House debates

Wednesday, 26 August 2020


Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Jobkeeper Payments) Amendment Bill 2020; Second Reading

4:34 pm

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fenner, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

We are now in the greatest economic downturn that Australia has seen since the Great Depression. Research from the Australian Treasury has revealed just how damaging this can be, particularly to young Australians. That research has looked at the so-called scarring effect, the long-term effect, of graduating in the teeth of a recession. I know this effect well, having finished high school in 1990 and seen some of my classmates who searched for work utterly unable to find it at that time. We know now that there are 13 jobseekers for every job vacancy, so this problem is particularly acute.

The research conducted by Daniel Andrews of the Australian Treasury—now at the OECD—titled The career effect of labour market conditions of entry found that a person who enters the labour market for the first time during a recession is more likely to be unemployed and more likely to be unemployed for longer. When they do find a job—if they do—they are more likely to work at a low-productivity firm and are less likely to switch firms, thereby missing out on the wage gains that come from that. Their estimate is that somebody who enters the workforce in a year in which youth unemployment is five percentage points higher suffers an eight per cent hit to their earnings in the first year and a 3.5 per cent hit to their earnings in the fifth year. The scarring effect lasts a full decade.

We know that in Australia right now we are seeing significant adverse effects right across the labour market. We've seen a downturn in hours of some 20 per cent and the effective unemployment rate, the Treasurer tells us, will go to 13 per cent. The difference between those is JobKeeper, a wage subsidy scheme urged on the government, after they initially dragged their heels, by Labor. Labor recognises the value of wage subsidy schemes and maintaining the connection between employer and employee. Its value has been shown in Australia, as it has overseas.

But JobKeeper is far from perfect. Let's start with the finances. When it was announced in March, the federal government anticipated the program would cost $130 billion and support six million jobs. They continued to say in May that those figures were on track, until the $60 billion penny dropped and it was revealed that the program was in fact costing $70 billion and supporting only 3.5 million jobs. Rather than admitting the mistake, the Treasurer blamed employers for putting the wrong figure on the tax office form. After years of talking about the importance of personal responsibility to Liberals, the Treasurer was unable to take responsibility for the single biggest fiscal error in Australian history.

We have also seen problems in the way in which JobKeeper is designed. In other countries, wage subsidy schemes subsidise wages. In the past the government has touted the Single Touch Payroll scheme, which records how much employees earn and how much their hours are. But rather than rely on data from Single Touch Payroll, the government instead opted to supply a flat $750 a week. That means that someone working one day a week received a windfall but it also meant the coalition was able to say that one million casuals who had been with their current employer for less than a year were ineligible, hitting hard many of those in the arts and hospitality sectors.

So, we have a JobKeeper scheme that is less well targeted than it could be if the government could make appropriate use of the data. I acknowledge in this my colleague the member for Gellibrand, who has done very important work on government data systems and ensuring that we get them right. It really matters here. Better targeting could allow JobKeeper to be extended to many more people. The government's deficient data systems are costing the budget and costing Australians in increased joblessness. Even from September the government isn't targeting precise wages. They are going to a more clumsy solution, a two-part payment, of $600 a week for those who work more than 20 hours a week and $375 a week for those working less than 20 hours a week.

We are also seeing too little transparency from the government. The Ardern government has put in place a website to which any New Zealander can log on and find every firm that is getting their equivalent of JobKeeper. But such an innovation doesn't exist in Australia. Even if you are a firm with a turnover of over $100 million, the taxpayer doesn't know whether or not you are getting JobKeeper. As Dean Paatsch from Ownership Matters has pointed out, that means that some firms are on track to receive JobKeeper and report an increase in profits. That is why some have dubbed it 'DividendKeeper', now that we have seen certain firms receiving taxpayer support and then paying that right back out to shareholders. It could be that that is paid out to executives as well. Dean Paatsch puts it mildly when he says, 'I don't think it was ever the intention of the government to subsidise executive salaries.' I would go a little further. If your firm is getting JobKeeper, the CEO should not be getting a bonus.

We've also seen in Australia too little data being published on the unemployment rate. We know that the government, on a regular basis, has detailed information on the number of people who are signing up for JobSeeker, formerly Newstart. These parallel numbers have been published in the United States since 1968, according to economist Saul Eslake. Every Thursday morning since 1968, the Americans have got an immediate read on what unemployment is in their country. The same numbers are considered a state secret in Australia. The government is now talking about doing them fortnightly but is unwilling still to provide the same level of detailed data that Americans are able to access.

We're seeing significant issues in the labour market at the moment, and, as the crisis goes on, we're seeing the possibility that it will serve to exacerbate inequality. In a report for the Hamilton Project, economists David Autor and Elisabeth Reynolds discuss some of the ways in which the COVID crisis could make low-wage work more precarious. They point out that, the longer the shutdown goes on, the more likely it is that firms will begin to move to technology and supplant low-wage workers. They talk about this as 'automation forcing'. They point out that this may lead to firms having 'fewer workers per store, fewer security guards and more cameras, more automation in warehouses, and more machinery applied to nightly scrubbing of workplaces'. They say aerial drones may replace delivery people, and, in the meat-packing industry, adoption of robotic technology will speed up. All of this could have a lasting adverse impact on the number of low-wage jobs available.

The concentration of employment in large firms could be a result of a number of small business collapses. We know that the government's loan scheme hasn't helped to support lending in small business. Small business lending is down eight per cent this year, while large business lending is up. We know that there is a serious risk of cash-strapped small firms being bought up by larger companies—that we will see an increased trend in a market concentration which has already gone too far in Australia. That could well lead to the labour share declining, increasing inequality.

Urban de-densification could also mean that we see fewer jobs available for workers who support urbanisation—fewer opportunities in food services, cleaning, security, entertainment and transport. The rise of urbanisation has been a great driver of productivity. The cessation of this trend could cost jobs and may indeed have an adverse impact on productivity.

We also may see a shift towards working from home, which could have, again, impacts on inequality. James Stratton, an Australian undertaking his PhD at Harvard, estimates that 41 per cent of Australians have jobs that allow them to work from home, but high-wage employees are three times as likely to have a job that allows them to work from home. Firms also need to make sure they get working from home right. Research by Nicholas Bloom, quoted in Joshua Gans's regular update, points out:

For remote working to succeed, it is essential to have an effective performance review system … In firms which do not have effective employee appraisal systems management, I would caution against WFH

working from home. Again, that may be a concern, given what we know about the differences in management capability across Australian firms.

We're also seeing very different impacts in this downturn, compared to previous downturns, from a gender perspective. Jeff Borland's Labour Market Snapshots show that previous recessions have largely been 'man-cessions': the fall in male employment has been more substantial than the fall in female employment. Early on in this recession, the largest job losses were among women, who dominate in employment sectors such as hospitality.

We've seen from the government a failure to announce a long-term plan for JobSeeker. Anglicare Australia have published a troubling report on the implications of the sudden phase-back in JobSeeker payments. They point out that for a couple on JobSeeker with two children only five per cent of rentals are currently affordable, but if the government goes ahead with its September cut then only 1.5 per cent of rentals will be affordable for a couple on JobSeeker.

There is also something that should be noted about this bill, which is that it expands the circumstances in which tax secrecy laws can be disregarded, expanding them from a threat to health, safety or public health to allowing the secrecy rules to be overridden to allow the administration of a law relating to coronavirus. I think that's a good thing, though I would point out that it stands in stark contrast to the coalition's approach to tax transparency in previous times. They have fought tooth and nail to keep information about the tax paid by Australia's largest firms secret.

There is much more that could be done. JobKeeper should be better targeted, which would mean it could be expanded to a broader range of Australians while serving the budget. Saul Eslake also suggests that it would be in the interests of the Australian economy to focus more policy attention on new businesses. He argues that on the basis that new businesses are more likely to be in industries that have good long-term prospects, more likely to create jobs, more likely to innovate, and more likely to be started by young people and to employ young people. He points out that tax preferences for new businesses would cost less than tax preferences for small businesses and that there's no way you can game the system. Businesses, like individuals, can't make themselves any younger, so there are no perverse incentives in subsidising new businesses.

The task is predominantly a fiscal one in Australia, as it is around the world, with monetary policy having reached the lower bound. But that's not to say that nothing could be done to improve the focus of the Reserve Bank on outcomes. As the deputy chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics, in our last hearing I pressed the Reserve Bank governor and his staff on their three policy levers. It strikes me, looking at the Reserve Bank's projections, that it is now possible that inflation will be below the target band for the entire period of Governor Lowe's term as Reserve Bank governor, right through from 2016 to 2023. The consequence of that would be lower output for the economy and higher unemployment than if inflation were kept within the target band. You can see the impact of this through Australia's relatively high exchange rate, which reflects the relative conservatism of the Reserve Bank compared to other central banks. It surprises me that the Reserve Bank have not been willing to consider negative interest rates as other central banks have done, and I am concerned that, in not doing so, they may be putting bank profits ahead of jobs. The Reserve Bank's policy of yield curve control could be pursued more aggressively by targeting five-year maturities, and the term finance facility hasn't done enough to support small businesses, with, as I noted, lending to small firms having fallen eight per cent this year while lending to large firms has risen. So cutting the interest rates on the term finance facility could be beneficial.

In critiquing the Reserve Bank in this manner, I'm not alone. There have been many thoughtful commentators who have done so, including the Grattan Institute's Brendan Coates and Matt Cowgill; Stephen Kirchner of the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney; Monash University's Isaac Gross; and the University of Melbourne's Chris Edmond and Bruce Preston.

It is important that all policy arms are working to aid recovery and to focus on the core priority for Australia: jobs, jobs, jobs.

4:49 pm

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Jobkeeper Payments) Amendment Bill 2020. My friend, in his contribution, ended with the words 'jobs, jobs, jobs', and I'm going to begin where he ended. When we look back over this pandemic, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, and we review how we dealt with this one-in-100-year challenge to our nation, I think the establishment of JobKeeper, and now its extension, will be seen as the single most significant decision taken, particularly as it relates to saving livelihoods. There are equally important decisions that have been made around saving lives but, when it comes to saving livelihoods, JobKeeper, in my view, is where it starts and finishes. In my electorate, 3,700 businesses have taken advantage of these measures. I don't know how many employees are benefitting, but I can only imagine that it runs to the tens of thousands.

Now, in my community, when I walk around I am beginning to have these sheepish conversations with business operators who are almost somewhat embarrassed to concede that they are in receipt of JobKeeper. On the quiet, almost like those shy conservatives that delivered Trump to the White House and that delivered us our last election, they just want to point out that it was this measure that saved their business.

