House debates

Wednesday, 28 October 2020


Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Coronavirus and Other Measures) Bill 2020; Second Reading

5:16 pm

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

The Hansard green tells me that, when I finished speaking just before the 90-second statements before question time, I was speaking about the JobKeeper supplement, but, before I return to that, looking at the Hansard green prompts me to put on the record how amazing everyone who works in Hansard is. We wouldn't be able to do our jobs the way we do them without their assistance. Given the fact that I can look a few hours later at where I was in my speech, they are absolutely incredible, so I wanted to thank them for everything that they do for all of us.

I want to return to the issue of what we used to call unemployment benefits or Newstart and, in the current trend to put 'job' before everything, we now call JobSeeker. I want to set the scene about how my community in Dunkley has fared in 2020, during the global pandemic, the restrictions and the recession. In June the Grattan Institute produced a report about job losses, and in Dunkley we suffered the third-worst level of job losses in Victoria, with a drop of about eight per cent of jobs since the start of the COVID pandemic. In September the Department of Social Services released the most recent available statistics about people who are on JobSeeker and youth allowance, and in my community in Dunkley from March to July of this year there had been about a 45 per cent increase in people who are now reliant on JobSeeker and about a 51 per cent increase in young people now reliant on youth allowance.

Of course, we all know that in Victoria, in Melbourne and in my community in Dunkley, Frankston and surrounds we've had an extended stage 4 restriction since July, so I am, unfortunately, expecting that these statistics will be worse for us when we see the next lot come out. One of the things that's revealed from the statistics, which, of course, are people, is that it's all areas of our community that have been hit. Frankston South saw a 65 per cent increase in JobSeeker and a 68 per cent increase in youth allowance. Skye and Sandhurst saw a significant jump as well: an almost 60 per cent increase in JobSeeker and a 73 per cent increase in youth allowance. As I said, these aren't just numbers; these are people, often people who have run their own businesses and weren't able to sustain them. Sadly, in terms of youth allowance, a lot of young people who worked at the Peninsula Aquatic Recreation Centre—which the federal government refused to extend JobKeeper to because it was an entity under the local council—didn't get JobKeeper at all, and they were casuals. A lot of these people—

Mr Tim Wilson interjecting

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Goldstein will cease interrupting. There are plenty of opportunities in this place to have your say.

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

This is a chamber of debate, but, when you're trying to stand up for your community, you have to try to talk over the top of people like the member for Goldstein, who just yells out at you. The fact is that a lot of people in my community who are now on youth allowance were working in casual jobs and had been there for less than 12 months, and they were deliberately excluded from JobKeeper by the federal government, of which the member for Goldstein is a member. And that's the truth.

Honourable members interjecting

It's alright. People in Victoria know what's important. And what's important is having someone who stands up here and fights for them. What's important is putting the pressure on this government to make sure that all of these people who are now on youth allowance and JobSeeker allowance are able to pay their rent, to buy food to put on the table, to pay their electricity bills, to look for work and to live lives of dignity above the poverty line. Sadly, they're not going to be able to do that unless the members opposite, who are part of the federal government, agree to support Labor's amendments to this legislation.

Our amendments will create an obligation on the minister to extend the $250 per fortnight coronavirus supplement until March, in line with JobKeeper. Cuts to the coronavirus supplement will cut more than $4 million a fortnight from Dunkley's local economy. So the people who live in my community will suffer and the economy of my community will suffer, which means the businesses in my community will suffer. I don't hear so much yelling out now.

There are 1.6 million Australians on JobSeeker. At least 160,000 more are expected to lose their jobs between now and the end of the year. It is not the right time to be withdrawing allowances for people who are doing it tough, and it is absolutely not the right time to leave people who are currently supporting themselves and their families on JobSeeker in absolute limbo about whether they are going to be put back onto $40 a day come December. This government can't hold an answer consistently between the morning and question time about whether or not JobSeeker will be returned to $40 a day, below the poverty line, for people who just want to find work but can't because there aren't enough jobs available. There are 13 people receiving unemployment payments for every one job vacancy.

Labor's amendments are to make this government look after the people of my community and the people of Australia and to announce a permanent increase to the base rate of JobSeeker—what we used to call Newstart. It cannot go back to $40 a day. There were a number of people on the opposite side of the chamber who agreed with that. They need to stand up for their convictions and continue to agree with that and to agree with Labor and vote for our amendments, which mean that Australians won't be put back onto $40 a day.

Apparently, the best form of welfare is a job, but this government doesn't want to provide people with the basic financial assistance they need to be able to look for a job. I've had women sitting in my office crying, telling me that they want to go back to work and they can't because they've got to look after their children. Often I have heard about women looking after disabled children. They have to pay the rent. They have to put food on the table. Where is the money going to come from for them to do everything else they need to do to be able to find a job? It would be absolutely cruel to decrease JobSeeker in December, let alone put it back to $40 a day. We have to do better than that.

I spoke earlier about pensioners, and I reiterate what I said before. We have many, many pensioners in my community who are crying out for support. I am pleased that the bill adjusts the paid parental leave qualification tests. There have been improvements to paid parental leave in the last 12 months. But there is a lot more to be done. We need to give men more support to feel that they can stay home with their children, particularly in the earlier years, which will also allow women to get back to work. If we want to have a cultural shift in this country, where men's and women's workforce participation reaches something akin to equality, we need to look at the sorts of paid parental leave schemes that we see in Scandinavia and in countries with 'use it or lose it'.

In conclusion, nothing will stop me from standing up for my community, not being yelled at inside this chamber or outside this chamber, because the people who want to work need to know that we are here fighting for them and for their businesses. (Time expired)

5:26 pm

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

[by video link] This bill, the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Coronavirus and Other Measures) Bill 2020, is about social security payments and the level of social security payments that people should get. When we're in the middle of the biggest recession that many of us have seen in our lives, where we have one million people unemployed and where there are 12 people looking for every one vacant job, it's good that we're debating that. But I start from a simple proposition, which the government doesn't seem to agree with. In a wealthy country like ours, no-one should be living in poverty. In the middle of a recession, which is not the fault of anyone living in this country, we should be looking after each other. We should be making sure that no-one—and especially no child—in this country is forced into poverty by government actions and by government cuts.

