House debates

Wednesday, 26 August 2020


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

10:03 am

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

Thanks very much, Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make a contribution on this really important legislation, the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Jobkeeper Payments) Amendment Bill 2020, which extends the JobKeeper program beyond the original finish date, which was the end of September. I will be moving a second reading amendment in my name, which I will get to a bit later on.

We have supported for some time the extension of JobKeeper beyond that hard September snapback. The last weekend in September was the original date that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer had nominated for the withdrawal of the JobKeeper payments. At the time, they said that they expected the economy would come roaring back, that everything would be fine all of a sudden and there would be no need for these JobKeeper payments. A number of times they gave interviews where they made it very clear that their working assumption was that this recession, this jobs crisis, would be a short, sharp episode and by the next month there would not be a need for this kind of support in the economy. Clearly, that's turned out not to be right, and, having recognised that, those opposite have had a change of heart, which we welcome. The Prime Minister's and Treasurer's original plan to pull this support—this JobKeeper support, these wage subsidies—out of the economy at the end of September would have been absolutely devastating. It would've been absolutely catastrophic. That would have had horrible consequences for workers, businesses and communities right around Australia and especially now, of course, in Victoria.

The thing that we need to understand as we debate this legislation is that, in terms of the JobKeeper payments themselves—I'll leave the industrial relations component for my colleague the member for Watson—all this legislation does is that it pushes the expiry date back a few months, from the end of December to the end of March. As I said, that's a welcome development, something that we have been calling for. But what it means is that it's still entirely the responsibility of the Treasurer now to set the rate of the JobKeeper payments but also to determine who is eligible and who is not eligible for the payments. It was the case before, and it continues to be the case, that there is one person who is solely responsible for the rates and for who gets the JobKeeper payments.

Having recognised that, we think that this bill doesn't address really the two major concerns that we have about the JobKeeper program. The first one is that this is now the third crack that those opposite have had at JobKeeper, and yet we still have a million casuals and hundreds of thousands of other workers deliberately excluded from the scheme—workers in universities, aviation workers and a whole heap of casual workers in the economy, concentrated in industries like tourism, who have been left out and left behind again with what the government is intending to do with the JobKeeper program. That means that the unemployment queues are longer than they need to be. It means that, because of a deliberate decision of those opposite about who they want to exclude from JobKeeper—despite the obvious need, despite the obvious benefits not just to particular workers but to the economy more broadly—the unemployment queues, which are already unacceptably long, are even longer. I hope that the Treasurer reflects on that when he sets the rules and regulations and rates for JobKeeper going forward. We're told that will happen in the coming weeks, and we would urge him to take into account that the fact that all of those workers are excluded means that the unemployment queues are longer than they need to be.

The second major concern is around the rates themselves. Again, this is entirely a responsibility of the Treasurer. A little over a month ago, the Treasurer announced the new arrangements for JobKeeper, including the winding-back of some of the support. He made that announcement before the economy—especially the Victorian economy but the economy more broadly as well, and the labour market especially—deteriorated further. Our concern is that there is a rush from those opposite to pull support out of the economy, without a proper plan for jobs to replace that support. That is probably our primary concern right now—that those opposite have a plan to pull this support out of the economy but they don't have a plan for jobs to replace that support. In case those opposite think that this is somehow a partisan thing or a political thing, I'd encourage them to reflect on the views that have been put forward by the Reserve Bank about pulling support out too quickly. I'd encourage them to reflect on the pretty remarkable consensus amongst the independent private sector economists in this country, who say that one of the real risks in pulling too much support out too soon is that that could cruel the recovery before it even gathers pace, create a new fiscal cliff and have consequences that nobody in this House would welcome.

Those are our two concerns: pulling support out without a plan to replace it and the fact that too many people are still excluded from the scheme. What is the reason we have those concerns? There was an overarching objective for the wage subsidies, which is the reason why we supported them in the first place. It's the reason why we welcomed the government's change of heart after they had initially said that they were a bad idea. We thought that it was good that they had a change of heart and came to our view that wage subsidies would be an important way to get through this recession. We welcomed that when it happened.

The reason those wage subsidies are needed is that we want to make sure that the extraordinary support which is provided to the economy during the depths of this recession is tailored to the economic conditions. That should be the navigating light here. That should be the guiding principle, whatever we are doing. Every dollar of this money is borrowed, and we need to get maximum bang for buck. We need to measure the effectiveness of our spending by what it means for jobs in particular and make sure that that spending is guided by and tailored to the economic conditions. And those conditions have gotten worse, not better, since the changes to JobKeeper were announced. We need to recognise that, acknowledge it and be upfront about it. Things have gotten worse, particularly in the labour market but also in the economy more broadly, and not just in Victoria but around Australia, and we need to respond to that. I think that means reconsidering the wind-back of JobKeeper payments while the labour market is as weak as it is now.

Our saying that the economy is weaker than when the JobKeeper payments were announced is one thing. We need to recognise that the government itself has said—the Treasurer has said a number of times now—that the half-budget update which was provided on 23 July is already out of date. Back then, I think just over 200,000 workers were expected to lose their jobs between then and Christmas. Now both the government and the Reserve Bank expect that to be more like 400,000 workers, in addition to the million already unemployed. The last unemployment numbers we got said that, for the first time in our history, we had more than one million unemployed Australians. That doesn't count all the Australians who have given up looking; they're not captured in that official data. But the government, the Reserve Bank and others have said that, even in the last four weeks, conditions have deteriorated substantially, and I think it's the responsibility of those of us in this place and especially the Treasurer, who sets the rates and eligibility for JobKeeper, to respond to that deterioration.

The reason why we need to get this right is that getting this wrong would have such enormous consequences for our people. The stakes really couldn't be higher, in lots of ways. There's the health part of the crisis; and, in economic terms, the stakes are remarkably high. This is the deepest downturn in at least 90 years, possibly longer. Next week we'll get the numbers for the June quarter. GDP growth will have probably the biggest contraction we've seen.

So, for all of those reasons, we need to understand that the stakes are really high here. We need to get this bang on, because, if we don't, it means more and more Australians will join the unemployment queues and it means more and more businesses will hit the wall, and nobody here wants to see that happen. So we have to get it absolutely right. I don't think any objective observer of the support that's been rolled out into the economy would say that it's been bang on so far. It's one thing to extend JobKeeper, which is a good thing, but that is not a comprehensive plan for jobs.

We should be trying to leverage our superannuation savings pool, rather than cutting the super guarantee and raiding people's retirement incomes. We should be getting the support flowing to bushfire victims, who have been hurting since January, not leaving most of the bushfire recovery fund unspent. We need genuine support for small business, not just a rebadging of the grossly undersubscribed SME loan scheme. We need a plan for social housing to create jobs and support vulnerable people, not rely on a HomeBuilder program which is inaccessible to too many people. We need energy policy certainty, we need cleaner and cheaper energy and we need jobs that are associated with that, not the energy policy chaos that's already costing thousands of jobs. We need a plan to make child care more accessible and affordable, not just kick childcare workers off JobKeeper while our second-largest city is in lockdown. We need a plan to support our university sector, which is critical to young people and our future, not make it more inaccessible and let uni jobs go. We need a plan to grow jobs and give a voice to the regions, not make cuts to regional services like the ABC and other cuts as well. We need to value older people, not freeze their pensions or hide from an aged-care crisis that's taken the lives of too many older Australians.

These are the kinds of missteps and mistakes which will make a really difficult situation and a really deep downturn, a really deep recession, even more difficult and even deeper, with devastating consequences for our people. We see in question time over and over again that those opposite are desperate to pretend that the only mistakes made here have been made by state governments. It's time for them to stand up and acknowledge that all the mistakes I just ran through have costs for the economy, and that means they also have costs for people and their jobs.

We need to get the response to this recession right, we need to get the recovery right and we need to reimagine what the place will look like after the recession has come and gone. Instead of those opposite taking a sensible three-part approach to this, we've got from them are these three parts. First, they were too slow and too narrow in their response. Second, they're in a rush to pull support out of the economy without a jobs plan to replace it. We desperately need a jobs plan; we can't wait until the October budget to hear what those opposite want to do about jobs. They're good at saying how bad things are now, but they're yet to tell people what they're actually going to do about it. The third defining feature of how the government is responding to this recession is really damaging. They're now using it as an excuse to pursue some of their old ideological obsessions, whether it be industrial relations, superannuation or pensions, right across the board. We know this because the Treasurer said he would take his inspiration in this recovery from Margaret Thatcher, and that will send a shiver down the spine of every Australian worker. We need to make sure that we are responding intelligently and decisively based on developments in the economy, not based on the same tired old ideological obsessions of those opposite.

When we talk about the consequences of getting this wrong—we've talked about the stakes being really high and about the depth of this recession—the thing we're desperately trying to avoid is what the economists call labour market scarring. That is really just a fancy way of saying that what we need to avoid is this big spike in unemployment becoming a permanent state of affairs. We need to make sure that this unemployment doesn't concentrate and cascade through the generations, particularly for communities like the one that I represent—and I see the member for Forde on the other side of the chamber. We can't have long-term unemployment in our communities. It's damaging for social cohesion. It's dislocating. It creates all kinds of intergenerational carnage. We need to avoid that at all costs. If you look at all the recessions here and overseas through time, one of the things we fear most is the long-term unemployment that follows, the long tail of disadvantage, which has such damaging consequence for our community. We need to avoid that at all costs. That means getting important programs like JobKeeper right. The ball is now in the Treasurer's court to set the rates and eligibility. We need him to get that right. If he continues to get that wrong, the unemployment queues will be longer than they need to be, and that will make it harder for people to put food on the table, to put school shoes on their kids and to pay their rent or mortgage. I move the amendment in my name:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

(1)notes that this legislation gives the Treasurer extraordinary powers to set the rates and eligibility arrangements for the Jobkeeper Payment;

(2)notes that millions of workers and struggling businesses continue to be excluded from the Jobkeeper Payment; and

(3)calls on the Treasurer to use his power under this legislation to ensure the Jobkeeper rate is tailored to conditions in the economy, including rising unemployment".

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) 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. If it suits the House, I will state the question in the form 'That the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question'.

10:18 am

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm extremely honoured to stand here today, having spoken to the initial JobKeeper legislation in May this year. The reason I stand here so very proud is that the Australian people were looking to the federal government for a response, and they got a response that was certain, that was strong and that they could predict and rely on so that their businesses could stay certain and strong through what has been an incredibly unprecedented crisis. I want to take the House back to the end of March. This House rose on 24 March, and we actually had a concept that we would not be sitting again until 22 August. That is an example of how difficult it was to predict at that time what was happening around the world and how it was going to affect Australia. In fact, as it turned out, we have actually sat four times since that time, and we have been able to continue with the pace of legislation that is required to keep governing this country.

The reason I bring this up is that, as a public health researcher, I know how hard it can be to model and predict the future. I also know prevention is better than cure. In those two situations, we've been very clear, very stable and very certain in the way we have delivered a health response to a crisis that is a global crisis. But we can also say the same is true for our economic response. I remember saying to one of my constituents at the end of March that the Prime Minister was facing what could be the Spanish flu and the Great Depression coming at him at speed. It was like he had the Australian population of 25 million people as passengers on a great plane called the Australian economy and he had to land the plane to a safe haven in order to deal with what was an unprecedented crisis. And every day he was out in the public, for an hour a day, speaking to us about what his plan was. And I, for one, felt very comfortable and very certain that he had a plan.

And that plan was that this crisis was going to be with us for a significant period of time. The Prime Minister always said that from the very start. He said this wasn't a two-week crisis—some people on the other side argued that we should go for a hard lockdown and it would be over in two weeks—but would take at least six months. As early as late March, he was able to say we're going to put in place things that will help cushion the economy, which will help buffer jobs, which will help ensure livelihoods for a six-month period. That seemed almost unbelievable at that time.

As it's turned out, the Prime Minister was absolutely right: we've found that we needed a strong, secure economic approach. The people of Higgins are very, very grateful for the JobKeeper legislation, on which I was privileged to speak on 13 May in this House. We have seen 900,000 businesses now take up the JobKeeper payment—that's 3½ million employees—and already $42 billion has been disbursed to the people of Australia. Some people on the other side were surprised that we took this step. We did it because we knew that this had to be done, that this temporary payment was incredibly important. And I now back in this second piece of legislation. It was four months ago that the initial legislation was put in place, at a time when we didn't really know what was going to happen with this pandemic. So we're now moving to a point where we need to make sure we can step down the payment support in a temporary, transitionary way so that, moving forward into the future, people know what their business situation will be and what the economy will do. They need to be able to ensure that they can plan into the future.

The fact that the temporary JobKeeper payment is now being extended to March and we are going to have an industrial relations system that ensures flexibility for the JobKeeper payment through this period of time is incredibly important to the businesses of Australia and the employees of Australia. In my electorate of Higgins, so many people have been incredibly grateful for the support they have received. This is not the government's money; this is taxpayers' money. But they understand that this money is being well spent, that it is targeted and that it is temporary. We are making some adjustments now to ensure that as we move forward, going into the post-COVID period, we can enable the economy to get off its knees and enable businesses to move forward with certainty and plan right out until March.

I come from Victoria and, unfortunately, we are now nine weeks behind the rest of the country. Give a shout-out to my constituents in Higgins. We are struggling with feeling a little bit left behind with regard to our health response. But I can say that we look to the rest of the country to see the economy opening back up. When I speak to my colleagues around Australia, they tell me people are getting back to business. The businesses that have been hardest hit—retail, hospitality and health—are now opening up and getting back to business. This supportive economic initiative is so important. They can get back to business knowing that their employees have stayed connected to businesses. This is the important psychology of knowing that you have a job, that after this is all over you'll be able to get back to work. Businesses know that they are staying connected to their employees, that when it is time to open back up they won't have to open up their books again and find out how to interview people and get all of that administration going. They know that they can start back up again with trained, skilled employees, which means they can be on the front foot and ready to take forward their plans for their businesses. That is what the Australian economy is all about. It's about individuals, about the individual companies, having the confidence to move forward into a post-COVID period of time.

I must say, the most important thing about all of this is that the Australian people trust that they have a government that understands that this money is not the government's money but the taxpayers' money, and that we treat that money understanding that it's important to invest in our future through these temporary measures that will mean we're ready for a prosperous future. We know that we'll continue to do what it takes to ensure that Australia can trust that we have economic prosperity at the front of our mind each and every day as we make deliberations here in this chamber.

I'd like to say thank you to the opposition for working so cooperatively on what is clearly the most important economic initiative that this country has seen. When I look at the unprecedented economic and health crisis that we have faced, I think the Australian people can feel a great sense of confidence and trust that we are on the right track, that we are heading in the right direction. We've dodged a bullet with regard to the health consequences of the COVID pandemic. The Treasurer has the right plan and right strategy and the Prime Minister is leading us to a very optimistic and hopeful future.

10:26 am

Photo of Madeleine KingMadeleine King (Brand, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to support the amendment moved by the member for Rankin. Labor will be supporting this legislation, the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Jobkeeper Payments) Amendment Bill 2020, but I do note the amendment moved.

At the start of this crisis it was Labor who urged the government to consider wage subsidies to help employers keep staff. The government initially rejected the idea, but then they listened to Labor. More recently it was Labor who called on the government to extend JobKeeper, and now they have. It was Labor who called on the government to abandon its proposal to extend emergency IR powers to businesses that have fully recovered, and they have. Throughout this crisis Labor has worked constructively with the government on the passage of legislation through this parliament to support Australians.