On a number of those occasions, I've got to tell you, I've been quite surprised. When you live in a very small, close-knit regional community you get to know people's businesses, or at least you think you do. Of the number of people approaching me, I was surprised by the number who operate businesses that I thought would have a trading position that would have meant that, sure, they'd be in receipt of JobKeeper because turnover had reduced below the requisite amount, but JobKeeper wouldn't have been the difference between business and no business. But that is, in fact, what I've come to learn.

In highlighting the importance of these amendments and the extension, which I think ought to be celebrated as much for the fact that it shows how dynamic this parliament and our government can be in responding to the challenge, noting that, obviously, we established JobKeeper, and this now is about extending it well past the initial deadline of the end of next month through to March 2021—and noting that this is the first opportunity I've had to speak in this place about the measure at all—I want to take this place back to what was the darkest moment for me in this pandemic. I'm based in Mount Gambier. My staff and I were following all the relevant health advice. I'd ask my staff to work from home, like I'm sure many in this place did. I was at home following that direction, but, getting a little stir crazy, I'd want to go into the office, so I'd walk down the main street and go to the office. There was no-one else there, so, in a sense, I was self-isolating—no problem. I would walk past a cafe. I've come to know Josslyn Lee and Lucy Von Stanke, who operate this cafe, very closely, because it's right next to my office. They're young, innovative entrepreneurs employing a large number of people in my electorate. I would walk past and I would see them go from completely closed to operating on a part-time takeaway basis. My lowest moment thus far in this pandemic was when, on one of these occasions, I was walking home—I know they'd been trading on an exclusively takeaway basis for a while, probably because I was close to their best customer—and I saw them sharing a bottle of champagne in the front window of the restaurant. I thought things were on the up, so I gave them the thumbs up. They gave me the thumbs down. So I thought, 'I'd better go in there and ask.' I popped in and said, 'Lucy and Joss, what's up?' They said: 'Look, we can't trade on this takeaway-only basis. We're going to have to close again.' But that wasn't the lowest moment. The lowest moment was after I'd told them that we were making arrangements in relation to commercial leases—they were quite happy about that; in fact, they were relieved—and Lucy, who I've known for a long time, said to me, 'But what about us?' At that time we hadn't announced JobKeeper. In fact, it was still in its development phase and there was no way I could talk to them about it. I said, 'It's JobSeeker.' That was a low moment because here were two 20-something entrepreneurs in my electorate, who employ 35 people, and the best we could get was JobSeeker.

I've got to tell you, Lucy and Joss are the greatest supporters of JobKeeper that I can find in my electorate. As I said, there are 3,699 other businesses but these two young women are so passionate about the fact that they were given an opportunity to continue to employ their staff, and to continue on their small business dream, that they've become massive advocates. I've got to tell you their dream is not to be in receipt of JobKeeper forever, but they're simply so grateful that it was there, a safety net if you like to catch them as they fell in consequence of the economic impact of the pandemic.

Lucy and Joss are by no means unique. I expect there are Lucys and there are Josses throughout the country. In my electorate, whether it's Karen Milesi at the Murray Bridge Hotel, who employs 18 staff on JobKeeper; whether it is Tom Kosch at the Commodore on the Park, who employs 27 on JobKeeper; whether it is Toni Vorenas from Metro Bakery and Cafe, who employs 15 staff, many of whom are at-risk individuals; whether it's Thyme at the Lakes, who employ seven staff—I would love to be able to stand here and run through each one of these businesses individually, because these businesses represent lifetimes of work.

As a nation, forgetting about which side of this place we stand on, this parliament has done some of its best work to make sure these businesses fell into a safety net that ensured employees were able to remain connected to those businesses and able to remain employed. Even for those businesses for whom the health advice at certain periods meant they couldn't even be open, I saw those employees going to work. It might have been painting the front bar, retiling the bathrooms or cleaning the fridges, but what it meant was that people were maintaining their usual routines. They were going to work. They were interacting socially.

As an employer now in one context who has resisted for a very long time the requests to work from home, or work from anywhere as we call it, I kind of fell in love with it. I thought, 'This is great.' I will tell you who didn't fall in love with it: my staff. They wanted to come back to the office so that they could socialise with each other, and I think to get away from their families. The advantage of this period—

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Those on the other side can heckle. I don't mind. I'm sure there will be lots of silver linings on this dark COVID cloud and no doubt dark it is. There will be lots of silver linings. I think one of the silver linings will be that employers like me who were perhaps somewhat reluctant to think about the ability and the flexibility of working from anywhere have now learnt that this is amazing technology. It has created productivity benefits. Whilst it is not, I think, something that people want to do all day every day, or at least many don't want to do it all day every day—some have to—there's the opportunity and the flexibility to do that. I'm prepared, notwithstanding the heckles that will come, to tell you that I'm the bloke who's still looking for the 'any key' on my computer. I am a Neanderthal when it comes to technology, but I have had to learn about these things and it's amazing—

Opposition members interjecting

I wish the member for Hunter was here, because I could have some fun with his pro-coal stance. He loves coal. We love coal. I love coal. I love cheap electricity to be honest. I love how 'coal' and 'Joel' rhyme. It is just such an opportunity.

I love that those opposite have come in—I don't think it is to listen to me. I expect that one of our members is about to make her first speech in this place and I congratulate her for that. I think I've worked that out—

Opposition members interjecting

No, it something else. They have come in for me. That is all good. What I can say is there are 3,700 businesses in my electorate that are benefiting from this scheme. I can only think that runs to tens of thousands of employees who otherwise would have had their employment ended and the connection between their employer and themselves severed. Who knows what economic damage that would have done to the lives and livelihoods of those employees in Barker.

As I said earlier, this amendment bill talks to our ability to be dynamic in this space, to listen closely to the needs and to watch how this pandemic develops over time. Clearly, it has developed. The circumstances in Victoria are incredibly sad and they are challenging everywhere else in Australia. But this amendment bill talks to our ability to be dynamic, to stand alongside the employers of this country and their employees and to support them in this very difficult time. I commend the bill to the House.

5:01 pm

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Let's be clear about one thing: this government has never supported wage subsidies. Labor, the business community and a whole range of small businesses in particular were all out there saying that what we needed to do was to keep the relationship between employers and their employees during what was complacently dismissed by this Prime Minister as something that would just be a temporary blip. That's why we're debating this Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Jobkeeper Payments) Amendment Bill 2020. This legislation has to be introduced because, when the government established JobKeeper, they did say it would all snap back in September. They said everything would snap back and all government support would be withdrawn from the economy because, essentially, they were uncomfortable with the position that they themselves adopted. I've said before, in my vision statement about the economic recovery from the pandemic, that it is Labor values that are getting our country through the pandemic and, indeed, it will be Labor values that we return to to get us through the recovery successfully.

The idea of government intervention at a time of need is a part of what Labor is about—the power of government to make a difference to people's lives, to protect living standards and to create opportunity. Those opposite believe that, if government just gets out of the way and lets the market rip, it'll all be okay. And that's the philosophy that they brought to these issues at the beginning of this pandemic. It's the reason the Prime Minister said on 23 March that the government decision to reject wage subsidies was 'sound' and 'just too hard'. He said: 'The measures require a complete redesign of delivery mechanisms, which will take many months.' A day later, he said of wage subsidies:

… one of the weaknesses of the system that you're advocating for is that it has to build an entirely new payment system for that to be achieved, which is never done quickly and is never done well. … To dream up other schemes can be very dangerous.

They had this view that you couldn't do anything new and that everything was fundamentally okay at a time when businesses were crying out for support and workers were losing their jobs. And it was because the government established higher payments for people who were unemployed under JobSeeker prior to establishing JobKeeper that we saw those queues outside Centrelink as we gathered here on that Monday morning. It was as a direct result of the conscious decision by this government to provide a message, which was, essentially: if you are in doubt, put workers off, because they'll be protected, once they're unemployed, by the extra payments. That decision had diabolical results for workers, many of whom found themselves unemployed for the first time in their lives.

I have a Centrelink office just down from my electorate office in Marrickville Road. Each day, when I walked down, that queue wrapped down Marrickville Road, turned the corner down Illawarra Road and went on down the hill. Hundreds of people were in that queue, most of them representing many more people, because they had families. They were people who were desperate and people who thought they were in secure employment but found that they weren't. Many of those people were laid off first, due to the fact that the government essentially provided a safety net, in terms of JobSeeker being increased, but without any wage subsidies or support for people in employment. They gave businesses the message: we'll protect people and provide some support if they're unemployed, but we won't provide support if they're employed. The direct result were those queues and tragedies for those families, many of whom just struggled because they were reduced to simply surviving. Of course, they didn't have savings—remember that. We had the minister say that it was okay that casual workers were all being laid off and that they could survive because they got this loading that they were keeping in the bottom drawer—all these really wealthy casual workers in insecure work.

Let me say this: this is a debate about immediate needs. We need to deal with the immediate consequences of the pandemic, but we also need to have the vision and the foresight to look at the weaknesses that have been exposed by this pandemic in our labour market, the weaknesses that have seen a great increase in insecure work, the weaknesses that have seen an increase in casualisation and the weaknesses that have seen an increase in contracting out—because it is those people who tend to be the lowest paid who've been made to bear the brunt of this crisis. The fact that we're having to deal with this legislation, because the government believed in 'snap-back', says it all.

When the government did introduce the JobKeeper program, they left too many people behind. Whether they were casual workers, people who worked at places like dnata, university sector workers or local government workers, whole sectors missed out, including the arts and entertainment sector, for example—they were just left behind. That had huge consequences. I know of families in my electorate where mum or dad were suffering, having lost their job or had their payments reduced; at the same time, my son's mates were doing okay because they were getting extra money. So the design of the system provided for some people to miss out completely whilst others were getting additional payments. Some went from earning $150 a week in a casual retail job to all of a sudden getting substantially more than that: $750 a week—a five times increase simply because of the nature of their work. And, of course, there was the $60 billion mistake, the largest budget mistake of any Treasurer ever—and I suspect he will hold that record for some time. In trivia questions in future years, remember the name Josh Frydenberg, because a $60 billion mistake is what happened from this government. They didn't seem to even realise.

The legislation before us today also has mistakes in it. We're supportive of extending JobKeeper. We've been the ones who've been arguing against snapback from the time those words came out of the Prime Minister's mouth. We believe that an early withdrawal of support will mean a recession that is deeper and longer than it needs to be, and our economic team have been outlining that. So we'll be constructive about this. But that's why we're proposing amendments to help fix up the legislation, just as we proposed wage subsidies to try and help—not to help the government. That isn't our end. We'll be honest about that. We want to help people. We want to help the government to help people. That's what we want, which is why the government should support our amendments.

