The attack by Hamas on 7 October that killed 1,200 people and where 240 people were taken hostage was horrific and a war crime. I and the Greens condemn that attack. But nothing could excuse the subsequent war in Gaza and the ongoing war crimes being committed by the State of Israel. The Israeli Defence Forces have killed 11,000 Palestinians, including 4,000 children, in 38 days. This is more than were killed in Srebrenica, more than in Myanmar, more than almost two years of fighting in Ukraine. Our government has condemned the first but not the second.
Senator RICE (Victoria) (20:36): Let’s speak simply. Australia’s social security system is a bonfire. It is a convoluted, inaccessible, rotting zombie of a system that is harming people across the country. I need to speak simply because the Labor government and many governments before it are constantly working to obscure a core truth, which is that they are not willing to help people out of poverty.
We saw that yesterday in the government’s response to the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme. The disparity between Labor’s vision statements and the reality of their social security system is wild. We heard from the government that they accept all the royal commission’s recommendations. We heard that they care about and believe in the value of a fair, accessible and ethical social safety net. Let me read from some of the government’s response:
The social security safety net is also fundamental to our economy. The system allows Australians to get on with their lives in the understanding that support is available if circumstances change. This empowers people and helps build prosperity.
The Government is committed to putting people back at the centre of program design and service delivery. The Department of Social Services and Services Australia are investing in more training for officials and will seek regular feedback on service and program delivery from front-line staff and the community.
Let me speak simply again. The system, as it stands, does not allow Australians to get on with their lives. It only offers payments that are below the poverty line. It requires people to undertake punitive mutual obligations and use privatised employment service providers that cancel their payments at shockingly high rates.
The Labor government say they are committed to putting people back at the centre of income support: more staff, more training and more feedback—that’s all good to hear. But I can tell you what the feedback is from the community: more money! The feedback is to raise the rate of income support above the poverty line. We heard that feedback at our Senate inquiry into the extent and nature of poverty in Australia from people living on income support, from service providers, from advocates and from academics. They all told us that the core problem in this rotting social security system is that the rates are too low and that they are trapping people in poverty.
Robodebt was a callous and illegal scheme, but it is not a strange anomaly. It is symptomatic of a system that keeps people in poverty and chases those same people for debts. One constituent from New South Wales has shared their experience of JobSeeker with my office, and succinctly described the problem with robodebt. He said:
Robodebt was the icing on the cake, people were already traumatised by their unemployment, by the poverty, by the political and social discrimination, by being told they were bludgers when they complied with job application requirements and desperately wanted to work but couldn’t get another job, by not being able to afford any kind of meaningful life, so when they received a Robodebt notice, what was there still worth living for in this country, with no hope of anything getting better, nobody actually giving a damn? Nothing.
I’m glad the Labor government appears to be taking seriously the shame and humiliation that is built into our social security system. I welcome Minister Shorten’s words that people on income support will no longer be treated as second-class citizens, but these words mean nothing if people cannot afford a meaningful life. They mean nothing if they can’t afford the very basics they need to live that life. Those very basics obviously include housing. Across news outlets today we saw reporting of this year’s rental affordability index. For someone on JobSeeker in Sydney, rent costs 137 per cent of their income. In Melbourne is it 100 per cent; Brisbane, 106 per cent; and Perth, 126 per cent. It is unacceptable. Our social security system and unlimited rent increases are not, as Labor say, empowering people and helping build prosperity; they are helping us to create homelessness.
And that’s just if you’re seeking a job. Never mind if you have caring responsibilities. Never mind if you live with a disability. Peter, from Victoria, contacted my office and shared his experience navigating our convoluted system while living with disability. He said:
I lost my employment in 2018 and I haven’t worked since. I have injuries and chronic medical conditions which occurred after a pedestrian accident. I made numerous attempts to return to work which were unsuccessful. I was initially on the then Newstart, now called Jobseeker, before I could access the Disability Support Pension … I have lodged an NDIS application but have been unsuccessful. On a pension, which is very limited income, I cannot afford such services. For years I went without hot water as it broke down and I could not afford to replace it. The DSP is not enough. Yet Jobseeker is even lower.
Can the Labor government see how more training, more staff and more feedback have zero impact on the lives of people like Peter? Will more training raise the rate of JobSeeker? Will more staff remove unfair restrictions on who can access payments? Will more feedback abolish mutual obligations? I’ll hazard a guess that they won’t. You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. It is simple: Labor does not have the political courage to take the action that they could: to make the political choice to end poverty.
The attack by Hamas on 7 October that killed 1,200 people and where 240 people were taken hostage was horrific and a war crime. I and the Greens condemn that attack. But nothing could excuse the subsequent war in Gaza and the ongoing war crimes being committed by the State of Israel. The Israeli Defence Forces have killed 11,000 Palestinians, including 4,000 children, in 38 days. This is more than were killed in Srebrenica, more than in Myanmar, more than almost two years of fighting in Ukraine.
Our government has condemned the first but not the second. Whereas the House and the Senate passed a motion saying we stand with Israel, condemning the attacks on Israel by Hamas as the heinous acts of terrorists, our government abstained from the United Nations resolution calling for a ceasefire. The one-sidedness is stark and reflects the active denial of 75 years of oppression of the Palestinian people and occupation of lands by the State of Israel. What has happened in the 38 days since 7 October is not self-defence, with one child killed every 10 minutes, intentional starvation of the whole population, the bombing of hospitals and bodies in the street being eaten by dogs. These are crimes of collective punishment, crimes against humanity, but, with regard to these war crimes in Gaza, all our foreign minister has been able to bring herself to do is call for ‘steps’ towards a ceasefire in Gaza, including ‘greater restraint’ from Israel towards medical facilities, and say she is ‘deeply concerned’ about the ‘humanitarian catastrophe’—this in the face of an invasion that has led the UN special rapporteurs to say that the Palestinian people are at grave risk of genocide.
Australia has obligations under international law when we observe such heinous war crimes. Yet all we are seeing are weasel words along with ongoing military exports and the use of Pine Gap to direct rockets in attacks on civilians. We are complicit. We say that we stand for the rule of law and the international rules-based order. What hypocrisy! It’s only when it suits the United States. Every day, this war continues takes us further away from a just and lasting peace. Every day we continue to be complicit in this war, we are trashing our commitment to international law. The Australian government must call for a ceasefire now and an end to the illegal occupation of Palestine.
In the time that I have left, I wish to record the names of some of the people killed in Gaza: Aisha Khalil Hamdan Al-Astal, aged 72; Wahba Abdullah Hussein Al-Astal, aged 65; Ibrahim Hamid Hussein Al-Astal, aged 62; Muhammad Suleiman Turki Al-Astal, aged 61; Nadia Yassin Hussein Al-Astal, aged 60; Salwa Muhammad Khalil Al-Astal, aged 60; Hanaa Ibrahim Naeem Al-Astal, aged 59; Suleiman Muhammad Suleiman Al-Astal, aged 58; Yousry Ahmed Youssef Al-Astal, aged 55; Shafiqa Shehada Bahri Al-Astal, aged 54; Anwar Muhammad Ali Al-Astal, aged 54— (Time expired)