Questions of Equality Dominate New Parliament
30 August 2016 at 11:56 am
Welfare payments, discrimination laws and same-sex marriage are set to feature on the agenda of Australia’s 45th parliament.
MPs and Senators were sworn in on Tuesday morning, almost four months after the election was called, and with the Coalition’s slim majority in the lower house and 11 crossbenchers in the Senate, political commentators are predicting a controversial term.
The government will introduce its $6.5 billion budget repair bill, which scraps the renewable energy supplement for new welfare recipients, saving $1.4 billion over four years.
The Coalition called on Labor and the crossbench to support the savings, but Labor is debating the issue internally. During the election campaign opposition leader Bill Shorten accepted the cuts, but has since changed his stance.
Labor also said the government lied about the extent of savings in the legislation, which were presented to the opposition last night, manager of opposition business Tony Burke said on ABC radio Tuesday morning.
“First of all the claim the government made that there were 21 measures in it is wrong,” Burke said.
“We said we wanted to wait until we saw the bill because we didn’t trust that it would be as they described. It’s turned out we were exactly right.
“I’m told there are 24 measures, not 21. They are not all measures that Labor had included in its costings.
“The government has been entirely deceptive with this. And if their first action is to lie to the Australian people about what was meant to be their centrepiece bill, that really tells you what the Turnbull government is going to be like,” Burke said.
The Greens announced on Monday they would oppose the cuts to income support in the budget.
“For years I have been calling for successive governments to substantially increase the Newstart allowance, which is woefully low and results in people living below the poverty line,” Senator Rachel Siewert said.
“It is hugely disappointing that the campaign to increase Newstart has now had to become a campaign to stop further cuts.
“I welcome the open letter by 35 notable Australians calling on Mr Turnbull to change tack on Newstart whilst calling on Labor to oppose the measure.
“Accountancy firm KPMG has previously acknowledged that political rhetoric has prevented the payment from going up, despite it being increasingly inadequate. This also rings true for this proposed cut.
“The Greens will be opposing the cut in the Senate. Newstart cannot go down any further.”
Conservative senators will also push to limit the power of the Racial Discrimination Act.
Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi plans to introduce a bill this week to remove section 18C, which makes it illegal to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate someone because of their race or ethnicity.
Bernardi would not confirm who supported the bill, but Nationals senator Barry O’Sullivan said they have the support of nearly 20 Coalition backbenchers.
As Pro Bono Australia News reported on Tuesday, crossbenchers are lining up the block the same-sex marriage plebiscite.
South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon, leader of the Nick Xenophon Team, said his party would vote against the plebiscite.
“In our representative democracy we are paid to make decisions on behalf of Australians who have voted us into office. This is a decision the parliament should make now,” Xenophon said in a statement.
“The plebiscite, which in any event could be disregarded by the parliament, could be in the order of $160million or more. We believe this money could be better spent.”
Labor is year to reveal how it will vote.