March 23 2017
As the Turnbull government prepared to pass a clutch of welfare cuts late on Wednesday night, Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie rose to her feet, her eyes welling and her voice shaking with rage.
“There were times when I would sit in a corner and cry, I was so ashamed,” she told the Senate, choking back tears. “This is what it is like. It is not a choice for many of us to be on welfare. It is shameful and it is embarrassing, and it is bloody tough.”
‘You have no idea how bloody tough it is’
An impassioned speech by Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie ends in tears as she condemns the government’s cuts to welfare, saying “what you are doing is shameful”.
Senator Lambie, who raised two sons as a single mother on the disability pension, revealed how she had been forced to keep food in an esky beneath the house for three weeks after the family’s fridge broke.
“I want you to know that’s what it’s like to be at the bottom of the crap pile, through no fault of our own, for many of us,” she said.
“For you to take more money off those people, you have no idea how bloody tough it is. What you are doing is shameful.”
Cuts will cover the childcare reforms
The collection of welfare cuts, which passed the Senate at the stroke of midnight on Wednesday, has been slammed by Labor, the Greens and Senator Lambie as an attack on Australia’s most vulnerable families.
The reforms, expected to raise $1.6 billion over four years, will fund the Turnbull government’s long-awaited boost to childcare subsidies, such as the abolition of a $7500 cap on the annual childcare rebate for families earning up to $185,000 a year.
Families earning between $185,000 and a maximum $350,000 in combined income will receive reduced rebates, depending on their income, and families with a combined income over $350,000 will receive no rebate for childcare costs.
A tearful Jacqui Lambie attacks cuts to welfare in the Senate on Wednesday night.
Some of the savings measures were salvaged from the government’s “omnibus” bill, which contained a raft of so-called zombie measures left over from the infamous 2014 budget that had failed to pass the Senate.
Family Tax Benefits
The main element is a freeze on the indexation of the Family Tax Benefit payment, set to raise close to $1.4 billion. It means that 1.5 million families receiving the FTB will not see their payments rise in line with inflation for the next two years.
The freeze is being described by Labor and the Greens as a cut on low-income families’ incomes.
Labor’s social services spokeswoman Jenny Macklin said the cuts would hit 600,000 families earning less than $52,000 a year.
“These are very low income families who are not going to see their family tax benefit increase with the cost of living,” she told ABC radio on Thursday morning. “That means families are going to be worse off.”
Nicole Lessio, principal campaign manager for lobby group The Parenthood, said she was “deeply concerned” about the FTB cut.
“It’s important to remember there’ll be no freeze on electricity prices or the grocery bill over the coming years.”
Young people and single parents
The government will also tighten the rules around some other payments. A one-week waiting period will be introduced for people claiming Youth Allowance or the Parenting Payment, designed to “encourage people to support themselves in the first instance where they are able to do so before seeking income support”.
The waiting period already exists for those applying for Newstart Allowance or the Sickness Allowance. A mooted four-week waiting period for young jobseekers, which was in the original omnibus savings bill, is not part of the package.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said forcing parents and some young people to wait a week to access payments was “unfair and cruel”.
“The people writing these policies would have no idea just how damaging a week without any money can be for struggling parents and young people,” she said.
Working-age payments and red tape
The bill will also pause the indexation of the income-free areas for various “working age” payments, including the single-parenting payment, Newstart, sickness allowance and widow’s benefits.
This means that as wages and inflation rise, more people will tip over the income threshold at which their payments start to be reduced. The government estimates this will save $69 million over four years.
Labor and the Greens say this will reduce incomes in real terms.
The final measure will automate the collection of income information for people on welfare, which the government says will reduce red tape and regulatory costs, saving $38 million over four years.
Nick Xenophon said the revised savings package was the “the least worst option” that would allow the childcare package to proceed and be fully funded.
Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and Victorian senator Derryn Hinch also backed the revised package despite saying they held misgivings about the original omnibus bill.