Rachel Siewert’s February Update | The Greens (WA)

Rachel Siewert’s February Update

Towards changing the date and closing the gap, and ongoing concerns about the cashless welfare card and Newstart

By Senator Rachel Siewert
Tuesday, March 6, 2018

There was huge momentum at the beginning of 2018 and it feels like it hasn’t slowed since; looks like it will be a full-on year.

By the second week of January we Greens were already campaigning on changing the date of Australia Day and identifying it as a key priority as part of truth telling, healing, and sovereignty and treaty.  

Both the old parties were unable to ignore the issue, as tens of thousands of Australians across the country marched the streets on Invasion Day January 26 demanding the date be changed.

In the last year alone support for changing the date amongst voters has shifted from one in six to one in five ‒ that shows significant movement out in the community. On top of this, when survey respondents were presented with the rationale for changing the date, support increased.

It was fantastic to attend the One Day in Fremantle event, an alternative to January 26. We managed to give away plenty of our CHANGE THE DATE campaign t-shirts and engaged in heaps of meaningful conversations about the issue. 

I will continue to campaign hard on changing the date of Australia Day so that everyone is welcome to celebrate this country on a day that is not hurtful for some.

That’s not the only important component in ensuring healing for our First Peoples. In February, the Prime Minister handed down the annual Closing the Gap report. Progress could only really go up from last year’s annual report, where only one of the targets was met, and while I welcome the improvement in an additional two out of seven targets to close the gap, that still leaves four important targets not met. It is clear that if there is not an improvement in the current approach we will not close the gap in life expectancy.

We are still not on track for life expectancy, employment, reading and numeracy and school attendance. It is important the ‘refresh’ of the targets ensures proper consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. They should also heed to the loud call for Justice Targets and the call to address child protection in the targets.

On top of meaningful efforts to close the gap and change the date, the Government must also address the Uluru Statement and work towards Sovereignty and Treaties; there is still so much work to be done.

It was extremely disappointing to see the (albeit reduced) cashless welfare card legislation pass the Senate thanks to the crossbench. Thanks to strong campaigning and lobbying, the proposed trial site of Hinkler will not go ahead, and the current trial sites will now only continue to 2019, rather than indefinitely, with participants still capped at 10,000.

After initially voting to oppose the legislation in the House of Representatives, the Nick Xenophon Team gave the Government another trial site (in the Goldfields) and agreed to extend the existing trial sites, meaning that WA will now have two large trial sites.

Although we have succeeded in getting some winding back of the original bill, which sought to uncap the number of participants and the number of trial sites/duration of the sites, it is still disappointing to see an expansion.

There is finally starting to be a national focus on aged care and during the first two weeks of sitting I tabled the Senate inquiry interim report on the effectiveness of the current aged care system, (I’ve shortened the title) which focussed on the Oakden facility in South Australia. It is very obvious that change to the system is necessary, terrible abuse and neglect was occurring yet the facility could pass accreditation. We cannot be assured that other problems do not exist elsewhere and in fact recent media reports indicate that they do.

In February the Turnbull Government and the Labor party turned their back on Australians struggling to find work, and voted down my Senate motion calling for an increase to the single rate of Newstart and other allowances by $75 a week.

The rate of the crucial income support payment Newstart is so abysmally low that those trying to find work are living below the poverty line.

The payment has stagnated due to a lack of political will, with successive Governments being unwilling to help jobseekers meet the basic costs of living; preferring a punitive approach to demonise those who can’t find work.

The fact is people don’t want to be on Newstart. People seeking work deserve to be supported adequately, and living below the poverty line is a barrier to work. Those seeking work should be able to afford the essentials, the current payment of $38 a day doesn’t cover that.

It is hard to believe we are already heading into March! With the political spotlight currently saturated by political scandals, I will endeavour to still bring important issues to the fore.

Header photo: With Jordon Steele-John at One Day. Georgia Blackburn

Text photo: Handing out stickers at One Day. Georgia Blackburn