The first amendment that we'll move, of course, is about what happens to companies that aren't getting JobKeeper at all. We don't see that it is reasonable that employers who no longer need government support also get access to emergency industrial relations powers that are provided by this legislation. So that's a fundamental issue here.

The second issue is that a business trading at 90 per cent of normal turnover will be given the power to take away 40 per cent of their workers' wages, with no safety net in place, unless our amendments are adopted. A business that has seen a fall in turnover of 10 per cent will be permitted by this legislation to cut hours by 40 per cent and therefore cut wages by 40 per cent. What is being proposed by the government would have the consequence that some workers would actually be better off if they were working for a firm that was more distressed. Then they'd have JobKeeper as a safety net. Because the company's doing better, the worker will be worse off. How does that work? How is that logical? How is that the market in operation? How will that assist the economy? One of the benefits of JobKeeper and JobSeeker is increasing economic activity throughout the economy by increasing the circulation of money—income. So they spend money and they keep the economic activity going. A young hospitality worker who's had two of their days cut could see their pay fall to just over $450 a week, $150 a week less than they would receive if their employer still had access to JobKeeper.

So we'll be proposing amendments to this legislation—commonsense amendments that I hope the government adopts. To be fair to the government, in the past they adopted Labor amendments to extend support to Austudy recipients, youth allowance recipients and Abstudy recipients. They adopted Labor's position, which was that, for two-income families, some of the tapering of family support meant severe disadvantage for those working families in our suburbs trying to pay off their mortgage. They should listen to Labor on our amendments here. They should adopt them, because a retail worker who's rostered from Wednesday to Saturday and who loses their weekend shifts would lose nearly half of their income under this proposition.

The government has said, 'We're all in this together.' The way out of this pandemic isn't by cutting workers' pay. We accept that businesses are doing it tough. But we don't think that cutting wages through this mechanism is appropriate. We don't think that someone, a full-time worker, who is working and has their hours cut by 40 per cent but is still working three days a week should receive less income than someone who works for a company that's basically really struggling—not working at all, perhaps—and is getting JobKeeper, $750 a week, for not working. It's an anomaly that's here. We need to fix it. We want to make sure that any worker who has their hours cut by their employer doesn't have their pay fall below the applicable JobKeeper rate under this legislation. That's common sense.

I commend the amendments that will be moved to the House. We don't want backdoor austerity, because austerity doesn't work during a crisis. What works is providing support. It worked when Labor did it during the global financial crisis, in spite of the opposition of those opposite. But we have been constructive. We haven't acted like they acted; we have acted like a responsible opposition. Our amendments we put forward are essentially to provide that safety net so that no-one who is working will be worse off than someone who isn't. It is a commonsense proposition that should be supported by this House. We intend to advocate for it here. We intend to advocate for it in discussions with the government. I say that I think this is an unintended consequence—I hope it is—because, frankly, it just doesn't make sense. (Time expired)

5:16 pm

Photo of Pat ConaghanPat Conaghan (Cowper, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to rise to speak on this bill, the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Jobkeeper Payments) Amendment Bill 2020, and the proposed extension of the JobKeeper program and the associated IR laws that will accompany it. In my experience, residents and businesses in my electorate have been extremely grateful for the early actions of the coalition government in combating this one-in-100-year pandemic. They've appreciated the clear direction set out by the Australian health sector emergency response plan and the almost daily briefings by either the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the health minister or the Chief Medical Officer through all forms of social media and television.

Perhaps most of all, the residents and businesses across my electorate were extremely grateful for the then $70 billion JobKeeper package. Our government's JobKeeper package has helped keep Australians in jobs and supported businesses in this time of crisis. It's helped businesses impacted by coronavirus to cover the costs of their employees' wages so that more people have retained jobs and have continued to earn an income. In the words of one of the JobKeeper recipients in my electorate, Dorrigo hotel owner Peter Feros: 'JobKeeper has enabled me to keep my most important asset—my staff.' He then went on to tell me how good they were, and that he had an award-winning chef at the pub.

There is absolutely no doubt that the last six months has been the most difficult time for all Australians—none more so than when this pandemic hit, with the anxiety of, 'Will I have a job?', 'How will I run my business?', 'Will I actually have a business to run?', 'How will I pay my mortgage and my rent?' But this government provided the biggest ever lifeline of any government in our history, and supported hundreds of thousands of businesses and millions of Australian workers—businesses like the Settlers Inn in Port Macquarie, the Observatory Apartments in Coffs Harbour and the West Kempsey Hotel. I was contacted by the owner of McGrath real estate, who asked me to pass on his personal thanks to this government because he was able to keep on his seven employees.

I had hundreds of similar emails thanking this government for its immediate intervention and for keeping all Australians afloat. I've taken a selection of those emails. Kate Walsh from Wauchope Travel, on 20 May, wrote: 'I'm incredibly grateful for the role the government has played in controlling the coronavirus pandemic and ensuring the safety of Australians and for the JobKeeper payment, which has enabled me to remain in the industry I love. Without this, there is absolutely no doubt that I'd be added to the ever-growing unemployment figures. JobKeeper has allowed me to return to work after being stood down, and it means I have been able to assist my employer with the enormous job each of us is currently undertaking. Unlike some industries, travel agents have never worked so hard than during the COVID-19 pandemic.'

Neil Manson from the Observatory hotel, on 27 April, wrote: 'I felt it was important for you to know that thanks to JobKeeper almost all our staff are still working, not just taking the money but contributing. We will come out the other side still with a business, still with a workforce, still with our regulars and able to hit the ground running.'

Finally, John Cassegrain from the very well-known Australian winemaker business said: 'The JobKeeper program is a great initiative to help employers such as us retain staff. While the winery revenue is a shadow of normal, we still have critical wine production functions to perform if we are to have a wine to market as and when the market returns.'

During the last six months I have met with almost all of my chambers of commerce branches, and without exception all of their members tell me stories about how JobKeeper has helped support all of their businesses and staff. Mums, dads, apprentices and young people out of school are all able to continue to survive because of this government's initiative.

So it dismays me when the haters and the detractors bleat like sheep for the sake of political noise. The Prime Minister himself said no system is perfect, and this government has addressed the issues that have arisen in a timely and appropriate manner. What this government has done is provide the necessary and immediate support to our Australians so they can put food on the table, they can clothe the kids and they can put petrol in the car. Our Australians have remained resilient and positive, and we in this place should recognise their efforts—all the business owners and all the employees. As parliamentarians, we have a reciprocal obligation to lead with resilience and positivity and, above all, provide hope—hope that in the not-too-distant future there will be no need for JobKeeper, hope that in the not-too-distant future it will be business as usual again. What Australians do not want to see right now is political navel gazing or self-interest. So I welcome this bill before us today to extend the prescribed period of the coronavirus payment framework. I wholeheartedly support the JobKeeper payment and the temporary changes to the Fair Work Act, and I wholeheartedly support that they go past September to support all of our hardworking business owners and employees.

Two large sectors in my region of the Mid North Coast are tourism and hospitality, and these businesses are still yet to attract a lot of customers due to the international borders being closed and the borders above and below us being closed. It is for these and other businesses in my electorate—indeed, throughout the entire nation—that I support the JobKeeper payment being extended for another six months. I also support businesses' and organisations' eligibility being retested and targeted so as to ensure the program only assists those businesses that need it the most.

The bill before us today also amends the information-sharing arrangements to enable the Australian tax office to share JobKeeper payment information with Commonwealth, state and territory government agencies to assist them in their efforts to address the impacts of the coronavirus.

This is a common-sense move which should be approached with bipartisanship and will improve our ability to approach the economic crisis arising from the pandemic. We all wish that Australia—in fact, the world—had not experienced the coronavirus. It is a once-in-100-years event and has caused much devastation and loss. Australia is doing well. We have strengthened our health system and our aged-care system and continue to work with the states and territories. This bill will enable us to continue supporting our vital businesses and people through the historic JobKeeper payment. It will enable us to continue supporting thousands of businesses and organisations in Cowper who are grateful for this targeted, temporary support, which has been vital in helping them to chart the current uncertain waters. I urge all members to support the bill.

5:26 pm

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

This coronavirus has exposed many of the fault lines in our society and shown us how, going into the crisis, we were in many respects far too unequal as a society. We've found that many people are in so much debt and without any savings or buffer that they are only a week or two of job payments away from real distress and the poverty line. We have discovered that so many people in this country don't have a roof over their head and, again, are in so much rental stress that if something happens to their job then they risk being turfed out onto the streets in the middle of a pandemic. And as the health restrictions have been imposed, rightly, to make sure that we all stay safe and that this terrible virus takes as few lives as it possibly can, we've also found that the burden of dealing with the crisis has not fallen fairly across society. Young people have lost their jobs at record high rates. Going into this crisis about three in 10 young people either didn't have a job or didn't have enough hours at work. That number rocked up to nearly four in 10 within the first month or so. Not only that, we're seeing that more women are losing work than men are and that the industries that are hardest hit are the ones where young people and women work in greater numbers. They are the industries that are going to take a long time to get back on their feet, because we may, certainly in Victoria, be dealing with these social-distancing restrictions for some time.

That's why in this time of crisis we need government to step in to ensure that no-one is left behind. That has been the Greens mantra from day one. Others have picked it up since, which we welcome, but the Greens mantra from day one has been 'no-one left behind'. However, the government, in its response, has chosen to leave people behind, which is turning up the dial on inequality in our society and widening, rather than seeking to close, the cracks that were there at the start of the crisis.

When the crisis started to hit, the Greens were the first party in parliament to call for some form of wage and job guarantee. We made it very clear that the government's initial response—shovelling billions out of the door to help business—was only part of the response. If money was going to business without any guarantee that people were going to stay on in work then we were going to see massively high levels of unemployment, and that's what we saw with those terrible dole queues snaking around the corner, including in my electorate at Abbotsford at a Centrelink office that the Minister for Government Services tried to close in the middle of the pandemic while there were those massive, massive queues of people waiting for assistance.

When the government decided to adopt a wage guarantee we were supportive of it, because we were the first ones to call for it, but it left a lot of people out and a lot of people behind, and we are continuing to deal with the fallout from that. In a world of insecure work that this government has allowed to run rife, so many casual workers were cut out. Over a million casual workers were cut out unfairly by this government. They have been forced to go without JobKeeper, which is such a lifeline for so many people.

In sectors like the arts and the creative industries, where people might not be engaged in full-time, continuous employment in the way that government thinks is the norm, so many of those people might work from project to project. They missed out because they weren't employed on the magic date of 1 March.

We have now seen childcare workers have the subsidy pulled out from under them even as the crisis continues, especially here in Victoria. They don't get JobKeeper anymore.

