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representatives vote 2017-09-11#2

Edited by mackay staff

on 2017-09-17 16:02:45


  • Bills — Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017; Second Reading
  • Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017 - Second Reading - Disagree with bill


  • <p class="speaker">Tony Zappia</p>
  • <p>To conclude my remarks on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017: what we've seen, in the measures that the government wants to introduce to delay payments to people who apply for welfare assistance, is a desperate move from a desperate government. Then we saw, in question time today, an answer from the minister which has outdone Chemical Ali during the war in Iraq, when he was denying what was happening there. Just as in the sketch in <i>Monty Python and the Holy Grail</i> where the Black Knight was denying what was happening to him at the time, the minister, totally out of touch with reality, suggested that the process that people are going through with Centrelink at the moment has been improved and that there are no problems with it. Nothing could be further from the truth than that.</p>
  • <p>What the government is saying is: 'We're going to put you through an even more difficult process than you already go through right now. You won't get your payments commenced until the process is finished&#8212;not at the time you start&#8212;by a department that is totally either underresourced or overwhelmed with applications.' The government knows exactly what it's doing. It is deliberately and intentionally wanting to delay the start of the payments in order to save a few dollars so that it can then try and balance its budget. Nothing could be more unjust and unfair than what this government is proposing.</p>
  • The majority voted against a motion to disagree with the [bill]( In parliamentary jargon, they voted against a motion to *decline* to give the bill a [second reading](
  • The motion was introduced by Labor MP for Jagajaga [Jenny Macklin](
  • ### Motion text
  • > *That all the words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:*
  • > *"the House:*
  • >> *(1) declines to give the bill a second reading because it is a cynical attempt by this Government to distract from its political problems; and*
  • >> *(2) calls on the Government to:*
  • >>> *(a) drop their costly and unproven drug testing trial of social security recipients that medical experts say won't work;*
  • >>> *(b) listen to medical and health experts by implementing proven ways to assist people battling drug addiction by investing in treatment and rehabilitation services; and*
  • >>> *(c) stop demonising vulnerable Australians who rely on our social security system".*
  • ### What does this bill do?
  • The main purpose of this bill is to:
  • * *create a single job seeker payment*
  • * *establish a drug testing trial; and*
  • * *remove existing exemptions for jobseekers experiencing drug or alcohol dependence.*
  • Read more in the [bills digest](
  • <p>The last matter, as to the unfairness, goes to the treatment that this government wants to dish out to people who are 55 years and over, where it is now saying that you can no longer fulfil your commitment to society by volunteering in your community; you will have to, like the rest of the people looking for support payments, go through applying for jobs or be in paid employment. I made the point earlier, at the beginning of my remarks, that there simply are not jobs out there. When there are far more people looking for jobs than there are jobs available, employers will not give people who are 55 years and over much of a look-in at all. It is going to be incredibly difficult for them to get jobs which are simply not there. And yet, again, this government is saying to them: 'If you don't go through this process, we will also take away payments from you.'</p>
  • <p>It is getting about as low as it possibly can when it starts putting those sorts of pressures on people who are clearly depending on the welfare system not because they want to but because they have no choice. We will have more of those people over the coming months&#8212;particularly in the region that I represent, because of the closure of Holden&#8212;and, quite frankly, to bring in this legislation and make their life even more difficult than it currently is just shows the depths that this government will sink to in order to try and balance its budget.</p>
  • <p>For those reasons, of course, I will not be supporting this legislation and will be supporting the amendment moved by the member for Jagajaga. The government may well be trying to get the legislation through by saying that, amongst the 18 measures contained in this legislation, there are some good ones, but the bad ones clearly outnumber the good ones, and this legislation should not be supported.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Sharon Claydon</p>
  • <p>I wish to join with my colleagues in rising to speak against the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017 and condemning the actions of this government. There are many proposed measures contained in this legislation that those on our side cannot in good conscience support. These include the axing of the bereavement allowance&#8212;an especially callous and cruel part of this legislation. The bereavement payment is a very short-term payment offered to those whose partners have recently died. In addition to the axing of the bereavement payment, this legislation seeks to push the starting date for some participation payments to new roles. It removes the intent-to-claim provisions that have been longstanding in the Centrelink regime. It also looks at changes to what constitutes a reasonable excuse. Finally, of course, it seeks to introduce a proposed trial for drug testing of those on social security.</p>