But, as we often see with the Morrison government, it has been painfully slow to act. It is slow to recognise the problem. It is often ignorant of the facts. Support for people in need was too slow, created too much uncertainty and excluded far too many people. This delayed an economic response to the COVID-19 outbreak and needlessly pushed too many Australians out of jobs and into those terrible queues of people we saw outside the nation's Centrelink offices, including more than one million casuals, who have been the hardest hit by restrictions and the downturn. Even as millions of people suffered, the Prime Minister had the temerity to falsely inform Australians that the economy would 'snap back' by September.

When this government does take action we then see the terrible failures of implementation. We saw the $60 billion JobKeeper bungle, the biggest in Australian history. We've seen three million vulnerable Australians forced to raid $33 billion from their superannuation accounts because the government failed to provide adequate support. This is a privatisation of the support that the public should have provided. We've seen the failure to implement a national scheme for paid pandemic leave. This government's failures will make this economic downturn worse than it needs to be, the unemployment queues longer and the recovery so much more difficult.

Labor's priority is always to protect jobs and to create new jobs. We want to help workers, businesses, families and communities through this crisis and to ensure that vulnerable Australians are supported. We believe job creation should be the No. 1 economic issue in this nation, but this government's record on jobs and economic growth is poor, and even worse, this government has no plan for the future.

Even before the summer bushfires and the COVID-19 outbreak annual growth was already well below trend, consumption was weak, business investment had fallen, underemployment and household growth had hit record highs, wages growth had hit record lows and debt had more than doubled. The Liberals now preside over the first recession in Australia in 29 years and hundreds of thousands more Australians are unemployed or left behind.

The unemployment rate is at 7.5 per cent and is expected to climb to 10 per cent. ABS data this week confirms the jobs crisis is getting worse, with 520,000 payroll jobs lost since the outbreak. The ABS 'Weekly payroll jobs and wages in Australia' shows that, since 14 March, payroll jobs have dropped by 4.9 per cent, and total wages have fallen by 6.2 per cent. Victoria was hardest hit, with payroll jobs declining by 7. 8 per cent. Payroll jobs for women declined by 4.7 per cent, and male payroll jobs decreased by 5.3 per cent. Jobs in the accommodation and food services sector decreased by 18 per cent and jobs in the arts and recreation industries fell by 15.3 per cent.

Here we are in late August, more than six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, at a time of mounting job losses, and this government is removing substantial JobKeeper support from the economy without any jobs plan to replace it. The government's changes to JobKeeper do not represent a comprehensive plan for jobs. They do nothing for the hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their jobs or will lose their jobs, including up to 400,000 additional workers expected to lose their jobs by this Christmas. That's 400,000 additional workers that will likely lose their jobs by this Christmas.

The wind-down of JobKeeper will come at the worst time for workers and businesses in Victoria and other parts of Australia. Some of the hardest hit industries are those that have been and remain deliberately excluded from JobKeeper. You'd have to be living under a rock not to have heard the outcry from countless Australian workers who have missed out on the scheme. The most recent incarnation of JobKeeper fails to expand the scheme to allow workers whose companies are owned by foreign companies to access the payment, placing undue pressure on the aviation industry. This government goes on about Australia's investment potential and economic credentials but, at the same time, allows these companies, who hire thousands of Australian workers, to hit the wall. The government have had ample time to tweak JobKeeper to ensure those workers are supported, and that they haven't just confirms that the Prime Minister and his government are happy for aviation to collapse in this country, and, with it, thousands of jobs. So, while they call for open borders to happen, despite health advice and the actual facts, they'll also let the aviation industry, which could work through an open Australia, fail.

I commend the work of the Transport Workers Union and its national secretary, Michael Kaine, for advocating on behalf of the aviation industry and its Australian workforce. He quite rightly pointed out:

… the Government simply doesn't have a plan for aviation. It is willing to risk thousands of jobs and force families into poverty. It is standing by while Qantas and Virgin limp along, their futures entirely uncertain.

Qantas has announced 6,000 redundancies, while redundancies are also planned for Virgin. We saw just last night that more job losses are coming for Qantas. Workers at dnata have been shut out of the JobKeeper payment because of an exclusion of companies owned by foreign governments, and they are expecting more job losses. It's a disgrace. It has become clear that the JobKeeper wage subsidies are a good idea but are being very badly implemented and leaving so many people out. Some people are being left out accidentally, but many people are being left out quite deliberately.

I turn to the matter of universities and international education. I for one am not surprised that this vindictive government would use the pandemic as cover to continue its culture wars against our amazing Australian universities. This is the same government that tried to deregulate our universities and force $100,000 degrees upon the students of Australia. The coronavirus crisis has had a particularly acute impact on Australian universities. The once-in-a-lifetime border closures have put an abrupt halt to international student arrivals. Many, if not all, Australian universities rely on this income to survive because of cuts implemented by this government, and former Liberal governments, to universities around this country and also their science and research programs.

The government deciding to lock universities out of JobKeeper means not only that universities have had to deal with funding shortfalls by culling workers but also that international students themselves have been left destitute, with little to no financial support. This idle government feels no duty of care to those students, even as it has watched borders close and flights get increasingly difficult to access and become largely unaffordable. Before the pandemic, the government refused to intervene to protect international students from exploitation in the workforce. During the pandemic, international students have had their superannuation stolen and have been forced to seek help from charities and food banks to survive. At the same time, UNSW and UTS surveys show that almost two-thirds of international students don't seek information or help for problems at work and suffer in silence, often because of visa concerns or fears of job loss.

When the coronavirus pandemic began, the Prime Minister said, 'We are all in this together,' but the experiences of international students in Australia paint a vastly different picture. We have treated our international friends, our international students, so poorly. This government could have shown some care and compassion by helping out those people—who literally are the fourth biggest export industry of this nation, worth some $30 billion—while the nation and the world rebuild and recover from coronavirus. Fortunately for these international students, the people of Australia do have care and compassion, and local communities did help international students. But, while they have been helped, the government has failed to help. Other nations have helped international students extensively and made sure that they are safe and feel welcome in those countries. I fear that, when this pandemic is over, international students won't want to come back to Australia because our government, this Liberal government, failed to help international students in their desperate hour of need.

So many of the people of Australia have been left behind by this government during the coronavirus pandemic. JobKeeper is going to be extended. It should be extended further. The people who have been left behind should be found and should be helped out of the crises they are facing, lest more and more people get left behind and drop into an unending cycle of poverty, which may very well be the legacy of this government's response to the economic crisis caused by the ongoing health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic. I thank the House.

10:37 am

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's times of crisis like this that require bold and decisive action. They require leadership. They require the vision to see that solutions which would in ordinary times be unthinkable are exactly what the situation demands. That is what this country needed as the double economic and health crisis from coronavirus began to bite, and it is what the Treasurer and Prime Minister delivered in April when they announced the single largest stimulus package ever undertaken by the Commonwealth of Australia. The impact of the Morrison government's JobKeeper program all over the country was dramatic and immediate. It's no exaggeration to say that this one bold decision, then worth $70 billion, rescued hundreds of thousands of jobs overnight and kept money coming in for thousands of families who were facing financial ruin. JobKeeper has kept almost a million businesses afloat. It has helped pay the wages of some 3½ million people. It's directly touched the lives of perhaps as many as a quarter of all Australians and indirectly underpinned the future for all of us.

On the Sunshine Coast, where I live and where my electorate is, we have felt its effects more than many. I've spoken to dozens of businesses large and small in Fisher over the past four months, and they've asked me to pass on their thanks to the Treasurer and to the Prime Minister as they've told me their stories—stories like that of Scott Armstrong, who owns the Parklands Tavern in Meridan Plains and the brand-new Baringa Tavern. When COVID arrived and the pubs and restaurants were closed, it looked like Scott was going to have to let almost all of his staff go. Despite the taverns quickly adapting to provide takeaway food, there would simply not have been enough work for them while the taverns' income sank through the floor. However, with the announcement of JobKeeper, all that changed overnight. Scott was able to contact 101 of his workers and let them know they would be retained with the federal government's support. Since that day those workers have maintained their connection with Scott's business, thanks to JobKeeper. Now that restrictions have been eased, Parklands Tavern and Baringa Tavern are back and better than ever before.

This story has been replicated in businesses across the Sunshine Coast. Take, for example, Tony Kelly's Rice Boi in Mooloolaba, one of the coast's most popular restaurants. It's got a huge following—some would even say a cult following—but, with a unique space and no bookings, the restaurant found it almost impossible to survive. Tony now has 30 staff on JobKeeper. Another example is Spicers Tamarind Retreat, perhaps one of the Sunshine Coast hinterland's best-known resorts and a must-visit destination for foodies on the coast. They were able to bring back 25 staff through JobKeeper. The Edge Cafe, Bar & Restaurant in Montville was able to reopen once JobKeeper began, with 30 employees in the program. Both Ryan Dillon of Spicers Tamarind Retreat and Andy Hargraves of The Edge tell me that they are now seeing important signs of recovery in our community.

Companies of every size in Fisher have used JobKeeper to stay afloat and keep employing Sunshine Coast locals. That's what JobKeeper was designed to do. For example, our iconic SeaLife Sunshine Coast Aquarium at Mooloolaba has more than 50 staff on JobKeeper. At the other end of the scale, Jono Milligan has kept his two community newsagencies, Kawana News & Gifts and Birtinya News & Gifts, going, helping a handful of locals and supplying Sunshine Coast residents with their newspapers. That's all thanks to JobKeeper. Likewise, Matt and Sharynne at the Moffat Beach Brewing Company were initially forced to stand down most of their modest staff, but, with the introduction of JobKeeper, they brought back takeaway business and lunch and put their eligible team members back on. JobKeeper even allowed Matt and Sharynne to bring back some of their non-eligible staff, with the leg-up provided by the program elsewhere in the business helping them to afford the extra wages.

For other Sunshine Coast small businesses, it's been the JobKeeper payment which has given them the people and resources they needed to offer innovative new pandemic-era services to customers. Two of the coast's world-class fishing businesses, Rockliff Seafoods and Walker Seafoods, rely on export markets to support their businesses. They are now doing quite well as a result of the support they have received through JobKeeper. A nearby Italian restaurant, Augello's Ristorante & Pizzeria, only had nine staff eligible for JobKeeper, but that didn't stop the owners, Simon Best and the famous State of Origin Queenslander Billy Moore. They were able to offer takeaway service and get their business open again, but only with the support of the Morrison government's JobKeeper.

I want to thank Simon and Billy, Heidi and Pavo Walker, Helen and Adam Rockliff and all of the other business leaders on the Sunshine Coast who have taken up the JobKeeper payment and used it not only to keep employing locals but to innovate and ensure that their business can make a contribution to our ongoing economic recovery. Nationwide, we are beginning to see the impact of that hard work. Since those deeply anxious early months, there have been promising signs. We should all be optimistic that, when our economy opens up fully once again, we will be able to rebuild and create a stronger Australia together.

Today we've heard a couple of speeches from those opposite, and I'm sure the rest of the day will be full of negative talk from those opposite, who are absolutely driven to talk down the economy. It's a real shame, because Australians want their political leaders to come together at our darkest times. Last week, I did my Tour de Fisher, where I rode around my electorate. On the ride from Peachester to Maleny there is a very steep hill up Bald Knob Road. It's a cracker of a road. It's a very steep road. When I left the Peachester listening post I got on the bike and I put a podcast on, and I made the mistake of listening to this podcast of the Leader of the Opposition talking about the difficulties he is having managing the expectations of his base and trying to have this modicum of being positive. Bald Knob Road is so steep that I couldn't stop to hit the 'stop' button on that podcast. So, for an hour of torture, I had to listen to the Leader of the Opposition talk about the troubles that he's having. Australians want positivity, not negativity, not the constant carping and talking down of the economy that we're seeing from those opposite. They want to see a positive contribution from those opposite, but that's not what they are getting. With the undaunted spirits of those in my business community, and in fact right throughout the Sunshine Coast, I have got no doubt at all that after this crisis the Sunshine Coast, and indeed this country, will be growing and prospering once more.

This bill will enable businesses who have struggled so much to stand proudly on their own two feet. We need businesses like those on the Sunshine Coast that I've mentioned today and many thousands of others to take a lead in rebuilding our economy and bringing Australia through to a brighter future on the other side of this COVID crisis. The bill before us gives those businesses and their employees the precious time they need to make this brilliant future a reality. I commend it to the House.

10:47 am

Photo of Matt KeoghMatt Keogh (Burt, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Jobkeeper Payments) Amendment Bill 2020. There's no doubt that the JobKeeper payment has been an absolute lifesaver for employees and, in actual fact, businesses all over the country. That's why, when this government was resisting such an idea, Labor was out early calling for such a wage subsidy. For many, it's the only reason businesses and Australian families have kept their heads above water. The job crisis is getting worse, though, not better, with 520,000 payroll jobs lost since the virus outbreak began, and the government is predicting a further 400,000 jobs to be lost before Christmas.

With job losses continuing to mount and rising unemployment, this government sees it appropriate to remove substantial JobKeeper support from the economy without any coherent jobs plan to make up for it. Indeed, one might call the government's planned changes to JobSeeker and JobKeeper a no-jobs plan, as under it they predict more, not less, unemployment. Some of the hardest-hit industries are those that have been, and remain, deliberately excluded from JobKeeper—people who work in child care, many in hospitality, essentially all of the arts and cultural sectors, and those working for local government. We on this side of the House have been calling for a solid plan for jobs to be implemented before any sorts of supports are removed, so we need to ensure that financial supports are continued.

In my community, the supports put in place at the higher rate of JobSeeker and the security that JobKeeper has brought with it have largely been very positive. In my community, people have been doing well on the more significant payment—fewer mental health concerns, less crime, general improved health. Local small businesses are going well. In speaking with local law enforcement, there has been a marked decrease in petty crime for the simple reason that people aren't feeling the need to steal as they can afford what they need. Similarly, there is anecdotal evidence from local mental health charities that they are seeing fewer people struggling with depression and anxiety. While being supported by these payments, people aren't having the money worries they usually do. Who would have thought that basic poverty alleviation could be as simple as giving people in need more money?

So we do support the extension of these supports. However, as is the cliche, the devil is in the detail, and devilish detail it must be, because the government hasn't actually shown it to us. The legislation itself that we address today only extends the date that the government can pay JobKeeper through to the end of March 2021. The new lower rates—timing, tiers and eligibility—as before, will only be set out in Treasurer's rules, which we are yet to see, and can be changed at the stroke of the Treasurer's pen.

We are told by the government, however, that the plan is for the JobKeeper payment rate to be lowered from the $1,500 a fortnight in two phases. First, from late September to early January we will see the JobKeeper payment drop to $1,200 a fortnight for eligible employees that worked more than 20 hours a week before the crisis. For those who worked less than an average 20 hours per week the rate will be dropped to $750 a fortnight. But then there is a further drop at the end of the year, a merry Christmas indeed from the Morrison government. From early January through to late March the rates will decrease again to $1,000 a fortnight for those working more than 20 hours a week and to $650 for those who had been working less. JobKeeper will now end just as we go into Easter, hardly the driver of an economic resurrection then.

These reductions have provoked some significant concern in my community, with individuals and in the charity sector. In particular, they are concerned that people won't cope with the dramatic cut in pay that is to come. Before they suffer too much of a rude shock, they would like to see financial counsellors made more readily available to people so that they can prepare appropriately. After all, for some people in our community their income will be reduced by half. That's nothing to take lightly. And that's only if businesses are actually eligible under the tightened JobKeeper restrictions. You see, many businesses weren't doing well before the COVID-19 crisis hit. It's a rough market out there. It's because of this that our community are steeling themselves against what may, sadly, be a mass closure of shops that can't otherwise afford to keep their doors open with these changes, and that's on top of those that had already permanently closed.