About a million children are going to be affected by the government's recent cuts to JobSeeker. We have a million people who are finding themselves out of work in the middle of a recession, because businesses have closed down while we're fighting a virus. What does the government do? It doesn't bring in a bill to lift those people out of poverty, but it does have time to fast-track tax cuts for millionaires. The government has made sure that people who've kept their job throughout this recession and who are earning over a million dollars a year get a tax cut of a couple of thousand dollars, which is going to rise to over $11,000, but people who are unemployed, through no fault of their own, get a kick in the teeth. We know from statements from the government over the last couple of days that, once it considers that the coronavirus is under control, the government is going to cut their payments. It's going to cut the payments of people who are on social security, while millionaires will get a cash handout. Clive Palmer does not need extra money in his pocket, frankly, but the government is quite happy to give millionaires and the super wealthy a tax cut, a cash handout, while those who are doing it the toughest are going to have their payments cut, with less money in their pocket to deal with the essentials.

For many, many years this government has deliberately kept people in poverty. These are people who are looking for work. The government has kept them in poverty and forced them to live below the poverty line. Then, when the recession came along, caused by the coronavirus, what did the government do? All of a sudden it realised that millions of people in this country were going to see just how appallingly the government had been treating people without a job, and so it lifted the level of what was called Newstart and then changed to JobSeeker; it lifted the level of unemployment assistance. For people who had been living on $40 a day for many years, trying to make ends meet, for everyone who had been skipping meals and skipping the essentials of life because living on $40 a day is no way to survive, for people who had been unable to afford the haircut, the extra set of clothes or the training course to increase their chances of getting a job, that lift of JobSeeker to $1,100 was a blessing. Because, for the first time, many people in this country, including many children, were able to live a life above the poverty line. But now the government cannot wait—cannot wait!—to cut that back to $40 a day. $40 a day is not living; it is barely surviving. In a wealthy countries like ours, instead of finding billions of dollars to give tax cuts to the millionaires and the already well-off, we should be prioritising the million unemployed. We should be standing up for the million unemployed, not for the millionaires. And we should be standing up not only by directly investing in projects that would create jobs but also by ensuring that the level of social security payment is above the poverty line. If the government can find billions of dollars to give tax cuts to millionaires, there is no excuse for having the level of unemployment assistance in this country being anywhere below the $1,100 that it has been.

The government must return JobSeeker to where it was, and that is especially the case in my state of Victoria, where, having now endured the restrictions that we've all lived through, because we know that getting on top of the virus is critical, the jobs just aren't there. The jobs just aren't there—we're opening up, but it's going to be a while before things get back to normal. In my area of Melbourne, for example, a lot of people are employed in the entertainment and hospitality sector. Let's take the entertainment area and the arts and creative industries. They rely on getting a lot of people in the one room. It's the business model. It's the business model of the comedy festival, it's the business model of the various arts festivals, it's the business model of every live performer, and it's the business model that so many pubs and live music venues rely on. It is not clear when we are going to be able to get back to having those industries on their feet, because we've still got a virus to get on top of. In this situation, we should not be cutting JobSeeker. We certainly shouldn't be cutting JobKeeper, either, because the jobs just aren't there. But, in dealing with this bill, when it comes to dealing with people who are unemployed, we should not be cutting JobSeeker. It is going to hurt people in Victoria.

The government has been very happy, as I've said, to write big cheques for billionaires and for large corporations, and, in the budget that was just passed, the government found $99 billion a year in subsidies to big corporations or the well-off. That's $99 billion a year. For example, when Gina Rinehart's companies take their trucks to the bowser on a mining site, they pay the tax that everyone else in this country pays when they go to the petrol station to fill up. But then, come tax time, Gina Rinehart's companies get a huge big cheque back from the taxpayer for all of the tax they paid. So, in other words, everyone else has to pay 40-odd cents of tax a litre on petrol when they go to the bowser, but Gina Rinehart's mining companies get it tax-free and get a multibillion-dollar tax refund between all of them, every year, courtesy of the public. I think that Gina Rinehart could pay the same for her petrol as everyone else in this country. In return, we could use some of that money to make sure people don't live in poverty.

That's what this bill should be about. This bill should be about the priority of making sure Australia, especially as we come out of a recession, becomes a more equal society, not one where we take billions of dollars and give them to the mining billionaires, but one where we say that people who are doing it tough are going to get looked after. If the government was serious about creating jobs for people, then they would be using the money not to give tax breaks to big corporations and cash handouts to corporations, many of which have stayed very profitable during the coronavirus recession, but they would be using that money to directly invest to create jobs. It's $99 billion a year in handouts to big corporations and the like. Let's put that money into building public housing, so that we not only solve the homelessness crisis but create jobs, including apprenticeships. Let's put that money into free education, so that everyone who's dealing with the crisis at the moment doesn't have their fees doubled, as this government has proposed, and the cost of a degree is zero. We could do that instead of giving billions of dollars to big corporations, and that would help create jobs. We could expand our aged-care sector by putting at least one registered nurse in every setting and on every shift, but also expand the number of staff that are available there so that we provide good-quality care and stop running it at a profit, which, again, helps just the billionaires. That would create more jobs. So let's expand education. Let's expand care. Let's build infrastructure like public housing or high speed rail—then you create jobs.

Instead, this government is stuck in a trickle-down mentality of giving $99 billion a year in subsidies to big corporations in the hope that some of it will trickle down and find its way into jobs. We have had 30 or 40 years of this trickle-down fantasy and we know it doesn't work. Before this crisis started, we had high unemployment and under-employment. Nearly one in three young people in this country was without a job or without enough hours of work. It was before the coronavirus crisis started. Those people, instead of being supported by the government, are being punished. They are being forced to live on $40 a day. Some young people have been forced to live on even less. Some people haven't been entitled to any assistance at all. And now, as the numbers go higher in the middle of a recession, what does the government do? The government cuts their payment and refuses to put money into direct job-creating, nation-building, planet-saving projects. Instead, it gives $99 billion a year to big corporations and the like.

