cent inflation, you need to move the tax thresholds, or else everyone—the hairdresser, the teacher, the executive assistant, the research scientist, the qualified diesel mechanic—will be moving into higher tax thresholds. You have to adjust the tax thresholds. That makes basic common sense.

The other point I want to make about this—this is an important point—is that the government went to the last election with a promise that they would stay true to the stage 3 tax cuts which I voted for in this place before the last federal election. The government made that promise. The Greens, through this resolution, are asking the government to break their promise. Where's the integrity in that? The government, at the last election, went to the people and got a mandate, which I acknowledge and respect, on the basis they would deliver those stage 3 tax cuts. The Greens now come into this place and put a resolution that the government should break their promise to the Australian people. Is that integrity? Where's the integrity in that? The same lack of integrity was seen before the last federal election, when the Greens said their plan was fully costed and fully funded. That's what they said to voters in my home state of Queensland—that their plan was fully funded and costed. That's what they said.

Do you know what was released after the last federal election? The Parliamentary Budget Office, which monitors election commitments, did a study on the Greens' promises before the last federal election. Were they fully funded and costed? No. And you don't have to take my word for it that the Greens misled the people of Queensland. The Parliamentary Budget Office, in their analysis of the Greens' election commitments—this isn't Senator Scarr; this is the Parliamentary Budget Office—found that the introduction of Greens' policies, which were supposedly fully funded and costed, would result in the headline cash balance in the budget deteriorating by $112 billion. The Greens said—and the Greens don't like hearing about their broken promise and how they misled the people of Queensland—their policies were fully funded and costed, but the Parliamentary Budget Office, here in writing, say the Greens' policies would lead to a deterioration of the cash balance in the budget by $112 billion. That's a broken promise.

Linda White

It's true that the current rate of homelessness in Australia is too high. We saw in the census data reported last week that almost 123,000 Australians are experiencing homelessness. We also know that women on low incomes in the age group of 55 and older are the most at risk of homelessness and have been for at least the last five years. We know that women and children who are fleeing family and domestic violence don't have enough secure housing. So it is often those who are the most vulnerable that are forced to turn to the street or to live in their cars. We also saw, just a few weeks ago, in the Closing the gap statement that First Nations Australians continue to struggle with long-term and stable housing. Issues of overcrowding, a lack of supply and housing that doesn't meet the needs and requirements of these communities are still problems. Put together, these facts are a concerning snapshot of the current state of homelessness in Australia.

Our government wants to ensure that every Australian has the security that comes with having a roof over their head, because when you have stable and secure housing you have a better chance economically and getting a job is way easier when you have a home.

Having safe and stable housing is a gateway to better social outcomes across a whole range of life's important measures, and the Albanese government knows that this is the case. That is why we introduced the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill. The legislation backs in a long-term funding strategy to build social and affordable housing and homes in Australia. Its $10 billion will deliver tens of thousands of better homes for those who need them—30,000 homes in fact. And 4,000 of these will be allocated to women and children, as I mentioned before, who are most at risk. They are the women who are fleeing family and domestic violence and need a place to call home, and they are women who are over the age of 55 and are living dangerously close to the precipice of homelessness.

On top of that, the future fund will build 10,000 homes for frontline workers. There will also be $200 million to improve and repair housing in remote Indigenous communities. These are the people who are at risk of becoming homeless and the people who are homeless. They are the Australians who live on the edge, and they are people that Labor's housing fund will help, if only the Greens in this place would support it.

We know that there is a huge demand for social and affordable homes in Australia, but no single level of government can solve these problems on its own. We need to work together—local, state and federal governments. That's why the Albanese government is committing a fund of $67 million to boost states and territories through the National Housing and Homelessness Plan, which will secure hundreds of homelessness support jobs. These are the social workers and housing support workers that we need to attract and retain in the homelessness sector, because often it is only those workers who stand between a young family and that family becoming homeless.

At the Australian Services Union, I work with these workers. The jobs they do are vital and important, and they daily work with those most at risk. What they tell me is that they need more housing stock. For them, there's nothing more demoralising than being forced to give someone facing homelessness a tent and sending them on their way. This is just not a story from one location; it is a story I've heard across Australia from many homelessness services for a very long time. So I'm proud of what the government is doing to make housing more secure and affordable for Australians and to tackle the issue of homelessness by getting more homes built more quickly. The Greens political party have been out campaigning against the government's plan to ease this problem, but if the Greens want to see more investment in social and affordable housing, if they really want to achieve something rather than just attempting to wedge the government, then they should support the Housing Australia Future Fund. If they wanted to make a difference, the Greens political party would stop politicising Labor's $10 billion investment and act. I can't imagine standing in the way of this legislation.

It's a similar story for the coalition. We have experienced a decade of inaction on homelessness policy and we've seen the problem get worse on the coalition's watch. There was no leadership for the states and no long-term plan. Now, when the Liberal and National parties have a chance to do something about it and support these reforms, they say no. I believe it's time to support the largest contribution to social and affordable housing by a federal government in more than a decade and to celebrate it for the massive reform that it is. The Greens political party and the coalition would do well to put politics aside and remember these lines from a poem by John Howard Payne:

Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,

Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.

Long debate text truncated.


Date and time: 5:16 PM on 2023-03-27
Senator Pocock's vote: Abstained
Total number of "aye" votes: 10
Total number of "no" votes: 25
Total number of abstentions: 41

Adapted from information made available by