When people are earning less money there's also less spending, which, of course, will flow into our small businesses, or rather it won't flow into our small businesses, many of whom I've been chatting with and who are quite willing to tell me that they are enjoying a relative bumper winter after the lifting of restrictions now in Western Australia because there's more cash in our community to support those businesses. To give an example, one of my local coffee shops has said to me that their major concern about the reductions in JobKeeper is not so much about their own employees—though that is part of it—their major concern is the reduction in JobKeeper that will be flowing through everyone else in the community, which will see fewer people able to go to their coffee shop, fewer people able to afford to get that extra side with their coffee, or coffee at all. That is the major thing that they are concerned will be affecting their small business. It is simple demand-side economics, something the Treasurer seems to have an aversion too.

In speaking with local councils, community groups, social support groups as well as the community at large, I can tell you people are concerned about when this tap gets turned off, not just about the money in their bank accounts but also the conditions that workers may be subjected to.

The fair work amendments contained in this legislation introduce a new legacy employers tier, being those previously eligible for JobKeeper but now with a downturn in revenue of between 10 per cent and 29 per cent who will no longer receive JobKeeper but will retain access to the JobKeeper workplace flexibility provisions. This is at least a concession, I guess, to the arguments that Labor has been making with respect to not extending the flexibility arrangements to businesses that have not completely recovered. However, the government must explain why companies which the government has determined no longer need financial support are going to be given these additional rights.

The provisions relating to the commitment to a minimum of only 60 per cent of ordinary working hours would result in many low-paid workers previously receiving JobKeeper experiencing a substantial pay cut. What we are concerned about are the work arrangements permitted by the JobKeeper flexibility provisions, the kind of flexibility that employer groups have wanted for a long time regardless of the pandemic. This really looks like the government is using the pandemic as a cover to introduce broader flexibility measures that would otherwise have been subjected to lengthy legislative scrutiny and negotiation. Ultimately, it will not just undermine workers' rights but will place them at financial risk and at greater vulnerability.

The risk in allowing the JobKeeper flexibility provisions to be extended beyond companies that are eligible to receive JobKeeper is that they'll be used as a Trojan horse for permanent changes that permit employers, with minimal consultation, to alter their employees' conditions of employment. Employer groups will claim that these provisions have worked so well during the pandemic that they should be retained indefinitely. However, to date, employees of businesses with access to these provisions have also all received JobKeeper. That is the bit that's fundamentally changing here. But this should not be an opportunity for the government to soften workplace laws. Businesses have ebbs and flows. We need to make sure that the new eligibility criteria for JobKeeper are appropriate. We need to extend support for longer. We can't just have a cliff where one day financial support is there and the next day it isn't.

Then there are the people who have been missing out since the beginning and still need help. I'm talking about our hospitality workers and other casual workers, who were working for 10 months, not 12, before COVID-19 hit. Only a few weeks ago I spoke to a worker in the tourism sector in Western Australia who had been working one week shy of 12 months before the entire operation she worked for had to be closed down. Situations like that have been writ large across our nation. I'm talking about the performers who are paid show-to-show, not year-to-year. I'm talking about airport staff at council owned airports or at council owned fitness facilities, and, of course, dnata workers. I'm talking about local government workers who have had hours significantly reduced across the board.

Victoria is still in lockdown and many states are on the edge. So the question must be asked: why is action being taken now to reduce payments? Why not extend just a little bit longer until we know for sure that our nation is actually coming out of this crisis? And why not extend support to industries and to the workers who need it but have been missing out?

JobKeeper was initially costed at $130 billion, just through to September. Now, after recalculation of the actual costs, plus this extension of JobKeeper at a lower rate, it will incur a cost of only $101 billion. The government has room in its own estimates from the beginning of this crisis. We know there is money set aside to support more people, so why not support them? I was having a conversation with some young people last night about good debt and bad debt. I think keeping people in work and spending money, keeping the economy ticking over instead of having it fall into a heap, is a pretty good example of the concept of good debt. That being said, there's only one person we need to convince to put their hands back into the proverbial national piggy bank. It's the Treasurer. Surely he can see that these industries and Aussie workers need support. Why withhold it now? We can afford it. Come on, Treasurer, have a heart!

We support these measures today, but it must be known as well that we think the government can and should be doing better. The most important test for the Morrison government's management of this recession and its aftermath is what happens to jobs and the businesses that create them. We can't afford to see more Australians left out and left behind because the Prime Minister and the Treasurer are not prepared to respond to the labour market or come up with a proper plan for jobs. Throughout this crisis, Labor has worked responsibly and constructively with the government. But being constructive doesn't mean being silent when there are very serious failures in the implementation of what the government is doing. These failures are covered across the board and they've seen long unemployment queues.

We saw the failures that resulted from their blunders managing myGov and the Centrelink system. We saw that the supports were too slow to be rolled out and information was not provided quickly enough. We saw that three million vulnerable Australians were forced to raid $33 billion from their super accounts. We've seen JobKeeper completely withdrawn from childcare centres across the country and fees reintroduced, when we need to do the opposite so that we can help people to get back into work, not to mention to support the people working in the childcare centres, not to mention to support the businesses that are running those childhood, early learning and childcare centres themselves.

The Australian economy is in recession for the first time in 29 years. The unemployment rate is at 7.5 per cent and expected to climb to 10 per cent. The government's announced changes to JobKeeper are not a comprehensive plan to create jobs. As I said before, the government's own plans expect an additional 400,000 people to become unemployed. Not only is that not a plan for jobs, that's a plan for no jobs. Labor's priority is to protect jobs, help Australian workers, businesses, families and communities through this difficult time and ensure that vulnerable Australians are supported. That's what responsible governments and parliaments should do. Australians have worked together to combat this virus, but more work must be done by the Morrison government to ensure that our hardest hit Australians are not left out and not left behind in the recovery.

11:00 am

Photo of Gavin PearceGavin Pearce (Braddon, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It goes without saying that we are in the middle of one of the worst recessions that we've ever seen. It's potentially our greatest economic challenge since the Great Depression and our greatest health crisis since the 1919 Spanish flu pandemic. There have already been immeasurable impacts in many spheres of our nation's economy.

I want to take this opportunity to extend my condolences to every family, right across the nation, who have lost loved ones, and I also want to recognise that there have also been significant impacts upon their livelihoods, on their businesses and on people's jobs. As a government, we've acted swiftly, decisively and effectively. We've provided unprecedented targeted support. We have implemented the most comprehensive suite of economic support measures in the nation's history.

On a personal note, and from my own experience as a business owner—I sit on this side, on the government side, and I listen to the other side and their approach to what being a small-business owner is and the relationship that an employer has with their employees. It's a vision of taking advantage of the employees, of exploiting them and corrupting them. But the truth is that it's a very different matter. The truth is that the vast majority of our employers care deeply for their employees. I paint my own example as the case example today.

I ran a small business which was designing and manufacturing prefabricated concrete for the agricultural sector in Tasmania. I employed between six and eight people. It was a seasonal business, where we'd do the majority of our sales during the summer months, but, during the winter months, cash flow was almost non-existent as people weren't buying our products and we couldn't get onto farms due to the environmental constraints of winter in Tasmania. But I still had those six blokes. They were still looking at me every day. And, rather than put them off for the winter period, I knew that they still had to have food on their table. I knew that they still had a family to look after, and I knew that they still had bills that they needed to pay.

And so, as an employer, you go without yourself. You make sales, you sell off things or you sell cattle so that you can go without yourself in order to keep your employees connected with your business. Because that business needs the employees post-winter. It needs those employees to stay connected to your business so that you can come out of that slump in sales and in cash flow and you can continue to thrive and grow as a business. And so you go without. It's this very paradigm that I consider a similarity with the JobKeeper program that I'm here to speak about today. It's that connection between employers and employees that's important.

As a government, we understand the connection is important. It's vital and it underpins that business' future. After all, we as employers understand that our business is all about our people and our employees. In saying that, our JobKeeper, our JobSeeker, the cash flow assistance, our instant asset write-off, our apprenticeship support measures—and the list goes on—these programs have been the pillars of support and they have been the economic lifelines for many Australians. They're something that they've needed in their time of dire need.

Since the outbreak six months ago, I've spoken to literally hundreds of businesses from my local electorate, many of whom have accessed and benefited from at least one of the assistance programs. These are hardworking folk. They live right across the north-west, the west coast and King Island in Tassie. They're from all walks of life. Many of them, through no fault of their own, are really battling. They're struggling in more ways than one—battling to keep their businesses afloat or to pay their bills or to provide for their family. What they have said, without exception, is that the federal government's assistance has been their real lifeline. It has allowed them to pay the bills that I spoke of, retain their staff and keep their doors open. The centrepiece of the government's support has been the JobKeeper program. Australia wide, it has supported over 3½ million people and nearly a million businesses. The program has provided payments of more than $42 billion to date, which has been the boost that individuals, businesses and the economy have needed during this important time.

Driving around my electorate and meeting with locals, I met with the owner of Print Domain in Burnie, a town where I have an electorate office. His name is Michael Gates and he is a mild-mannered gentleman who works well with his community. He's got a fine business and he's renowned for being a great bloke. Michael spoke to me and he said this has been 'a real blessing'. He said that the JobKeeper program had had a positive impact on his business. While not back to a full order book, Mr Gates's business continues to improve each week. Being a print and design business, he has specialty skills required with his employees. They're specialists and they do a fantastic job, and I use some of their product in my electorate office. But the beauty of this program, he said, is that he can retain those specialised staff, with their specialised skill set, and it will allow him to scale up to full operations without having to worry about retraining somebody post the pandemic, when his cash flow will inevitably improve. 'This program,' he said, 'has been a real blessing for me and I know many others as well.' I wish Michael all the best in his Print Domain business in Burnie, Tasmania.

Just across the road, where we wander up for a coffee, is a cafe called Liv-eat. It's owned by a lady called Mieke Bacon. The JobKeeper allowance has allowed her to stay open during the COVID-19 outbreak. She said it was 'a lifesaver'. The story of Liv-eat is a great example of every cloud having a silver lining. When we had the outbreak in the North West General Hospital and the AUSMAT team was deployed to Burnie, under the federal government's assistance program, Mieke and her business were able to stay open because her business was able to take the opportunity to provide the catering for the AUSMAT team. So you can see the secondary flow-down benefits that the JobKeeper program has had, just in her business alone.

There are many other examples to cite, like Robyn's Hair Studio in Latrobe. Robyn is the owner and proprietor. She said:

We were really struggling there for a while and the Federal Government support honestly kept us alive.

A lot of our clientele are elderly people and while we still aren't back to 100%, the work that the Prime Minister and Premier have done has been brilliant.

She also went on to thank me for responding to her during the pandemic. We were inundated, in the electorate office, with people who were just scared, apprehensive and unsure about their future. We kept our phones on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and we provided that support when they needed it most, and that underpins our paradigm from the federal government's perspective also.

Just down the road, at Belly's Bar & Grill, owner Mark Radich said:

JobKeeper was instrumental in keeping our business afloat. When the decision was made to shut down all nonessential businesses on the north-west coast when we had the outbreak of coronavirus in April, had it not been for Federal Government assistance we would have closed our doors permanently. Now that we are able to resume trading again, the Federal Government support is still doing its job, helping our business as we get back on our feet.

He thanked the government for all that they've done.

It is not only the JobKeeper program that has had benefits and flow-on effects for the great state of Tasmania; the instant asset write-off has also been important for our businesses. I spoke to the owner and executive director of Lending4U in Devonport. His name is Justin Delanty. Mr Delanty met with me and we discussed some issues he was working with. That was possibly in the last week of May. It was prior to us extending the $150,000 instant asset write-off to the end of the calendar year, giving businesses a further six months to take up that opportunity. Mr Delanty had had difficulties processing his applications due to the backlog that financial institutions like his were experiencing, trying to get everything through on time. Mr Delanty said his phone was 'ringing off the hook' with regard to both government support mechanisms, but the 30 June cut-off would have made it hard to process much of the backlog that he was experiencing. He said that, upon hearing about the extension of the instant asset write-off scheme, he was ecstatic. He said that he could help farmers, business owners, people in the construction industry and other clients right across the electorate, due to the federal government's support. His business does equipment financing as well. When a farmer or a business owner buys a piece of equipment, you need to remember that someone needs to operate that equipment, and, often, ancillary equipment is purchased at the same time. Again, our programs, such as the instant asset write-off, continue to improve and continue to benefit many people downstream.

The owner of the John Deere tractor dealership in La Trobe is James Darcey. I've spent a bit of money there myself. He runs a fine business in Tasmania. He said his books were full. He also highlighted to me that the lead time for ordering a piece of equipment that needs to come from America or Europe often means that farmers will miss out on the instant asset write-off. He also commended our extension of this program.

Just down the road from John Deere is Delta Hydraulics. It's owned by a bloke called John White, a visionary in our business sector in Tasmania. It's a Devonport based business that has a wide range of clients, from the defence industry—he supplies parts to the Collins class submarines and F/A-18 maintenance teams—to heavy industry partners such as the Elphinstone Group. He has verbally confirmed to me that he's a big supporter of the instant asset write-off, as well as JobKeeper, and this has helped his business no end. 'Wise, wise, wise,' he said, 'from the federal government.' His business has remained open.

Capitalcorp Equipment Finance, also just down the road, is owned by a bloke called Alan Hogge. Hoggy approached me just prior to our announcement of the extension of the instant asset write-off. He had a dilemma: he couldn't process his applications quickly enough. He said the extension of the scheme to the end of the calendar year meant that he could service his clients better. Again, the financial benefits flowed downhill and across the electorate.

The initial phase of the federal government's plan has been to focus on the health crisis, save jobs and protect the economy as best we can. The government have been clear about our approach to this crisis. We've implemented the programs needed as the health and economic situation evolved. We have been, and we will continue to be, responsive and adaptive. We have announced that the JobKeeper program will be extended by a further six months. This will give businesses who need it extra time to recover. This could support up to 1.4 million people for an extra six months. Importantly, JobKeeper will remain open to new participants.

I also want to take this opportunity to congratulate our Premier in Tasmania, and his government's steadfast, responsible approach to the recovery. He has worked hand in glove with the federal government, and Tasmania has fared well as a result.

This is a time like no other. It is an incredibly challenging time for many people right across Australia. But I want one thing to remain clear today, and that is that we will always be there for them and that the good folk of the electorate of Braddon can always rely and count on me and the Morrison government to be there for them. I commend the bill to this House.

11:15 am

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Financial Services) Share this | | Hansard source

The coronavirus pandemic has created an unprecedented economic crisis in our nation. Our economy is in recession. Millions of workers have lost their jobs, been stood down or had their hours cut. Mortgages and rental payments are on hold. Small businesses have folded, and people have lost their jobs. Kids have been taken out of child care. Family holidays have been abandoned. The nation is doing it tough. Australians are doing it really tough. But what's worrying and sad about the predicament we're in at the moment is that things are predicted to get much worse economically. We know that the government's own estimates are that an additional 400,000 Australian workers will lose their jobs before the end of this year. That's backed by the Reserve Bank's analysis.

Just yesterday, Qantas and Jetstar announced a further 2,500 ground staff workers would lose their jobs, many of them, unfortunately, in the electorate that I represent. I say to those workers: I and my office are here to help you. If you wish to discuss any of the elements of your redundancy or what occurred for you, or just want someone to talk to about it, please feel free to call my office. That extends to all workers in our community who've been impacted by this terrible pandemic and the recession.

In times of crisis like this, it's up to government to step in and provide leadership to support businesses and jobs and to provide the plan to get Australians back to work and get the economy up and running again. Unfortunately, sadly, I don't think we've got that plan from the government yet. I think, really, that the government underestimated just how bad this pandemic would be and how long-lasting the effects would be economically. That's evident in the fact they were late to the party in coming up with policies and proposals to support people in our economy. They were late to the party not only around some of the health elements, particularly those associated with aged care and developing a plan to deal with coronavirus in aged-care facilities, but also when it came to supporting jobs and ensuring that Australians had the relief that they needed to get through this difficult period. It was Labor that called for the establishment of a wage subsidy. It was Labor that called for rental relief and mortgage holidays for homeowners and tenants throughout the country. It's been Labor that's been calling for the government to develop a jobs plan to bring our economy out of this recession and to get people back into work.

