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; Second Reading
That the following words be added after paragraph (8):
"(9) calls on the Government to extend the 15 per cent reduction in turnover threshold to all National Disability Insurance Scheme and Disability Employment Services providers, and deliver a retention and support package for the disability sector workforce".
This amendment calls on the government to extend the 15 per cent reduction and turnover threshold to all National Disability Insurance Scheme and Disability Employment Services providers, and deliver a retention and support package for the disability sector workforce.
I say let us leave no-one behind in this crisis. I say let us learn from this crisis. In this terrible time for Australia, there are many vulnerable Australians doing it tough. I hear this in the disability portfolio, from disability workers without access to basic protective equipment: gloves, masks and sanitisers. I hear it from people with disabilities, some of them in group homes, and their loved ones. They fear perhaps they could be infected or indeed, more gravely, they fear that the workers who look after them may not be able to attend them in their homes. I hear it from the disability providers, many of whom were struggling to make ends meet before the coronavirus hit.
I say there is a strong national interest in keeping as many disability businesses afloat in this country as we humanly can. There is an acute national public interest in making sure that our 13,000-plus disability service providers do not collapse before the onslaught of this virus. There is an acute national interest in maintaining 350,000 disability care workers in this country in employment where they deliver irreplaceable essential services.
Under the new proposed law from the government, businesses that experience a fall of 30 per cent or more in their turnover will be eligible for the JobKeeper payment. Fittingly, and in recognition of the public service they provide, the bar is lower for charities. To be eligible they need a fall in turnover of 15 per cent. What this means in the disability sector is that those organisations that are registered charities, which are providing excellent services to vulnerable people and their families, have a fighting chance to get the support they need to keep doing their vital work; but disability businesses providing identical services to vulnerable people will have to meet a higher bar and will be likely excluded from the government support they need through JobKeeper. This will mean, in real terms, threefold consequences: already struggling disability providers go to the wall; their employees, these frontline heroes, will lose their jobs and join the unemployment queue; and, worst of all, there is the effect on people with disability, who rely on these services, who risk abandonment. It is not too dramatic to fear the stranding of some of our most vulnerable Australians in terrible situations in their own homes around our nation.
This virus does not distinguish or discriminate between disability charities and disability services, and nor should we. It will cut a swathe through all members of the disability family, people with disability, their carers and, of course, disability services. It is why we say that all in the disability sector should be afforded the lower 15 per cent turnover test to be eligible for JobKeeper relief. Disability workers need help too. They need retention schemes similar to those for aged-care workers that have already been pledged; consistent training for new workers; funding for coronavirus-specific training; specialist training for workers in coronavirus infected NDIS participants; emotional and psychological support for these workers; and sector capacity building to coordinate the sharing of staff amongst providers across regional areas.
There are many who are vulnerable in the face of this pandemic, and there are many have opted to make themselves vulnerable for the greater good. I speak, of course, of our amazing frontline healthcare workers. I speak of our carers and aged-care staff working with people, disability staff, doctors, nurses, cleaners and orderlies at hospitals, and security. I speak of the people at the check-out, the frontline staff manning the safety net at Centrelink. I speak of the journalists turning up to provide the information that Australians are hungry for. These are just a few of the altruistic vocational Australians turning up to work for the rest of Australia. They're not just turning up for a pay cheque; they are risking sickness or worse, yet they are turning up to help their fellow Australians in need.
There are many people who cannot go to work because this virus has already taken away their immediate livelihoods. And in relation to these millions of Australians, this safety net, worthy as it is, does not go far enough. Let us leave no Australian worker behind. I don't want people falling through the cracks—the forgotten who should not be forgotten, the neglected who should not be neglected. Let us leave no Australian behind.
Let us not leave behind the arts and entertainment workers, the freelancers, the contractors, the people behind the screen who entertain us during this period of the virus, the entertainment industry. Let us not leave behind the travelling show industry—10,000 employees, a billion dollars in turnover, and 700 to 800 families who supply entertainment for people, right across from the Ekka, the Royal Show and the Easter Show through to the country shows from Rockhampton to Lakes Entrance.
Let us not leave behind people like Ben Hughes, a construction worker from the United Kingdom, living in Hoppers Crossing. He's worked here for five years, has paid his taxes and is expecting, with his Australian fiancee, Rachel, a baby in the next six days.
Let us not leave behind the aviation workforce at Virgin and Tiger—8,000 people. Virgin does not operate in a free market, and we should not pretend to wash our hands of the responsibility to provide support.
Let us not leave behind the renters and the landlords, residential and commercial. Let us not leave behind the carers on healthcare cards not currently eligible for support. Let us not leave behind young people under 22 like Shanie Turner of Airport West, displaced by Jetstar, living a long way from her family, with no support available. Vulnerable workers with diabetes, asthma or immune deficiencies should not be left behind because of a lack of income support if they have to self-isolate.
Let us not leave behind 1.1 million casuals. I will not forget about you. Labor will not forget about you. The government should not forget about you. Let us leave no-one behind in this crisis. Let us learn from it.
There was the panic buying at the start of the crisis. It was sad to see the internet pictures of the elderly standing bewildered in front of empty supermarket shelves. It was disheartening to see so many of our fellow Australians queueing for the first time at Centrelink in pictures redolent of the Great Depression.
When this crisis passes, we need to learn from it. We need to bring manufacturing back to this country. Our manufacturing industry is as important as our Army, Navy and Air Force. We need it back. We never again should see a situation where valuable medical supplies that Australians require are being shipped overseas because of global market considerations and insufficient considerations of Australia's sovereign capacity. Never again should Australian interests be sold out on the economic theories of a global supply chain which sees Australia at the end and an afterthought if someone else needs what we need. We need pharmaceuticals, ventilators and the like, and they should be within our control and within our borders. We need to ensure that our Australian flagged ships carry our supplies to the world and we retain sovereign capacity in many parts of our economy.
We need to ensure that we learn the lessons of this crisis when this crisis passes. There's a thing that we don't often say in this country, and that is that we do things better here when we put our mind to it. We do things better in Australia. We punch above our weight in the whole world, and therefore we need to do better.
Finally, we are now endorsing the expenditure of $214 billion of taxpayer money which will be spent in the next six months. Whilst the intentions are good, mistakes will be made. We say that some of what is happening does not go far enough, but there'll be other points where the poorly and rushed calibrated system may see expensive mistakes made. This parliament needs to scrutinise that expenditure. The Prime Minister correctly said we are facing a conflict which is comparable to the great challenges of Australian history—war and depression. This parliament and this nation did not bend the knee to those crises by not having the parliament sit during those situations, and we conquered those situations. We will conquer this situation, this coronavirus—of that you can be certain. If not exactly when, be sure that we will. But this parliament should not bend the knee to the virus by not sitting to scrutinise the important debates of our democracy.