In rising to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2015-2016 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2015-2016 I want to touch on three areas—the area of citizenship and multiculturalism, the area of health and the area of organ donation—and how they impact, specifically, on my electorate of Greenway.
I turn, firstly, to the issue of citizenship and humanitarian settlement. Citizenship is a defining feature of our shared identity. We rely on citizenship to provide a sense of community and society, something that we all believe in. Since the citizenship amendments were passed, late last year, we have heard very little from this government on the topic. Labor has supported, with careful consideration and deliberation, a number of changes to Australian citizenship laws over the term of this government.
Yet today the government has gone quiet. Instead of sober planning, the only thing we have heard, recently, is about leaked national security documents advocating radical change to both residency and citizenship for new migrants. These include selective proposals to revamp the citizenship test and pledge as well as, specifically, calling out certain ethnicities—namely, the Lebanese community. The government must rule out these approaches based on fear and reaction. Citizenship policy is too important for political power grabs and should never be subject to internal government stoushes.
Sitting alongside this, this government has only been able to settle some 26 Syrian refugees out of a promised 12,000 over five months ago. There are 26 new refugees. Just think about that for a moment. The Abbott-Turnbull government announced this more than 160 days ago. At this rate it is going to take years to resettle 12,000 refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq. Compare this to Canada. Canada's new government is on track to accept 20,000 refugees before we even reach 100—and they were not even elected when the Abbott-Turnbull government made its announcement.
Australians are rightly proud of our humanitarian program. Our settlement services are recognised globally as best practice, yet a new life in Australia cannot begin until migrants arrive. Instead of dreaming up new adverse citizenship laws, impinging on people because of their background, religion or ethnicity, it is time for this government to get on with it. Like the economic program, simply nothing is happening.
There are some other issues that point to the fact nothing is happening in this area. In February last year we had Senate estimates reveal that the government is still relying on Labor's multicultural policy. You go to their website and you see Labor's multicultural policy. This government has not bothered to develop its own policy on citizenship and multiculturalism. In answer to questions during Senate estimates, the year before, the Department of Social Services said, 'The government is currently in the process of developing an updated multicultural affairs policy.' We saw, in February this year, over 800 days and still no multicultural policy from this government. This government remains a policy-free zone in this area.
On 11 February, then Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, when asked about when a policy would be developed, said: 'We don't want to rush the process, so we'll be taking our time.' There is no risk of any rush, here, because we still have a government that not only does not have its own policy but also cannot live up to the expectations of Australia's communities when it comes to best practice in this area.
Unlike this government, we on this side of the House value the economic, social and cultural contribution of new migrants to Australia. We do not just say it. We are the ones who have a policy about, unlike this government. You do not have to look very far to see that this government wants to hurt migrants. Only recently, we had government members—all of them on that side—voting to limit overseas travel for pensioners. They all voted in the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Budget Repair) Bill to make it harder for migrant pensioners to continue to receive the pension while overseas.
The situation before the government sought to change it was that pensioners could go overseas for 26 weeks and receive the full pension. If they stayed beyond that time the pension was reduced to a rate that depended on the number of years they had worked in Australia. Under the changes that everyone on that side of the House voted for, from 1 January 2017 pensioners will have their pension cut after just six weeks overseas.
You might ask how this got reduced from 26 weeks to just six weeks. No-one precisely knows how. FECCA, one of the key organisations in this area, disagrees with it. Key groups disagree with it. The one word that keeps coming back, as I go around Australia listening to people who are going to be impacted by this—not only for themselves directly, but the children of people who will be impacted—is that it is just mean. This government has grossly underestimated not only the impact but the level of discontent and opposition to this in the community.
In addition to that, we even had, in December last year, the new social services minister, Mr Porter, making another blunder, this time in relation to the newly arrived residents waiting period. This was a tricky move—trying to present something that simply was not true. In attempting to justify this government's $225 million of cuts for newly arrived migrants, the minister told the ABC:
The only exception to the newly arrived residents waiting period is refugee and humanitarian arrivals. But there's one other very curious exemption that has existed for a while and that is if an Australian citizen or resident goes overseas and marries and brings back a wife or dependent child—
And it goes on. Those very curious exemptions are real people. They are the spouses of Australian citizens that this government is hurting. The exemptions that the minister wants to remove, to support newly arrived migrants, are the ones that allow them to access Newstart allowance, youth allowance, Austudy payments, carer payments, sickness allowance, special benefits and other payments. This government is seriously lacking in an understanding of the area. It is very disturbing that we have a minister who not only does not even understand the basics of this policy area but also is lacking in any appreciation of what the impact will be.
