Wednesday, 8 April 2020
Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Bill 2020, Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus (Measures No. 2) Bill 2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 5) 2019-2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 6) 2019-2020; Consideration in Detail
I rise to speak on the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Bill 2020 and related bills. On behalf of the Greens, I support these amendments that are being moved by the opposition, because they go some way towards picking up some of the people who have been left behind in the government's package. Chief amongst those, and who we have been campaigning for, are casual workers. I hope the opposition might reconsider its earlier position and support some of the amendments which the Greens will move in the Senate in an attempt also to close some of the holes and fill some of the gaps that have been left in this scheme. Certainly, when that happened last time we were able to get somewhere with the government. I would hope that when it comes to looking after workers that we can potentially go even further in the Senate than some of these amendments, and make sure that people aren't left behind.
I have two questions for the minister, relating to some of the things that the minister just said and who is going to be covered by these schemes. One is with respect to groups of employees who aren't casuals but who work on repeated short-term contracts. I'm thinking particularly of people who work in the arts. There would be people who work on productions—on shows like the Melbourne Comedy Festival, which has just been cancelled—whose income will be patchy over the course of a year. They will perhaps move from production to production, from gig to gig and work for a period. It might be for a few weeks or a few months at a time. They will save up an income and then wait until they get the next job, and then go on to that. They will often do that as employees. They may not do it as casual employees—I'm not talking about casuals. It may be that they do it on a contract basis, or they do it as full-time employees on a fixed-time contract or they do it as part-time employees.
I understand the point about casuals, and I disagree with it—and we'll pursue those amendments separately. But, putting aside whether people are casuals or not, my question to the minister is that if someone has a proven history of earning income to keep themselves afloat, and they do it on a job-by-job basis—for example, in the arts industry—is it the case that if they happened to be working on, say, a production or on a contract at 1 March then they're entitled to jobseeker payment, but if for whatever reason their contract finished two days earlier then they're not now going to be entitled to jobseeker payment? And, if that's right—and we're talking about people who have been employees, as opposed to sole traders, and putting aside casuals versus noncasuals—would the minister consider an extension of the scheme to cover those people who have a proven history of earning incomes above the jobseeker level?
I would ask the minister to consider making those people entitled to the JobKeeper payment—let them register as a sole trader or however we need to to minimise the changes that need to be made to the scheme. If someone has a proven history of income earning, albeit in a patchy way, will the minister undertake to look at making the scheme available to those people, even if they weren't employed on 1 March, or if, for whatever reason, their employer determines that they're not going to pick up the scheme on 1 March?
For people who work on and off throughout the course of the year and get a decent income, but find themselves, for whatever reason, ineligible for the current JobKeeper payment, will you consider making them eligible for JobKeeper if they can demonstrate a proven history of earning income through work? That's the first question that I have for the minister.
The second question relates to the breadth of the rules and the powers that can be made under the payments and benefits bill. Can the minister confirm to the House that the power and the rules that will be made cannot be used to take away an existing entitlement or benefit that someone may have under some other act or some other scheme? In other words, if someone has an entitlement, whether it's under an industrial award, or it's a social security payment or the right to get some kind of housing payment—whatever it is, if someone has an existing right to access a benefit can the minister confirm that the payments and benefits bill does not authorise the making of rules to take away those benefits and entitlements? And, if that's not the case, can the minister say so, but give an undertaking that they won't be used in that way?