Thankfully, the government listened to what Labor was saying and implemented JobKeeper, a wage subsidy that would support Australians during this difficult period, particularly those that have been stood down from their positions because demand in the businesses that they work in had dried up. There've been problems in JobKeeper that Labor has pointed out in this parliament, but we've supported the notion and we've supported all of the legislation that's gone through the parliament on this.

There have been problems with university staff missing out—people who work part time and casually, particularly those in the education sector. There are people in the arts industry and the hospitality industry who've missed out as well. Despite the fact that the people working in these industries are all Australians, they all pay taxes and they all deserve support, this government abandoned them in their time of need. It was harrowing to have to go to Sydney airport a couple of months ago and stand with and listen to dnata workers who have been abandoned by this government simply because of the corporate structure that they happen to work for. We have the ridiculous situation of people who make the food for airlines in this country not receiving JobKeeper but the people on the plane who hand the food out getting it. That's not fair. Labor has pushed these issues and encouraged the government to extend that to those workers. Unfortunately, they have failed to do so.

When the government initiated JobKeeper I thoroughly believed that they thought this crisis would be over by September, that we would have got it under control and things would be back in hand and we'd be able to open up the economy once again. That's evident in the fact that the expiry date of the JobKeeper program, and the legislation, is the end of September. That's why this bill is required—to extend those provisions beyond September and well into next year to ensure that workers, businesses, families and individuals have the support they deserve. That's why I'll be supporting this bill and that's why Labor is supporting this bill—to extend that important support to Australian workers and to businesses and to families that need it.

We're saying that this is simply not enough. Simply coming into the parliament with a bill to extend JobKeeper is not enough. The government needs to develop a plan that supports jobs beyond the recession, brings the economy out of recession and gets demand up and running again and supports businesses. We all know that this economic crisis is going to last well beyond the pandemic. Australians deserve to know now what the plan is to get the economy up and running again and to get people back into work. We know that the economic shock is going to last well beyond this year. You don't need Labor to tell you that. All the economic commentators, including the Reserve Bank governor, are saying unemployment is expected to peak late next year at 10 per cent—not late this year but late next year. There are still going to be a lot of people out of work towards the latter half of next year. And particular industries are going to do it really tough over the coming two years. They include the construction industry, the retail industry, travel and tourism, which has been absolutely smashed, and the aviation sector. We are all going to feel the burden beyond the pandemic. The economic crisis is going to last for a very long time.

I say to the government: what's the plan to ensure that, when the pandemic ends, there is support for businesses to get up and running again, for people to be employed once JobKeeper runs out? Where is the plan to stimulate that economic growth in our economy once again? It's not there at the moment. Australians deserve to know what that plan is, or indeed what the government is working on, because to date they have had zilch from the Treasurer and the Prime Minister about that.

When Labor was in government and we were hit with the financial crisis, the Prime Minister and the cabinet worked immediately on establishing a plan to support jobs and build our economy. It included programs like the Building the Education Revolution, which provided important upgrades to school infrastructure and facilities and boosted the educational opportunities of our kids. Importantly, it provided jobs for people in the construction sector within local communities, with a focus on employing locals. We invested in social housing, building public assets that provide a welfare benefit to people in our community who are struggling, alleviating some of the problems we had in the country around homelessness and a lack of access to housing. They are some of the things that Labor did when we were in government, that we came up with, that were a plan to support jobs beyond the global financial crisis, and the results speak for themselves. Australia was the only developed economy in the world that avoided a recession, that managed to ensure that people didn't lose work on a wholesale scale throughout the country.

The government needs to do a similar thing. It needs to heed the advice that Labor took when we were in government in developing our plan to support jobs beyond the global financial crisis, and it needs to do it now. The Australian people deserve to know what the government's plan to support jobs and businesses beyond the pandemic is going to be. They deserve to know what its prospects for employment are going to look like beyond this year. Labor has been again constructive in offering suggestions to the government about areas in which we believe we could almost immediately begin rolling out programs that would improve public infrastructure and support jobs. One of those areas is social housing. We all know as local members the backlog of maintenance and issues with social housing that exist within our communities. These are problems that can be fixed and provide jobs for tradespeople and other people working in the construction sector—that vital sector of our economy—in Australia almost immediately. In doing so we would improve and upgrade publicly owned assets, assets that are important in providing a roof over the head of many Australians, particularly those who are on low incomes, those who have mental health issues or disability issues and aren't able to work and those who have been homeless in the past and need a roof over their head. It's a targeted outcome that would support better social outcomes and support jobs in our economy.

There are plenty of opportunities to begin programs of upgrading existing infrastructure. Here's an idea: why don't we look at improving Australia's road network to make it safer, particularly rural and regional roads, where we know there's a history of accidents and injury? Look at programs to widen shoulders, introduce audible markings along the sides of the roads and introduce anticollision wires that run down the middle of roads. These are upgrades to public infrastructure that could be undertaken almost immediately and would support jobs in the construction sector and ancillary industries associated with that but, importantly, would at the same time upgrade public infrastructure and assets and provide a productivity benefit to the country. Labor has also said that the government should look at and investigate getting on with the development of high-speed rail up the east coast of Australia. That could begin with the process of reserving the corridor. Procuring the land is the greatest expense in a project like that. It could begin almost immediately and would provide jobs for Australians.

Those are three areas in which Labor has suggested constructively that the government could act, but so far, we've heard nothing from this government. Australians can't wait. They're in desperate, dire need of leadership from this government, and it's not coming.

I'll turn quickly to the industrial relations changes that the government has made. This bill contains an extension of some of those changes to industrial relations laws. Workers, unions and Labor have been cooperative around suspending some of the provisions of awards and enterprise bargaining agreements. We've done this in good faith to get the nation through this pandemic and this difficult situation. This bill provides a further extension of some of those provisions. Labor will again support it in good faith, but my concern is that you can't trust those opposite. I am concerned that members of this government will attempt to turn these temporary measures into permanent measures.

We've already seen Senator Bragg say that the changes to early-release superannuation should be made permanent and that people should be able to access their superannuation whenever they want and raid their superannuation accounts. Well, that's not on. Labor won't support changes like that that dud Australian workers. I warn those opposite: don't try and dud Australian workers. Don't seek to make these changes permanent, because we will fight you. We'll fight you because that will be dishonest, that will be deceitful, that will be immoral and that's not the right thing to do by Australian workers during this time of difficulty when they've placed their trust in you and given you the opportunity to suspend some of those provisions in good faith. Don't dud Australian workers, because if you do we will fight you.

11:30 am

Photo of Bridget ArcherBridget Archer (Bass, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

For employers and employee, the reality of coronavirus hit like a tonne of bricks in March. The decisions made by the Morrison government were made quickly and decisively to protect the health of all Australians while trying to balance the devastating economic impact this unprecedented crisis has brought. The decision around JobKeeper was made in the context of the new social-distancing arrangements, which were announced following the national cabinet on 24 March. This would see the prohibition of a number of activities and precipitate the temporary closure of a number of businesses, including pubs, restaurants and cafes. Months on, we are far from out of the woods. We have a government debt that none of us dreamed possible at the beginning of this year. But I am proud of the work done by our government to protect the lives and livelihoods of Australians, and none more so than JobKeeper, which continues to keep many Tasmanian businesses going and their valued employees connected.

In my electorate of Bass there are currently some 2,800 organisations who are is recipients of JobKeeper, and I'd like to share some of their stories today. I begin in Launceston, Tasmania's second-biggest city and one with a fierce entrepreneurial spirit. Launceston has the highest number of JobKeeper recipients in the state, which is unsurprising given the make-up of our workforce. A report released in 2017 showed that 83 per cent of the Launceston workforce was employed in the private sector, compared with just 76 per cent in Hobart. As the Launceston Chamber of Commerce has stated, the city is primarily a private sector economy that relies heavily on small and medium businesses.

In early April the chamber sent out a survey to their members seeking feedback on the Morrison government's JobKeeper scheme. Of those who responded about half were eligible, and 75 per cent of those were planning to access the program. The survey also found that the payment would save at least 1,500 jobs. The chamber lauded the government's decision to implement JobKeeper, stating, 'From a practical point of view, there will be many local businesses who will reap great benefit from this, and it will be the difference between a business closing for good and one which can hibernate until the inevitable recovery occurs. The government has taken the view—the correct view—that it is better to keep people within the employment relationship, rather than having them in the social security system. It makes good business sense and good sense from a community point of view.'

The extension of JobKeeper, which brings us here today, is also welcomed by the chamber, who state, 'The extension will provide much-needed reassurance that many will be able to keep their business afloat and their staff employed. This is particularly encouraging for those businesses in our community who have been significantly impacted by the disruption caused by the pandemic.'

We know that tourism and hospitality were hit hard by the pandemic and the subsequent restrictions. In my island state, tourism contributes more than $3 billion to Tasmania's economy each year, or about 10 per cent of gross state product. Prior to the pandemic, tourism employed about 17 per cent of Tasmania's workforce, the highest rate in the country, with just under 1,700 tourism businesses across the state employing over 43,000 people. A large number of these businesses are accessing JobKeeper.

Adam from Luxury Golf & Scenic Tours Tasmania stated early on that the package would allow his business to survive the downturn, allowing them in uncertain times to have a regular stream of income, and applauded the government for doing a really good job in working to keep businesses afloat, making sure that they can come out the other side.

Another entrepreneurial business in our community has told me of the importance of JobKeeper in ensuring their business can stay afloat: 'As a software development company, JobKeeper ensured we could keep our team in place while our customers adjusted to the new normal. The default position from our customers was to pause or cancel their projects while they ascertained how their business or department would respond to change. JobKeeper gave our business the ability to not knee-jerk and let staff go, and instead be able to pivot towards new opportunities and markets. In essence, it gave us the opportunity to hang in there and try a different path, which has worked.'

The impact of JobKeeper has also been far more wide-reaching for some. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting with the manager of the Tailrace Centre, in Riverside. As owners of a function and events centre, Tim and his wife, Sharon, were anticipating their biggest year yet when COVID brought everything to a crashing halt. They lost close to $750,000 due to the immediate closure of their children's play centre, function facilities and popular cafe. Before JobKeeper was introduced, most of the workforce was stood down and the 10 staff who remained faced pay cuts of up to 50 per cent. Instead, JobKeeper has kept them connected to around 20 staff. The Tailrace cafe, Jude's, provides a pathway to employment and career support for local youth and others who have battled difficulties in their past. For one employee at Jude's, who has worked so hard to turn her life around and gain meaningful employment, JobKeeper has allowed her to stay on a positive path, keeping engaged with her employer and continuing to flourish.

Peter Barron, owner of Flinders Island Aviation, is providing essential passenger, freight and mail deliveries to the Furneaux islands. Peter's business is receiving JobKeeper for his four employees, from pilots to admin staff, to keep his operation afloat. It was incredibly important for these remote island communities that the business was able to carry on operations and not suspend those essential services.

For Mathew Cooper and the team at the award-winning Fannys Bay whisky distillery, tucked away in Lulworth, their popular and much-loved cellar door had to temporarily close. Access to JobKeeper has assisted in keeping them afloat. With their cellar door now reopened, I was thrilled to pay a visit to the distillery a few weeks ago.

At Seahorse World, in Beauty Point, JobKeeper provided certainty to its 11 employees. A first-rate tourist destination, Seahorse World is also dedicated to conservation and education. Rachelle and her team run a breeding program to save the critically endangered Tasmanian handfish from extension, with only 80 red handfish and just 1,000 spotted handfish left in the wild. Getting tourists through the door plays a significant role in funding the programs and supporting their staff. COVID, understandably, had a major impact on their operations, but with the assistance of JobKeeper they were able to keep their employees and reopen just in time for the July school holidays. Without interstate or international tourists for some time to come, JobKeeper continues to provide much-needed certainty.

The beauty industry also suffered a hit when restrictions were put in place. Beauty salons, often owned and run by women, employing other women, closed their doors in March. For Elysian Beauty and Wellness Salon, near my office in Launceston, JobKeeper allowed Bronte to keep on her two full-time employees. When restrictions were lifted in early June, the salon was able to reopen with its skilled employees still in place.

These are just a few examples of some of the 2,800 businesses in my electorate receiving JobKeeper. From my work with these business communities over the last few months, it's very clear to me that the Northern Tasmanian region extending JobKeeper will be necessary, particularly as border restrictions continue to impact. The economic effects of COVID are still keenly felt in the communities I represent, and I'm proud that the government is extending this payment through to 28 March 2021 while also working to better target the JobKeeper payment to support businesses and their workers as they manage and recover from the economic effects of coronavirus.

The temporary amendments to the Fair Work Act were put in place to support the practical operation of the JobKeeper scheme and to help keep Australians employed and connected to their workplaces. Many business owners in Northern Tasmania have told me that they have been critical to keeping more people in work. A survey of employers commissioned by the Attorney-General's Department shows that the flexibility measures introduced under the temporary fair work amendments have been vital for businesses to survive the impacts of the pandemic and save jobs. I have heard from business owners who expressed concern that some staff were refusing to take shifts or take on reasonable tasks to help keep them engaged with their workplace. The change in rates outlined in the bill will go some way towards addressing this issue, while also providing certainty and security over the next six months.

I'd like to finish today by sharing some words from Kate, who works at Grays hotel in my home town. Kate perfectly highlights the situation business owners in Northern Tasmania have faced, why JobKeeper has been a lifeline for so many and why it is so important to continue with this critical support. She wrote:

In late February we began experiencing the effect of the virus on our business; fears of its transmission and the introduction of stay at home campaigns meant that people weren't coming out. For the last 5½ years my husband and I have operated a pub in the small Municipality of George Town, Tasmania. Gray's Hotel is well supported by locals and we operate a gaming and sports bar and the towns busiest Bistro seven days a week. We employ our 2 teenage children in our family operated business as well as 19 other members of our community.

When the announcement was made on Sunday, 22 March that we would be closing as at 12pm the following day and restricted to takeaway meals (which has not previously been of our business plan) the world as we knew it collapsed before us. The weight of having to stand down our staff members was a difficult and emotional time for us as we understood that they were financially dependent on the income they were receiving from us and that they enjoyed being part of our team and that relationship was now on hold, as was their lives…

Quickly we developed a short term business plan which would see the delivery of close to 500 takeaway meals delivered over three evenings per week—this business plan would not have been sustainable long term as it involved myself completing close to 50 hours per week on top of my full time employment at a local manganese smelter, simply to ensure that we were running as lean an operation as possible. The introduction of the job keeper program has had a positive effect on our business for many reasons. We were able to re-engage with our workforce and instead of a team of 3 we now had a team of 15 ready and able to assist with prep work, during service, cleaning etc.

We have someone dedicated to our phones each day which has eased the problem of people not being able to get through and we have turned all of our bistro staff into delivery drivers. Job Keeper has provided some financial relief to enable us to operate additional hours. The comraderies is exceptional and morale is at an all-time high—our staff stand beside us as we navigate the uncertainty as to what each night will bring us and respect us exponentially for the lengths we have gone through financially to be able to participate in the job keeper scheme. We have proudly taken all eligible employees onto the job keeper system and have not made any terminations.

The stimulus package released by the federal government has delivered us some timely relief with credits on our BAS statement reducing the amount we will be liable for in the coming weeks; this is a huge benefit to our business as we continue to navigate our way through the commitments of paying for stock on hand that is not deemed returnable but currently not useable, a rent reduction that is still very high for the single supply of takeaway meals, while still having to pay full tariffs on electricity and gas costs as we are deemed to be a higher user and not eligible for any discounts or rebates and the costs involved in regular financial advice.

