Thursday, 10 December 2020
COVID-19: Employment, COVID-19: Income Support Payments
As we've heard from others, 2020 has been a very tough year for so many in Australia, including in my home state of Tasmania and particularly for those working Tasmanians and those that have been on the front line during this pandemic. To the supermarket workers, the cleaners, the truck drivers, the nurses, the aged-care workers: I want to say a huge big thank you for all of the work that you have done in what has been an incredibly difficult year.
I've said in this place before that Tasmania now has the highest unemployment in Australia. We also have the lowest participation rate. We also have the lowest percentage of the population in the workforce. Tasmanians also have the lowest wages: both the average and the median wage in Tasmania are lower than anywhere else in the country. Tasmanians have been doing it incredibly tough. And then what we saw from this government was an unscheduled Christmas present: cuts to wages for some of the lowest-paid. I will not stand by and allow this government to unilaterally cut the wages of some of the hardest-working and lowest-paid workers in my community. It is simply not on. I cannot believe the denials we heard from some on the government side yesterday in question time. They said that this was absolutely not what they were doing—and then I picked up the newspaper this morning to see them saying, 'We might undo it.' Yesterday you weren't doing it, and today you are going to undo it! What are you actually doing to workers, who have had an incredibly tough year? It's not fair. They've had enough. They've worked so hard, for so many in our community, all this year. It is not okay to play these games with their wages. They've had an incredibly tough time.
So many Tasmanians are unemployed. Indeed, the shocking number for Tasmania is that we have half a million people, that is 50,000 Tasmanians, who are either looking for work or looking for more hours. Fifty thousand—it's an incredible number of people doing it incredibly tough. When I get out and about in my electorate and talk to people about what sort of a year it's been, and in the calls to my office and contacts with my office, there are so many people crying out for assistance. We know that the changes to JobKeeper have had a huge impact on Tasmania's unemployment rate already. We know that the changes to JobSeeker are going to have a further impact on the Tasmanian economy. Talking to local business owners, cafe and restaurant owners, they are already seeing less money moving about in the Tasmanian economy because of these changes. At a time when unemployment is going up, and at a time when people's wages are already low, this is not the right thing to do. It is absolutely not the right thing to do to have less money circulating in the economy. My home state of Tasmania will not be able to survive with the types of cuts that the government are making to JobSeeker and JobKeeper and the cuts they are now proposing to the wages of very hardworking Tasmanians. The government need to rethink their strategy; I'm glad they are. But for them to say yesterday that they were not doing this—frankly, Tasmanians find that insulting.