We have seen so many temporary visa holders who are in real distress because they have very little support to fall back on. The government is happy to take their taxes when times are good, and then it turns its back on these temporary visa holders when times are bad. All of these areas have been doing it tough under the government.

Say nothing of universities. The government say they are concerned about jobs, jobs, jobs. They are overseeing tens of thousands of job losses in the university sector. In the time of a pandemic, what the government should be doing is making sure that employers who are dependent on the public sector are keeping their staff, not shedding them. Instead the government is deliberately adding to the unemployment figures by overseeing mass carnage in our university sector.

The government come with this bill to extend some elements of JobKeeper, but, of course, not only do they fail to close the gaps that they've created, not only are they going to continue to leave many, many people behind, but they come here with a sting in the tail as well—a surprise package in this bill. There is a very welcome extension of JobKeeper. Again, the Greens were the first ones to call for these wage guarantees. We have said that they should continue at their current rates for as long as they are needed, so we welcome the support and the extension of those payments. It is going to be a huge lifeline to millions of workers and many businesses across the country. So we support the continuation. But this government can't help itself. For the government, the approach seems to be 'never let a crisis go to waste', because they come in here with a surprise package built into this bill that is going to hurt many, many workers.

The government, under this bill, wants to create a new category of employees. These are the employees of a business that is doing so well that they can no longer get JobKeeper, but, apparently, according to the government, the business is doing so poorly that the employer can now turn around and cut their pay. In other words, under this bill there will be a category of businesses that, on the one hand, the government thinks are doing so well that they don't need to give JobKeeper to their employees but, on the other hand, are apparently doing so badly that they can cut their employees' pay. This is critical. Those employees then won't be able to get JobKeeper. In other words, in the middle of a pandemic, the government wants to allow some employers to cut their workers' pay without those workers then being able to get JobKeeper. That is an appalling and cynical move by a government that is showing its true colours day by day.

The government got dragged into having to give the important wage and job guarantee in the form of JobKeeper. Now it is using the extension of this vital measure as an excuse to attack working people. In many respects, it is a form of corporate welfare that workers are being asked to pay for in the middle of a pandemic. Big corporations are now being told, 'You can cut your workers' pay and they will effectively help nurse you back to profitability.' No, it shouldn't be up to workers, in the middle of a pandemic, who have their pay cut. And it is not going to be a pay cut of just up to 40 per cent. The employers, under this provision, can cut workers' hours by 40 per cent. But, if those hours happen to be hours working late at night or on weekends, where you might be earning penalty rates, your pay could be cut by much, much more than 40 per cent. Make no mistake, on the one hand the government is saying, 'Look, we are extending this JobKeeper payment,' which is very welcome, but on the other hand they are saying, 'Your employer can now cut your hours of work by up to 40 per cent, cut your pay by more than 40 per cent and you won't get JobKeeper.' There is absolutely no justification for that. The Greens will be opposing that. The Greens support the amendments that have been moved by the opposition here to excise those provisions from the bill. We announced yesterday that we would be moving those same amendments in the Senate. Those provisions have no part in this bill. We don't need to extend these emergency industrial relations powers that are allowing businesses to change work to people who don't get JobKeeper. We don't need to do that in order to pass this bill. We can pass the extension of the JobKeeper payment and even pass the extension of the emergency IR powers for the people who continue to get JobKeeper payment, but we must not create this new category of people in this country who can have their pay cut by over 40 per cent in the middle of a pandemic and then not be able to get JobKeeper. We will support the amendments to remove those objectionable provisions from the bill. We will move them in the Senate.

We should also use this opportunity to ditch the austerity agenda that Liberal and, sadly, Labor have been pushing, with respect to people who are earning JobKeeper and who previously earnt less than $1,500 a week. There were many people who were under employed in insecure work in this country. They were working low hours per week, not by choice, but because a shift here and a shift there was all that was available to them. When JobKeeper came in at $1,500, many of these people who were stuck in insecure work and stuck in low-hours work were, for the first time, getting something close to a living wage. It's the weekly minimum wage, so they're not exactly living high on the hog. They're getting something close to a living wage—that is, the adult weekly minimum wage. Then Labor came along and, astoundingly, spent the last few months saying this was a wasteful spend and that it was adding to debt. For goodness sake! They're worried about adding to debt because we're supporting low-paid workers in the middle of a pandemic—what a ridiculous proposition.

Labor spent months goading the government into trying to cut payments for people who previously earnt less than $1,500, and the government, unsurprisingly, has agreed. The government now wants to introduce a two-tiered system, which I presume will also have Labor's backing, where people who are working less than 20 hours a week are now going to get their payments cut in the middle of a pandemic. I can tell you something about the people who are going to get their payments cut: they are twice as likely to be women. They're the people who work less than 20 hours a week. As I said, many of these people have been stuck suffering in insecure work. They're not necessarily working these hours because they want to—of course it works for some people, but not for everyone. Many of these people are underemployed and stuck in insecure work. We should not be cutting people's income in the middle of a pandemic, certainly not the people who are on low hours and low pay on insecure work. We should use this as an opportunity to ditch the idea that there should be a two-tiered system.

I'm glad that Labor has started to walk back on some of its calls for cuts. I hope it now extends that to this ridiculous idea that we should cut the payments for people who were previously earning less than $1,500 a fortnight. That $1,500, for people in the middle of a pandemic—especially as the restrictions get extended in Victoria and especially for such a visitor-centred economy like ours, where so many people work in the hospitality and arts and creative sectors with low-hour jobs from time to time. It is going to take us a while to get back on our feet in Melbourne. It is going to take us a long while. The social distancing restrictions that are going to stay in place may make some of those previous businesses unviable for the foreseeable future. We've got to work out how to deal with that, but the one thing that we do know, as we're suffering through that, is that people who were on low hours and in insecure work going into this pandemic should not have their payments cut. I hope that Labor reverses its position on that so that we can get the government to change their mind on that as well.

There are some good amendments coming from the opposition to get rid of the legacy employer concept. Given that I'm not physically in the chamber due to the coronavirus restrictions here in Victoria, I want to place on the record that I will be supporting Labor's amendments when there are divisions. They are good amendments, but it's time now to say, 'Let's not cut anyone's payment.' We need to keep JobKeeper where it is. Not only do we need to extend it—and I welcome the move to extend it—but we need to keep it where it is for so long as it is needed. We need to make sure that people who were previously earning less than $1,500 don't have their payments cut, and we need to extend JobKeeper to all of those groups, as I said at the start, who have been left behind by the government in this pandemic, because what we are seeing day by day is that it is taking longer than expected to respond to this crisis. People across the country, but especially in Melbourne and Victoria, are suffering. We need continued government support, at least at the level that it was, extended to everyone who needs it. Now is the time to give support and come up with a proper recovery plan that is going to get us to full employment on the other side—not cut, cut, cut. We can't cut our way out of this crisis. If we try and cut our way out of the crisis then people are going to suffer and the economic recovery is going to take even longer than it otherwise would. So support the extension, but please, Labor and Liberal, don't cut people's payments in the middle of a pandemic.

5:41 pm

Photo of Melissa McIntoshMelissa McIntosh (Lindsay, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Cafes, sporting clubs and centres, dance schools, manufacturers and tradespeople are very diverse businesses, but what they have in common is what they've been telling me: that JobKeeper has been an absolute lifesaver for their business. Around 4,500 businesses in Lindsay have been accessing the JobKeeper program for their employees. That's thousands of local small and family businesses keeping people in our community connected to local jobs.

I recently visited Quest Penrith. Phil and the team discussed the challenges that they've been facing due to the coronavirus pandemic. They're particularly struggling with closed borders, which are preventing corporate travellers and forcing sporting teams to cancel big sporting events. This is costing thousands of dollars in cancellations. The JobKeeper legislation, for many businesses like Quest, is the difference between remaining open, servicing customers and reopening on the other side, and closing their doors and losing local jobs. Local jobs are what I am absolutely passionate about—local jobs for local people. One employee told me that she used to have to commute out of the area every day for work. Over 300,000 people in Western Sydney do that. The job that she has with Quest means that she can work closer to home and have that work-life balance and spend time with her family after work, not on the train commuting home. So it is really important that we support our local businesses to keep local people able to work in our community.

Another local business that has been kept in business by JobKeeper is the Penrith Valley Regional Sports Centre. I recently spoke in this place to highlight a few of my election commitments. One of those commitments I made was delivered to the centre: to upgrade their facilities. It's a really popular facility for people in our community, particularly families. Luke, who is the managing director of the centre, describes JobKeeper as an absolute lifeline. This has been the case for many sporting facilities, and small and family businesses, in my electorate of Lindsay. Luke told me the centre plans to have local children back playing basketball and volleyball in October. I wish them all the very best for their reopening. I know how much this will mean to local families. Local sporting facilities are important to families in our community.

I've also met on a number of occasions with Julie, Alan and the team at Nepean Aquatic Centre and Eva Borys Swim School. Learning to swim is such an essential part of Australian life for safety, fitness and fun. The Nepean Aquatic Centre hosts learn-to-swim lessons for babies, children and adults, as well as sport and fitness options for competitive swimmers, squad training, lap swimming and aquarobics. One day I was there meeting the team and I saw the rehabilitation work that they also do at this centre.

But, as with so many businesses, the restrictions imposed to help stop the spread of the coronavirus forced the temporary closure of the centre. The JobKeeper program was vital to ensure the incredible staff who are there who teach these lifesaving skills to children and encourage healthy active living in our community, which I'm completely behind, were able to stay connected to their local jobs and re-emerge on the other side. Now the swim school is open again for local families and they are delighted that children can learn to swim. As their motto says: 'Love to Swim, Swim for Safety, Swim for Life'. Now, as we come into summer, we have work to do to ensure that, even as restrictions come into place, the swim school can do its very important work of teaching children these very crucial skills.

Keeping businesses in business and maintaining local jobs is the key aim of the JobKeeper legislation. For Quest Penrith, the Nepean Aquatic Centre, the Penrith Valley Regional Sports Centre and so many other local businesses—the dance schools, the manufactures and the tradespeople—this means they will be able to re-emerge from the coronavirus, open their doors and continue to contribute so much to our community and our local economy. As we continue to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic and look to the other side, we must make sure our small businesses and community organisations have the support to open their doors and sustain local jobs. The Morrison government's JobKeeper amendments will make sure we can keep businesses in business and employees in jobs for Australians who need it most.