We are facing a crossroads. We could come out of this crisis with something to show for it. We could build legacies for future generations—we could deliver high-speed rail, half a million public housing homes and free education for this country and bring unemployment down to two per cent, genuine full employment, which is what it was between World War II and the 1970s—or we could go down the government's road, which is cutting social security payments, giving handouts to big corporations and subsidising coal and gas, and just hope that some of it ultimately trickles down. Not only would Australia come out of that more unequal, but it would take us longer to recover from the recession.

I say this to the government: if you're serious about this mantra of yours that the best form of welfare is a job and everyone who wants a job, if they are good at it, can get one, then offer a job guarantee. Offer a guaranteed job to everyone in this country, if they want it, working on a nation-building, planet- saving project. If you do that, that might be a future where people could learn skills, earn a decent wage and deliver something of lasting benefit to their country. That might be something people would get excited about. That was the approach that the US government took when they were getting their way out of the Great Depression. They didn't think, 'We just need to give billions more to big corporations and hope that, by repeating the mistakes of the past, things will be fixed up in the future.' No, they invested in planet-saving, nation-building projects. If we did that, we'd be in a position to offer a job guarantee to young people. You could have a free education, an income above the poverty line or a guaranteed job working on one of these projects. That's what we could be offering.

Instead, our het-up Treasurer, who likes to shout at Victorians and condemn them after all that we been through, says his unemployment target is six per cent, which means two million people either without a job or without enough work. When we get to six per cent, he is going to start cutting even further. That's the government's approach. The government's approach to getting out of this recession is to deliberately choose high unemployment and low wages. People who don't have a job, like those this bill is focused on, are going to be living below the poverty line.

I said that this bill was about the level of social security payments. There are measures in this bill that go a way towards redressing some of the inequality in our society. Those measures in this bill, which have been dealt with and outlined before, are measures that the Greens will support because they make slightly better a very bad situation for very many people. But, like everything with this government, they come in and they say, 'We understand that people are hurting, we understand that people want a more equal society and we understand that the Australian people want someone to stand up to the big corporations and the very wealthy and make them pay their fair share so that we can invest, create jobs and have a more equal society.' The government know that, so they pay lip service to it. But, when you delve into the detail, you realise they are still pushing people into poverty. Every chance that they can get, they are pushing people into poverty. They pretend to be about jobs, jobs, jobs, and then they come down with a budget that locks in six per cent unemployment and much higher rates of underemployment.

The level of unemployment coming out of a recession is a is a deliberate choice that the government is making to keep millions and millions of people unemployed and underemployed. We could have full employment again in this country. We could get back to two per cent unemployment, which it was between World War II and the 1970s, if we had the courage to ditch this trickle-down economics fantasy that the government is wedded to and start investing in those job-creating, nation-building, planet-saving projects. Not only would we tackle the unemployment and the jobs crisis but we would tackle the climate crisis and the inequality crisis in this country as well. That is why we are pushing a Green New Deal—a government led plan of investment and action that will tackle those multiple crises, not this trickle-down fantasy of the government that sees $99 billion a year going to big corporations, tax cuts to millionaires and kicks in the teeth to everyone else.

5:41 pm

Photo of Ged KearneyGed Kearney (Cooper, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Skills) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] When I was elected in a hard fought by-election in 2018, I promised the people in my electorate real change—change that can only be delivered by a party of government that is committed to change for the better. I'm a member of the Labor Party, because, in this great country, all major social change has been brought about by Labor. I am proud to stand here as a Labor member of parliament with the legacy this great party carries and to stand with the wonderful member for Barton, who is moving a substantial legislative amendment to this bill, which calls for a permanent increase in JobSeeker, better support for pensioners, and certainty for people relying right now on JobSeeker.

From the full employment policies of the wonderful postwar government of Chifley to the NDIS and paid parental leave policies, to name only two, of the last Gillard Labor government, it will always fall to Labor to make people's lives better. Those in conservative or neo-liberal governments, like the Morrison government—

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

Order. I'll ask the audiovisual people to get the member for Cooper back online.

Photo of Ged KearneyGed Kearney (Cooper, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Skills) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] We must remember that they did not want to introduce wage subsidies, something the PM called very dangerous; they did not want to give people paid pandemic leave; and they did not want to support flailing industries. We had to fight for all of that, and still they've left many workers and people out of the important support they needed. Ultimately, they've had to admit that their economic policies of old do not support the whole of society, only a privileged few—like well-paid CEOs who use public funds to buy their mates gifts or to do their tax returns, like mates of theirs being appointed to highly-paid public roles and like ministers trying to rort the system for personal gain. These they protect, promote and support until it gets found out or gets too hot to handle any longer.

How quick the Prime Minister was to demand the CEO of Australia Post step down when she was found out, but not once did he admonish his own minister caught up in scandal after scandal. How is it we saw no action on the wrongdoings at ASIC until, again, all was made public? There were sports rorts, scandals, relief funds promised but unspent and infrastructure projects yet to begin, and today we hear that they are prepared to subsidise expensive private jet costs for their rich donating mates like Clive Palmer. As long as they like the lies that Mr Palmer peddles on their behalf, they will happily let taxpayers pay for his indulgences. And that's just in this horrible year.

As we've pointed out in this House over and over, this country had been going downhill long before the pandemic hit. With insecure work, record-low wages growth and rampant underemployment, this government was overseeing the weakest growth since the global financial crisis. As the shadow Treasurer said in his post-budget address:

This pandemic has entrenched the disadvantages of age, gender, geography and education. It has magnified structural weaknesses in growth, investment, dynamism and productivity. And it has exposed the unfairness and uncertainty inflicted by years of cuts to essential services, growing casualisation and financial insecurity.

The government's budget missed the greatest opportunity of recent times to rebuild this country fairly and securely.

So here we are again today. Yes, there are some good things in this bill before the House that we will support. But, once again, it has taken a long time and lots of pressure for the government to initiate these changes. Labor called on the government months ago to change the work test for paid parental leave and for there to be exemptions to the youth allowance parental income test. The delay has caused considerable anxiety and distress, and it's disappointing that they've taken this long to act.