Our aim during this period is to remain viable and limit the loss so that we are in a strong position to re-open when restrictions are fully lifted and programs such as Job Keeper and the stimulus packages and initiatives at a State and Federal level will put us in a good position to maximise our staff retention and to minimise our exposure during this time.

These words that Kate has provided to me are so true of so many businesses that I've spoken to across my electorate in Bass. It is the reason why it is so important to extend this support as we make our way through this coronavirus pandemic.

11:44 am

Photo of Anika WellsAnika Wells (Lilley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Today I welcome the government's decision to extend the provision of JobKeeper to March 2021. I know that, for the small businesses and workers in my electorate of Lilley who are eligible for the continued payments, this announcement will be a lifesaver and removes some of the anxiety about what the next few months look like for them and their families.

While there are aspects of the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Jobkeeper Payments) Amendment Bill 2020 that I do not agree with, I'm not going to stand in the way of getting support to workers and small business who still desperately need it. Throughout this crisis, Labor has worked responsibly and constructively with the government on the passage of legislation through the parliament to support Australians, and my priority will always be to protect jobs, to help Northside workers, businesses and families through this difficult time and to ensure the most vulnerable people in our community are protected. I'm glad that the government has listened to Labor's suggestions to improve this amendment bill by including a number of safeguards in the modified JobKeeper, enabling directions for legacy employers, including the longer seven-day notice period and consultation requirements, and continued access to the Fair Work Commission to arbitrate disputes, as well as the repeal of the annual leave provisions, which we never supported.

Labor have tried to be as responsible and as constructive as possible, but being constructive does not mean being silent when there are some very serious failures of implementation going on. It has become clear that the JobKeeper wage subsidies are a very good idea being very badly implemented. Too many Australians are being left out and left behind, some accidentally but many deliberately. Our childcare workers were first off the boat, kicked off JobKeeper despite the essential work that they do as a whole and their particularly vulnerable work in the global pandemic this year. University workers are an entire sector neglected by the government in JobKeeper despite many months now of the evidence bearing out that these people need to be included in the scheme. In lieu of adequate support from this government, around 2.7 million people have now withdrawn $33.3 billion from their own super funds, more than has been paid through the JobKeeper scheme. Almost 500,000 of these people who have withdrawn their super are under the age of 35, placing their long-term financial security in serious jeopardy.

What's also clear is that the government are using this bill to test out their future plans for industrial relations, a trial for how their IR flexibility fever dream might look. But we don't need to test out industrial relations flexibility, because I have brought real evidence from Northside workers who can tell you exactly how increased IR flexibility pans out for workers. I have 6,600 aviation workers in my electorate, and their livelihoods have been shattered by this pandemic. In March of this year, right at the start of the pandemic, I wrote to the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister asking for specific support for aviation workers and their families. The response was that they are already doing enough. In addition to JobKeeper, they had committed $715 million to the aviation industry assistance package and $298 million to the regional air network. But let's have a look at how this support has trickled down to the workers over the past six months. Spoiler alert: it has not trickled down to workers over the past six months. Five thousand five hundred dnata workers were told in May that they were ineligible for JobKeeper payments because they were employed by a foreign owned company. Not long after that, Virgin collapsed, putting 10,000 direct jobs and 6,000 indirect jobs at risk. But apparently workers could rest easy knowing that a foreign capital investment company would do absolutely everything it could to protect these jobs. Then, at the start of August, Virgin announced that it was cutting 3,000 jobs, a third of its workforce, to stay afloat.

Then yesterday we saw the most jaw-dropping example of corporate greed possible: Qantas announcing that it was outsourcing 2,500 ground crew jobs—not cutting but outsourcing, taking secure and permanent employment away from Australian workers to create new insecure and casual jobs to save money. Our national carrier, which has received more JobKeeper payments than any other company—money that has come from Australian taxpayers in a covenant of trust that business would use JobKeeper to keep workers tethered to their employment through the pandemic—has made this outrageous decision, and it ranks among the greatest acts of industrial vandalism that we have seen in this country since the waterfront dispute.

This is exactly why we need stronger laws, I would argue, to protect workers. No Australian worker can afford a race to the bottom on wages and conditions at a time like this. Under this third-term conservative government, the labour market has become increasingly casualised and increasingly insecure. The answer to that is not to make work more precarious and more insecure with IR deregulation. Wage theft has become not only rampant but seemingly acceptable under this government. In one of their first acts this year, when the parliament resumed in February, this government created an amnesty for dodgy employers who had not paid their workers their adequate super entitlements. It was an amnesty for dodgy employers to continue to be dodgy and rip workers off. That's where their priorities lie. There is a false promise being thrown around by LNP backbenchers that these foreshadowed IR reforms will boost productivity, create more good jobs, lift wages and boost international competitiveness all at once. Everyone will have control over their destiny. To me, it looks like people who do not understand throwing away the umbrella in a rain storm, because they themselves are not getting wet.

Conservatives and business lobbyists claim that the current system is union dominated, but union membership, union activity and enterprise agreement coverage have all declined dramatically. Where unions are absent, wage theft and erosion of employee protections are rife and ethical businesses who comply with the law are placed at a competitive disadvantage.

It's time the LNP stopped spreading false hope to the Australian public. Weaker workplace laws do not create more jobs. They allow underemployment, they allow stagnant wages, and they allow insecure work to fester. Instead of attacking the rights of workers under the guise of creating jobs, it is time this government steps up and does their own job. The government's announced changes to JobKeeper are not a comprehensive plan to create jobs. It does not extend support to millions of workers deliberately excluded from JobKeeper. It does nothing for the hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their jobs or will lose their jobs, including the 400,000 additional workers who are likely to lose their employment by Christmas.

The wind-down of JobKeeper will come at the worst time for workers and businesses in Victoria and other parts of Australia. Australians have worked together to combat the virus, but more work must be done by the Morrison government, who have their hands on the levers of power today, to ensure that our hardest-hit Australians are not left out and left behind in this recovery.

In the short term, the Treasurer holds the power with the flick of his pen to extend the JobKeeper to workers who are still falling through the gaps. Despite this extraordinary power given to him at this time, millions of workers and struggling businesses continue to be excluded from the JobKeeper payment, including casual workers, childcare workers, university staff and dnata workers. I note that we are able to pass this through the House today, what is purely an extension of the scheme, because the rules that govern the scheme are yet to be finalised, yet to be presented to us and remain solely in the hands of one man—the Treasurer.

In the long term, the most important test for the Morrison government's management of this recession and its aftermath is what happens to jobs and to the businesses which create them. We need a plan for businesses who are no longer eligible for JobKeeper and who, despite some growth in the last month, still face a precarious and uncertain future. Workers on the north side need and deserve a plan from the Morrison government to promote growth, to promote and create jobs, to support business and to set Australia up for recovery. We cannot afford to see more Australians left out and left behind because the Prime Minister and the Treasurer are not prepared to put workers first in their response to COVID. A plan for jobs is needed for developments in the labour market and to come up with what is most needed now.

11:53 am

Photo of Julian SimmondsJulian Simmonds (Ryan, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to support these important measures in the substantive bill, which are in the national interest. We all know that we are facing not just a health crisis but an economic one. Australians have been impacted in ways which we would never have imagined, and we continue to adapt to it. Australians are resilient. We are strong, and we have been the envy of the world when it comes to the way that we have dealt with the twin economic and health crises.

Though we would never have been able to foresee such a crisis as COVID-19, through sound economic management we did go into this crisis with a strong budget position and, because of that, with the best possible opportunity to support Australian workers and businesses. It has enabled the government to act swiftly and put in place measures that helped and continue to help protect families and businesses from the severe economic impacts of COVID-19. As this crisis hit, I, like many of my colleagues, spent every minute I could speaking to my constituents, hearing their concerns, giving them the latest advice and assisting them in any way that I could.

In those first few weeks, some of the toughest calls I took were from local small businesses: from tradies, from coffee shops and from gyms. They'd all been impacted, some of them forced to shut down entirely. They knew it would not be something that would simply pass in a matter of weeks, and they very quickly had to adapt and be resilient. For these business owners, despite having their livelihoods impacted in some of the most dramatic ways under the COVID restrictions, their No.1 concern whenever you spoke to them on the phone, particularly in those early days as everything was unfolding very quickly—and this is to their absolute credit—was: how do I pay my staff? One business owner said to me: 'I support so many families. I have to pay my staff. I cannot let them down.' That is the epitome of the Australian spirit and what our small businesses mean to our local communities.

The Prime Minister and the Treasurer heard their concerns and, in March, a historic wage subsidy program was introduced in the form of JobKeeper. As the Prime Minister said as he announced JobKeeper:

We will give millions of eligible businesses and their workers a lifeline to not only get through this crisis, but bounce back together on the other side …

Importantly, unlike other furlough schemes that we have seen across the world, our JobKeeper program focuses on keeping that connection between employers and employees. When the economy comes back—and it will, and we will all be here to work together to ensure it does—these businesses will be able to restart again at full pace and their workforces will be ready to go because they will remain attached to the businesses through our JobKeeper payment.

On this side of the House, we have always shown that we will do everything we can to support Australian jobs. The JobKeeper payment showed Australians that this government has their backs. And, as a way to keep people in jobs, JobKeeper has been enormously successful. Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been supported and retained because of the JobKeeper payment. Unlike Labor members opposite, we on this side of the chamber don't just talk about supporting workers and jobs, we live it and we do it—we get on with the job. And that's what we've done with JobKeeper. That is what this government does through strong economic management.

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Julian SimmondsJulian Simmonds (Ryan, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I hear the mirth of the Labor members on the other side. They know that, if they were faced with this position, they would not have been able to support Australian workers the way that we have, quite simply because they would have had the extra $387 billion worth of taxes that they promised at the last election. They would have put them in place. They wouldn't have had a balanced budget. They wouldn't have been able to inject the huge amount of financial support that we have been able to into the workplaces of Australia. And, even with all that, even with the extra $387 billion worth of taxes that Labor promised at the last election, that's still not enough. We've seen the member for Lilley parade in here—and she's a very apt successor to Labor Treasurer Wayne Swan, 'Chairman' Swan, who never saw a blank cheque that he didn't want to sign. Even then, even at the historic level of over $100 billion, the member for Lilley would still be very keen to see tens of billions more spent, to be taken out of the pockets of Australians who are already struggling. On this side of the chamber, we've been very pleased that we have come into this place from the election with a balanced budget and with strong economic management so that we are able to support Australian workers without putting further strain on the pockets of everyday Australians.

In the electorate of Ryan, the businesses I'm speaking to have been very quick to take up the program and very supportive of it. I'd like to take the time I have to give a few examples of how, in my own electorate, the JobKeeper payment has saved local jobs and supported the families that I stand here with the privilege of representing. There are business owners like Dean. Dean is the franchisee of JAX Tyres in Mitchelton. He employs local staff in his workshop, where they service cars and change tyres. Before JobKeeper, Dean was concerned that he would have to let go of some of his staff. This is what he said to me after accessing JobKeeper: 'The support has provided peace of mind, especially to my long-term casual staff who, without JobKeeper, would have been the first stood down.' Luke, the owner of Suburban Social in Chapel Hill, was quick to adapt his business, a local restaurant and bar, which had to shut its in-house dining, of course, and switch to takeaway and drive-through service. By doing that, he was able to keep his six staff on board, with the help of JobKeeper. Luke put it to me plainly. He said, 'Julian, it saved our bacon.'

Gyms were also hard hit, particularly initially when they had to be shut down. One day their doors were open, and the next, because of the need not to spread the virus, they were shut. Lisa, who owns the F45 gyms at Indooroopilly and Pullenvale, was quick to find a way to support her customers. She launched a virtual studio, recording three sessions a day that could be done at home by her clients. Her permanent and part-time trainers were able to access JobKeeper, and this meant the business was also able to keep on her newer casual staff. This was a great example of local businesses making sure that they worked with the JobKeeper program to keep and support their staff.

The JobKeeper program not only supported staff; it enabled business the flexibility to reinvest in their business and reallocate staffing resources to different tasks which could help the business once it could return to trading again. A local example from my patch comes from Michael, the manager of the family oriented Taylor Range Club at Ashgrove. He said: 'With the assistance of the JobKeeper scheme, we have almost all of our employees working at the club. They've all left their club shirts hanging up at home for now and instead are getting stuck into painting, varnishing, water blasting, gardening and cleaning jobs around the venue before we can welcome back our clientele.' That is a practical example of the IR flexibility built into these measures.

Labor members opposite, like the member for Lilley, as the good union operative that she is, can stand in here and rail against the ideology of having flexibility in IR, but on the ground for these businesses who are struggling this is the practical example of how, when they're forced to close or forced to reduce their customer intake, they can reallocate staff and they can make sure they continue to support those staff members with roles. In the case of the Taylor Range Club, it meant that, while they were closed to their clientele, their staff were in there renovating the club so they could come back with a vengeance when restrictions were lifted.

Clare in Ferny Grove, who runs her own coaching and career transition business, saw the opportunity not only to access JobKeeper but to use the cash flow boost available to reinvest in her business and help other local businesses at the same time. She said: 'JobKeeper and the cash flow boost have really helped me and my business, and I'm investing what I can back into local businesses to refresh my website. Both my web designer and photographer are local businesses I'm supporting.' That's the attitude our incredible small-business owners have. Not only do they want to look out for their own business; they're also using the mechanisms and the financial support provided by the federal government to look after their fellow small businesses in the area.

It's important that we recognise these real-life stories, acknowledge the importance of the decisions that these businesses are making and congratulate them on their efforts to keep their businesses going and support their staff with the help of the incentives provided by the federal government. Not only have the Morrison government acted quickly to implement JobKeeper but we've also always acknowledged that this is not a set-and-forget policy, and nor is our overall response to this ever-changing crisis. As we continue to be impacted by COVID-19, the Morrison government are responding by extending the JobKeeper payment by an additional six months. As these effects are still being felt by many businesses, the government are extending and better targeting the JobKeeper payment to support businesses and workers as they manage and recover from the economic effects of COVID-19. In addition, two tiers of payments will be introduced from 28 September.

The bill extends the prescribed period of the coronavirus framework for the JobKeeper payment from 31 December 2020 to 28 March 2021. This will allow the Treasurer to extend and make changes to the JobKeeper rules up until 28 March 2021. Businesses around the country, despite being dealt such a severe blow, have adapted, changed, rejigged, resourced and even redesigned their entire business and business model in order to keep serving our community. The changes in this bill and the flexibility afforded to businesses by this bill demonstrate that this government is listening and adapting with them. Our retargeted JobKeeper will see the support focused on those businesses and sectors most in need, and it's a continual reminder to Australian businesses who are working so hard, to Australian staff who are supported by JobKeeper, to all Australians throughout this crisis, that, no matter how hard it gets, we are with them.

12:05 pm

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I don't know who that bloke was, but he's very entertaining! I'll keep coming back in when he's here. He has come into a seven-year-old government that has never turned a surplus and has racked up the highest deficit and debt in the history of the nation while promising that it was going to deliver a surplus in its first year and every year after that. To hear him come in with that—I reckon he's pretty amusing. I hope he's back, and, when he's back, I'll be here and I'll be ready with the motion for an extension of time!

