Time for support not more financial stress The Examiner, February 15 2017 IT’S 2014. Tony Abbott is Prime Minster. He and then-Treasurer Joe Hockey hand down a budget that will go down in history as one of the meanest budgets of all time. Most of it didn’t make through the Senate. It marked the beginning of the end of Abbott’s time as Prime Minister. Fast forward and it’s 2017. With the Omnibus Bill tabled in federal Parliament and the ongoing Centrelink debt fiasco, Prime Minister Turnbull and his Treasurer Scott Morrison have made the harsh 2014 budget seem kind. We are not talking about tweaking around the edges of some income payments. What we saw last week were measures that impact on our communities’ poorest members. The measures outlined in the bill will have detrimental effects on many Tasmanians. Young people and low income families will be hardest hit. The abolition of the energy supplement and the reduction of Family Tax Benefit supplements will slash the incomes of some recipients while the five week wait for unemployment payments risks pushing people onto the streets. Maybe they missed the memo. Maybe they haven’t picked up on the mood of most Tasmanians, maybe they just aren't listening. Maybe, even the loss of three Tasmanian seats at the federal election hasn’t quite sunk in? Or maybe they just haven’t done the maths. If they had, they would know that in Northern Tasmania, in the electorate of Bass, 40.25 per cent of our voting age population is on some form of income support payment. That’s just under 30,000 people. Nearly 14,000 of those are on an aged pension. Your grandparents. Your elderly neighbour. More than 2000 are young people who can’t find work. These are your children, your nieces and nephews. If you are from the North-West, the picture is the same. In Braddon, 43.7 per cent receive some form of support payment. 31,711 people. That’s 15,000 aged pensioners and 1173 young people.
The Omnibus Bill combined with the impact of the Centrelink debt fiasco is very personal in Tasmania. If itâ€™s not directly impacting you, itâ€™s impacting someone you know. The effects of financial stress and poverty are severe. For children and young people, the impact of deprivation on development can be serious and life-long, putting them more than a few steps behind their more wealthy peers. Reducing poverty in Australia and in Tasmania, should be the number one priority for our Federal Government. Instead we see legislation that increases and entrenches inequality and disadvantage. Income inequalities are corrosive. They divide communities. The key policy levers sit with the federal government, to reduce income inequality through addressing the underlying structural causes. When a piece of legislation is tabled in the Australian Parliament that cuts an already inadequate income support payment for the poorest in our community while still providing a childcare rebate for a couple on a combined income of $330,000 then something is really wrong. There is no easy solution or quick fix here but the first step towards a fair and equitable Australia is leadership. Strong leadership that is driven by the voice of Tasmanians, to tell our leaders that we want to support people in our community who are doing it hard, not demonise and marginalise them. We want to create opportunity, not prevent it.