Wednesday, 26 August 2020
Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Jobkeeper Payments) Amendment Bill 2020; Consideration in Detail
by leave—I move opposition amendments (1) to (11) together:
(1) Schedule 2, items 2 to 8, page 7 (line 3) to page 8 (line 14), omit the items.
(2) Schedule 2, item 9, page 8 (line 20), omit "5A".
(3) Schedule 2, items 10 to 22, page 8 (line 21) to page 21 (line 5), omit the items.
(4) Schedule 2, items 25 to 27, page 21 (lines 15 to 24), omit the items.
(5) Schedule 2, item 29, page 21 (line 28) to page 24 (line 16), omit the item.
(6) Schedule 2, items 30 and 30A, page 24 (line 24 to 29), omit the items.
(7) Schedule 2, items 33 and 34, page 25 (lines 4 to 7), omit the items.
(8) Schedule 2, items 36 to 38, page 25 (line 10) to page 28 (line 2), omit the items.
(9) Schedule 2, item 47, page 31 (lines 4 and 5), omit the item, substitute:
47 Item 9 of Schedule 1
(10) Schedule 2, items 49 and 50, page 31 (lines 8 to 11), omit the items, substitute:
49 Item 10 of Schedule 1
50 Item 10 of Schedule 1
(11) Schedule 2, item 51, page 31 (line 18), omit "or 789GJD(2)".
I'll be brief in my remarks on these amendments, because I'm mindful of the importance of our completing the bill before 7.30 tonight. As I made clear in my remarks earlier today, quite simply, we don't believe the government has made the case for the legacy companies that are covered here. We need to remember that what we are talking about is companies that the government has made an active decision that it will no longer provide financial support for via JobKeeper. The whole concept of the legacy companies is effectively to transfer the burden of support for those companies from the government to the workforce. For that reason I commend the amendments to the House.
I'm pleased to speak in this consideration in detail. Firstly, I want to say that I am proud to have been one of the many people calling on the government to extend the JobKeeper payment. My area of Gilmore, on the New South Wales South Coast, has been hit by drought, by bushfires, by three disaster-declared floods and by the pandemic. There can never be a better time to have the JobKeeper, but we need amendments to it.
From the dive shop in Huskisson to the local cafe in Jamberoo and the homewares shop in Mogo, local business owners have told me how grateful they were to be able to keep their staff on. That's why as the September deadline for the end of JobKeeper loomed I joined with many people to call on the government to extend the payment, just like we called for a wage subsidy in the first place those many months ago. It took a while to get here, but here we are with this legislation to extend the payment to next year—what a relief. But, sadly, there is a sting in the tail for our community. While the payment has, thankfully, been extended, new rules apply and a reduced rate is available. Many businesses are going to miss out. And the government has still not fixed many of the flaws that Labor identified way back when the wage subsidy was first announced.
I want to talk about the reduced turnover. This turnover requirement, it is important to note, is not included in the legislation. It is set by the Treasurer and can be changed at any time. Under the new rules businesses will need to show an actual reduced income in the September and December quarters compared to the same quarter last year. The fact sheets on the Treasury website are a little vague on this. They say 'generally the corresponding quarters in 2019'. You might be wondering why this is so important, but, when you look back at the bushfires, it is extremely important. In December last year local businesses in my electorate were experiencing what was, until the pandemic, of course, the hardest hit to their income many had ever experienced, because during December and January much of my electorate was impacted by bushfire. Our tourism-resilient economy had to turn away their lifeblood the tourists. The South Coast was a no-go zone for months. A business owner in the Conjola area was one of the first to raise this with me. I went to see her and she took me on a walk through the local bushland, the severely burnt bushland, which was the drawcard of her business. It was black and bare, hauntingly beautiful but unrecognisable from what it had been. Then she showed me the flood line from February when the waters rose and pushed their recovery back even more. It was heartbreaking to see, and when you walk around in these areas with people who experienced it all you really get a sense of the injustice of it all. Perhaps the Treasurer should try it, and then maybe I wouldn't need to be here explaining this. I support the amendments.
The amendments before us today are constructive suggestions to the government to improve the JobKeeper system. As previous speakers have said, we supported JobKeeper; we called for JobKeeper. But, while I'm providing some constructive criticism and suggestions to the government, I will highlight early educators. They are not getting JobKeeper at all. It has been ripped away from them because the government said the job was done. Well, we know that in Melbourne the job is not done. We know that educators are being stood down every day as a result of this government cutting off early educators from JobKeeper. I've written to the Treasurer to ask him to please reconsider. With a stroke of a pen, he can save these early educators.
When you talk to the government, they say, 'There's no problem here.' Tell that to the many people that have been contacting me. I want to quote some of the many comments I have received: 'After 30 years in the industry I've been stood down without pay and told that I may receive limited hours. We have been stood down and not sure when we will reopen or what hours we will go on.' Another: 'I was stood down with no pay on Tuesday. I was waiting for government support but received none. It has been an extremely stressful time for myself and my colleagues, some of whom are single mums. We continue to care for our precious children while feeling the weight of uncertainty, stress and doubt on our financial future. How are we going to pay the bills? Most of us used our annual leave in the first lockdown. I will have to apply for Centrelink to survive. The government has let us down.' From Karly: 'I am an early years educator who has never felt so disrespected in my 20 years working in the sector. I am a longstanding casual with over 10 years at one service who has now no work or income for the next six weeks. How can the government be so blind about how important our sector is? How can the government be so blind about what is important to our economy? How can we be the only sector to lose JobKeeper?'
