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 these bills be now read a second time.
Today is one of the most important days in this history of the Australian parliament. Today is the day that this bill saves millions of Australian jobs. Today is the day that the people's house delivers for the Australian people.
This is the ultimate Team Australia moment. At a time when the country needs it most, the Prime Minister has provided the strong, the stable and the decisive leadership that this nation needs. I would like to thank him for his friendship and support, together with the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Industrial Relations for their support in the preparation of the legislation that is before the House today.
Our actions today will keep families together, businesses in business and preserve the productive capacity of the economy. This is vital as we prepare to meet the challenges of today and position ourselves for the recovery tomorrow.
The coronavirus sees Australia fighting a war on two fronts.
We face a health crisis and economic crisis simultaneously.
But no matter how great the task ahead, all Australians need to know that their government has their back.
Our priority all along has been to prepare and resource our health system for the challenges that lie ahead. I want to acknowledge the extraordinary work of the Minister for Health.
At the same time, we have taken unprecedented steps to cushion the severe economic impact for Australians from the coronavirus and build a bridge to the recovery phase.
Our actions have always been guided by our principles. The measures we have implemented have been temporary, targeted, proportionate and scalable to the challenges we face. Our measures have also been designed to leverage our existing tax and transfer systems to ensure that we can get the support to the millions of Australians that need it in the most efficient and effective way possible.
Our actions to date have seen a doubling of the safety net with a new $550 per fortnight coronavirus supplement. We have also allowed Australians in financial stress as a result of the coronavirus to access more of their own money in superannuation on a tax free basis—permitting them to access $10,000 this financial year and a further $10,000 next financial year.
For hundreds of thousands of small businesses who are employing millions of Australians that are doing it tough, we will provide cash payments of up to $100,000. These payments will also support thousands of not-for-profit organisations.
We have also guaranteed new small business loans of up to $250,000 to help them bounce back stronger on the other side.
At the same time we have provided a regulatory shield for what are otherwise profitable and viable businesses that find themselves under severe financial pressure as a result of the coronavirus. By providing more flexibility in our insolvency and bankruptcy laws, we can keep these businesses alive and help them to trade through this period.
And today, we go further. Much further.
This bill introduces a $130 billion JobKeeper package to keep businesses in business and Australians in a job. This is the single biggest rescue package that our nation has ever seen.
It is anticipated that over the next six months the JobKeeper payment will support the jobs and livelihoods of around six million Australians, many of whom will need this critical economic lifeline. I'm pleased to note to the House that, despite these major spending pressures, Standard & Poor's has reaffirmed today Australia's AAA credit rating.
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures and this new $1,500 a fortnight payment will provide job security at a time when it is needed most.
This is a level of support like this country has never, ever seen before.
The $1,500 flat payment is the equivalent of about 70 per cent of the median wage and represents about 100 per cent of the median wage in some of the most heavily affected sectors, such as retail, hospitality and tourism.
It will be available to full-time and part-time workers, sole traders and, in the case of casuals, to those who have been with their employer for 12 months or more and importantly will apply to the many Australians working in the not-for-profit sector.
Combined with the government's previous actions, this totals $320 billion or 16.4 per cent of GDP in economic support to Australian businesses, households and individuals affected by the coronavirus to get them through to the other side and to put Australia in the best position possible to bounce back stronger than ever.
Fair Work Act amendments
This schedule will allow for the effective operation of the JobKeeper scheme within the national industrial relations system. It will quickly provide the certainty that employers using the JobKeeper payment need by temporarily varying working arrangements where necessary to keep people employed. At the same time it will offer employees strong protections from employers misusing the provisions and certainty as to their entitlements under the JobKeeper scheme.
These measures are time limited to the COVID-19 crisis and are only accessible to businesses participating in the JobKeeper scheme that need this flexibility right now.
In order to manage a downturn in business caused by the coronavirus, this schedule allows an employer to stand down an employee by directing them to work fewer days or reduced hours if the employee cannot be usefully employed because of the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the business. It also allows an employer, where the employer reasonably believes it is necessary to maintain the employment of their employee, to direct an employee to work from a different location, such as the employee's home, or undertake different duties than usual, but only where the direction is safe to do so and reasonably within the scope of the business's operations. It further allows an employer to request that an employee agree to change their days or time of work or use some of their annual leave, provided it does not result in the employee having a balance of less than two weeks annual leave.
This schedule includes strong protections for employees to ensure that they are treated fairly in any direction by an employer. The schedule applies only to employers and employees who are eligible for the JobKeeper payment. Any direction issued by an employer under this schedule must be reasonable; the employer must consult with the employee about it, and it must be put it in writing. An employee can dispute a direction made by an employer, and the Fair Work Commission will be able to settle any such disputes, including by arbitration. Serious penalties will apply to employers who misuse the provisions.
The J ob K eeper p ayment
The government will provide financial support to businesses, not-for-profits and sole traders affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
Under this framework, the government will deliver a wage subsidy to those employers significantly impacted by the coronavirus outbreak to continue paying their employees. The JobKeeper payment will support employers to maintain their connection to their employees, helping them to reactivate their operations quickly—without having to rehire staff—when the crisis is over.