We know that this government have dreadful form when it comes to supporting pensioners, with the cruel pension freeze and a long track record of cutting, or attempting to cut, the pension. They still haven't adjusted deeming rates, which remain significantly higher than interest rates, meaning pensioners are being short-changed by the Morrison government.

Once again, here we are, with Labor moving amendments to improve this bill because the government are giving with one hand and taking away with the other, offering a little extra here and there with this bill, for example—important changes, I grant you—but always taking more away than they offer—cutting pensions, cutting JobKeeper and cutting JobSeeker.

One hundred and sixty thousand Australians are expected to lose their jobs and 1.6 million Australians are receiving JobSeeker. In my electorate of Cooper, close to 12,000 people are relying on JobSeeker to get by. They are local folk who, through no fault of their own, find themselves without a job. Some are people this government could have kept in a job had they extended JobKeeper to their industries, like the workers laid off from La Trobe University or the many, many people in Cooper who work in the entertainment and arts industry or casuals and so many women. With one job for every eight jobseekers out there right now, a statistic that is in reality much worse given the number of employed people who are looking for more work to get by, for all of those people the situation is dire. There just aren't enough jobs. Even if you pulled yourself up by your blooming bootstraps, there still wouldn't be enough jobs.

Given that, the member for Barton has moved that the $250 coronavirus supplement be extended until March. But she is also moving for a permanent increase in the base rate of JobSeeker and better support for pensioners, disability support pensioners and carer payment recipients. The passing of these amendments would mean that JobSeeker payments would continue at their current amount until March next year, in line with JobKeeper, when the situation can be reviewed again. This will give people a better Christmas and less uncertainty moving into the new year. And everyone knows that it would be unthinkable to push the JobSeeker payment back to pre-pandemic levels—$40 a day is impossible to live on. It would be an act beyond forgiveness and definitely beyond the boundaries of responsible government.

JobSeeker has to be permanently increased, and the government could commit to doing that right now. Constituents have told me that the extra money means being able to live without anxiety and treating the kids to a new book or a new pair of shoes, let alone a decent meal. One single mum told me it has meant she has been able to finally focus on setting up her own business, something she's been trying to do for a long time but has never had the means to really settle into and make work. Imagine that: assisting someone to actually make their own way; making sure people can eat, be healthy, be well-dressed, be mentally well and ready to get out and find work where they can. God forbid this government would want to do that.

When it comes to unemployed people the Prime Minister and his government are only interested in chasing illegal and immoral robodebts and driving people further into poverty and, indeed, desperation. The Prime Minister has often tried to draw on the bow of Australian values, but they do not know the true meaning of Australian values and it makes me furious when they pretend they do. Their values are all about dog eat dog, or kick you when you're down. If you are poor, sick, uneducated, unemployed, young, old, female, from a migrant background, then bad luck it's your fault. The Treasurer let the cat out of the bag when he said he drew on Thatcher and Reagan for inspiration—the idea that governments should step aside and let markets rip. Decades of Thatcherism and Reaganomics has created the inequality and insecurity we face today. Wealth didn't trickle down to the masses. It flowed all the way into the deep, deep pockets of a very privileged few.

On the other hand, the Leader of the Opposition, in his budget reply, spoke of his mentor John Uren, a truly great man. The member for Grayndler said he draws his values from what John Uren told him was a simple code for survival: the healthy look after the sick, the strong look after the weak and the young look after the old. I know whose values I trust more. To channel our Labor leader again, we say that with the right plans, the right policies, the right leadership, and strength and fairness we can beat this recession. We can launch a recovery and we can build a future where no-one is held back and no-one is left behind. These amendments will go a long way to ensuring that.

5:52 pm

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today of course to speak on Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Coronavirus and Other Measures) Bill 2020 and in favour of the amendments moved by my colleague the member for Barton. I rise to speak on behalf of my community. My community is doing it pretty tough. I'm very honoured to represent the electorate of Macarthur and it's a community that I know and I love. Macarthur is a wonderful place to live and to work and its people are undoubtedly its greatest asset. Whilst some people say we're all in this together, I know that that's not true. I know that many people are being affected much more severely than others. In Macarthur many people are doing it tough and they have been for some time. We've had high levels of unemployment, particularly high levels of youth unemployment, and high levels of under-employment for a long time. I've long called for increases in support for those people so stressed.

The resolve of my community to band together and to support those in need is nothing short of inspirational. We have a number of community organisations, charities and local residents and businesses who are working harder than ever to support their neighbours in these very difficult economic times. I'm extremely proud to be their voice. There are far too many to name, but I would like to give a quick mention to Rose Versteeg and her team at the Arts Centre Cafe in Campbelltown Arts Centre. Working in conjunction with the team at We Are Community incorporated, a fantastic local charity, the Arts Centre Cafe has been generously cooking hundreds and hundreds of meals to donate to the homeless and those in need, including students. It is acts like this which demonstrate the true community spirit which is alive within the Macarthur community. I thank Rose, her team and We Are Community for their ongoing selfless efforts. People are doing it tough in Macarthur and the reality is that companies like Rose's and charities like We Are Community are doing the heavy lifting because the government is leaving people behind.

We are in the midst of the worst recession in almost a century, however, people in Macarthur have been doing it tough before that. Our unemployment and under-employment rates have been above the national averages for some time. People struggle to keep up with the cost of living. The Liberal-National Party governments, both here and in Macquarie Street, have done nothing to ease the pressures on Macarthur's families and businesses. Many of the people I saw as children are really struggling with a whole range of issues, with things like work, and they have been for some time. Many kids with learning difficulties that I've cared for struggle to find meaningful work. They struggle to find a roof over their heads, which in the 21st century in Australia is really astounding. The Berejiklian government in Sydney has really slugged the people of Macarthur with extortionate new taxes like tolls on old roads in the middle of a recession. This single policy failure will cost commuters in my electorate almost $3,500 every year. Those opposite and their colleagues in state parliament are out of touch with struggling communities. They have absolutely no idea about the needs of my community.