The other thing that is very easily forgotten—and, when you listen to the speeches of the government here, I'm not sure anyone on their side has acknowledged the fact—is that they were dragged to having a wage subsidy. We on the floor of the parliament were calling for them to establish a wage subsidy at the exact same point that they said the only answer was to push people onto the welfare system. Let's not forget that the initial and only response of the government was for JobSeeker to be increased, and it wasn't until they saw the enormity of the outcome of the Centrelink queues that, having mocked our recommendation, our constructive suggestion, of a wage subsidy, they were then eventually dragged there. So, when we hear them say how important it is to support those businesses—yes, that's why we argued for it, even when the government was ridiculing the idea. When they say it's important to keep the relationship between an employer and their workers—yes, that's why we called for it. And, when they mock the relationship with the union movement, do they forget that it was the union movement in Australia that was first to be calling for a wage subsidy? We joined those calls. Eventually employers joined those calls. And the last to the party were the members of the government. I'm glad that they're there now, but please don't pretend that something that they opposed and opposed here on the floor of the House is somehow a core principle of being a member of this government, because it wasn't when they were knocking out the idea.

We argued for them to introduce a wage subsidy, they rejected it and then they got there. We then argued that it had to be extended because, in September, the economy was heading towards a cliff and it was going to result in mass unemployment and mass closures of businesses if the tap of JobKeeper was turned off in one hit. They rejected that for a long time, and now they have come to the view that, yes, you do need to continue it. They also rejected the concept—when they're there wanting to talk about the signing of cheques and the throwing-away of money—that a wage subsidy should be a subsidy rather than an increase and that it shouldn't be the case that somebody who was still living at home, working one shift a week, should suddenly get $750 a week. There were better ways to target taxpayers' money. But that was an argument made by Labor. The signing of the cheques and the throwing-away of money was a decision of the government's.

One of the reasons that it was interesting to hear the member who spoke before me—whom I'm told is a member of the parliament—was that everything he pointed to was inaccurate, everything. Not many people can deliver that, so full marks, well done! But, on each of those issues, the characterisation that he was pointing to and wanting to ridicule was a characterisation of his own party at the beginning of this crisis, because everything that he referred to was the exact position that he was calling out 'Hear, hear!' for when the Prime Minister was articulating it about two metres from where I stand now.

We warned the government that they shouldn't be extending the emergency industrial relations powers to businesses that had fully recovered. I should explain. As well as the JobKeeper payment itself, there have been changes made to the Fair Work Act. There were two different pathways through which this could have been done: either by using the industrial commission, where the trade union movement was already working cooperatively to make some variations, or by making changes through the Fair Work Act. We preferred the former because it was a more flexible way. The government ended up deciding that they would do it through the Fair Work Act, and we've been constructive with that. That then needs to be extended. The reason for that flexibility is that JobKeeper can't work without there being either flexibility through the commission or flexibility through the Fair Work Act. The reason for that is really simple. Some people have received the wage subsidy and have continued to work their normal hours, and the wage subsidy helps the employer pay part of their wage. There are other people for whom the employer was not in a position to be able to pay their wage at all. You couldn't expect someone to keep working a 38-hour week if that meant a cut in their hourly rate with the $750 JobKeeper payment. So the only way you could make this operational was to have, either through the commission or through changes to the Fair Work Act, those sorts of flexibilities.

So as well as the extension of the payments—that's the Treasury part of the bill, which the member for Rankin has already responded to on behalf of the opposition—you had the Fair Work Act changes. They go in two parts. The first of them is the extension of the exact sort of flexibility that I just described. Where people are still on the JobKeeper payment, the employer would effectively be cutting their rate of pay if they were continuing to work their normal hours. The employer can reduce their hours down to the rate of the JobKeeper payment and do so without breaching other workplace conditions. It's therefore a very practical measure. We supported it last time and we support its extension this time.

The government then said they wanted to extend this flexibility for people who were no longer receiving JobKeeper. Might I say this is a complete shift from what we were told when we first supported the Fair Work Act changes. We were told that the only reason the government wanted these sorts of changes was to make the JobKeeper payment operational. Now we discover they want those same flexibilities to continue for workplaces that used to be on JobKeeper but are no longer on it. We have shifted from a circumstance where it was simply to make the payments operational to an argument from the government that part of the recovery is—they say on a temporary basis—to cut some of the conditions of workers in Australia. That's a big shift. That's a really big shift.

There have been a few different elements to it. On one of them the government has backed down, and I welcome that. Only a week ago, the government was arguing that any business that used to be on JobKeeper should, if they fall off JobKeeper because their business has improved, retain the right to be able to reduce the terms and conditions of employment for their workforce. That included companies that were now trading better than they were 12 months ago. It included businesses that have been recording profits after a long period of having the wages of their workforce paid by the taxpayer. The government was going to give all of them this extended flexibility. It has backed down on that, and we welcome that.

Where the so-called legacy payments are now is that they are for companies that are no longer eligible for JobKeeper but are still recording a 10 per cent downturn from the year before. That is a better position than the one the government had a week ago. The position they had a week ago was ridiculous. The position they have now is still problematic, and I want to explain why.

First of all, let's clarify exactly what businesses we're talking about. The thresholds for JobKeeper are different, depending on whether a business's turnover is more than or less than $1 billion a year. If their turnover is more than $1 billion a year, then to qualify for JobKeeper they have to have had a 50 per cent downturn. If their turnover is less than $1 billion a year, they have to have had a 30 per cent downturn. So, depending on the size of the business, we're talking about businesses that used to receive JobKeeper no longer receiving it because either a big business has gone over the 50 per cent threshold or a medium-sized or small business has gone over the 30 per cent threshold. But they're still 10 per cent down on where they were before. They're the companies we're talking about. The government is saying that it wants those businesses to retain the right to effectively reduce the terms and conditions of employment for their workforce for the period that this amendment would last.

When the government says those businesses are still struggling, yes, they have had a downturn. We don't dispute that. But let's be clear: these are businesses that are doing well enough that the government has decided that it will not support them any longer. These are businesses where the government has made a decision that, yes, they're still struggling a bit but they're doing well enough that they no longer deserve support from the government. Yet, even though the government has decided they don't need support from the government, it has also decided that the need to support these businesses should be transferred from the government to the worker. With these sorts of flexibilities, the government will often talk about the example of being able to direct someone to do duties other than what they would normally do. But here's the big one that you rarely hear the government talk about: it allows somebody to reduce the hours of employment. It was one thing when you were doing that with JobKeeper, because it was to enable JobKeeper. Now we're talking about the government giving workplaces—ones that the government has already decided aren't doing badly enough to warrant a dollar of extra support from the government—the right to tell a full-time worker that they're now part-time for this period. It will often be the case that there will be mutual agreement that the employer is in a situation where they can't keep everybody on and people will say, 'I'll agree to cut my hours so that it can work for everybody.' Unions, workers and employers deal with these sorts of mutual agreements every day. That is not what this legislation does, though. This is not about mutual agreement. This is about the employer being able to make the decision.

There are some things the government has put in, following consultation with unions and others, that are better than where I suspect they started, and I acknowledge those. There's a consultation period now, and there's an appeal that a worker can make to the industrial commission. But that doesn't change the core of what we are being asked to enable. We are being asked to enable a circumstance where a business that the government has decided is no longer worthy of financial support from this government will have the right to cut a worker's hours to 60 per cent of what they already are.

Let's have a think about how this works in the real world, particularly for people who are on modest wages. Let's say you're a full-timer on the minimum wage, which is $753 a week. Because previously you could only be cut to the JobKeeper rate, you would only be taking a pay cut of $3 a week—or, to be precise, $3.80 a week. But now you don't have JobKeeper as the reference point. The government may not have thought this implication through, so I want to give them the chance to look at this and work this through, because this one is a real problem.

A 40 per cent reduction for a worker on minimum wage would mean that they would lose $300 a week. Previously, someone on the minimum wage, under the fair work amendments we put through the parliament last time, could have a $3 pay cut. Now their take-home pay can go down by $300 a week. There are many workers who are paid more than the minimum wage but not a lot more. A cleaner earns $804.90. A 40 per cent cut to their hours would mean they would lose around $330 a week, falling below the current JobKeeper rate and more than $100 below the new JobKeeper rate. A full-time retail employee—and we've all seen retail workers on the front line, along with cleaners, as the people who have been essential workers during this crisis—is on the minimum award rate, as a full-timer, of $813.60 a week. A full-time retail worker, under what's in front of the parliament right now, could lose $325 a week. That means they would fall well below the current JobKeeper rate and more than $100 a week short of the new JobKeeper rate.

This creates a situation where a worker, at a time when the business they work for is doing better, will see their pay cut. The business might only be taking a 10 per cent turnover cut, but the worker could be getting a 40 per cent cut. Let's not forget that it could actually be much more than that, because it's a cut to hours. If the hours that are cut are hours that attract penalty rates, then a worker may lose much more than 40 per cent of their take-home pay.

This gives rise to two critical issues. The first is that the concept of the legacy employers at all is a case the government have not made, because they haven't wrestled with the one critical issue. They make the argument that these businesses are still doing it tough, and we get that. But they don't make the argument as to why they are completely withdrawing their support and transferring the full liability to the workforce. The government have not made that case.

The second thing is: how can you justify to an employee that, as the business they work for is doing better, the parliament has given permission for their take-home pay to go down—and to go down many more times in percentage terms than the cut to the company's turnover. This parliament is being asked to give permission for a business suffering a 10 per cent hit to give their workforce a 40 per cent hit. The government, in arguing 'But the businesses are still doing it tough', isn't answering the question 'Well, why aren't you offering them support anymore?' Who is most able to provide support during this time? Is it the workforce or is it the government?

Let's not forget that the workforce has already taken significant cuts during this time. Going down to the JobKeeper rate has kept people in work, and that's good. But it has also meant that a whole lot of people have been putting off other debts and liabilities. Many of these people have been faced with a circumstance where, because their liabilities have been more than what the JobKeeper rate was providing, they are now in a position where they have no superannuation left. The government are boasting as though that's somehow an act of self-determination on their part. If they've got no other way to get money, then they're in a circumstance where they have raided their retirement, which will probably be one of the biggest examples of intergenerational theft that we will see during this crisis.

In the future, not only will they lose the power of accumulation that happens in accumulation accounts—which is why everyone in this room has got one—but every other taxpayer will have an increased liability to support them. Our debt isn't the only liability that the government is sending into the future. The way they're handling superannuation is a huge liability that is being sent to the next generation—through people who have had no choice but to clean out their own accounts; through people who have seen their accounts raided through other rorts; and through all taxpayers, who will be left with the liability because of the ideological obsession of members opposite.

The pandemic has created certain opportunities for government in terms of the public wanting the government to succeed; that's real. But we are starting to see the government abuse that trust. We are starting to see the government use the pandemic as cover for ideological obsessions. That is what is before us right now—an ideological obsession to increase the power of an employer to reduce someone's hours; so someone who thought they had a full-time job suddenly will not, even though the business they work for is recovering. That ideological obsession is being pushed through under the cover of the pandemic. We were first told it was only to implement JobKeeper, but now we are told it is only for legacy firms. Does anyone not believe that they will try to normalise this during this term and say, 'It's going to be a long recovery; we need to put this into the Fair Work Act for good'?

On superannuation, we were told it was only because of the emergency on that first one-day sitting we had here in the public. And yesterday we heard the Prime Minister trying to normalise it by saying, 'Use it to pay down your mortgage.' It's nothing to do with the pandemic at all, but the Prime Minister is now using the pandemic as cover for an ideological obsession with making sure that the only people who end up with superannuation accounts are people on higher incomes—like it used to be, like the so-called good old days before we ended up with a situation where working people had the audacity to want to have a nest egg of their own.

We've seen it here right now on working hours. We saw it yesterday on superannuation. We have seen it with both the Australia Post changes and the Australian content quotas—and I have argued it previously with respect to the minister at the table. We are seeing an increasing creep of the pandemic being used as cover for issues that the government has long wanted to do. When they came in the first time, they said it's only for an emergency. When they came in a second time, they said it's only for a little bit longer. We know where this is heading. With what is in front of us now, you would have to be completely naive to believe that it is only planned to be for the next few months.

If we were to take the government at their word we would have trusted them last time, when they said it was only there to be able to properly implement the JobKeeper provisions. Of course, now you don't get JobKeeper but you still have a way of having your hours cut, without it having to be by mutual agreement. We know where this is heading. We know what the government's up to. With that in mind, we'll be moving two amendments here in the House today. The first is one which we know the government won't agree to. We get it, but we don't believe they've made the case for the legacy businesses being counted at all. So we'll have an amendment to take those out. We know the government won't agree to that.

The second amendment that we will move will be an amendment to give people a safety net. I know the government won't be agreeing to it tonight, but this is something the government should consider and work their way through, because there is an anomaly in how they have drafted this that will hit low-paid workers really badly. I suspect, or I hope, the government simply hadn't thought about how this anomaly would work and that they had simply worked it through based on people on average earnings, where you go down to 60 per cent of your hours and you're still above the JobKeeper rate. We can't have a situation where we've given permission for people who work in businesses that are recovering, who were full-time, to now be paid less than the JobKeeper rate. You can't have a situation where a worker is better off if the business they work for is more distressed. As the business is improving the workforce will be dreading it, because the employer is given the new power, at that point, to cut their hours to below the JobKeeper rate.

I get that if the government are going to agree to this second amendment it will take some time, but they really should be agreeing to this. There needs to be a safety net so that you cannot have your hours reduced to the extent that you are being paid below the applicable JobKeeper rate. Of course, some people would already have hours that are below the JobKeeper rate, in terms of the regular hours that they've worked. And if their hours remain where they are then there's no change. But when these provisions are going to be actioned they should not be actioned in a way that takes people to below the JobKeeper rate.

Think of the counterpoint. Think if the government rejects this amendment and the bill as drafted goes through. This parliament will have voted for people on the minimum wage to be allowed, without their agreement, to get a pay cut of $300 a week, but we'll be providing support for people on JobKeeper. This parliament will have said, 'As the business improves it's okay for you to be paid less because your boss is doing better.' That is an absurd situation. That is what the bill currently says. I dearly hope it's an anomaly that the government has not thought of. We want to deal constructively with the government in dealing with this. We will move both of those amendments. I get that the government are committed to the legacy case issues. We still oppose it. We'll move the amendment. We know that the government won't agree to that.

In terms of there being a safety net, people on high incomes will be unaffected by the safety net, because if they were to go down to 60 per cent of their normal hours they'd still be above the JobKeeper rate. We can't be agreeing to changing the IR system to allow people, who at this time have been struggling already through the pandemic, to be in a circumstance where they then face further cuts because the business they work for is doing better, and cuts that could be so severe that they take them below the JobKeeper rate. There'll be two amendments, the second of which I urge the government to consider.

All this said, arguments that we made last time JobKeeper was before us are still there and there are still problems. It would be wrong of me to not refer to them. JobKeeper still excludes more than a million casuals. JobKeeper still excludes local government workers. JobKeeper still excludes childcare workers. JobKeeper still excludes a very, very large number of arts and entertainment workers, freelancers, university workers. Those people have jobs, pay taxes and should not be left out in the way that they have been. So we still make that case. We still urge the government to have a wage subsidy that accepts that workers who need help to keep their relationship with their employer should get it. I don't give up on this for one very simple reason: while the government say no today, a week ago they were saying that companies that had improved their position should be on the legacy list. A few months ago, they were still arguing against a wage subsidy altogether. They've been dragged to each of the positions. JobKeeper should cover those who are currently being left behind, and we should not, as a parliament, be voting to allow people on low wages to have $300 a week cut from their take-home pay simply because the business they work for is doing better. It's an absurd situation. I hope it's a mistake, but, whether it's a mistake or not, the government should revisit it, just as they've revisited so many other issues on this. If people don't keep their relationship to their employer and we keep seeing incomes drop, the hit to the country will be huge.

