House debates

Thursday, 29 October 2020


Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Coronavirus and Other Measures) Bill 2020; Second Reading

12:18 pm

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | Hansard source

I rise in support of the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Coronavirus and Other Measures) Bill 2020. I recognise that the proposed additional economic support payments are necessary to support those on Centrelink payments such as the disability support pension and the age pension. As the member for the oldest electorate in South Australia, I am sure many of the constituents in Mayo who currently receive these payments will welcome these additional funds. I'm also supportive of the proposed retrospective changes to the youth allowance independent paid work concession. That will support young people who continue to work towards financial independence. This change acknowledges the impact that COVID-19 had on the employment status of many young people in our communities and ensures they're not penalised for an economic crisis that was by no means their fault.

A revision of the paid parental leave work test period is also welcomed as this measure openly acknowledges the impact COVID-19 has had on a parent's ability to remain employed during one of the toughest economic downturns in Australia's history. Providing working parents with more lenient requirements to access their payment has the potential to support many more parents to remain home with their newborns instead of being forced to return to work early so they can continue to pay their bills.

I am, however, disappointed to see that there is no mention of the fortnightly $250 corona supplement continuing past 31 December. If you have a look at the Centrelink website, it says, 'From 1 January 2021 your payment will change to the normal JobSeeker rate.' Just to inform the House exactly what that normal JobSeeker rate is, if you are single and you don't have children, it is $565.70 a fortnight. That's not a week; that's a fortnight. It works out to be $282.85 a week. If you are single and have dependent children, it's $612 a fortnight—so just over $300 a week.

It's worth noting that this supplement not only supports the 1.56 million people currently receiving JobKeeper and youth allowance payments across Australia; the additional supplement has also provided much-needed financial assistance to parents receiving the parenting payment, students receiving Austudy and ABSTUDY living allowance and farmers receiving the farm household allowance. Nearly two million Australians are having to remain vigilant, struggling to plan for their future or even budget for Christmas, and they do not know if their fortnightly $250 coronavirus supplement—that extra $125 a week—will continue past the end of this year.

This legislation provided the government with an opportunity to put millions of people's minds at rest and to provide them with certainty, acknowledging that this year has been one of the toughest yet. We are all aware that the cost of living has increased since COVID hit, and the additional coronavirus supplement has been necessary to ensure individuals and families are able to meet those increased expenses. For years now I have called on the government to raise the rate of Newstart, now named JobSeeker, as most recipients were living below the poverty line prior to the introduction of the coronavirus supplement. These additional funds have provided a much-needed reprieve for individuals and families who were previously struggling with rent, school fees and other essential items. Unlike many Newstart recipients, most of us in this place have never needed to make the choice between purchasing meals from the supermarket or paying rent to ensure that we have a roof over our head. We mustn't forget that that coronavirus supplement actually helps all of our local businesses, because it gives people who are on Centrelink that extra money and then they spend it locally. They are not spending it on overseas holidays. They are spending it in our local IGA. They are spending it in our local grocery stores.

So, in closing, I do support this legislation. I would urge the government to provide some certainty to people who are on Centrelink and currently receiving that coronavirus supplement, particularly people who are on JobSeeker, formerly known as Newstart, because no Australian can live on just over $250 a week. It really just is impossible.


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