5:47 pm

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

Let's start with some facts in this debate on the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Jobkeeper Payments) Amendment Bill 2020. Fact No. 1: Australia is experiencing its greatest economic recession since the Great Depression. Fact No. 2: for the first time in Australia's history over one million Australians are unemployed. When you include the many hundreds of thousands whose unemployment is hidden, or who have lost hours, the number of Australians who want more work is much closer to two million people. Over 500,000 Australians have lost their jobs since March and countless hundreds of thousands have lost their hours. In my home region of the Hunter, 40,800 jobs were lost between March and June. The official unemployment rate is over seven per cent, but when you use the effective unemployment rate it is over 13 per cent. The official youth unemployment rate is 16.3 per cent, but when you include those who've given up looking for work it is 35 per cent. When you include those amongst young people who desperately need more hours, over two-thirds of young people in this country desperately need more hours. Just think about that for a minute. Two-thirds of young Australians either desperately want work or need more hours to pay their bills. This is indeed the greatest economic challenge this country has seen since the Great Depression.

And the challenge is much worse because this government has had to be dragged kicking and screaming into taking action. They resisted with every fibre of their body. When Labor first proposed a wage subsidy, this government resisted it. They resisted it strongly. They had to be dragged kicking and screaming towards it. Even when they did implement it, they implemented it incredibly poorly. We saw massive issues, particularly one million Australian workers excluded—one million Australian workers who had the misfortune of being casual workers with less than 12 months connection to their workplace or who performed a series of short, contracted jobs in the gig economy. So, from day one, even when this government supported a wage subsidy, one million Australians missed out.

Nevertheless, JobKeeper has been massively important for Australia and for my region in particular. For example, the travel industry has been gutted by the pandemic. A Warners Bay travel agent who I spoke to has told me that she was extremely grateful for the JobKeeper program, which has given her business the ability to remain, in some ways, operational. The agent pleaded with me to do all I could to ensure the extension of JobKeeper, and, thankfully, there is an extension of sorts until next year, although many businesses won't qualify under the new criteria and the rate is going to be reduced drastically at a time when the economy needs more stimulus, not less. The agent also explained to me how different the travel industry is from other industries, such as hospitality, which have in some ways been able to adapt and run more home delivery or more takeaway. Her business relies totally on international and, to a lesser extent, interstate travel, which of course has been drastically curtailed.

Another business owner I've had contact with runs a preschool. She too is overwhelmingly grateful for the wage subsidy that was implemented, which allowed them to remain operational. However, the government completely failed to deliver on its promise of free child care, and in fact JobKeeper was removed for early childhood education centres in July. Another example of a beneficiary of JobKeeper is the cafe across the road from my electorate office. Although they had to shut for a while at the start of the pandemic, they were able to support their staff through the initial period until restrictions were eased and they were able to reopen. These are just a few examples of businesses in Shortland who have been able to survive in this unprecedented economic Armageddon because of a wage subsidy that Labor championed from the beginning of the crisis and that the coalition resisted and dismissed as unnecessary. How wrong they were!

But, Madam Deputy Speaker Claydon, there are significant problems with the changes afoot in this legislation. For example, a constituent of mine runs a large party supply firm that's actually located in your electorate and employs 20 people. He's contracted me to outline that, although they've been severely impacted by the downturn, they did have one relatively good month of trading in July, which would make them ineligible for the October to December quarter of assistance under JobKeeper. This business will be trading significantly below 30 per cent in both August and September but, as it stands, won't be eligible moving forward. This is an anomaly, and I urge the government to address this for businesses in this situation. Twenty families who currently receive the payment will have it cruelly taken away.

The stats on JobKeeper in my area are that 4,150 Shortland businesses and organisations applied for JobKeeper, 15,769 Shortland workers are on JobKeeper and, in fact, 23 per cent of Shortland working-age residents are on JobKeeper. If JobKeeper ends, $23½ million per fortnight will be taken out of the Shortland economy. With the cuts embodied in this legislation, many millions of dollars of JobKeeper assistance will come out of the Shortland economy. That is desperately needed economic stimulus to keep Shortland businesses going. We have many shops that are closing. When I go through the town centres of many of my communities, I see more and more vacant shops, so the situation is not getting better. So for the rate of assistance and the industries receiving JobKeeper to be cut at this time is very premature. Millions of dollars per fortnight will come out of the Shortland economy.

Instead of these drastic cuts, this government should be laying out its future vision for jobs. They should be having a jobs plan to combat the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. But we don't have that; we have the government reverting to its base instincts of reducing the size of government and removing assistance, saying that business will fill the gap. Well, I'm yet to meet a business that can invest in this environment with any certainty, especially when money is being pulled out of the economy. What we need is a vision for a future for the Australian economy—a vision that should be grounded in bringing manufacturing home. I think this crisis has demonstrated that fragile supply chains that are internationally dependent have failed us. We need to bring some of those supply chains, the critical ones, home. We need to invest in national sovereignty. We need to reinvest in national manufacturing powered by cheap renewable energy.

That's why Labor has been so forthright in saying that we should use this crisis to have a green-led recovery.

We should turn the COVID recovery to one powered by cheap renewable energy made reliable by pumped hydro and batteries because that is the future of energy in this country. It is already the cheapest form of power in this country. We should be investing in it at this critical opportunity not just to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions but to become again the land of cheap energy, to bring home manufacturing powered by cheap electricity so that we can reinvest in our aluminium smelting industry, so we can have green steelmaking, so with that we can have green ammonia, so we can have a hydrogen industry that the rest of the world is jealous of, so we can export electricity through DC underwater cables from northern Australia to South-East Asia, so we can export electricity through hydro again to South Korea and Japan, and so we can export rare earths—the lithium, the titanium, the iron ore, the silver, the copper—that the rest of the world needs in a renewable energy boom.

This is what Australia should be doing but, instead, we have a government mired in indecision, a government that is cutting JobKeeper, a government that is cutting JobSeeker and a government that has slogans like 'JobMaker' and 'JobTrainer' that its own departments don't know anything about. This is the critical challenge for this government: will they stand up and fight against the Great Depression or will they repeat the mistakes of previous governments, including the conservative parties in the 1930s in this country which withdrew assistance, cut public sector wages and cut assistance to pursue an imaginary damage surplus that made the Great Depression worse. That is the choice.

Labor stands for an optimistic future, a fairer economy that recognises that COVID has changed everything, an economy with a plan for Australian manufacturing, a plan for decarbonising the economy and a plan for investing in new mining, new resource extraction, new renewable energy. That is the way forward, but I think this government will disappoint us. I hope they don't. I hope they seize this opportunity, because the 15,000 residents of Shortland on JobKeeper and the 150,000 residents in the Shortland economy depend upon a changed approach.

5:57 pm

Photo of Helen HainesHelen Haines (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak in support of the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Jobkeeper Payments) Amendment Bill. I supported the initial JobKeeper legislation in April. When I did that, I said I had heard from businesses and employees across my electorate who said, 'Yes, this is what we need.' Almost 400 people responded to a small business survey I conducted back in April, with 97 per cent of them reporting that they had been negatively affected by COVID-19, losing on average 71 per cent of their revenue, and 32 per cent of them reported that they had total loss of revenue. Understanding of JobKeeper at that time was high, with 99 per cent of respondents reporting that they'd known about it and over half had already registered their interest with the ATO.

Now I stand here and tell you that I've spoken again to dozens and dozens of businesses and employees across my electorate in the long months since. They've told me that this is what they need to keep employees in work and their businesses afloat. The August ATO data revealed that, in my electorate of Indi in April, over 4,300 businesses and not-for-profits received JobKeeper, rising to over 4,600 in May. Of businesses receiving JobKeeper in May, there were 875 in Wodonga, 587 in Wangaratta, 283 in Benalla and 179 in Euroa. These businesses employ thousands of local people. Without this initiative, where would businesses like Mely & Me Cafe run by Jas Mely and Belinda Trotter, The Weekend Local run by Dale and her family in Euroa, Lisa Brown and her family at the Mansfield Hotel, and Belinda and Mark Sorenson from Cafe Martini in Wangaratta be? In a recent survey conducted by Business Wodonga in early August, 60 per cent of businesses believed JobKeeper had helped them and over two-thirds said they wanted it to continue for another six months. Businesses praised the government's support measures and said what a difference they had made.

This bill will extend JobKeeper for another six months until 28 March 2021, with payments gradually being reduced through changes to the rules. In light of the stage 3 restrictions currently in place in my electorate, and the impact of the Melbourne second wave on our regional economy, this extra six months will give our businesses the breathing space to work out how to best position themselves for recovery. On this, I'd like to recognise the accountants who are so important in working with business owners as they adapt to this new world and new conditions—ones like Mark Evans, from Henry Partners in Mansfield, who I met in early winter. Mark has been giving business clients financial advice through the bushfire emergency and the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Renae Pitargue, of First Class Accounts in Wodonga, has been helping her 120 clients understand how they can choose the most effective business structure or restructure their business to ensure employees have ongoing work, including bringing them onto permanent part-time work rather than on a casual basis to ensure they are committed to the company as it comes out the other side.

Businesses receiving JobKeeper under the extension will still be required to demonstrate the 30 per cent fall in revenue, or 15 per cent for charities or not-for-profits, for the relevant comparison period in each of the quarters to June, September and December 2020. I am pleased that the alternative revenue test can continue to be used in circumstances where this reference period is not appropriate—in cases where a business is less than 12 months old or has been affected by drought or other declared natural disasters during the relevant comparison period. This continued flexibility will be appreciated by many businesses in my electorate whose revenue had been significantly impacted by the horror bushfires at the beginning of the year.

This year, 2020, has been a difficult year for everyone, but I especially want to recognise my constituents in Indi, who have stayed strong through a series of disasters both natural and man-made. These include the devastating bushfires, the initial COVID-19 lockdown, the Victorian second wave and the New South Wales-Victoria border closure. The Business Wodonga survey identified border closure as a bigger issue than coronavirus. This is truly incredible. The respondents told the survey, 'The border closure is slowly suffocating our businesses.' They also said, 'We're looking at a significant downturn, with 50 per cent of our geographical service area being stripped from us due to the border crossing restrictions.'

Leanne Harkin, owner of Scissor Creations Hair Salon, has her hairdressing salon one kilometre from the border, and her trade went down 50 to 60 per cent overnight when the border restrictions were first put into place. Stephen Donaghey, of the Murray division of the Masters Builders Association, has told me that it is fair to state that the construction industry in the border region is in turmoil and, without adjustments to current permit conditions, could slow to a crawl, if not total shutdown. Some businesses have already shut their doors due to myriad problems caused by the current conditions of critical services permits and a lack of available permits for parties associated with construction, particularly new homes. It is for these people that an ongoing JobKeeper is so important. It is this sector which the government has proactively identified for support through its HomeBuilder scheme. Construction was booming on the border. Now it is at risk of coming to a standstill. There are homes under construction in New South Wales that are stalling at progress payment stages, as the owners reside in Victoria and cannot inspect the sites to approve payments. Stephen and his Master Builders representatives met with the New South Wales Deputy Premier last week to discuss the impact of the border closure on the construction industry. I congratulate them for their dogged determination and advocacy on behalf of their members, and share their hopes that common sense will prevail and they can get back to work.