12:35 pm

Photo of Jason FalinskiJason Falinski (Mackellar, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I always enjoy a good speech from the member of Watson in this chamber. No-one else can stretch 30 seconds of thought into a 30-minute speech quite like him. While the rest of this House is in here talking about how to help Australians, the Labor Party is in here talking about how to help their donors out. It is absolutely appalling. We had 25 minutes of how this will adversely impact the unions' capacity to enter workplaces. Only five minutes out of 30 minutes was about how this piece of legislation will continue to help all Australians during this pandemic. They stand over there and they criticise us. We know that comparison is the thief of joy, but for the Labor Party to come in here and talk about government debt over and over again—you are just making yourself miserable and you should stop.

As for the arguments around how reducing the power of the union movement to intervene in conversations at workplaces between bosses and workers is somehow adverse to Australians at this time of all times, this an idea so cunning that, if you put a tail on it, you'd have to call it a weasel. We are in here today talking about how to help ordinary Australians and businesses trying to get through this. The whole idea that the union movement that represents fewer members in the private sector than the CEO of Woolworths, the CEO of Coles, the managers at Rio Tinto and BHP somehow speaks for Australian workers is absurd.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in one of the biggest dual health and economic crises we have ever seen. Globally, over 800,000 lives have tragically been lost and many more livelihoods have been destroyed. As I stand here today, my thoughts are with the families of all those who have lost loved ones and are in mourning. I also stand with the people of Victoria through this difficult time of extreme lockdowns as a result of their second wave. Finally, I thank all the frontline emergency service personnel and health workers who have endured many challenges through this crisis. I particularly want to thank pharmacists who, at the beginning of this crisis, were not able to move to telehealth and took on the role of dealing directly with the public, giving the public assurance around what they could do. Many of them were not able to get hold of PPE equipment. Therefore, they were very brave in the way that they continued to assist their community during this period. We have to thank our doctors and our nurses, who don't receive enough praise for what they do, as well as the police, the paramedics, the Australian Defence Force, counsellors, social workers and everyone who is contributing to keeping Australians safe and getting us through this crisis.

The economic effects of this pandemic cannot be understated. The OECD has projected a drop in GDP of over 10 per cent for countries including Spain, France, the UK—which recently announced a 20 per cent drop—and Italy. New Zealand's GDP is expected to fall by nearly nine per cent, while the OECD estimates Australia's GDP will fall by around six per cent.

As someone who has started his own business, I understand the day-to-day struggles of keeping one afloat. As I speak to business owners across my electorate, like Simone and Kosta of Illie in Narrabeen, they tell me how important JobKeeper has been to keep their business operating. But JobKeeper doesn't just keep them open; it keeps employees getting paid, which means the economy keeps moving.

As the impacts of the coronavirus are still to be felt by businesses across Australia, the government is responding by extending the JobKeeper payment by an additional six months, targeting support to those organisations which have been significantly impacted. This bill extends the prescribed period of the coronavirus payment framework for the JobKeeper payment from 31 December 2020 to 28 March 2021. This will allow the Treasurer to extend and make the changes to the JobKeeper rules up until 28 March next year. The bill also amends the 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 the coronavirus.

The lower JobKeeper payment rate will be paid for those whose total hours of work and paid leave were less than 80 hours over the two most recent consecutive fortnightly pay periods or the four most recent consecutive weekly pay periods that ended before 1 March 2020 or 1 July 2020. The period with the higher number of hours worked is to be used for employees with 1 March 2020 eligibility. Having two tiers strikes a balance between making payments more aligned with usual hours worked and limiting complexity for employers.

The Australian government is focused on measures that will help keep businesses in business and employees in jobs. These key objectives are driving everything the government are doing through our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Temporary amendments were made to the Fair Work Act in April to support the practical operation of the JobKeeper scheme and help to keep Australians employed and connected to their workplace. These provisions have been absolutely critical to keeping business going and keeping more people in work. Research has found that three out of four surveyed employers used the flexibilities provided for by the provisions. Almost all surveyed employers that used the flexibilities saw them as 'important to essential' for the continued operation of the businesses and for employees to keep their jobs. Eighty per cent of surveyed employers support the continuation of the JobKeeper flexibilities for a further period of time, with job losses and business closure being the most commonly cited impacts of not being able to use the provisions into the future.

Schedule 2 of the bill extends the flexibilities in the Fair Work Act for a further temporary period out to March 2021 for employers who remain on JobKeeper after 28 March 2020 and for those who are no longer on JobKeeper but have not yet recovered and remain in financial distress. The annual leave flexibility provisions will not be extended. These will be repealed on 28 September 2020 as originally proposed, with parties reverting to their standard annual leave arrangements from this date. Qualifying employers will be able to access the same temporary flexibilities in the Fair Work Act, with the exception of the annual leave provisions for those employees in relation to whom they are entitled to receive the JobKeeper payment. Qualifying employers will have satisfied the relevant decline-in-turnover test to qualify for the JobKeeper payment and are therefore still experiencing substantial financial hardship. It is appropriate that these employers are able to continue to access the full range of flexibility measures for employees receiving the JobKeeper payment, aside from the ability to request the employee to take annual leave.

There are safeguards to protect employees. Legacy employers must meet the 10-per-cent-decline-in-turnover test and must have obtained the relevant certificate from an independent eligible financial service provider attesting to this before giving a JobKeeper-enabling direction in relation to duties and location of work or making agreements with employees around days and times of work. Small-business employers with fewer than 15 employees will have the option of making a statutory declaration to this fact for a relevant quarter. Legacy employers will no longer be able to use a JobKeeper-enabling standdown direction to reduce employees' hours to zero. This reflects that they are in the early stages of recovery and expect to gradually return to their normal levels of operation. Instead, they will be able to reduce an employee's hours down to a minimum of 60 per cent of the employee's ordinary hours as at 1 March 2020 and cannot require an employee to work less than two hours on a day on which the employee performs work. This means employees who are no longer receiving the JobKeeper amount will have a minimum guaranteed threshold of the number of hours they will work. This 60 per cent level reflects variations made to modern awards with the support of employer groups and unions.

These are uncertain times. However, since the beginning of the pandemic, the government has been on the front foot in fighting the virus, protecting Australians and securing as many jobs as possible. The coalition government will continue to support employees and employers, saving lives and livelihoods.

12:46 pm

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Employment and Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak to this important bill, the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Jobkeeper Payments) Amendment Bill 2020. It's important because it will at least extend the JobKeeper payments, however diminished, over the course of six months, to those workers who are in need of the support. Of course, we supported wage subsidies in response to this global pandemic earlier than the government did. Indeed, I stood here and asked a question of the Prime Minister in March this year as to why the government was not going to proceed down the path of initiating wage subsidies. The Prime Minister, at that time, indicated that there was no need for a wage subsidy and that the government would be primarily relying upon cash payments and some tax relief for businesses but would predominantly allow people to be paid a JobSeeker amount, which was effectively shifting people from the labour market to social security benefits. We didn't think that was a very wise choice of the government.

It was actually at that same time, in that same week, that the Prime Minister announced we were going to close the parliament until August, that we were not going to reconvene until this month. A lot has changed since that day when we asked the Prime Minister why the government would not be supporting wage subsidies for workers, and not just wage subsidies for workers but subsidies for businesses so that they could survive. We are very happy that the government ultimately agreed with Labor that a wage subsidy was required, and we do support, in the main, the JobKeeper initiative, although we have outlined, over the course of the last five months, the deficiencies as we see them in relation to this wage subsidy. Namely, we are concerned that many businesses are not sufficiently supported because they employ employees who are ineligible for JobKeeper. We know that many of the sectors of our economy hit hardest by the pandemic have a significant and relatively high proportion of ineligible employees—for example, casuals, who, if they hadn't been employed for 12 months in March this year, were not supported by JobKeeper. That of course meant that many, many workers found themselves in the unemployment queues in this country, and many, many businesses were not sufficiently supported. It just so happens that sectors like food, accommodation, hospitality and tourism employ casuals—as every sector of our economy does, but they employ more casuals relative to many other sectors—and yet they were getting the least support, even though they were being forced to close down, for legitimate health reasons. We think the government still has an opportunity to attend to that.

The Treasurer of this country has the capacity to change the eligibility for JobKeeper and to provide support for those workers and those businesses that miss out because of the fact that the eligibility is too narrow. The eligibility is too narrow. The initiative was also a little too late. It should have been initiated as urgently as possible. Instead what happened was that the government closed the parliament and said that we were not to return until this month, six months hence. Instead, two weeks later we were reconvened and the government initiated JobKeeper, which was important, however deficient it might be in some respects.

We also indicated to the government that there would be no snapback to the economy in August. It was a premature forecast by the Prime Minister that we would return to normal. It was clearly hope over experience to indicate that we would return to normal so quickly. For that reason, we're here today debating the extension of a wage subsidy that was of course proposed by Labor many months ago. We do, of course, support the extension of JobKeeper. We know that the economy is suffering. We know this is an unprecedented time; the health and economic challenges are great. That's why we have been constructive. Whilst we have raised concerns about the response by the government, we've also supported legislation of the government to look after businesses, workers and our economy.

We're here today to support the predominant provisions of this bill, to extend JobKeeper, but we do have reservations and concerns about the fact that there are cuts to those forms of support from September to the end of the year and then from January to March. There's a declining level of support for businesses, whether they've recovered or not. We think that it may be too harsh and too early to remove that support. As the support was too late and too narrow in the first instance, this could be too quick and too difficult for businesses that have yet to recover sufficiently. We need to work and partner with businesses and we need to look after workers in this country.

The member for Watson foreshadowed earlier in this debate the need to move amendments to this bill. Some significant amendments need to be moved because the government either has a terrible idea about what it can do to help working people in this country or has not thought through the consequences of some of the provisions contained in this bill. As the member for Watson quite rightly outlined, this legislation would allow a business that had recovered by at least 90 per cent in turnover to cut unilaterally the working hours of its employees by up to 40 per cent. Under normal circumstances, you can't cut unilaterally the hours of permanent employees unless you're discussing and negotiating some form of partial redundancy or some other arrangement that has to be agreed by the employees and the employer or indeed the unions, employees and employer or employers. But this sanction that the government wants to ensure is legislated would allow for workers to have their wages cut, even when the government will not see fit to support those businesses. These are businesses, so-called legacy employers, that no longer receive any support from the government because the government has deemed that they have recovered. Yet they are in a situation that if they've recovered between 70 and 90 per cent, in the case of businesses with a turnover of less than $1 billion, they are able to reduce the working hours of their staff by up to 40 per cent. Large businesses, those with a turnover of at least $1 billion, if they've recovered by between 50 per cent and 90 per cent, if they're still in that phase, don't get support from the government but are enabled through this legislation to cut the working hours of employees by up to 40 per cent. For those workers, particularly those below the median wage in this country, that could be a very significant cut, because there will be no JobKeeper in place to act as a safety net for income. So the government effectively is saying, 'You have recovered sufficiently for us to withdraw our support to you,' but indeed there doesn't seem to be any concern for workers who may bear the brunt of the changes in this legislation. That is unconscionable and unfair.

It is Labor's view that there should not be the ability for employers just to reduce hours by 40 per cent if they've recovered sufficiently. I'm not sure whether the government intended to do that. I'm not sure whether the government really has clearly considered the implications for thousands upon thousands of workers who may find themselves losing their permanent full-time hours or permanent part-time hours in this way. I agree that, as the member for Watson has said, we'd be very willing to talk to the government about the implications that this legislation will have for thousands if not hundreds of thousands of Australian workers. I'm not sure whether, in fact, it was intended. It may well be that some employer bodies and some employers have put to the government that this is a fair proposal, but, frankly, it is not a fair proposal. The Prime Minister has made it clear, and says often, that we're all in it together. I don't know how he can continue to say that if he says, 'There are now businesses that have recovered to the extent that they won't receive taxpayer support, yet we're going to change the arrangements to allow employees to potentially suffer a 40 per cent loss to hours worked.'

In the case of workers on the minimum wage—and at least one million workers are on the minimum wage in this country—if they have their hours cut in a company that no longer gets JobKeeper, they can lose $300 of the $750-odd that they're paid per week. I believe—I'm hoping—that that is not the intention of the government. If it's not the intention of the government, they have an opportunity today, and through the course of the negotiations in relation to this bill and the amendments that are being moved by the member for Watson, to discuss with Labor a better, fairer way that does not hurt low-paid workers in this country. Many of those low-paid workers have been on the front line. Certainly many workers in my electorate have been working on the front line in relation to this pandemic, in retail, logistics, storage and the like, often placing themselves at risk, particularly in areas where there have been clusters and where there's been high density of the virus. The idea that some of these workers who have placed themselves at risk could find themselves subject to a law, if it is enacted by this parliament, that could mean they have their hours unilaterally reduced by 40 per cent by an employer who has been deemed, as far as the government's concerned, to have recovered beggars belief. I have difficulty believing that even this government would contemplate doing that to those workers. So there's an opportunity, I believe, for the government to reconsider the implications of the legislation to the extent that it impacts on those workers.

We agree with the government about extending JobKeeper. We agree that wage subsidies are critical for workers and businesses. We know that workers need to remain connected to the labour market for our economy to recover. We know wage subsidies have been the predominant form of support for them during this unprecedented pandemic. But it seems to me that suggesting that we can remove any form of government support and place the entire burden of dealing with the final recovery stages of that company on the workforce leaves it to those workers to fight through this pandemic economically.

There are other implications too. If you see continued reduction in hours of work and reduction of wages in an anaemic economy, we are not going to recover sufficiently. Our economy will recover when businesses have recovered, when wages are being paid and when workers are spending on goods and services so other businesses recover. That's how it works. The idea that you would say instead that you're going to strip away the wage subsidy for employers but allow most of them to cut the hours of work of permanent employees without any other form of support would be bad for those workers and bad for our economy. There's no sense to this at all. I think the government needs to rethink those provisions. If they choose not to, there are going to be some very significant economic and social implications for thousands and thousands of workers, their families and the economy as well. This is an opportunity for the government to fix this. The Prime Minister likes to say we're all in this together. If we are all in this together, the government, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer will support the amendments moved by the member for Watson and we will then be looking to support this bill to extend JobKeeper until March next year as we fight through this very difficult time and ensure that we are there for businesses and Australian workers.

1:01 pm

Photo of Bert Van ManenBert Van Manen (Forde, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a pleasure to rise in this place and speak about the government's continued commitment to supporting our economy and, importantly, supporting our business community, and the employees employed by those businesses, through the coronavirus pandemic. As I look at this bill, the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Jobkeeper Payments) Amendment Bill 2020, and the initial bill for JobKeeper, I think of the thousands of employers across my electorate of Forde who have told us time and time again how important JobKeeper has been for them in keeping their employees engaged. As many on both sides of the chamber have already said in their contribution to this debate, keeping employees engaged in the workforce is enormously important. That is why we're extending and better targeting the JobKeeper payments to support the businesses, and the employees they employ, as they manage through and recover from the economic effects of the coronavirus.

Already around 5,300 organisations in the electorate of Forde are benefiting from JobKeeper. These are small and family businesses, community clubs, our local manufacturing businesses, our cafes and restaurants. They are all doing their part to keep people in jobs. Club Beenleigh is a community club just down the road from my electorate office. It supports sporting clubs and community organisations across the Beenleigh district. The club was shut down for a total of 102 days during the peak of the pandemic but, through the availability of JobKeeper, they were able to retain 32 staff. JobKeeper means that these 32 staff continue to get a pay cheque, which allows them to provide for their families. While the club was in hibernation it was able to get the staff to do some little renovation jobs around the place to get it ready to welcome guests again when restrictions were eased. They were busy painting, mowing, cleaning the tennis courts and doing online raffles to support local sporting clubs who were doing it tough. It just goes to show the community spirit and ingenuity of many of our businesses across the electorate of Forde and, I'm sure, across all electorates represented in this House.

