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 (9):
"(10) calls on the Government to:
(a) recognise the importance of local government;
(b) acknowledge that the closure of council facilities has resulted in significant revenue loss and workers being stood down;
(c) acknowledge that, without support, up to 45,000 local government workers could lose their jobs; and
(d) work together with state governments to address these important issues".
Life's very different at the moment, for all of us, for everyone. In some respects, it's very strange. For a lot of people it's really hard. You just have to look at those lines of people snaking out of every Centrelink office around the country to realise that. Hundreds of thousands of people over the last few weeks have lost their jobs, and a lot of other people are working from home. Then there are the people who can't work from home—the doctors, the nurses, the ambulance officers, the cleaners, the kitchen hands. Everyone who works in our hospitals—they're the real heroes in all of this. While we're staying at home, they're out there saving lives.
There are lots of parents doing crash courses in school education as well, and there are lots of people who can't see their family, the people that they love, at least not face to face: grandparents locked away in isolation. Mums and dads are spending a lot more time than they usually do with their kids.
But not everyone. A mate of mine lives in the United States. His mum lives just around the corner from where I live. She's got cancer. It's terminal. She's been told that she's only got another couple of months to live, and he's been told he may not be able to come back to see her again—at least not in the flesh. He might not even be able to get to her funeral. He called me the other day and asked, if he couldn't go, if I'd stand there in his place and be one of those five people allowed to attend. That's just one example of what this virus has done to the world that we live in.
We support this legislation; it's good legislation—it's what we've been calling for for weeks. All those people standing in queues out of every Centrelink office around the country perhaps may not have had to be there if we had passed legislation like this last time we were here, two weeks ago. I think the government gets that. I think a lot of members went back to their electorates two weeks ago and saw those queues—they saw the anxiety and the worry on people's faces as they stood outside Centrelink offices around the country—and realised that something needed to be done differently here. So I thank the government for their change of heart. I thank them for bringing this legislation before the parliament. It's going to help a lot of people.
There are some people, though, who it won't help. There are more than a million people who are casuals and who miss out under this legislation. There are also a lot of council workers—the people who work in our councils—who don't get the benefit of this legislation. It's important that I point out that thousands of council workers who have lost their jobs in the last few weeks. In Geelong, 700 council workers were stood down last week. In the Prime Minister's own electorate, in the Sutherland Shire, 260 council workers were recently stood down. According to the Australian Local Government Association, as many as 45,000 council workers could lose their jobs over the course of the next few weeks. Why? Because councils run things like swimming pools, libraries and community centres, and some run regional airports, all of which have either had to shut down or are doing a lot less. As a result, their budgets are haemorrhaging.
A council like Blacktown council in Western Sydney, which is one of the biggest councils in Australia and which I spoke to yesterday, is losing $1.7 million every week because they've had to shut things down—just like the private sector has had to shut down. But, unlike the private sector, they're not getting any help. If you're a swimming pool instructor working at a private pool you get help out of this legislation, but if you're a swimming pool instructor at a public pool you don't.
The government has written to councils all across the country, asking them to identify shovel-ready road projects which could be part of the recovery after the worst of the virus has come and gone. They have asked for that list by today. I recognise that the minister for local government is in the chamber here. He is doing good work here, and I thank him for the work he's doing. This is a good initiative; it makes sense to identify the projects that local governments can do which can be part of the recovery phase. Local governments can not only build roads but they can help rebuild communities after the worst of this virus has passed, and help us to get life a little bit back to normal. But that's the recovery phase; we are now in the survival phase, and councils need help. Otherwise, we risk seeing more people who are currently working for councils lining up outside the front of Centrelink.
Think about this: rates notices are about to go out to people all across the country at the moment, and a lot of people are going to walk to the letterbox, open it up, pull out the rates notice and think, 'How the hell am I going to pay this?' And a lot of other councils are going to think, 'What are we going to do if we don't get that revenue to help to keep things going: to mow the lawns, collect the garbage and do all that work?'—work that we expect them to do. The United Kingdom has introduced a subsidy like this, and it applies to local government staff. They have also done what we did after the bushfires, and that is to provide funds to local councils to help keep them going and to do the essential stuff.
But this bill doesn't do that; the Prime Minister has said that it's a job for the state governments. I think it's a job for all of us. If councils can't collect the garbage as often as they do or if our local parks start to look like national parks, then a lot of angry people are going to be ringing us and asking what we're doing to help. It's something that we can all do, working together, and that's why I've moved this motion in the House today, calling on the federal government and the state governments to work together to help to fix this—to keep local government going and to keep local government workers from losing their jobs.