JobKeeper is the safety net our country needs right now, but the government is still deliberately excluding some sectors. The universities sector still can't access JobKeeper not only for its academic staff but for the thousands of occupations on university campuses—the support staff, the cleaners, the bookkeepers, the administrative staff, the groundspeople and the gardeners. On the border, the major regional campuses of Charles Sturt and La Trobe universities have hundreds of employees across these sectors. They have been under considerable stress during the pandemic, with no support from JobKeeper. Border universities and TAFEs are crucial to our future as a vibrant region, and we need to support them. Recently I met with staff from Charles Sturt University, who told me they are now expecting considerable job losses right across the rural campuses.

The childcare sector is another one that fell by the wayside with the JobKeeper scheme. When the Minister for Education announced his COVID-19 relief package for child care he halved the amount of money that childcare providers received and expected that JobKeeper would fill the rest. But the problem was that many childcare providers were ineligible for JobKeeper, and especially so in rural regions such as mine. Many childcare centres in Indi are run by local councils, and they were not eligible for JobKeeper. This meant that these centres, which had almost normal attendance rates before the government's package, had their revenues halved and they were denied JobKeeper. Many family day care providers were in the same boat. Disturbingly, I received messages saying some family day care workers quit in disgust at the indignity of the government effectively halving their income, and, now that the emergency relief package has ended, childcare workers were the first ones to be kicked off what should have been a good scheme—because JobKeeper is a good scheme, but it has some significant holes in it. And it is for some of those holes that I will be supporting some amendments this afternoon.

JobKeeper is only one aspect of our economic recovery. It lasts for the next six months, but what about the six after that and the six after that? How do we set ourselves up for a prosperous future ahead? The upcoming budget is our opportunity to plan for the long term, and that's why I've worked with local governments right across Indi, and the community and health sectors, to nominate key projects for our region that will grow jobs and get people off JobKeeper. I was proud to present to the Treasurer my Indi budget submission, which is full of great ideas for regional revitalisation—ideas that, if implemented, will fast-track people into work and keep them there.

Firstly, I think this government should be co-funding major tourism projects by establishing a dedicated regional tourism infrastructure fund to support projects in bushfire and lockdown affected regions with strong domestic tourism potential, such as, in Indi, the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail, the HotHouse Theatre upgrade in Wodonga, the Euroa cinema upgrade, the Alexandra-Thornton-Eildon rail link, the King Valley Prosecco Road development, the Holden heritage centre in Winton, the Skyline precinct in Lake Eildon—exciting projects that bring people to the region and create jobs.

Secondly, there should be more investment in shovel-ready local infrastructure projects that are locked out of current schemes. These include things like the Baranduda Fields access roads and parking area, the Mansfield Lords Reserve Pavilion, the Alexandra streetscape and the Marysville regeneration projects; a telecommunications link between the north-east and Gippsland; community energy; and, in health, rural health and aged care. We should be funding more home-care packages that employ home-care workers to enable people to age safely in place. We could co-fund the Albury Wodonga Health priority projects, including a new women and children's wing, a research and education hub on health impacts of natural disasters, and a community services hub. We should implement the recommendations of the NDIS Tune review, and invest in the development of a skilled NDIS workforce in regional and rural communities, where they can be trained at our regional universities. These are just some of the fantastic opportunities that exist in our community to bring about more employment and to guarantee north-east Victoria's place as a must-visit destination and a fantastic place to live and to work.

On behalf of my electorate, this week and next I'm going to government with this message and I'm meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister and various ministers, including those responsible for tourism, regional health, communications, education, forestry, to name a few. I'm convinced that they should see that these investments deliver value for money and get people off JobKeeper and off JobSeeker.

I would like to thank the nine local governments who worked alongside me to finalise this submission, including Alpine, Benalla, Indigo, Mansfield, Murrindindi, Strathbogie, Towong, Wangaratta and Wodonga. They care deeply about doing the best by their communities and are living examples of how rural and regional councils work hard to build prosperity and livability in the regions—and they have been doing extraordinary work to support their communities during this COVID crisis.

In closing, I would like to thank the government for recognising that the economy cannot simply snap back in September. This extension of JobKeeper is very welcome, as it is clear from business, welfare and community leaders that the pandemic is not over. But I'm feeling more optimistic today that we have what we need in place to get through in a better state than we otherwise would.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for her contribution. The question is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

6:09 pm

Photo of Peta MurphyPeta Murphy (Dunkley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to be able to be here to support the extension of JobKeeper, and I'm pleased that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer listened to Labor's calls to do so. We also have to remember that we're here speaking on the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (JobKeeper Payments) Amendment Bill 2020 because of the Prime Minister's and the Treasurer's belief that the economy would just snap back in September and because of their adamant refusal to listen to suggestions that support would be needed for longer. The JobKeeper wage subsidy was supported by unions and called for by unions. It was supported and called for by Labor. It was supported and called for by business, and, finally, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer caved, and introduced a wage subsidy scheme.

Members on the opposite side shouldn't spend too much time congratulating themselves about this wage subsidy scheme—it is great that they brought it in eventually, but there was a delay in bringing it in. Before the government decided to bring in this wage subsidy, we all remember seeing outside Centrelink offices the tragic lines of people who had lost their jobs. We saw those lines at Frankston Centrelink and at Mornington Centrelink, and I'm sure those lines had something to do with the government finally listening to the community campaign that I was proud to support to give Mornington Centrelink a reprieve and the people of Mount Eliza, Mornington and beyond a reprieve so they could still have their Centrelink office until March of next year and Frankston wouldn't be even more overburdened.

So I'm pleased that JobKeeper is being extended, but of course there are still so many businesses and people who were left out of the scheme as it was and who will be left out of the scheme as it will be. This government has deliberately excluded many people. In my electorate, in my community, the 200 or so people who worked at the Peninsula Aquatic Recreation Centre weren't eligible for JobKeeper and lost their positions. Employees at the Monash University Peninsula campus aren't eligible for JobKeeper. Casuals who hadn't worked at the same place for 12 months—which includes so many people, young people in particular in hospitality and retail—are not eligible for JobKeeper.

Under this legislation today, the Treasurer has extraordinary power to set the rates and eligibility under the extension and changes to JobKeeper. When he does that it is important that the Treasurer considers the people and businesses in his home state and my home state of Victoria. In my electorate of Dunkley, I have had many businesses and employees reach out to me about the way in which JobKeeper has been essential but, in many instances, not good enough. Jen, who works in the arts and events industry, which has been shut down since March, with the likelihood of not reopening until sometime next year, managed to get herself and some of her administrative staff into some other work and onto JobKeeper, finally. But it's not enough to cover all of her personal expenses. It's just been enough to help her and others get by. Of course, she wasn't able to pick up any other work, because JobKeeper specifies that you can have JobKeeper only for one job. She's one of the many people in my electorate who are concerned about what is going to happen to them under this new scheme.

Jennifer has spoken to many constituents in my electorate, and they have been generous to share their situation with me. In the time I have today, I can't tell all of their individual stories, but I want to make sure that Fiona from the hospitality industry, Lisa who works in the higher education industry, Pauline in retail, Tori in education, Noni who's a draftsperson, Rebecca who works in retail support, Leanne who's a cake-maker, Casey from the human resources industry who runs a small business, Alysha who's just out of my electorate but works in performing arts and Nick who's a visual artist know that the time and effort they put into telling their stories has not gone astray, that I have heard them and my Labor colleagues have heard them. Many of these people were working more than two part-time jobs to make up the equivalent of full-time hours because they work in a casualised and fractured labour market and industry. Many of these people lost one or more of those jobs before JobKeeper came in, so now they're working less than 20 hours and facing JobKeeper being cut to $750. The amount they were getting before the cut was only just enough to help them get by, and they're very fearful of what will happen to them when these new changes come in. These are the businesses and people that the Treasurer needs to be cognisant of as he is designing the rates and the eligibility criteria.

Today I spoke to Peter Negri from my electorate. He is so concerned for his 90 employees across the country that he asked if perhaps I could put my phone on speaker while I was in the chamber and he could speak for himself. I had to tell him that that wasn't possible. He was anxious to make sure that I let people in this place know, in particular that I let the federal government know, that he has staff members who have said to him, 'I don't know how I'm going to live.' He feels that the federal government isn't hearing what needs to be done on the ground and too often takes a top-down approach. Peter runs a travel company that specifically takes people with disabilities on holidays. He's not able at the moment to use the tax write-offs that have been offered because he hasn't got any income as the tours can't happen. He can't access the 50 per cent backed government loans that this government announced with much fanfare. The ANZ has said no because he doesn't have any income—and, anyway, the speed at which they're processing loans is considerably low. Out of the 90 staff he has across the country, he was only able to get 17 of them onto the JobKeeper package. There are some that are now working second jobs and others have had to go onto JobSeeker, so they've lost their connection to their employer. And, because of the continued health restrictions and the lockdowns and the border restrictions, if he doesn't resume touring by mid-September, he may have to close a business which employs 90 people, is in Carrum Downs in my electorate and helps people with a disability get holidays. His story needs to be told.

So does Damian's story. He invested $200,000 in his business in the sporting industry setting up a gym just before the lockdown and therefore he wasn't sure if he was able to access JobKeeper. He was advised by the ATO he could get it in a provisional capacity because his business had been open for a week. It was open for a short period of time as well in July. He's recently, in the last week, been advised he now has something like a $14,000 bill to the ATO because they've decided he wasn't eligible for the JobKeeper he has received, and, even if he gets JobKeeper now under the new scheme, that won't alleviate the debt. How is he going to pay that back? These are real people—not statistics but real people. This government needs to make sure that it is flexible and innovative in the way it implements JobKeeper, in particular for the people in our great state of Victoria, because it's important for them, it's important for the economy and it's important for jobs.

In the time that's been allocated to me, I also want to say just briefly before I conclude that the fair work changes that are in this legislation have, of course, been the subject of some change since they were first announced. Labor warned the government they shouldn't extend emergency industrial relations powers to businesses that had fully recovered or even better, so the decision to only extend them to 10 per cent threshold is a win. But the way out of this recession, the way to build back better, is not to employ the industrial relations deregulation agenda of the Reagan and Thatcher years. The government cannot, under the guise of a global pandemic, wreak havoc on the conditions and the pay of workers. The government needs to be alert to the fact that workers in my electorate are not going to accept being abandoned by a government that has an ideological belief that workers shouldn't be protected by the IR system.