Another fantastic example is Good Life Kindergarten and Child Care. I met recently with Casandra and Kayla Lipsett, who opened their new childcare centre in Park Ridge on 10 February this year. At that time, they never dreamed that the coronavirus pandemic would have such an immense impact on their business. As parents were anxious about sending their children to child care, their incomes dropped dramatically. Casandra told me that JobKeeper saved them as a new small business in what I am sure and have no doubt was a distressing time for Casandra and her staff members. They were able to keep everybody employed because of JobKeeker. The support that it provided to a small family business like theirs at a time when it was needed most meant that she could retain all nine of her hardworking team members, including the early childhood nurses, who had worked tirelessly to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the children at the centre.

Casandra and her team are immensely grateful for the support that they received and recently even went on radio to offer the Prime Minister a virtual hug. When I spoke with them recently, we also spoke at length about the government's new childcare package and how that is helping support families and allowing the kids to return to child care. Gullivers Coomera, a local outside-school-hours care provider and swim school, were able to retain 33 of their staff thanks to JobKeeper. They said that JobKeeper has been so beneficial to them that, from September, they will be able to operate without it while continuing to support the over 1,500 families on the northern Gold Coast who use their facilities.

These are not unique stories. Harvey’s Towing in Park Ridge was one of many businesses impacted by the initial restrictions as Australians were urged to stay home and the roads became quiet. I met Joe Andriske recently, the owner of Harvey’s Towing, and Joe told me that JobKeeper saved their business. He said, 'Our company was hit at its peak and was thriving when the pandemic hit, but the restrictions resulting from it made doing business just that bit more difficult.' Access to JobKeeper meant Joe could retain his team of 29 specialist personnel within the tow truck industry, with 25 of those on JobKeeper.

We recognise the fact that many business, including those in my electorate of Forde, like Harvey’s Towing, are still feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing economic restrictions. That is why the government is extending and better targeting the JobKeeper payment to support those businesses and employees as they continue to manage and recover from the effects of coronavirus. It is this investment that sees the bill extend the prescribed period of the coronavirus payment framework for the JobKeeper payment from 31 December 2020 to 28 March 2021 and allows the Treasurer to extend and make rule changes to the JobKeeper rules up until 28 March 2021.

Further changes were made to the turnover test for the extension and the employment reference date to help more businesses qualify for JobKeeper. From 28 September 2020, businesses and not-for-profits seeking to claim the JobKeeper payment will be required to reassess their eligibility for the JobKeeper extension with reference to their actual turnover in the September quarter of 2020. The introduction of the two-tiered payment will also ensure JobKeeper payment rates are more reflective of the income prior to the impacts of the pandemic. The measures in this bill also enable the Australian Taxation Office to share JobKeeper payment information with relevant Commonwealth, state and territory government agencies, where that information will aid in the delivery of programs that support businesses affected by the impact of coronavirus.

But what's important is that JobKeeper shouldn't and doesn't, importantly, work in isolation from other economic measures and that it plays a key role and an important role in ensuring and informing our economic response from all levels of government. Other measures that this government has taken include the extension of the $150,000 instant asset write-off. I was recently speaking with the owners of Beaurepaires in Beenleigh. They were telling me that that allowed them to buy three new trucks. Their business has actually gone from strength to strength during the coronavirus because they changed what they were doing with their business and focused on a different segment of the tyre market. I have many stories like that, of businesses who have used this opportunity to change the way they do business and it has resulted in significant growth in their business.

In addition, we provided the Coronavirus Small and Medium Enterprises Guarantee Scheme to support finance for our small and medium-sized businesses. Importantly, it allowed them to maintain the cash flow requirements they needed. Previously, this government has provided tax cuts to the small- and medium-sized enterprise sector. Also, we've provided an extension to the wage subsidy scheme for apprentices and trainees.

I've heard those opposite wax lyrical about their economic policies and their belief in what we should or shouldn't do. I note, just for the record, that they haven't referred to the $385 billion of new taxes that they took to the last election and that are still part of their policy platform. So I think our economic measures stand in stark contrast to what those opposite actually believe in.

Schedule 2 of this bill extends the flexibilities in the Fair Work Act for a further temporary period, out to March 2021, for employees who remain on JobKeeper after 28 September and for those who are no longer on JobKeeper but have not yet recovered and remain in financial distress. This is an important measure that is absolutely critical to keeping business in business and Australians in work, considering the fact that three out of four surveyed employers used the flexibilities provided for by these provisions. The measures will provide continued operational flexibility for business in the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic to maximise the ongoing viability of these businesses and, importantly, as a consequence, maintain employees' connections to the workplace and their jobs.

JobKeeper has played a key role in ensuring businesses stay operational and can keep Australians in work. As I touched on earlier, over 5,000 businesses and organisations in Forde have been able to retain staff and maintain that important and valuable connection with their staff. JobKeeper has saved households and ensured Australians can provide for themselves and their families during these uncertain times. Speaking with constituents and business owners across my electorate, I know that JobKeeper will continue to play a vital role in assisting them in their recovery moving forward. This bill will ensure that we can extend and continue to provide the economic support necessary that has saved so many jobs and businesses in Forde and across the country. I commend this bill to the House.

1:13 pm

Photo of Ms Catherine KingMs Catherine King (Ballarat, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

I, too, am very pleased to join in this debate on the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Jobkeeper Payments) Amendment Bill 2020. I support the amendments that have been flagged by the member for Watson—very necessary amendments to this bill.

We are, of course, in historic times. The pandemic has shaken everything that we knew. It's brought our lives and our world to a halt. Events like this are what we read in history books. They're events that don't fit in with our economic plans. They're what our public health professionals spend their lives planning for but hope never happen. Nobody who starts a business expects a pandemic to force them to close their doors. No year 12s expect to miss out on their formal because of social-distancing requirements. No nurse or doctor expects to be put up in a hotel so that they don't infect their children. No cleaner or supermarket worker expects to be the front line of a pandemic response. And nobody expects to be unable to visit their parents in aged care—or in my case, my dad, who has just spent 42 days in hospital—in case they introduce a contagious, deadly disease to the people they so love.

At times like this, we are all in it together. We must all take responsibility for social distancing, wearing masks and washing our hands, and we also need to take responsibility for looking after one another. Sadly, though, not everyone has been supported through this pandemic. There are countless Australians who have been left behind by the government's decision not to extend JobKeeper to them and many more who will continue to be left behind by the bill that we debate today.

The government introduced JobKeeper only after Labor, unions, economists and businesses called for it, after there were queues and queues of Australians at our Centrelink offices around the country. The government planned to end JobKeeper next month, driving our economy off a fiscal cliff until, again, Labor, unions, businesses and economists all called for them not to. This government introduced JobKeeper only after massive political and community pressure was placed on them. They're extending it today, again, only because of that same pressure.

The wage subsidy we'll vote to extend today unfortunately still leaves many in our community behind. It leaves behind the arts workers who create our cultural institutions and enliven our cities and towns. It leaves behind the council workers who teach disadvantaged children to read in our libraries. It leaves behind those who run local museums and those who watch over us in our public swimming pools. It still leaves behind many casual workers, who in a fairer industrial system would be permanent workers but whose bosses are allowed to exploit loopholes to strip them of their rights. It leaves behind childcare workers—those taken off JobKeeper too early as part of a misguided snapback. It leaves behind workers at council airports, the men and women who keep vital air links open in towns like Longreach, Exmouth and Bendigo. It leaves behind the workers at dnata—5,500 Australian workers who carry out essential work at our airports across the country. Every time you've flown in the past, or hopefully will fly in the future, it's been a dnata worker that you need to thank. But those workers have been denied JobKeeper because of a decision to outsource their jobs from Qantas, not because of who they are but who their boss is. It's left behind the 6,000 Qantas workers who were sacked the day after the Prime Minister refused to provide assurances to the airline regarding the future of this JobKeeper scheme. And it leaves behind the 2,500 workers who were told that most of their jobs would be outsourced by Qantas just yesterday.

The government give this support to businesses in the form of JobKeeper and other supports but they have not asked enough of businesses in return. Qantas has benefited to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, but under this government they can decide to outsource their ground staff, pushing them into insecure, likely lower-paid work. This at a time when we are seeing firsthand just how dangerous insecure work can be. The government should have secured these jobs and the jobs of thousands of aviation workers.

Over this year, I've spent many days speaking to heartbroken aviation workers—cabin crew, maintenance workers, ground staff, pilots and cleaners. They all love their job and their industry and they're terrified about their future. They know what they contribute to Australia. They know their importance to our economy and our society. But now, in a time of their greatest need, they know that the government have not got their backs, and they certainly have not got a long-term plan for aviation to help them recover. It's frankly shattering. They've worked all their lives. They've paid taxes. They've raised their families. They've contributed to their communities. But when the future of their industry is, frankly, in crisis, they've been left mostly to face it alone. That is only one industry, but I know that there are countless around Australia like that where the government has failed to put in place a plan to protect jobs, let alone to preserve and rebuild jobs as we head into recovery.

We hear a little less these days from the government about the snapback. But we can't forget that that is exactly what the government thought would happen. It seemed to think that we were somehow in a short-term crisis, that if you just waited six months and put a few things in place that somehow it would all just go back to normal. We can never forget that, in fact, the government is deciding that it is slowly withdrawing its support to Australians. A snapback, we know, would break many communities. Businesses simply would not have been able to survive.

My own community of Ballarat, of course, thought we were on the way out of this. But, like many, we were wrong. Our community did everything right. We followed the rules, we stayed at home, our health staff have done a remarkable job and we drove new cases in our community down to zero. We thought it would stay there, but it didn't. That is the nature of a highly infectious virus, without a vaccine. It comes back. I saw the Prime Minister in question time yesterday decide to use what's happening in Victoria as a political opportunity to distract from his problems in aged care. This problem, this re-emergence of the virus, can happen anywhere. It's happened in our community. It is foolish for any of us to think that it has just passed us by and that we have won. We haven't won until there is a vaccine. Over the past few months, Ballarat has been relatively lucky. We've avoided the worst of the second wave. Our hospitals have remained uncrowded and our aged care facilities, despite some positive cases in Bill Crawford, have remained secure, thanks to some remarkable work by our local health service.

But so many in our community have connections to Melbourne. So many of us have lived there in the past, our families live there, our friends are there and many work there. We know how quickly this virus can come back, and that's why we've been so prepared in our community to prevent its spread. To stop the spread, we're again staying home. Our bars, our restaurants and our stores are shut. So many of our, again, lowest paid workers, the ones who've been at the frontline of this crisis, have kept our freight moving, have ensured that we have food in our supermarkets, have cleaned our hospitals and aged care services and often the very streets that we walk on. It is more essential than ever that the rights of working Australians, particularly those low income earners, are protected throughout this crisis.

The stripping away of workers' rights was, we were told by the government, necessary to implement its JobKeeper program. Now, ridiculously, the government is telling us that the stripping away of workers' rights needs to apply where workers are no longer eligible for JobKeeper or workplaces are no longer eligible for JobKeeper. The thought that low income workers could have their hours unilaterally reduced by 40 per cent by an employer that the government has basically deemed has recovered, seems absolutely ridiculous. For those businesses that are still eligible for JobKeeper, and for whom the bill doesn't propose to strip JobKeeper away, the bill proposes to reduce the rate at which it is paid. In Victoria, these changes will hurt businesses and individuals, just at the moment when they need the help most. We know we're in for the long haul here in Victoria. We know that we're going to need assistance for a long time to come. The government needs to think about what the implications are for the economy in Victoria, which provides a substantial economic contribution to the state, and they need to think about what that means in terms of the reduction of rates here in the Victorian community.

It is very clear that the pandemic won't be over in a few weeks, or even months, and that government support needs to be there for the long haul. We've had a government that was reluctant to bring a wage subsidy into place in the first place. We've had a government that was reluctant to, and in fact almost opposed to, extending the wage subsidy beyond the time that they thought it was going to be needed. We've had a government that has been reluctant to take responsibility for those areas in which it has direct responsibility and accountability—whether it be quarantine, or aged care, or supporting businesses more broadly as we recover from this terrible health crisis.

What we're seeing in this bill is an important extension of the JobKeeper payment. It will provide a very necessary lifeline for many small businesses and many businesses across the community. The reduction in rate, particularly for those in Victoria, is problematic and remains so. I think the government needs to think long and hard about what is happening here in Victoria, what support businesses are going to need for a longer period of time and what the very nature of those businesses are when you think about that support more broadly.

What the government is also continuing to do, as it has done throughout this crisis, is to try to hide, through the crisis, some of the very bad things that it wants to do in relation to industrial relations. We're seeing that writ large in this bill. The thought that you could have a 40 per cent reduction of your hours from a business that has largely recovered, makes absolutely no sense at all. If the government believes the business has recovered and if the business is negotiating on working with unions, it needs to also ensure that there are protections in place for workers so that they don't unilaterally have their hours reduced. That will be huge amounts of money out of their pockets, particularly of many low-income earners, as we recover through this.

Again, I encourage the government to think more broadly about how they are looking at recovery. We haven't seen a plan for aviation. We've seen a patchwork of various initiatives that the government has put in place for aviation. None of the initiatives look at a plan for aviation, referring to the future. None of them articulate what the jobs are that we want into the future, in terms of aviation, and how we make sure that we protect those workers. At a time when we're seeing mass job losses from the aviation sector—whether it be from Virgin, with 3,000 lost, or from Qantas, with 6,000 lost and then 2,500 lost yesterday—we've seen employers such as Qantas take the opportunity to outsource some of those important workers that they've had in their employ for a long time and create more insecure work for those workers. At a time when we should be protecting the rights of those workers, we have a government that's seeking to continuously undermine them.

Again, while Labor will be supporting this bill, I think it's important for people to understand just what it means. Whilst it does mean that JobKeeper will be extended, it also means the rates for those who are on JobKeeper will be reduced. It also means that, for the very important workplace rights that many workers have fought for for so long and rely on so desperately, many of those workers will find themselves in circumstances where they will have no negotiating power at all to work with their employers to ensure that they don't have such significant job losses.

While I commend the government for extending JobKeeper, a very important initiative that Labor was very pleased to push and get the government to bring in place in the first place—we're very pleased to support the extension; we've been calling for it for some time—I do encourage the government to look seriously at the amendments proposed by the member for Watson and make sure that it is ensuring that those vulnerable workers, particularly those low-income workers and those workers in Victoria who so desperately need to be able to rely on JobKeeper well beyond March, are actually able to do so.

1:27 pm

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Time being what it is, this will just be a small tempter before hearing the full details of the JobKeeper amendments in another time and place. In this limited time I would just like to point out that it is a real lifesaver. It's more than a job keeper. It has kept so many businesses in my electorate with their same employees. The businesses are still serving people and managing to get by during one of the greatest economic disruptions in the history of the country.

I'll give a few practical examples. I spoke to the owner, Gabriel Darzi, of the Sicilian Restaurant, now known as Cafe Toscano, and Cafe Giardino. It has basically kept their business going and sustainable. They haven't been able to have wedding-sized functions, but they have kept their company of 60 intact, with five people on JobKeeper. Up the road, in Taree, Jack & Co is another great food outlet. Basically, before JobKeeper, their income was in freefall, like that of many businesses. The upgrades they had planned were shelved, JobKeeper was introduced and they were still down, but they called in some of their contractors and their regular workers and put them all back on. The trade and contractor work had gone over a cliff, as had happened for many Australian businesses, but they also helped them by getting their business up and running, so it had a positive knock-on effect. Also, they've taken advantage of depreciation allowances and initiatives for improving cash flow. That instant asset write-off, combined with JobKeeper, has allowed them to keep their 25-person workforce intact. Another operator in my region, running several hotels in Port Macquarie and Lake Cathie, would have been in serious trouble if it weren't for JobKeeper. As you can appreciate, pubs and clubs have been seriously affected.

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour. The member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.