Wednesday, 13 May 2020
Questions without Notice
I thank the member for Hughes for his question. No doubt the member for Hughes is a champion of many causes, but the small businesses in his electorate—indeed, all businesses in his electorate and everyone who is working hard each and every day—are who he backs. It's wonderful to report that, yes, the JobKeeper payment has been something that has been spoken about in this House many times, and rightly so. As the Treasurer has outlined on a number of occasions, the enthusiastic take-up of this program has been something that is perhaps unsurprising, but the way in which it is being administered and the way in which it has been rolled out have provided an extraordinary lifeline now for 850,000 Australian businesses. Those 850,000 businesses cover some 5.7 million employees, and both of those numbers are growing.
It's been an extraordinary effort to get to this point, and for those 850,000 businesses, covering 5.7 million employees, the average time that they are waiting to receive their JobKeeper payments is about two to three days. To add to what the Minister for Government Services has said: that has been and has relied upon a huge effort from our Public Service—in this case I want to say a huge effort from the employees and the leadership of the Australian Taxation Office.
Indeed, in my daily reports from the ATO, it's extraordinary to see the volume of traffic that they have been assisting Australian taxpayers with. For example, the average call volume in the last couple of weeks has been 87,000 phone calls a day that they have been attending to. They have extended their hours to very late at night and all weekend. To put that into some context, at this time last year they were attending to 35,000 calls a day, so it has more than doubled. That has relied upon the extraordinary commitment of our members of the ATO, who have delivered for those Australian businesses.
Just before Question Time I was speaking to the Mayor of Melbourne, and we were talking about a range of topics. One of the things that she said to me about the impact it's had on businesses that she has spoken to is that it is obviously not just the direct support and confidence. For those businesses that have tried to pivot—say, food businesses that have moved to takeaway—it has supported that pivot of their business model, because obviously their employees have a largely subsidised wage. So the JobKeeper support that we are providing has been exceptionally important and will continue to be exceptionally important, and I again want to thank our public servants, who have delivered this in such a quick fashion for Australian businesses.
My question is to the Prime Minister. Natalie operates a childcare centre in Maroubra in my electorate and employs eight people. Her revenue has halved since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, and only five of her employees are eligible for JobKeeper. She's had to turn away eight children so far. How are Australian mums and dads meant to go back to work if they can't get access to child care for their children?
I thank the member for his question. It is a very important question because we do want to make sure that the sector can continue to grow as we come out of the pandemic. What we put in place was a significant package to enable the sector to get through the pandemic, and it included free child care. It had three priority areas that we wanted to achieve through this, including making sure parents stayed engaged with their childcare centre so that, when we came out of this pandemic, they would be able to go back to that centre as they went back into employment. When we announced this, we said that we would have a four-week review process. That four-week review process has taken place, and we are now looking at that review and will have further refinements to play.
As you know, when you make a significant change like we did—we paused the existing system and in the space of days put in place a new system. We knew at that time that there would be certain unintended consequences that we would have to work through, and that's why we put a four-week review process in place. But I stand here today thanking the childcare sector for the way that they cooperated with the government in putting the new system in place. I also thank all those departmental officials who worked tirelessly to help us put this new scheme in place. It was those efforts which mean we stand here today and can say quite proudly that 98 per cent of the childcare sector is open, is operating and is looking after those children to make sure that they get the care and education that they deserve, despite what we've been through with the coronavirus pandemic. This is something that all of us, all of us in this House, should be incredibly proud of. In particular, there are those early childhood educators who have provided those services. They stayed open to make sure that those essential service workers could get the care that they needed for their children and that those vulnerable children could continue to get the care that they needed. If we had seen mass closures of the sector—and that is what was going to happen; Paul Mondo, who I quoted before, said that that was going to happen—those vulnerable children would not have gotten that care, those essential service workers would not have gotten that care and, as a nation, we would not have dealt with this pandemic as well as we should have. So this package was incredibly important for this nation, and I look forward to continuing to work with the sector as we come out of the pandemic to make sure that the childcare sector continues to thrive.