23 March 2017, Canberra, Australia
I want to tell you a little bit about my story. I want to tell you very quickly what happened to me when I was medically discharged from the armed forces in 2000. When I was medically discharged, I thought, 'No worries—the Department of Veterans' Affairs will help me get back on my feet and they will look after me.' That did not happen to me. So for me to be able to survive as a single mum with two kids I had no other choice but to go to Centrelink.
I had worked. I had been serving at Rotary tables from the time I was 10. I was working at the speedway at 12 and I had my first job at Kmart when I was 14 years and nine months. I worked in nightclubs and I worked in a supermarket during that time. I took a gap year and went and worked in the real world. That is what I did. So you can imagine what it was like to me, how shameful it felt and how demeaning it was for me, to work my whole life to become a single mum living with two kids and to try to support them on a disability support pension.
During that period, times were tough. There were times when I had to say no to my son, who was great at football, great at athletics and great at basketball, and who had the vantage of being able to represent his state. I told him on two occasions, 'I'm sorry, mate, but you can't go because I can't afford for you to go.' At one stage there he was wearing football boots that were too small for him, from the winter beforehand, because I could not afford to get him some. He had to wait. There were times when I would sit in a corner and cry because I felt so ashamed. For two days, I did not know how I was going to put bread and milk on the table. There was a time when my fridge broke and for three weeks we lived out of an esky. I put the esky under the house, so the ice would last longer. That is what my life was like. There were three occasions where I could not afford my rego—for four weeks one time, six weeks another time and 10 weeks another time—and I drove around without a registered car. On two separate occasions, I drove around without a licence because I could not renew it.
In 2006, I was going bankrupt and I would have lost my family home. I struggled for another 12 months until I went into Nick Sherry's office and begged him to help me to get my super released. Nick Sherry was very good to me—former Senator the Hon. Nick Sherry. He got that money for me within three weeks. But I paid dividends for that, because there are no clauses in there to cover when you are sick or injured or in dire straits. You will still get taxed because you are taking it out early. I lost a great deal of my super. But in the meantime, at least it saved my house. It gave us a little bit more breathing space. Had it not been for the honourable Senator Sherry, then I can assure you, Madam Deputy President Lines, I would have gone bankrupt. That is what my life was like for seven years.
I had to beg and borrow to fight a government bureaucracy in the court system until I won and paid that money back. But I can tell you that I was so far behind by the time that I won that case—and my money was backdated—that my bills had piled up. Seven years on a disability support pension; I sure as hell did not come out in front. This is what it is like. It is not a choice for many of us to be on welfare. It is shameful and it is embarrassing and it is bloody tough. But we do it not because we want to but because circumstances put us there.
This is what it is like, it is not a choice for many of us to be on welfare. It is shameful and it is embarrassing and it is bloody tough. But we do it not because we want to, but because circumstances put us there. For you to take more money off those people, you have no idea how bloody tough it is. Every little cent counts to those people. What you are doing is shameful. If you really realise the damage that you are continually doing to that part of society, you’d stop doing it. I am just asking you, I know you haven’t been through that but there are some of us in here that have and it was difficult during our lives and we’ve paid the price for that through no fault of our own. I just wish you’d reconsider what you’re doing because you know, we’re not living when we’re like that, we’re surviving, we’re in a bloody war zone and we’re surviving. That’s all we are doing, each day we are surviving. We are surviving to put bread on the table. We are surviving to make sure our kids can get the basics in life. We are trying to make sure our kids are better, so our kids can go to decent schools if we want that choice. I was really lucky in some areas and I thank St Brendan-Shaw College who allowed me to, when I got in very difficult situations for three years, to not pay school fees for my children. But they let them stay there. So I want you to know that’s what it’s like to be at the bottom of the crap pile through no fault of our own.