Before us we have a piece of legislation which deals with the social security framework in Australia at a time of unprecedented demand for our social security supports. As I remarked in the Federation Chamber earlier this week, people are accessing welfare in many cases for the first time in their lives. These experiences are really opening people's eyes to the difficulties that people who are struggling have when interacting with the social security system. They're being made to wait on the phone, sometimes for hours. They're not having their calls returned. They're not having important information passed on to them. They're made to feel sometimes like criminals—this was said to me on the phone only yesterday by a constituent who was really struggling to interact with Centrelink—and this is a tragedy.

Those opposite have no idea of these problems. Many of them come from multigenerational privilege. Let me tell you, multigenerational privilege does something to you. It means you come from a family that never has to interact with social security. It means that you always have steady employment. It means you always have a roof over your head and food in your mouth. Many people who are struggling in Australia these days don't have that.

We think that many people are underreporting the difficulties they're facing and the difficulties they're having when interacting with Centrelink because they just do not want to be treated so denigratingly again. People are becoming increasingly aware of the inhumane experiences they're being put through. The system under the coalition has been designed intentionally to repel some people from putting in a claim and seeking the assistance that they are entitled to. Those who are able to get through to Centrelink after spending hours on hold are often made to navigate a complex and very burdensome system. Those who have been successful in making a claim are often made to feel subhuman and even criminal if something goes wrong. We can do a lot better.

For years we've been told about how important small government is when, in fact, the business of government is about supporting the population. That may mean putting on a few extra social security staff, but that's what the government should be doing. It should be supporting people, not punishing people. Social security is meant to support those in need, to provide a leg-up to those who are in need of assistance. It's not supposed to beat people while they're down. We are not a poor country, yet we've seen the gap between rich and poor get larger and larger. We can afford to treat people, particularly those who are struggling, a whole lot better than we presently do. I've long been advocating for a permanent increase in the rate of the formal Newstart, or dole, now euphemistically called JobSeeker when there are not enough jobs to go around. That is very important for people to be able to put a roof over their heads, food in their mouths and feel at least that they're being treated as human beings.

The legislation before the House today is yet another missed opportunity for this government on this front. It's time for a plan for the future. A plan for the future means a plan for the future not just for property developers or billionaire business owners but for those who are really struggling to find a job and to interact with society as a whole. The need is long overdue, and I cannot understand why this government continues to torture people by not allowing them to plan for a decent future and be supported. We're told, 'Maybe the Treasurer and maybe the Prime Minister and maybe a few other members opposite think it is okay to increase the JobSeeker allowance on a permanent basis,' but they refuse to commit to it and they refuse to allow people to plan for the future.

The legislation before the House, as I said, is yet another missed opportunity, amongst many missed opportunities, to plan for the future. We know that they're putting us $1 trillion in debt and yet we have no real plan for the future, particularly for those most disadvantaged. With 1.6 million Australians on JobSeeker, the government has missed a huge opportunity to finally deliver much-needed certainty to many desperate Australian families. The coalition ought to finally have committed to raising the rate. The old rate by general consensus across the parliament is not enough to live on. It's not enough to live on. It is not enough to provide a roof over one's head. It is not enough to allow people to interact in society in general. With more Australians expected to lose their jobs by Christmas, I fear that the Liberal-Nationals government will continue to leave people behind by their lacklustre approach to welfare support. The government is leaving far too many Australians behind throughout this pandemic, and it's most disappointing that they have, yet again, not sought to rectify this in the legislation today.

I want to thank my friend and colleague the member for Barton for her timeless advocacy. Unlike those opposite, she understands that people in her community are doing it tough. The member for Barton knows there needs to be a permanent increase to the JobSeeker rate and that people who are reliant on this payment deserve some form of certainty around their futures. This is particularly true for young people. Many of the kids I have cared for, now young adults, are struggling. They're struggling to get a job, struggling to get an education, struggling to get a roof over their heads and struggling to feel that the government does actually support them like the way the government supports others.

The member for Barton also understands that an increase to the JobSeeker rate makes economic sense, because the money that is given to people on the JobSeeker rate will all go back into the economy. The economy is floundering, and was doing so long before the current recession under the watchful eye of those opposite. It may not always be obvious from the streets of Toorack or Point Piper, but some people in Australia are doing it tough. A simple stroll down Queen Street in Campbelltown will tell you that. Those opposite would see empty businesses—many that had been there for quite a long time—that is, for years. If they ever cared to look, they'd see shops struggling to keep their doors open. One way those opposite could inject desperately needed money into the economy is through ensuring that people had a permanent increase to JobSeeker and a roof over their head by funding an increase in social housing. We know this money would flow through to support struggling local businesses and support desperately-needed jobs, so why won't the government finally take some committed action? They can find enough money in their trillion dollar debt to provide subsidies to billionaires and to property developers and to a whole range of chances and urges, but they cannot find enough money to make sure that people can put food on their table and a roof over their heads.

We are in desperate need of a job creation plan from this government not just for young people but also for middle-aged people and older people. They continue to ignore my request and the advice of experts to fund desperately needed job-creating and nation-building projects in the rapidly growing areas of south-west Sydney like Macarthur. There are many more jobseekers than there are job vacancies. There are simply not enough jobs to go around. Thanks to the government's continuing failure to provide jobs in our areas of need, we know that this will not improve in the immediate future.

Some Australians are doing it tough and are facing great uncertainty in the lead up to Christmas. The least the government could do is ensure we have a permanent increase to the rate of JobSeeker to ensure people do not fall even further behind and so that they feel that they do have a future and that the government, as a whole, does support them. And yet the reality is the reverse for many of the people in my electorate, because of the government's beloved trickle-down economics. People who have less money in their pockets have less money to spend supporting local businesses. Less income means small and family businesses have less money to spend on wages and local jobs. The government's tax handout to billionaires, like Rupert Murdoch, will not provide a single job in my electorate, but a permanent increase to the rate of JobSeeker has the potential to support and create countless jobs all over the economy. We risk losing even more jobs in December when JobSeeker is cut. Those opposite can't or won't quantify the number of livelihoods that they are placing at risk by winding back this support.