While we are talking about extending JobKeeper to many industries that desperately need it and the constructive suggestions we've put forward, one more constructive suggestion is to put early educators back on JobKeeper. They feel so disrespected after they worked through this pandemic. They turned up for work when social distancing was not able to be observed during the height of this pandemic, and still many of them turn up for work in Melbourne. But, to the many who did that, the government has said: 'Bad luck, you are now on the unemployment queue. You are no longer able to get hours; you are no longer able to make a livelihood.' I urge the government, I urge the Treasurer, as I said in my letter, to please put these educators on JobKeeper so that they can have the same security as other workers in this country.
I move amendment (12) as circulated in my name:
(12) Schedule 2, item 22, page 13 (after line 30), after paragraph 789GJA(1)(c), insert:
(ca) the jobkeeper enabling stand down direction will not result in the amount payable to the employee in relation to the performance of work for the employer for a jobkeeper fortnight that is within the jobkeeper enabling stand down period that is less than the amount that would be payable to the employee if the employer were entitled to a jobkeeper payment for the employee for the fortnight; and
I want to draw to the attention of members of the House that this is the amendment that puts in place a safety net so that we don't end up with a situation where we end up paying people more for not working than for working and where, for an employee, the result of the business that they work for doing better and recovering is that their take-home pay goes down. As I said in my speech earlier today, we suspect this anomaly has not been put there deliberately, and we're constructively putting forward one of the ways that this can be fixed
Effectively, what we're saying here is that—while, as was reflected in the previous amendments, our position is that we don't think the case has been made for the legacy companies at all—this is the specific instance where somebody who starts on a modest income would find themselves, without mutual agreement, potentially having their hours cut by 40 per cent. If you do those calculations for someone on average weekly earnings or on a higher income, you'll end up well above the JobKeeper rate, but, if you do those calculations for someone who's on a lower award rate—a hospitality worker or a retail worker—you'll end up with a situation where their hours can be cut to lower than the JobKeeper rate.
To give some quick examples of the numbers and what we're talking about—and bear in mind we're talking about people on very modest incomes—a full-time retail employee on the minimum award earns $813.60 a week, and a 40 per cent cut to their hours, without the safety net, would mean they could lose $325 a week. That takes them lower than the current JobKeeper rate and even lower than the new, lower JobKeeper rate—in fact, $111 lower every week than what they would be getting if their company were more distressed. So we end up with a circumstance where, as the company does better, the worker potentially goes backwards to the tune of more than $100. A full-time cleaner, on an award just slightly lower than for retail, earns $804.90, and a 40 per cent cut to their hours could mean they lose $330.70. This means they could earn $125 a week less than what will be the new JobKeeper rate.
I accept that in the course of where we are right now—this having been raised for the first time with the government this morning and the legislation having been presented to us for the first time at the beginning of the week—we're not going to be in a situation today where the government's going to vote for the amendment. I get that. What I'm saying is that after this division, before this gets to the Senate, there is time to fix it, and we should fix it. We should not have a circumstance where, as a company improves, we have allowed, for people on the lowest wages, for their personal circumstances to go backwards.
The examples that I've given presume that someone only works Monday to Friday. If, for example, as a retail worker you're on a Wednesday-to-Sunday roster, and the Saturday and Sunday are the days that you lose, because what's allowed is a 40 per cent cut in hours, that could amount to a cut of almost 50 per cent in your pay, again taking you down to more than $100 lower than the new JobKeeper rate.
There's a really simple principle that this safety net would protect, and the principle is this: if the company that you work for is doing better, you should be doing better with it. You should not be in a circumstance where somebody who's in a distressed company receiving the JobKeeper rate, who's not turning up to work at all, will get more than a person in a company that's improving who's been subjected to these new industrial relations rules, which have been put in without a safety net. So I simply urge those in the government to fix this. We are not presuming malice with this, but we are saying you've got to fix it. You really have to fix this, because we aren't just talking about how some people will take a hit; we're talking about how the people who will take the biggest hit and will fall most behind are the people who are already on the most modest incomes. The bizarre nature of that—
The bizarre nature that that would occur because their business is improving is an anomaly that needs to be fixed.
There were some problems with what the government had initially announced which they have fixed, and I welcome that. I welcome that the government has fixed the original announcement that companies that were doing better than ever would be able to get access to these provisions. That's a change that the Attorney-General has made, the Leader of the House has made, and we welcome that. That's what the 10 per cent figure does. That is a good change that the government's made from its original announcement. The pleas that have been put in there through negotiations with the union movement that have led to a consultation period—that's a good improvement. What's been put in the bill that's before us that allows appeals to the industrial commission—that's a good improvement. It doesn't have to be identical to this, but, unless we find a way to insert a safety net, we will end up with anomalies. I've got to say, of all the speakers I heard support the legislation before us tonight, I never heard anyone defend the anomalies. No-one has come to the table today saying, 'We need to keep this.' So I'm simply saying to the government that the vote will go as it will go when the division is held. We get that. This will go to the Senate next week. Don't put us in a situation where this parliament has given permission for low-income workers to fall below the JobKeeper rate because the business they work for is improving.