Thursday, 14 May 2020
I've heard from hundreds of people in my electorate of Melbourne about the JobKeeper payment. Whilst we cautiously welcome the introduction of this scheme after pressuring the government for weeks to introduce a wage subsidy, JobKeeper is still leaving millions behind. Over one million casual workers, half of whom are young people, remain excluded. Approximately one million temporary working visa holders are excluded. Our arts and creative sector has been left behind, and we've seen the government do whatever it takes to ensure that schools and universities are denied the support that they so crucially need. This is shameful and unacceptable. Many of those who may be eligible struggle to keep up with the constantly changing and confusing information. Those who are relying on this payment, including small businesses across the country, have not been able to confirm their eligibility before being required to make significant financial decisions, and this is causing anxiety and exposing many workers and employees to financial risk.
During this time of crisis, workers and businesses need clarity, certainty and support. Unfortunately, the government continues to cause confusion. To hear members of the government and now the Labour Party saying that the JobKeeper payment might be too high for some people and potentially rip money away from low-paid workers who've already received it is disappointing to say the least. We cannot pit workers against each other and leave them in the lurch. The government must expand the JobKeeper program but not at the cost of low-paid workers.
Just this morning we heard of the horrifying job figures, which highlight the scale of the job crisis we face. Nearly four in 10 young people do not have a job or do not have enough hours of work. The government is using young people as economic cannon fodder in this crisis, and this is a warning: unless the government massively invests to recover from this crisis, already skyrocketing unemployment and underemployment for young people will reach catastrophic levels in the coming months and years. Today's figures reveal an unemployment rate of 6.2 per cent, with 33.7 per cent of young people out of work or not having enough hours of work, even without taking into account any hidden impact of the job keeper payment. But these concerning figures obscure the extent of the crisis we face, because an additional 490,000 people are currently not in the labour force and are not being counted in our unemployment figures. This government is jeopardising the future of young people, and we need to invest in nation-building projects to create decent jobs and a living income to give young people hope.
I also want to take this opportunity to talk about one of the groups of workers who have gone largely and publicly unrecognised during this pandemic: childcare workers. These are frontline workers and educators who, despite any trepidation they feel in these uncertain times, show up to work day in, day out with a smile on their face. These workers reassure, care for and educate our nation's youngest minds, and, as the father of two daughters under the age of five, I know how much child care means to my family, and I'm sure every parent around the country can agree that childcare workers hold a special place in their families' hearts. I talked about the trepidation that child care workers and centres are feeling right now, because I've spoken with childcare centre operators in my electorate of Melbourne, and they have told me that they are barely surviving under this government's COVID-19 childcare package. They've told me that where their expenses have gone up—what with needing to buy more wipes and sanitiser, for example—their incomes have gone down. While parents no longer have to pay childcare fees, the government's relief package only covers about 50 per cent of these centres' pre-COVID income, with centres expected to make up the remaining income with JobKeeper payments, but the JobKeeper payment is full of holes and childcare centres are struggling because JobKeeper is falling short.
One childcare centre in my electorate formerly employed several educators who held temporary working visas. They've been excluded from the government's package, but the government is also saying to the centre, 'It's okay. Rely on JobKeeper.' Well, it's not available. The centre's operators were distressed when they told me that they'd had to let these workers go because they were ineligible for JobKeeper. Another centre in my electorate is currently short-staffed. In a time when so many people are out of work, this childcare centre is unable to fill their staffing vacancies, because the government has excluded their workers from receiving JobKeeper. Childcare centres have told me they're having to drastically reduce staffing hours, shorten the centre's operating hours and let go of valued staff just to stay open. I know, and parents across the country all know, that child care is an essential service. It's so essential that I believe government should make free and universal child care permanent. As a parent, I want to thank the childcare workers who look after kids and educate children right across the country. As an MP, I urge the government to fix up this mess and provide childcare centres with the support they need to continue doing the essential work they do.