6:19 pm

Photo of Zali SteggallZali Steggall (Warringah, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the extension of the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme. I know that for the many businesses, especially in Warringah, that are still suffering from the impact of the restrictions and the downturn in economic activity, this was an extremely welcome announcement. The bill we are discussing today, Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Jobkeeper Payments) Amendment Bill 2020, will be a lifeline for many businesses and their employees over the months to come, from October to March. I've been meeting with many businesses around the electorate, as well as with the Manly and Warringah chambers of commerce, to hear their concerns. Warringah has over 17,000 small businesses and sole traders. There are some businesses that, even with this extended lifeline, will struggle to survive, and I urge the government to consider targeted interventions to support those faced with near-complete shutdowns, such as travel agents and those in the events, arts and entertainment sectors.

The JobKeeper amendments extend the income subsidy from the end of September this year through to March next year. Very much welcomed is the change in flexibility in relation to the two tiers of payment under the new scheme—one tier for full-time workers and one for those working less than 20 hours per week. This is a good development to better tailor the response to the need. There's no doubt that small businesses are hurting. I've heard from many employers in my electorate that they are struggling with the disruption to their business and need all the flexibility that they can get to remain viable. These businesses range from physiotherapists to brewers. They're shifting their business models, they are innovating, they are adapting and they need their staff to come along with them.

The introduction of the category of legacy businesses, those that formerly qualified for JobKeeper but have now recovered sufficiently not to require the financial assistance, is a significant development. But there is some concern in relation to the ability to keep the Fair Work flexibility provisions, in that that may lead to a reduction of work and income for employees, which would have a significant impact. I urge the government to consider inserting minimum wage impact provisions, in addition to the cap on the number of hours that can be reduced.

This bill is important to prevent the much-touted economic cliff that is arriving in September. In Warringah alone there are over 7,500 businesses on the current version of JobKeeper. It has been a lifeline for these businesses and I'm pleased to see it continue. But there are certain issues that have been highlighted by my constituents and advocates, such as clarifications regarding the eligibility of start-ups and sole traders; the future eligibility of early education workers for JobKeeper; the need to consider the role of women and youth in our economic stimulus packages; and the need to develop industry-specific packages for those hit most severely by the restrictions imposed on business operations. I have had many sole traders approach me because they were initially deemed eligible for JobKeeper and received assistance for a couple of months but then had it pulled away again. The changes have caused significant concern for those people, and I would urge the government to clarify the requirements. I was contacted by Andrea, a sole trader, and she is not alone. An estimated 9,000 new businesses are in the same situation. The heads of nine accounting bodies, including CPA Australia, and Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, issued a warning to the government in June in relation to clarity in relation to the GST integrity rule for new businesses. I don't believe there has been a response.

In my electorate, there are many who share concerns about support for start-ups. These are businesses that we will be relying on, and we need people to create more opportunities. These are businesses like Johan Eksteen, who runs a clothing and branding business in Brookvale, or Andrew Gillespie, who has had to escalate his case to the AAT, or Yvonne Bowyer, who fell through the cracks of both JobSeeker and JobKeeper. So I urge the government to clarify the provisions. We need to support start-up businesses, risk-takers, innovators. We need their businesses to survive and to prosper to the other side.

Of course, child care requires clarification. Early childhood educators were the first group to be taken off JobKeeper. The government announced the end of JobKeeper for childcare workers when they also announced the other support package for the industry to offset the loss of JobKeeper. But we've now seen no new announcements from the government regarding what support will be available to this industry post September. The Parenthood group have been calling for childcare centres to return to eligibility for JobKeeper, and I support that call, especially as the majority of people working in those industries are women, and they are the hardest-hit in terms of job losses. The childcare sector is vital as well for supporting women to transition back into the workforce. We can't afford to let that sector collapse.

The government needs to have a specific focus on their support for Australian women to recover their employment opportunities. To date, a number of packages have been very much focused on male dominated industries, and we haven't seen the same attention given to female dominated industries, especially when it comes to the early education sector, casual employment, tertiary education, and arts and entertainment. All these sectors have higher levels of female employment. They have a higher impact of COVID and backdowns, and they have lower levels of eligibility for JobKeeper. So I urge the government to take this on notice and do something about it.

Similarly, our young people have taken the brunt of this pandemic. Youth unemployment in Warringah is at 13 per cent—more than three times higher than the overall unemployment rate. Although they have been impacted the least by the disease itself, youth have been hit the hardest by the economic consequences now and there is no doubt they will bear the brunt of the recovery. I urge the government to consider new approaches to support this generation now and into their uncertain future. We know that, in times of recession, youth are invariably the hardest hit, the last to recover and the least considered in recovery packages.

I must also mention that we need some industry-specific packages, especially when it comes to the travel industry. They've been devastated by border closures both international and domestic. We've had a lot of attention on airlines. Travel agents have received less attention from the media but their situation is arguably more acute. They're continuing to work to secure refunds for their customers but that doesn't bring them any income. I've met with many travel agents, including the CEO of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents. They really need a sector-specific recovery package. They were the first to shut down and, undoubtedly, they will be the last to reopen. Our events industry has been decimated by restrictions. I have heard from several events and event support companies in Warringah who, despite JobKeeper, will struggle to stay afloat. Great Big Events is a local company that specialises in high-profile international events. Their business is gone. Exhibit Systems has been operating in Warringah for over 20 years. Nick, the owner of Exhibit Systems, has had zero income since 13 March this year and employs 46 staff. He has very tough decisions ahead.

Of course, the offer of the 50 per cent business loan and the government guarantee is not of much assistance when the bank cannot approve any loans because there is simply no business plan in the future with their industry completely shut down. So there clearly needs to be some certainty. Countries like the UK and Germany are addressing these industries with specific strategies. I'd urge the government to look at implementing some of those. Many in the arts sector have been found ineligible for JobKeeper and are not able to have the assistance of JobSeeker. So this is an area where I would urge the government to do more. Thousands who work in the arts and entertainment industry are suffering—musicians, dancers, artists, comedians, camera men and women, sound engineers, roadies, editors, producers and event staff at theatres. The ripple effect is endless, and my electorate office has been inundated with stories of people who are really struggling.

I welcome the continuation of JobKeeper and the consultative approach to the refinements of the Fair Work Act provisions. I urge the government to consider further measures to address issues like rent relief and the code of conduct. I encourage the government to develop tailored packages for the industries most affected by the restrictions on operations. The government must consider approaches to supporting industries while they get back up and running.

On top of having a vaccine, we must develop a sustainable way of operating in a COVID-safe way in the future. For industries like travel, events, entertainment and many in the arts, this is more than a recession; this is a near 100 per cent shutdown of their business. So we must find plans. Thank you.

6:29 pm

Photo of Susan TemplemanSusan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the extension of JobKeeper for another six months because for many of the businesses in my electorate of Macquarie in the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury, this is the only thing keeping their heads above water. What has struck me as I travel around my electorate is the unevenness of this recession. People have shared with me their personal and business situations. Some business owners reveal, in an almost confessional way, that, in fact, business has been really good. You get the feeling that they're a bit embarrassed to say it because they know that not every business in the shopping centre they are in is experiencing the same boost.

In areas like mine, where fewer people are commuting for work, there are more people able to shop closer to home, buy flowers, stop for a coffee, buy a painting to decorate those Zoom-featured walls. The natural trend to shop local has certainly been encouraged. But other businesses are openly despairing such as the businesses that have traditionally relied on high levels of international tourism, either coming in or going out—tour guides on one hand, travel agents on the other. Cafes and restaurants have to turn people away because they've hit their COVID-safe limit. These businesses haven't been able to return to anything like normal levels—that's if they've got any revenue coming in at all. And then there are all the variations in between. The accommodation providers are packed at weekends but empty on weekdays, the clothing stores are finding that people aren't going out as much so they're not feeling the need to add to their wardrobes. But masks, which have next to no profit margin on them, are flying out the door. The tradies, who have loved helping people fix all those problems at home that they'd put up with until they'd spent hours and weeks at home, now can't see a pipeline of work. So while we're pleased that the government has not only brought in a wage subsidy in the form of JobKeeper, after we called for it, and that it's now extending it, which is what we've called for, the devil is going to be in the detail of how this is carried out. And the detail, we know, is going to be determined by the Treasurer.

We remember that the Prime Minister and Treasurer did spend a lot of time saying there was no need for a wage subsidy. Back in March, on the 24th to be precise, the Prime Minister rejected calls from Labor, from the unions, from business for a UK style wage subsidy, saying that such a system 'is never done quickly and is never done well, and that will put at great risk the sort of resources we're trying to get to people'. His preference was to send people to the unemployment queue, for employers to sack their workers and for them to line up to register for unemployment benefits. I had employees in tears at that time but I also had employers distressed at the decisions that they were being forced to make because they did not want to lose their staff.

Let's think about the name 'JobKeeper'. While we talk about this in the context of businesses, sole traders, small, medium and large business, let's remember that this legislation and the detail that will emerge are ultimately about keeping people in work and keeping them connected to their employer. But it's not about keeping people in jobs at any cost. I'm pleased to see that, when we called on the government to abandon its proposal to extend emergency industrial relations powers to businesses that had fully recovered, they did listen to our call.

When people have decent and secure jobs, they have money to spend. That goes into so many other businesses and keeps my local economy ticking over. Right now, in spite of the promised continuation of JobKeeper, businesses look to the next few months with fear. They're fearful of the lower level and what that will do to the amount of money people have to spend. The Treasurer must make sure that the workers and businesses impacted by bushfires in my region are not ignored in these JobKeeper changes. The detail needs to give bushfire-affected businesses, who have managed to hang on through the months of COVID, the confidence that they won't be penalised for having had hardly any revenue in the months of smoke and fire that they endured at the end of last year and the beginning of this year. And it's not just in my electorate; that's up and down the country. It needs to be easy for them. People who have been through bushfires have been through so many processes to get support. They've filled in form after form. They've had conversation after conversation with so many different agencies. They really can't take a lot more. What they need is a process that is easy for them to follow and one where they feel supported.

If you want to give my local business owners and workers the confidence that their efforts right now will not be in vain then making sure the process is easy to do, by spelling out clearly how it will work in bushfire areas, will go a long way. No-one wants to see anyone with less money in their pockets, so targeting the support to where it will have the most benefit is crucial. To date we've had some big losers: casuals with less than 12 months; the arts and entertainment workers who have slipped through the gaps; the local government workers; the foreign students, who now rely on collecting food and vegetables from Hawkesbury's Helping Hands; university workers; and the workers who have had no choice but to pull out super—self-employed people for whom that was the only option. We have to make sure that, going forward, the government really targets and nuances support for these people; it's failed to do so in the past.

