Australia’s famous, or infamous, cross bench has been very much in the public eye over the past few weeks with the Omnibus Budget Savings bill and the Childcare package being right at the forefront of the news. It has given all of us a clearer view of how minority government in the senate might work.
Senator Lambie gave a strong, effective speech about what life can be like for people “on welfare” and many but not all of the harshest cuts to income support appear, at last, to have been binned.
I guess if you want to have an impact as part of the balance of power then you may look to say yes to some things and no to others, and search out some “middle ground”. That seems to be the way the tax cut debate is shaping up.
The Childcare Bill however was something else again. While Labor and the Greens, and Senator Lambie, were not prepared to cut deals on Childcare, much of the crossbench was.
After all the talk about protecting the vulnerable, the minimum guaranteed access to childcare to children in most need of support has now been cut from 24 to 12 hours a week. This flies in the face of the evidence that early childhood education is especially useful for vulnerable children and pays back many times over personally, socially and economically.
The process in the senate itself was just as startling as the result. Deals made behind closed doors in the middle of the night make for the stuff of spy fiction, but in fact it is our “democracy in action”. In fact, it was difficult to tell who was in bed with whom.
We understand that at one stage the Nick Xenophon Team were arguing hard for an increase in the minimum access to Childcare to 15 hours which - across the sector - is widely acknowledged as the necessary requirement for kids who need it most to get two full days a week. Apparently the Government wouldn’t budge.
And we heard that Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party also pushed for 15 hours one time. We also heard that at this point the government was open to a deal. And yet it didn't happen. Bad luck for those kids, their families, their communities, and our society.
Being able to exert influence on parliament may well rely on being alert and nimble. Recognising “when to hold them, and when to fold them, and when to walk away”, as Kenny Rogers put it. But everyone is accountable for the deals they do.
The decisions made in the Senate can affect thousands and thousands of Australians. We’d like to see the cross bench resist tight timeframes and deals made in the middle of the night, such as the deal that was done to freeze Family Tax Benefits, hitting families earning $60,000 or less particularly hard.
Simply put, there should be no division between a deserving and an undeserving poor.
On another note, April will see Anglicare Australia launching its annual Rental Affordability Snapshot (RAS) which will be covered in detail in next month's edition of Aspect. Please don't hesitate to be in touch for more information about this project with [email protected], and stay tuned for more details through our social media channels.
Kasy Chambers is Executive Director of Anglicare Australia