24 Mar 2017

VIDEO: Australian senator weeps over 'shameful' welfare cuts

10:29 am on 24 March 2017

Tasmania senator Jacqui Lambie has wept and told of her struggle to survive and support her family as she pleaded with the Australian government to rethink plans to merge childcare subsidies with family welfare.

During a late-night sitting, Ms Lambie told the chamber of how hard her life was after she was medically discharged from the Australian armed forces in 2000.

She wanted them to know what is was like "to be at the bottom of the crap pile," she said.

Her son had worn football boots that were two sizes too small for him because she couldn't afford a new pair, she said.

"There were times when I would sit in a corner and cry because I felt so ashamed - for two days I didn't know how I was going to put bread and milk on the table," she said.

At one point she cried as she spoke.

"There was a time when my fridge broke and for three weeks we lived out of an Eski (chillybin)," she said.

"It is shameful and embarrassing, but we do it not because we want to but because circumstances put us there," she said.

"And 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.

"If you really realised the damage that you are doing to that part of society, you would stop doing it.

"We're not living when we are like that, we are surviving, we are in a bloody war zone and we are surviving."

Supporters and opponents praised Ms Lambie, an Independent Senator, for representing ordinary, struggling Australians.

The speech was posted on social media, where it gained support.

The government's main reform passed the Senate after the savings measures to pay for changes, which Ms Lambie was objecting to, passed Senate on Wednesday night.

The savings package included a two-year freeze on the indexation of family tax benefits.

However, the main reforms would be forced to return to the House of Representatives after Senator Derryn Hinch passed an amendment to the bill that would see 15,000 families earning above $350,000 miss out on any form of childcare subsidy.

The Australian government's overhaul of the childcare system aimed to combine the means-tested Child Care Benefit and the non-means tested Child Care Rebate into one means-tested payment called the Child Care Subsidy.

Under the government's plan, families earning less than $65,000 would receive the highest payment, covering 85 per cent of their costs, however they would have to pass an 'activity test', which assessed, among other things, what they had done to gain employment.

Failing the activity test would still allow families 12 hours a week of subsidised childcare, but that is half what they would get under the current system.

The Opposition and the Greens had sought amendments to the legislation and called for the minimum hours of care available for every child under the legislation to be changed from 12 to 15.

Labor Senator Katy Gallagher said vulnerable children would not be appropriately covered by two six-hour days of child care per week.