The government must also resist the temptation to use the cover of COVID to pursue its passion for destroying universal superannuation and workers' rights. The government has a habit of saying no but then saying yes. They did it on bushfire business support. They did it on a wage subsidy. They did it on pandemic leave. They're a bit like Jim in The Vicar of Dibley. They say, 'No, no, no, no, yes.' Let's hope they say yes to things like a social housing program and more support for the construction industry to give tradies a pipeline of work. In a crisis like the one we are facing, it is up to the government to step up. Subsidising wages is a start, but we need more than that. We need a plan from this government on how to create jobs in our economy not just save them.

6:37 pm

Photo of Anne WebsterAnne Webster (Mallee, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

COVID-19 has caused unprecedented damage to our nation's economy, with thousands of large, medium and small businesses struggling to survive due to lockdowns and border restrictions. The Commonwealth government acted quickly and decisively to mitigate the pain experienced by individuals, families and businesses across the country with a range of economic support measures. Undoubtedly, the centrepiece of the government's economic response has been the JobKeeper program, which is the single largest economic support measure in Australia's history. Now worth over $100 billion, the JobKeeper program has acted as a lifeline for over 3.5 million people and nearly a million Australian businesses.

Despite our continuous exemplary low number of active cases in my electorate of Mallee, restrictions have meant jobs have been lost, businesses have closed and times are tough for many. In the month of May, there were 4,200 businesses in Mallee who applied for JobKeeper. Being Victorians, many of these businesses will continue to benefit from the six month extension of JobKeeper, especially those in the tourism and hospitality industries. This is particularly welcome in our regional areas where stage 3 restrictions continue to be enforced by Premier Andrews.

In recent weeks I've heard from a range of businesses across Mallee who have benefited enormously from the JobKeeper payment. The recurring message in many of these stories is that JobKeeper has kept their business alive. It's kept employees in jobs. It has facilitated regeneration in an incredibly challenging environment.

Today I'm taking the opportunity to inform the House of some of the ways businesses in Mallee have benefited from the JobKeeper program. Tara Ridley is the owner of The Office, a wine bar in Mildura. Tara says that JobKeeper has saved her business. The Office went from being a thriving meeting place for after-work dinners and drinks in the heart of Mildura to closing its doors and receiving no income for months. When Stage 3 restrictions were relaxed in Victoria, The Office reopened with a reduced capacity of 20 people, which is a fraction of its usual patronage. It was difficult for Tara and her employees to turn people away, but they diligently followed the health guidelines from the Victorian government. With JobKeeper subsidising the wages of her employees, Tara was able to meet her other outgoing costs. It also meant that her full-time employees didn't need to look elsewhere for work. As there was no money coming through the doors for months, it would not have been possible to keep these employees on the books if it weren't for JobKeeper.

James Kedmenec from Irymple also spoke about his experience with JobKeeper. The Kedmenec family purchased the Irymple Hotel almost eight years ago and have worked hard to transform the business, making it one of the most popular venues in Sunraysia. As with most hospitality businesses in the region, the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for the pub. Over the years, the business has invested heavily into several key staff members, who have become integral to its operations. When the business was first forced to close due to stage 3 restrictions, James was concerned about losing these key employees. JobKeeper made it easy for the pub to keep staff members on the books, allowing them to rapidly restore their operations when they were allowed to open. Being an older pub, the building has undergone significant renovations over the years to remain competitive and provide a high level of service to its customers. JobKeeper also gave the Kedmenecs the confidence to make the best of a bad situation and invest in their business by installing a brand new bar.

The tourism industry has also suffered greatly during COVID-19 restrictions. Many of the small hotels and motels in Mallee have been hit hard due to a lack of visitors and professional clients. The Junction Motel in Maryborough, operated by Janet McDonald, is almost fully reliant on guests coming out of Australian capital cities. Janet said that, if it wasn't for JobKeeper, she would be fearful for her business' ability to survive. JobKeeper has been absolutely critical in helping Janet meet overhead costs. Janet was desperate for an extension of the JobKeeper payment when I spoke to her in July. I was glad to inform her of the extension to the program, in which she will undoubtedly take part. Janet knows that, due to the ongoing need for restrictions, the tourism industry will be one of the very last to recover from this pandemic, and she's incredibly grateful for the federal government's ongoing support.

I've also heard from an innovative printing and graphics business, Academy Graphics, operated by Mick Clohesy in Swan Hill. Thanks to JobKeeper, Mick has not needed to reduce hours for his employees during the pandemic. The payment has also given Mick the flexibility to modify his business model to meet demand for new products, including protective screens for businesses and COVID-19 related signage. This diversification has kept his business operating smoothly, despite the downturn.

JobKeeper is also being employed by a number of larger businesses in my electorate. Peter McAllister is the general manager of True Foods, a large food-manufacturing business in Maryborough. When I spoke to Peter today, he once again expressed his gratitude for the government's rapid response to the pandemic. Without JobKeeper, Peter would have been required to lay off many of his 185 staff. Instead, JobKeeper gave the business the flexibility to train staff, to increase the depth of their operation knowledge. Peter said that COVID-19 had created serious mental health challenges in his community, due to the uncertainty of employment. JobKeeper had been a vehicle for stability and hope in the lives of his employees.

Another outstanding story is that of the Elliott Newspaper Group, a media organisation with publications across regional Victoria. Its main publication, the Sunraysia Daily, has been printed in Mildura for 100 years. Managing Director Ross Lanyon told me today that he could never have predicted that his beloved local paper would cease printing on its 100th anniversary. Ross made the difficult decision to shut up shop early in the pandemic, due to the significant decreases in advertising revenue. Many of the paper's staff were stood down and the printing presses stopped churning. The JobKeeper payment meant Ross was able to keep his staff on the books and the 'Sunny Daily' quickly came back to life. Ross said that the payment has given his organisation much-needed breathing space and the ability to plan a way forward through this pandemic. It has allowed the business to be flexible and to adapt their business model by developing their digital platform. Ross told me that without JobKeeper the newspaper would not be here. Sunraysia locals would have lost a trusted source of local news at this critical time.

The real beauty for businesses like Academy Graphics, True Foods and the Elliott Newspaper Group is that they have said that they may not need to make use of the next tranche of the payment. Thanks to JobKeeper, these businesses have returned to a level where they can stand on their own two feet and look forward to the future. In the meantime, those businesses still facing harsh restrictions in the hospitality and tourism industries—such as The Office Wine Bar and Lounge, the Irymple Hotel and the Junction Motel—will continue to be supported through the next phase of JobKeeper.

This flexible and comprehensive Morrison-McCormack government response has been welcomed by businesses in my electorate, and I congratulate the Treasurer on this innovative measure. We know that the situation with COVID-19 continues to develop, and the government's comprehensive health and economic response will continue to keep pace with the virus, provide for business and support individuals and families across the country.

6:45 pm

Photo of Ben MortonBen Morton (Tangney, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet) Share this | | Hansard source

Firstly, I'd like to thank those members who have contributed to this debate. The Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Jobkeeper Payments) Amendment Bill 2020 extends financial support and provides continued operational flexibility to businesses and workers as they manage and recover from the economic effects of the coronavirus.

Schedule 1 to the bill extends the prescribed period of the coronavirus payment framework for the JobKeeper payment until 28 March 2021 and amends information-sharing arrangements to enable the ATO to share JobKeeper payment information with Commonwealth, state and territory government agencies to assist them in their efforts to address the impacts of coronavirus. The extension and better targeting of the JobKeeper payment for an additional six months will provide support to those businesses that remain heavily affected by the health restrictions, including as new outbreaks occur. The introduction of a tiered system rate will reduce instances where JobKeeper payments are in excess of usual income, better aligning incomes to those who work part-time hours. The two-tiered JobKeeper payment will encourage businesses and employees to adjust to the new environment, supporting a gradual transition to economic recovery while ensuring that those who most need support continue to receive it.

When the JobKeeper payment scheme was introduced, it was accompanied by temporary changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 to allow those employers qualifying for JobKeeper greater flexibility in operating their business so as to respond to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and assist their employees to remain in employment and connected to their workplaces. The government has heard from stakeholders and directly from employers that these provisions have been vital in keeping their businesses operational and keeping their employees in jobs. Survey results show that around three in four JobKeeper employers use the flexibilities in the provisions. Almost all of the employers surveyed that use the provisions said they were rated important to essential for the continued operation of their business and for employees to keep their jobs. Schedule 2 of the bill supports the continued operation of the JobKeeper scheme by extending the temporary JobKeeper provisions in part 6-4C of the Fair Work Act, except for those relating to annual leave, beyond their original end date of 28 September 2020 until 28 March 2021, in line with the extended end date of the JobKeeper scheme. From 28 September 2020, employers who are eligible for JobKeeper payments after this date will retain access to the full range of remaining flexibility measures in part 6-4C in relation to employees for whom they are claiming the payment.

Legacy employers, being employers who have previously received the JobKeeper wage subsidy but who do not qualify after 28 September 2020, will be able to access a modified version of the JobKeeper provisions in relation to employees for whom they previously received JobKeeper payments. To do so, legacy employers will be required to make sure they satisfy a 10-per-cent-decline-in-turnover test in the previous quarter before they can use these provisions and again for each following quarter to have the flexibilities remain in place. They will do this by obtaining a simple declaration from an eligible financial service provider, called a 10-per-cent-decline-in-turnover certificate, that relates to the specified employer and states that, in the eligible financial service provider's opinion, the employer satisfies the 10-per-cent-decline-in-turnover test for the designated quarter, applicable at a specified time.

This certificate is a simple and streamlined mechanism to ensure that employers are able to meet the evidentiary requirements. The certificate operates exclusively for the purpose of the Fair Work Act, and there are strong penalties for employers who knowingly give false or misleading information to an eligible financial service provider in connection with the issue of the certificate. Of course, small businesses also retain the flexibility to choose whether to instead rely on a statutory declaration that they have suffered the 10 per cent downturn. Under these changes, legacy employers will not be able to use a JobKeeper-enabling standdown direction to direct an eligible employee to work less than 60 per cent of their pre-coronavirus ordinary hours and cannot require an employee to work less than two hours in a day that they perform work.

The JobKeeper provisions provide greater operational flexibility for businesses in the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic than the more rigid terms and conditions under awards and enterprise agreements, and support the effective continuation of the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme until March 2021. The measures will provide continued access to flexibilities under the temporary JobKeeper provisions at a time when businesses are still in distress or are still recovering from the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Ensuring the viability of businesses will help preserve Australian jobs and will assist employees to remain connected to their workplaces, resulting in minimised job losses and lower levels of unemployment. I commend the bill to the House.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Rankin has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.