  • <p>This legislation is wrong in so many ways, but I particularly want to focus today on the component of this legislation that goes to the drug-testing trial of the social security recipients. It is shameful that this government has attempted to frame this policy as some type of health measure&#8212;as if targeting and punishing vulnerable and addicted Australians is somehow in their best interests and, indeed, in the best interests of our community. This policy is nothing more than a crass savings measure, and not a very good one at that. This policy will, in all likelihood, end up costing taxpayers more and achieving very little. The proposed trial is far from good, evidence-based policy making. It runs against all expert advice. It is so poorly thought out that some experts warn that, if rolled out, it may actually increase crime and drug use in our community. This trial could also inadvertently impact the medical treatment and rehabilitation of people suffering from drug and alcohol addiction.</p>
  • <p>Mr Speaker, you will not find a single organisation working in the field of drug and alcohol rehabilitation that will support this punitive policy. What you will find, however, is a great number of medical experts, addiction specialists and widespread community groups who have strongly urged the government against introducing this policy. I want to list just some of those organisations that have spoken out against this proposed drug-testing trial, because it's important that their considered opinions are noted and their opposition is recorded as part of this debate. These respected organisations include: the Australian Medical Association; the Royal Australasian College of Physicians; the Australasian Chapter of Addiction Medicine; the Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs; the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists; St Vincent's Health Australia; the Rural Doctors Association of Australia; Harm Reduction Australia; the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation; the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre; the Penington Institute; the Kirby Institute at UNSW; the Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association; 360 Edge, a specialist alcohol and other drug consultancy; the Australian Council of Social Service; UnitingCare Australia; Homelessness Australia; the St Vincent de Paul Society; the Wayside Chapel; Anglicare; Catholic Social Services Australia; the National Social Security Rights Network; Community Mental Health Australia; the Public Health Association of Australia; the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services; and the Ted Noffs Foundation. There are others, but time does not allow me to continue the list.</p>
  • <p>Rest assured that you will not find one medical expert who has come out to defend this as sound drug and alcohol addiction policy. Why? Because it is not. Even the CEO of Jobs Australia, David Thompson, has slammed the policy, saying he thinks all it will do is stop people asking for help because 'they feel the whole process &#8230; is really quite demeaning and humiliating'. If the government is trying to pretend that this is somehow a policy justifiable on health grounds, they are deceiving both themselves and the Australian people. The government needs to listen to the experts. The experts have made it crystal clear that this drug-testing trial will not work.</p>
  • <p>A doctor in my electorate, in Newcastle, recently contacted me, pleading for this policy not to go ahead. She is a doctor who is a medical specialist trained in paediatrics, epidemiology and genetics, and has had considerable experience working with families damaged by Stolen Generation pain, violence and abuse. She has written to me saying:</p>
  • <p class="italic">Many of the children of these families, as well as children with learning difficulties, autistic traits and severe anxiety turn to self-medication with alcohol and drugs in adolescence, or adulthood.</p>
  • <p class="italic">The idea that stopping their pocket money will remove this need or prevent substance abuse is childish and petulant. How can we as a developed nation continue to let ourselves fall into these punitive and silly games to make our politicians look 'strong'.</p>
  • <p>That's what doctors in my electorate are saying.</p>
  • <p>Australians go to their doctors and listen to them for medical advice. It's time that Malcolm Turnbull did the same. Mr Turnbull needs to listen to a doctor like Dr Anna Kelly, a general practitioner working in my electorate of Newcastle, who has also written a powerful letter arguing for this policy not to go ahead. Dr Kelly writes:</p>
  • <p class="italic">As a General Practitioner working in Newcastle, I have treated hundreds of people with drug and alcohol problems.</p>
  • <p class="italic">They often come from very difficult backgrounds; have a history of trauma including sexual abuse and domestic violence. Many have grown up in homes where drug and alcohol abuse and violence has been the norm. They miss out on education due to their difficult circumstances, leave home early to escape the hardship and experimenting with drugs leads to a drug and alcohol addiction problem.</p>
