Thursday, 29 October 2020
Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Coronavirus and Other Measures) Bill 2020; Second Reading
I want to thank the member for Lingiari for an excellent argument for looking after people in remote communities much better than we do and supporting them much better than we do. I want to thank the member for Barton for this amendment and all of her terrific work on behalf of unemployed Australians. She is a wonderful person to have on your side.
This amendment, proposed by the member for Barton, would extend the coronavirus supplement to March, in line with the JobKeeker payment, and it would legislate for a permanent increase to the base rate of JobSeeker. I'm pretty sure we all agree in here that it's impossible to ask people to live on $40 a day again. I don't think there's anyone in this chamber who imagines that they could live on $40 a day and yet we are asking a million people to contemplate returning to living on $40 a day.
The case for the change proposed by the member for Barton is simple: it is not possible to live on $40 a day. The previous rate of Newstart is too low for people to live a dignified and healthy life. Of course, if someone can work they should work. If there is a job available and the person has the ability to do it of course they should do that work. But the simple reality at the moment is that we are in a recession. We have 13 people for every job vacancy. For entry-level jobs the competition is even harder. There are 106 people competing for every entry-level job in Australia. That tells you that despite the very best efforts of hundreds of thousands of people to look for work we will continue to see people locked out of the labour market. The government's own estimates are that 160,000 more people will be unemployed by Christmas and what are we saying to those people? That they can look forward to life on $40 a day. On $40 a day it's pretty hard to afford the rent, eat a decent healthy diet, buy a train fare to the job interviews that you're trying to do, maybe find a clean shirt to wear to that interview. All of these things become out of reach and work together to keep people locked out of the labour market.
I've had contact from many people in my own electorate saying that they are fearful. What keeps them awake at night is the fear of returning to life on $40 a day. The temporary increase has meant that they're finally eating a healthy diet, that they're able to put good food on the table for their kids, that they're able to buy the school shoes that they have been putting off buying for ages. A Glebe resident recently called my office worried sick about returning to that $40 a day. The same is true of people on disability support pensions, sole parents, age pensioners who are struggling with very low interest rates from banks.
We have too many Australians who are living below the poverty line, and the sad thing, the tragic thing—I'd say the immoral thing—about this is that the government is prepared to rack up well over a trillion dollars of debt. They're prepared to spend that borrowed money on subsidising Clive Palmer's private jet so he can fly around Queensland, campaigning. They're prepared to spend borrowed money subsidising Clive Palmer's private jet, but they're not prepared to reassure people who are sick, unemployed, looking after kids on their own, too old to work, or disabled that they've got their backs. They're prepared to spend money on JobKeeper payments for a company that pays an executive a bonus—not a salary, a bonus—of $2½ million, but they're not prepared to reassure poor, old, sick, isolated people that they've got their backs at a time like this—the worst recession that we've had since after the Second World War. They are not prepared to make sure that the most vulnerable Australians can live without the fear of poverty, but they are prepared to spend $30 million on a block of land worth less than $3 million. They are prepared to allow Australia Post executives to spend $20,000 on watches, but they're not prepared to make sure that the poorest people can put food on the table.
I will just finish with this. There is a moral reason to do this. Australia is a country that does not have to choose poverty for its most vulnerable people. There is a moral reason to do this. But there's also a really good economic reason to do this. We know that people on low or limited incomes, if they get an extra 10 bucks in their pocket, will spend it—putting food on the table for their kids, buying shoes, paying the rent, making sure the electricity bill is paid. They will reinvest that money in the community, creating jobs for other Australians. We know that confidence in our economy was low before COVID-19 hit. We can supercharge aggregate demand in our economy by making sure the people on the lowest incomes have a bit more in their pocket to spend each week. That little bit extra in their pocket to spend creates work for other Australians. This is an investment in economic growth, as well as being the right thing to do morally.