Eligibility for the JobKeeper payment will be set out in the rules made by the Treasurer. The JobKeeper payment will be payable to an eligible employer who chooses to participate in the scheme, for a maximum of 26 weeks in respect of each employee that is on their books on 1 March 2020 and is retained or continues to be engaged by that employer. The program commences on 30 March 2020, the day of its announcement. Eligible businesses can begin distributing the JobKeeper payment immediately and will be reimbursed from the first week of May.
This schedule will also help new parents who have been stood down during the coronavirus pandemic to retain their eligibility for the government's Paid Parental Leave scheme by allowing the JobKeeper payment to qualify as work for the purposes of the Paid Parental Leave work test.
This change will provide increased certainty and security for expectant families through this difficult time.
To assist Services Australia to assess claims for social security payments, the bill allows temporary modifications to part 5 of the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999to enable the ATO to share information with Services Australia in relation to payments, such as the JobKeeper payment, made as part of the Coronavirus Economic Response Package.
Technical amendments to the g uarantee of l ending a ct
We are making a minor amendment to the Guarantee of Lending to Small and Medium Enterprises (Coronavirus Economic Response Package) Act 2020.
The amendment will ensure that smaller lenders that are non-authorised deposit-taking institutions are eligible for the government's Coronavirus Small and Medium Enterprises Guarantee Scheme. This reflects the government's original policy intent to enable a wide range of lenders to be eligible for this scheme.
Amendments to support the childcare sector
The government will assist families who are already struggling with the financial impact of the coronavirus by updating the calculation method used at childcare subsidy balancing for individuals who have changed their relationship status during the financial year.
We will ensure that this cohort of families' childcare subsidy entitlements more closely reflect their income capacity as it changes throughout the year. This change will take effect at reconciliation from July 2020 onwards.
This measure will ensure funding of the Community Child Care Fund Special Circumstances Grant Opportunity program and the additional childcare subsidy through special appropriations. It gives the government flexibility to respond quickly to community need in the event of unforeseen events such as the recent bushfires, drought and coronavirus.
Modification of information and other requirements
The government is responding to challenges posed by social-distancing measures and restrictions on movement and gathering, which were introduced to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
We will provide a temporary mechanism to alter arrangements for meeting information and documentary requirements under Commonwealth legislation, including requirements to give information in writing and produce, witness and sign documents.
In recognition of the importance of continued business transactions and government service delivery during the coronavirus pandemic, this schedule provides that a responsible minister may determine that provisions are varied or do not apply or that another provision specified in the determination applies, for a specified time period. The mechanism is temporary and will be repealed at 31 December 2020. Any determination made under the mechanism will also cease to operate at this time.
Additional support for v eterans
We will ensure that payments and assistance for veterans and their dependants can be amended in line with future changes to payments and assistance for equivalent social security recipients.
The coronavirus supplement will be extended to veterans or their dependants who receive payments on the same basis as those Department of Social Services payment recipients who receive the coronavirus supplement.
The schedule will include a provision for the Minister for Veterans' Affairs to make a legislative instrument under which payments of the coronavirus supplement could be paid to a person receiving a payment or a benefit under the veterans' law for the same period as payments of the coronavirus supplement are payable under the Social Security Act 1991 (the SSA).
For both of the provisions under which the Minister for Veterans' Affairs may make a legislative instrument, the minister must be satisfied that the determination was made in response to circumstances relating to the coronavirus pandemic, and the social services minister is to be consulted before the determination is made.
Information s haring
This legislation will ensure that the government is equipped to respond to this unprecedented challenge with the best available information. Under this schedule, the ATO will be temporarily allowed to disclose relevant de-identified data to the Treasury for the purpose of policy development or analysis in relation to the coronavirus, including any programs introduced in response to the economic impacts of the coronavirus.
Treasury is currently able to access de-identified information from the ATO for the purpose of designing or amending a tax law, estimating or analysing taxation revenue, and estimating the cost of policy proposals.
In conclusion, I would like to thank my fellow Treasury ministers: the Assistant Treasurer, the member for Deakin; Senator Hume; and Senator Seselja. I would also like to acknowledge the hard work of the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Finance and, in particular, acknowledge the secretary of Treasury, Dr Steven Kennedy, and one of his deputies, Jenny Wilkinson, who've worked extraordinarily hard on this package of measures. I would also like to acknowledge the constructive role played to date by the opposition, which will hopefully smooth the passage of this legislation through the parliament.
Full details of these measures are contained in the explanatory memorandum. This package of legislation also includes Appropriation Bill (No. 5) 2019-2020 and Appropriation Bill (No. 6) 2019-2020. The details of these bills are set out in their accompanying explanatory memoranda.
This package of bills provides a $130 billion wage subsidy unlike those that have been announced by other countries.
Our scheme is different to that of the United Kingdom, New Zealand or Canada. It's an Australian scheme for Australian conditions.
It goes without saying that this unprecedented level of support reflects the unprecedented moment that we find ourselves in.
This legislation is the means by which we will get Australians to the other side of the crisis.
I end where I started. Today is one of the most important days in the history of the Australian parliament. Today is the day that these bills will deliver $130 billion of support to Australian workers, saving millions of jobs. And today is the day the people's house delivers for the Australian people.
I commend these bills to the House.