The pandemic is far from over. We have a long time to go in this pandemic. Those opposite are very optimistic about the development of a vaccine. Let me tell you, having spoken to many of the medical experts in this field, a successful vaccine is a long way off. The pandemic, as I said, is far from over and we're still in the midst of this economic crisis. The coalition has abandoned entire sectors of our society. It is now winding back critical financial support, like the JobKeeper program, for struggling Australians far too early. We have a trillion-dollar debt on our hands and the government refuse to find money, despite this unprecedented debt, to provide certainty to Australian families, yet they can easily find enough money to give a subsidy to a billionaire in New York.

Families and businesses in my community are being left behind thanks to so-called trickle-down economics—if such a theory really does exist—and the twisted priorities of this out of touch government. Its recent budget left much to be desired. It completely ignores whole sections of my community, from the arts community to the university community to international students. Many, many people feel they are being neglected by the Morrison government. In fact, this latest budget only makes matters worse for jobseekers over the age of 35, as if they are somehow different to younger jobseekers. People over 35, let me remind you, often have young families and are often trying to support a mortgage, and they need to be supported as well. The coalition government have left even young jobseekers worse off. They have closed their eyes to almost one million Australian jobseekers, pretending they don't exist. Older Australians have also done poorly. Once again, the government is not providing them with support. (Time expired)

6:07 pm

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Coronavirus and Other Measures) Bill 2020 and the amendment moved by the member for Barton. This bill implements several measures from the budget—the very disappointing budget—including a further two economic support payments of $250 to pension recipients; concessions to the paid work test for people seeking to demonstrate independence for youth allowance and Abstudy purposes, allowing parents whose employment has been impacted by the coronavirus Morrison recession to more easily access paid parental leave; improved stillborn baby payments and infant death payments; and temporary incentives to encourage young people to undertake seasonal agricultural work during the upcoming harvest season, among other things.

These are important measures. Labor will not delay support flowing to those who need it. But the story of this bill is the story of this government: it announces big, delivers little. No doubt, as we move into a post-COVID world and must deal with the effects of the Morrison recession, this type of support is needed more than ever. With another 160,000 Australians expected to lose their jobs by Christmas and 1.6 million Australians on JobSeeker, the government missed a huge opportunity in the budget to deliver certainty for Australians doing it tough by delivering a permanent increase to JobSeeker. With more jobseekers than there are job vacancies, there simply aren't enough jobs for everyone who needs one—it's simple maths.

It is even more difficult to find a job in our regions, the result of the government's failure to deliver a jobs program for the regions. In Tasmania there are 21 jobseekers for every available job. There aren't jobs available for them, yet this government seeks to punish those people. ABS figures released last week show that more than 50,000 Tasmanians either are looking for a job or can't get the hours they need to make ends meet. The number of jobs in Tasmania has fallen by 2,200 since August. Our unemployment rate is now at 7.4 per cent, up a full percentage point from last month—it's going the wrong way. We are all hopeful that the reopening of borders will improve the desperate job situation in Tasmania, but hope doesn't pay the bills. Hope doesn't pay the rent. It doesn't put food on the table. It doesn't put clothes on the kids. A jobs plan is needed, not a wing and a prayer.

In Tasmania the jobs crisis is also a wages crisis. Tasmanians have experienced a fall in wages of 4.9 per cent, when the average fall nationwide has been 3.3 per cent, and it's important to note that that drop comes off an already lower average wage in Tasmania. Tasmanian average wages have fallen $71 a week, from $1,448 to $1,377, while national wages have fallen $56 a week, from $1,714 to $1,657. What used to be a $266-a-week wages gap is now a $280 wages gap. A $71-a-week drop is no small thing for a Tasmanian wage earner on average wages. Little wonder that food charities such as Loaves and Fishes have seen demand for their services skyrocket by 70 per cent over recent months.

And it's not just unemployed people and students who are seeking food charity. It's a whole new cohort of what the Americans call the working poor: a class of people that we had hoped never to see in this country. They are people whose wages are so low that they do not meet the cost of living. These charities are depending on farmers, on supermarkets and on individuals to donate food to give to people. That's not the sort of society that we should be. I take my hat off to all those people involved in those charities. They are wonderful people. But we should do better as a nation and as a parliament so that this isn't the way people need to make ends meet.

This is the first recession in three decades, and people are hurting. The failure to deliver a permanent increase to JobSeeker means that Australians on social security will have less to spend on local and small businesses. Millions of dollars are being sucked out of local economies because of the cuts being made to JobSeeker and with JobKeeper coming off in March. Millions upon millions of dollars will be sucked out of local shops, out of local economies, causing a jobs spiral in local economies when these payments are cut off. Local and small businesses will have less to spend on wages and jobs. It will be a vicious cycle and vicious spin.

I know that many social services organisations in Tasmania share these concerns. TasCOSS's chief executive officer, Adrienne Picone, has said that the Morrison government failed to rise to the occasion in refusing a permanent increase to JobSeeker. She says of the budget:

It had the potential to provide much needed security and confidence to the more than 39,000 Tasmanian job seekers and 120,000 of our friends, family and neighbours surviving day-to-day on inadequate incomes, but the Morrison Government has failed to rise to the occasion.

This budget fails to build the resilience of Tasmanians and the Tasmanian economy to withstand future crises, and will increase inequities in health, education and access to essential services in our state.

Anglicare Australia Executive Director Kasy Chambers shared similar sentiment, saying the 'budget has left people on the lowest incomes high and dry.' She said:

1.6 million Australians are out of work. With this downturn due to last for years and so many Australians losing their jobs, record numbers of people are at risk of poverty and homelessness.

There were simple solutions to these problems: raise the rate of JobSeeker for good, and invest in social housing. One-off payments to people on the age and disability pensioners will provide some relief, but they don't go far enough.

I am particularly concerned about the impacts on older workers and those looking for work. This budget left Australians on JobSeeker aged over 35—almost one million Australians—out of the budget and ineligible for wage-hire subsidies. Older Australians represent the largest cohort on JobSeeker. In Tasmania in the month of September, of the 35,000 JobSeeker recipients, more than 22,000 were over 35. The majority of the 7,588 JobSeeker recipients in my electorate fall into this older cohort, who are locked out of the wage-hire subsidy. They will be competing for jobs directly with younger people who do qualify for the subsidy.