I want to look at the issue of health and, in particular, some matters that have affected the Greenway community very badly. The people of Greenway are sick and tired of mistruths and backflips regarding health services in Blacktown. One issue that strikes more than any other for local residents, because it impacts on so many of them, is the government's decision to close the local Medicare office in Westpoint and move it to the Centrelink office on the other side of Blacktown. I have had nothing but complaints from local residents on this matter. There was no consultation about this whatsoever. The parking situation around that area is terrible. The number of people I have coming to my office or calling me and saying, 'I simply cannot do business with the Medicare office anymore' is astounding. I know what this government's tactic is: it is to make people move on and do things online. That would be fine if we had access to a real broadband network across all of Blacktown. It would be fine if we had a situation where everyone was able to do these things. But we do not.
I used to be able to say that one of the key arguments for keeping the Medicare office where it was in Westpoint was its proximity, not only to retail services but specifically to banks and local health funds. But this was not enough. After the government privatised the remainder of Medibank Private, the local branch of Medibank Private in Blacktown was shut down as well. After receiving a number of complaints from local residents about that office being shut down, I put in a question to the Minister for Finance asking what conditions were in the Medibank Private sale terms about keeping branches open and why the Blacktown Medibank Private office was closing while others, including Parramatta and Castle Hill, are not. I got from Minister Morrison, as he was at the time, nothing but a statement about what the Medibank Private Sale Act was. There was nothing whatsoever to give any comfort to my local residents.
The other issue, of course, that is making it even more difficult and painful for people to access health services is this government's absolute intent to put co-payments through the back door for certain services. I note and I commend something that I think those listeners who might be tuning in today should read. It is an op-ed by Catherine King, the shadow minister for health, about why the cuts to pathology and diagnostic imaging are making it harder for women with cancer. She writes regarding ovarian cancer:
It’s a silent killer and women diagnosed with this disease need all the help they can get. Sadly, this year, the Turnbull Government is doing the exact opposite with December’s budget update cutting $650 million from spending on the tests and scans which are vital to detecting, treating, and fighting diseases like ovarian cancer.
She says that even after the Medicare rebate, patients will be left between $365 and $1,322 out of pocket. I think her point here is absolutely right about budget cuts to pathology and diagnostic imaging. When women are told that they may have ovarian cancer, the last thing they need is to have that fight made harder and more expensive.
I am not surprised that I recently received correspondence from Pathology Australia. They are scathing in their assessment of the way in which pathology providers have been treated by this government. I quote:
Pathology providers had have enough. Providers have indicated they will introduce co-payments for pathology tests as a result of the cuts—
That is, this government's cuts—
The bulk-billing incentive when introduced in late November 2009 was designed to maintain and raise bulk billing for patients. It has worked.
So we have a situation where we have health services impacting on the electorate of Greenway, on families, cutting bulk-billing incentives so that people who are sick are discouraged from seeking help, and paying consultants and bureaucrats millions of dollars to work out how to best privatise the medical payments system.
In the time left to me: I indicated that I wanted to touch on the issue of organ donation, and I want to touch on a quite heartbreaking story about a young person named Deyaan Udani. Far too often, life is cut short. Deyaan Udani was a seven-year-old boy from Quakers Hill. On a trip to India, only recently, just before a planned return flight home, Deyaan was diagnosed with multiple blood clots in his brain and died three days later. He is remembered fondly. A local teacher said:
He could light up the room with his laugh and he has a heart of gold. He always showed empathy to others. He was just a very happy and fun loving little boy that will be missed and gone too soon.
Deyaan learnt about organ donation at school. He and his sister encouraged their father to become an organ donor. They told their parents they would actually like to become organ donors themselves when they grew up. Deyaan could not have known how prophetic his desire would be. He died, and his family honoured his wishes. Deyaan's organs were given to four other people, including three children. Each of these people had been critically injured. Deyaan's sacrifice has provided them with a renewed chance of recovery. The media outlet The Hindu reported that this was the youngest ever organ donation recorded in Mumbai.
In the wake of Deyaan's passing, his sister Naisha addressed thousands of people in Mumbai, urging them to also become organ donors. This occurred at an event that brought together the Udani family with those families who benefited from his own sacrifice. The mother of the young girl who received Deyaan's heart said the little boy had given them the greatest gift they could wish for. It is hoped that these public gestures and the attention will increase the rate of Indian organ donation, which is currently only 0.5 people per one million. I hope Australia's increases as well.
I send my deep condolences to the Udani family. May Deyaan Udani rest in peace.