House debates

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Grievance Debate

JobKeeper Payment

5:55 pm

Photo of Peter KhalilPeter Khalil (Wills, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

Isn't it great to be back in parliament! Let's start on a note of bipartisanship. We can all share that sentiment, that it's good to be back at work here in Canberra. I'm particularly proud and honoured to be back working, for the people of Wills, in my electorate. It's probably true to say, I think we can all agree, that we're all very happy to see the back of 2020. You've had the disastrous bushfires at the start of the year, the outbreak of COVID-19, the economic recession and hard times that we've gone through and the rolling restrictions. All of that pushed us to our absolute limits as a nation. It's taken a lot of perseverance, a lot of strength, to get through it and, for many people, to simply get by.

As much as we might want to forget 2020 happened, it's not as simple as declaring that this is a new year. It's an arbitrary date. It's also true to say that if we don't face the challenges we have as a nation and tackle them head on we'll end up repeating the past, in many respects. Now is not the time to delay on that kind of action. It's not the time to ignore or forget. It is true, because we are a stronger nation, because we are more resilient and more capable than we've ever been, that it's really the time to act. To do this, we need to give every Australian the chance to get back on their feet. We're recovering from the deepest recession in almost a century, yet this government—here I am, getting bipartisan—is deliberately making things worse for hardworking Australians.

Our Treasurer, just this past weekend, stood firm that JobKeeper will be terminated at the end of March and that the government is reluctant to consider a permanent increase to unemployment benefits. Apparently, it's time for the Morrison government—despite the pandemic still being with us—to shirk that responsibility to the people who need support the most. I say to the government: now is not the time to ignore the 1.6 million Australians who are still relying on this lifeline or the more than two million Australians who are either out of work or want more hours at work. In order to move forward, we also need to recognise those difficulties of the past year, listening to the cries for help and ensuring that Australians can get that help where they need it.

In 2020 I heard—I'm sure we all as MPs have heard—so many stories about the long-lasting mental health impacts of COVID-19: the isolation, the feeling of being disconnected, the reality of being disconnected, of losing work, losing income, not seeing friends, not seeing loved ones and family. That anxiety, that uncertainty, is still there with many people. People are still living with this. So we're certainly not through the worst of what we could say is the height of the mental health crisis. In fact, it's just the beginning, in many respects. Despite the constant reminder that we're all in this together, many people have not been together; they've been separated and they've been isolated.

I suppose we sometimes avoid having those honest conversations about our mental health. For young people, especially, the pandemic has upset their lives at a pivotal moment in their lives, at the very time they are transitioning into adulthood, deciding what to study, searching for their first job, looking for an affordable home, all made so much harder by this pandemic. So there are lots of question marks around important milestones and what's possible in the years to come. But the uncertainty that many Australians feel and face did not vanish when we hit upon 1 January 2021.

The ABS reported that 32 per cent of younger Australians, aged 18 to 34 years, experienced very high levels of psychological trauma and distress during COVID, with women more likely than men to have experienced that distress.


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