On this side of the chamber we have no argument with any measure that will support the hiring of young people, but you don't do it at the expense of older people who've got families to support. You don't lock them out, not now. Structural barriers and potential discrimination often mean that older workers will have difficulty finding work. Don't get me started on Restart, which is for over-50s. It's a dismal failure, with a 95 per cent fail rate in terms of projections. If you want to talk about Restart, maybe turn it off and turn it on again. My office has been contacted by many people in their 30s, 40s and 50s who are increasingly despairing over the difficulties they face finding work. They rely on the JobSeeker payment like they never have before to support their families, to put food on the tables, to go to the doctors and to send their kids to school. For many, this is the first time they've had to rely on any type of government support. With the way the budget has been structured for older workers, I fear that, for many, it will be the last time they'll ever work in their lives. We are talking about people in their 40s who will be competing directly with younger people for a job, and I do fear very much that willing and able people wanting to work will simply not have the opportunity to find work again.

Take Narelle, for example. Narelle is a hairdresser from Perth, in the north of my electorate. She contacted my office back in March as the effects of the coronavirus really started to hit Tasmania. She'd had to close her hairdressing business and was at a loss as to where to go for support. She had never before found herself in the situation of needing to engage with Centrelink or seek government support. She had supported herself her entire working life. My office was able to help Narelle with navigating the myriad social security systems, and ultimately she got access to the JobSeeker payment and, with it, some sense of financial stability in a time of great uncertainty.

You can imagine the feelings of anxiety that such a situation must have caused Narelle and the millions of Australians like her who have found themselves unemployed, just like that, as a result of the pandemic. This is why Labor is calling on the government to extend the $250 per fortnight coronavirus supplement until March, in line with JobKeeper. We know it can't last forever. There's not a bottomless pit of money. We understand that. But we are in the midst of the first recession in 29 years. Now is the wrong time to be taking money out of the economy, and it's certainly the wrong time to be taking money off people who are in desperate straits.

In her second reading amendment, the shadow minister, the member for Barton, made the point that it is cruel for the government to deny JobSeeker recipients some clarity around their financial future. It is completely unreasonable to make people wait until mid-December before there is a decision announced on the JobSeeker payment. Australians who receive JobSeeker deserve to be able to make financial decisions—to plan their household budgets, to plan what they can scrape together for the kids for Christmas, to have some certainty about what is coming in and what is going out. They deserve to be able to live their lives.

We know that the Prime Minister has some sort of plan for JobSeeker. He told us as much in question time yesterday. He just doesn't respect people who receive JobSeeker enough to tell them what it is. He's more than happy for those people to wait until it's in his political best interest, in terms of the media cycle, to announce a rise in JobSeeker rather than do what is right for Australian families who need this money and this certainty now. He's looking after his own interests, not the interests of the Australian people.

The amendment moved by Labor today requires the minister to announce a permanent increase to the base rate of the JobSeeker payment, something that we have consistently advocated for. It is clear that we cannot go back to forcing Australians to live on $40 a day. Yet that is the prospect that 1.6 million Australians face, come 31 December, if things don't change. It took a global pandemic for this government to even consider raising the rate, and Australians on JobSeeker have been lifted out of hardship as a result, many living above the poverty line for the first time in a long time. By failing to deliver a permanent increase to JobSeeker in the budget, the government missed the economic and social opportunity to deliver lasting structural change for vulnerable Australians while boosting local business and local jobs.

I want to come briefly to the issue of pensioners, who have been almost completely ignored by this government, apart from a couple of one-off payments. Deeming rates are used to determine how much pensioners earn from their secured financial assets, typically savings. The upper deeming rate is 2.25 per cent and the lower deeming rate is 0.25 per cent. Deputy Speaker Wallace, if you can find a bank that has accounts available for pensioners that is paying two or 2½ per cent interest on savings, let me know who they are and I will send my pensioners all the way to them. If they're in Queensland or New South Wales or South Australia or anywhere else, you tell me where those banks are and I'll send my pensioners there. It is absolutely reprehensible—it is unconscionable —that this government is telling pensioners that they're earning 2.25 per cent on their savings, and they are robbing them of a decent pension as a result. They are short-changed by the government's unreasonable, unrealistic, reprehensible and unconscionable pension deeming rates.

Pensioners won't forget this government's record on cutting the pension. This government is obsessed with cutting the pension. The government has attempted to cut the pension in every budget every year. In 2014, the government tried to cut pension indexation. In 2014, the government cut $1 billion from pensioner concessions. In 2014, the government axed the $900 seniors supplement. 2014, the government tried to reset deeming rates thresholds. In 2015, this government did a deal with the Greens to cut the pension to around 370,000 pensioners. In 2016, the government tried to cut the pension to around 190,000 pensioners, as part of the plan to limit overseas travel. In 2016, this government tried to cut the pension for another 1.5 million Australians by scrapping the energy supplement for new pensioners. The government's own figures show that this would have left 563,000 Australians who are currently receiving a pension or an allowance worse off. Over 10 years, more than 1.5 million pensioners would be worse off.

This government has spent five years trying to increase the pension age to 70. It will be OK for you and I, Deputy Speaker, to work until we're 70, but not for somebody who's on the tools in a factory, or in a shop on their feet all day, or in an aged-care home pushing a cleaner. It's not OK for them to work until they're 70. Pensioners have paid their taxes and contributed their entire lives. They deserve our respect and they certainly deserve this government's respect, and they're not getting it. (Time expired)

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

I thought you were going to try to argue that I was 70!

6:22 pm

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

I am very pleased to contribute to the debate on the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Coronavirus and Other Measures) Bill 2020, and I am especially pleased to rise in support of the amendments from the member for Barton, which would ensure that the Morrison government provides more support to vulnerable Australians in the deepest recession in almost a century.

