In the late hours of Wednesday evening when most of us were tucked up on the couch and finding something new to watch on Netflix, Jacqui Lambie was rising to the Senate floor to attack the Social Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 and the disastrous effects she says it will have on those most in need of government support.
“It doesn’t matter how you package the new social services legislation amendment bill, it still cuts almost $2 billion from Australia’s most vulnerable families,” Lambie began.
Listen: Jacqui Lambie talks parenthood and politics with Mia Freedman on No Filter. Post continues…
Earlier that evening I had gone to the local shops and parted with $17 for dinner ingredients. I didn’t think twice about there being enough money in my account to pay for it.
Over in parliament, just after 9.30pm, Lambie, a single mother turned politician, was telling the floor “how demeaning” it can be to rely on government support to raise a family and recounting the seven years that very reality was her own.
“During that time, our times were tough,” the mother-of-two said. “There were times that I had to say no to my son who was great at football and great at athletics and great at basketball and who had the advantage of being able to represent his state and telling him on two occasions, ‘I’m sorry mate, but you can’t go, because I can’t afford for you to go.'”
"There were times where I would sit in a corner and cry because I felt so ashamed," she continued.
This morning I went to a cafe and spent $8 on coffees. Because somehow, at some point in my adult life, I've forgotten what it was like to grow up as the kid of a mum just like Lambie.
I'd forgotten about the countless times we came home to find homemade frozen meals sitting on our doorstep, the envelopes of money, the baskets of toys and clothes, the Christmas donation gifts.
I'd forgotten about our mum calling a family meeting to explain to us why we couldn't get a computer because, "if the fridge breaks, there's no money in the bank to get it fixed."
I'd forgotten about all the times I would find her crippled by stress, crying alone and trying to figure out how to juggle a minuscule amount of money to get her family through to the next pay check.
"For two days I didn't know how I was going to put bread and milk on the table," Lambie said on Wednesday.
"There was a time when my fridge broke and for three weeks we lived out of an esky, and I would put the esky under the house so the ice would last longer. That's what my life was like."
There were times she could not afford to renew the registration on her car. Times when she nearly went bankrupt. Times when she couldn't pay the fees at her son's school, she said.
"That's what my life was like for seven years," the Tasmanian Senator said.
"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."
Choking up, Lambie went on, "I just wish you would 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 are surviving. We are surviving to try and put bread on the table. We are surviving to try and make sure our kids 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."
Like Lambie, my mum was able to eventually climb out of the hole. She got a good job and worked hard and slowly climbed the ladder. She earned a university degree by distance, studying at night. She started being able to take holidays and buy things not for necessity, but for pleasure. And even though it's been over a decade since that period of her life ended, like Lambie, she can't forget it.
"I want you to know," Lambie said on the Senate floor last night, "that's what it's like to be at the bottom of the crap pile through no fault of our own for many of us... You have no idea how bloody tough it is. Every little cent counts to those people... And if you really realise the damage you are continually doing to that part of society you would stop doing it."
Those years rubbed off on me and my siblings. We know that money and niceties come from hard work. But we also know that sometimes through no fault of your own, things don't go to plan and that there may be a day where we won't have the luxury of buying groceries without a second thought.
What it also taught me, though, was that I was lucky enough to live in a country where the Government would help me if I ever do need it. But if the Social Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 is passed, that luck will run out for families just like mine and Lambie's.
And to quote Lambie, that's shameful.