House debates

Tuesday, 22 June 2021


COVID-19 Disaster Payment (Funding Arrangements) Bill 2021; Second Reading

5:24 pm

Photo of Jim ChalmersJim Chalmers (Rankin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | Hansard source

It is, Mr Deputy Speaker. I second the amendment. The COVID-19 Disaster Payment (Funding Arrangements) Bill 2021 is a really important bill. It goes to the type of support that the Commonwealth provides to those Australians, in this instance Victorians, who are impacted by the Prime Minister's failure to do either of his two jobs this year, which were to get vaccinations right and to build dedicated quarantine facilities.

What we know from the budget—not that the Treasurer fessed up to it on the day—is that the Treasury and the Treasurer expect there to be one-week lockdowns in major CBDs every month for the rest of the year. The budget assumes that the government will continue to fail to get vaccination and quarantine right and that, as a consequence, we will have more of the style of lockdown that we saw in Victoria not that long ago. The budget assumes that the government will continue to fail to deliver on those two key fronts. What Australians, in particular Australian small businesses, have to look forward to as a consequence of the Prime Minister's incompetence in those two key areas is more of these lockdowns. They are very damaging to business, obviously, and very damaging to workers. They are very damaging to confidence, to the ability of the people of this country to get back on their feet and recover properly from this horrible pandemic and the recession that we saw last year. You cannot have a first-rate economic recovery with a third-rate vaccine rollout, but it's a third-rate vaccine rollout that we're getting from those opposite. At the same time, they refuse to do what's necessary to get purpose-built quarantine facilities built fast enough to prevent leakage of the virus in hotel quarantine. Hotels are built for tourism; they're not built for quarantine. For too long now, as the government has dragged its feet and pretended it is somebody else's responsibility, the failure to get those quarantine facilities built has had the sorts of consequences that we saw in Victoria not that long ago. Victoria is only just emerging from that lockdown. So the only reason that this legislation is necessary is the government's failure to bring the pandemic under control, which is as a consequence of their failure to get quarantine and vaccination right.

Throughout this pandemic, Labor have tried, in this parliament and outside the parliament, to be as constructive as we can, particularly when it's obvious that the people of this country, in particular the small businesses of this country, need support. It's what we did with JobKeeper. When we originally proposed wage subsidies, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer said that it would be a dangerous development. We were very pleased when they had a change of heart. We didn't rub their noses in it when they had a change of heart, because it was crucial that we got that support out into the community. The Treasury said, when JobKeeper was being withdrawn, that they feared mass job losses. There were 56,000 jobs lost when the Treasurer cut JobKeeper. He seems to have forgotten about those 56,000 families who faced the diabolical consequences of the JobKeeper cuts. What we've said all along is that we want to help the government get it right. The government has sprayed JobKeeper money all around. The member for Melbourne—and I commend him for his efforts on this front—and my Labor colleagues, including the member for Fenner, here in Canberra, and others, have done a good job of pointing out that, if the government hadn't sprayed around so much of that support, giving it to businesses that didn't need it, we would have more room in the budget to support Victorians and other Australians who genuinely need help. This bill is about getting that support out the door in a timely fashion.

The Treasury secretary, in estimates—not that long ago—said that he thought about $100 million a day was being lost from the Victorian economy during the most recent lockdown. The Treasurer wants a pat on the back for providing $20 million in support. It is too little, too late: only about $3 for every locked down Victorian. When communities are locked down as a consequence of the Prime Minister's incompetence, he should stop trying to wash his hands of it. He should stop trying to pretend it's somebody else's responsibility. It's a Commonwealth government responsibility to provide that kind of income support. To the extent that these bills provide a mechanism for that support to be provided, obviously that's an important development.

What we need to see as soon as possible are those two failures rectified. We need the government to get vaccinations right. We need them to build those purpose-built facilities. As the member for Scullin said a moment ago, we need a mass education advertising campaign to get people over this vaccine hesitancy. We also need to build the kinds of facilities that are required to manufacturer mRNA vaccines in this country. That's our four-point plan for what needs to happen now. We urge the government to adopt it. We urge the government to come to the table in a far more timely way and a far more significant and substantial way when communities are locked down. Australians are doing it tough as a consequence of the government's incompetence. The least the government can do is provide that support where it's needed.


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