  • <p class="italic">With time, support, effort, empathy and access to resources, I have seen many get through their problem and break the poverty/drug and alcohol/violence generational cycle. Unfortunately due to lack of resources, it is difficult to get the right help at the right time for many of them.</p>
  • <p class="italic">I also see the children and extended families of people affected with drug and alcohol problems. They are ready to get help/support, but can't do it alone.</p>
  • <p class="italic">If drug and alcohol addicted people are prevented from receiving their Centrelink payments they will be forced into crime. People may be wanting to stop their addiction, but may not be able to do it alone.</p>
  • <p class="italic">If we stop their income, crime will increase, and seeking help will be even more difficult.</p>
  • <p class="italic">The funds used to police such a program would be much better spent in drug and alcohol rehabilitation services and for services to help the children and families of drug and alcohol affected people. Leave the punitive activities to our police force and fund adequately the services to help people.</p>
  • <p>That's the message from doctors in my electorate of Newcastle. These are doctors and medical experts who deal with the problem of drug and alcohol addiction every day. They are lining up to denounce this cruel and misguided policy proposal.</p>
  • <p>Nobody doubts that we face significant problems with drug addiction in our community, but there is simply no evidence that this trial will work. The problem of drug addiction requires a medical response. A punitive approach where the government is pursuing people on welfare who may or may not have a drug issue is not a reasonable way to deal with this important matter of public health. There is not a single extra cent in the health budget for any of the proposed drug trial sites. Precious taxpayer dollars would be better spent investing in support and rehabilitation services for those living with drug and alcohol addictions and their families. Without extra funding for treatment this trial will likely put pressure on an already overstretched and under-resourced system with long waiting lists, displacing people seeking help and further exacerbating the problem.</p>
  • <p>If this government had done even the smallest amount of research, they would have seen that drug testing of income support recipients has been trialled many times in many other countries, with no evidence to suggest that it is an effective measure to treat drug use in any of them. I take just one example&#8212;from New Zealand, our closest neighbour. The New Zealand government introduced a drug-testing program amongst welfare recipients in 2015. Only 22 of the 8,001 participants tested returned a positive result for illicit drug use. Just 22; that is just 0.2 per cent, a very small minority.</p>
  • <p>The point I'm trying to make here is that this flawed policy is not new. It has been tried before, and each time the result has been the same: it has not detected many positive results, and it has been very costly to deliver, which goes some way to explain why this government is refusing to give an estimate of the program's cost. However, regardless of the as yet unknown costs of this program, it is very difficult to see from any of the international evidence that this is an effective use of precious taxpayers' dollars. What we see here is just a cheap, populist and lazy policy from a government that is so worried about its own jobs that it has given up on trying to help vulnerable Australians. The idea that you would test tens of thousands of people and a few people may be found to have a positive test for the use of illicit drugs is not an effective use of those taxpayers' dollars, and it certainly will not help those few people who have genuine substance abuse problems&#8212;the very people that we should be seeking to reach out to.</p>
  • <p>The government should be focusing its resources on helping vulnerable people seek treatment for drug addiction, not making tokenistic gestures to appear tough. Drug and alcohol addictions are complex public health problems, and they require a public health policy response. I wish to close with a quote from Dr Marianne Jauncey, from the Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs, because I think it perfectly sums up just why this is such a bad policy. She says:</p>
  • <p class="italic">At a time when we desperately need money for frontline services&#8212;</p>
  • <p>this proposal means&#8212;</p>
  • <p class="italic">it's being spent in a way all the available evidence tells us won't work.</p>
  • <p>She goes on to say:</p>
  • <p class="italic">Doctors don't necessarily speak with a united voice&#8212;we're a very varied group of specialists and people with different backgrounds across the country, so when you do hear doctors speaking with a united voice I think people should listen.</p>
  • <p>I agree with Dr Jauncey. She is absolutely right.</p>
  • <p>Labor have listened to the expert advice from health professionals, and we oppose this drug-testing trial of social security recipients. It's time that the Turnbull government dumped this expensive trial that everyone says simply will not work. I stand with my Labor colleagues condemning this legislation, and I stand in support of the amendments moved by the member for Jagajaga.</p>
  • <p class='motion-notice motion-notice-truncated'>Long debate text truncated.</p>