This bill legislates two one-off payments of $250 for people who receive income support payments. Anyone who got the first economic support payments of $750 earlier this year will be eligible, including age and disability support pensioners, carers, family tax benefit recipients and some veterans payments recipients. These bills will also make it easier for people to meet the eligibility criteria to receive the higher independent rate of Austudy or youth allowance. This will mean that many young Australians who have had their hours cut or lost their jobs during COVID shutdowns will still qualify for the increased payments. This is a sensible measure, especially when you consider that more than half of the initial job losses were for people under the age of 30.

The bill also makes a number of changes to accommodate for the impacts of coronavirus and to create incentives to work. It extends a time frame to meet the paid parental leave work activity test from 13 months prior to the birth or adoption to 20 months. It creates incentives to encourage young people to take on seasonal farm work. It gives the minister the power to determine the average weekly earnings trend figures for child support while the official figures are suspended. It allows young people to qualify for the independent rate of Austudy if they earn $15,000 or more working in agriculture in the coming year, and it improves payments for people who have a stillborn child or because a child dies before their first birthday.

Labor have been calling for a number of these changes for some time now, so we are very pleased to see them included in this bill. But this does not make up for the fact that jobseekers look set to lose the coronavirus supplement in just two short months. That's why Labor today has moved those amendments which would oblige the minister to extend the $250-per-fortnight coronavirus supplement until March to at least ensure it is in line with JobKeeper. This is absolutely fundamental. It says everything you need to know about this government—that it would seek to punish those on JobSeeker by slashing this important payment while planning to retain the payment for those on JobKeeper. Why are those 1.6 million Australians somehow less important?

The coronavirus supplement has returned dignity to so many people's lives. It has meant they haven't had to choose between purchasing nutritious meals for their family, filling prescriptions, heating the home or paying their rent. Cutting the supplement isn't devastating just for the individuals who rely on it to survive, though. It's a massive hit to regional economies, especially to the local small businesses who have been hit very hard already by the pandemic. In the middle of the most perilous economic times in living memory, the government has a responsibility to keep our economy moving. The government talks up tax cuts as the answer. But the reality is that tax cuts benefit you more the more you earn, and those who earn more are far more likely to save more and spend less. In contrast, jobseekers spend every dollar just trying to keep their heads above water. Unlike those who have the luxury of a regular wage, people on JobSeeker are very unlikely to be able to squirrel away money for a rainy day. Instead, they're much more likely to spend with local businesses and keep money circulating in those local economies.

But extending the coronavirus supplement isn't enough. Jobseekers also deserve some certainty. They need to know that they're not going to get plunged back into poverty. The idea that JobSeeker could be returned to $40 a day—it simply cannot happen. It is unthinkable that JobSeeker would snap back to this rate at any point, let alone in the midst of a recession. Groups as divergent as the Australian Business Council, the Australian Industry Group, the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia and ACOSS have all recognised that the former rate of JobSeeker does nothing but entrench poverty, cripple people's quality of life and make it virtually impossible for them to find work. Frankly, when you get the Business Council lining up with ACOSS in any area of policy development, you know you've got an urgent policy imperative on your hands.

Labor have been advocating for an increase to the abominably low rate of Newstart since before 2019, and we continue to do so today. People mustn't be forced to return to living in poverty. The Morrison government has been the only opponent of this necessary change. This needs to stop—and it would with Labor's amendment, which would require the minister to announce a permanent increase to the base rate of JobSeeker.

Another concern that Labor has about this bill is the meagre support it provides to pensioners. Pensioners have been doing it tough in recent months. On top of the very real personal toll of being in a high-risk group during a pandemic, they have also seen the cost of living rise, while their income has been stalled or reduced. Health costs have climbed. Many have seen their investment earnings drop dramatically, as interest rates near zero. Then they got hit with the news that there will be no indexation of the pension for the first time in 25 years. Remember, this doesn't just affect this year's pension but every one that comes after it, because each year's indexation builds on the last one. Two lots of $250 doesn't even come close to making up for the financial hit that pensioners have endured. Regretfully, this failure to support pensioners is part of an ongoing pattern of neglect and cost cutting by this Liberal government.

Let's not forget that consecutive Liberal governments have axed the $900 seniors supplement; changed the pensioner assets test, ripping away $12,000 a year from around 370,000 pensioners; cut $1 billion out of pensioner concessions; tried to cut indexation so that pensioners would lose $80 a week within 10 years; and tried to scrap the energy supplement for new pensioners—remember that? Indeed, they have tried to cut the pension each and every year since they took office in 2013. It's clear the Liberals can't be trusted to protect pensioners—people who have contributed and given back to our society their whole lives. That's why we need Labor's amendments, which would oblige the minister to better support pensioners facing increased costs because of COVID-19.

We don't want to hold up payments, and many of the changes in this bill are reasonable and sensible, as I made clear at the outset, so Labor will support it. What's not reasonable or sensible, however, is that pensioners and jobseekers are being dudded by this government. Two payments of $250 aren't going to help pensioners, who are already living with the triple hit of having their pension indexation axed while their income is dropping and their cost of living continues to increase. Two payments of $250 aren't going to provide the certainty to the 1.6 million Australians on JobSeeker who desperately fear being plunged back into poverty when their payments get slashed in just two short months time. I know there are government members who have spoken out on this issue, and I urge them to support Labor's amendments. But, whatever happens here today, the fact that the government is pulling support from jobseekers and those on JobKeeper in the middle of a pandemic is utterly unacceptable.

COVID-19 has thrown into stark relief the fault lines in our society. It has shown us what has been working and what we urgently need to improve. We saw the damage done by decades of hollowing out the Public Service, funding cuts and allowing the private sector to free range over key parts of our economy. When the Morrison government started out in its response to the pandemic with a seemingly sensible and humane approach, Australians were shocked but cautiously optimistic. Wage subsidies bolstering public service and increases to JobSeeker all seemed to demonstrate that the government had finally understood the principles of inclusive growth—that, if our economy is going to work for any of us, it needs to work for all of us. We dared to dream that the pandemic might also usher in a new period of reflection and self-improvement, where the government recognised that some of the fundamental principles that underpin its approach have not been working. But I fear that the Liberals' foray into compassion and economic understanding seemed to be a temporary affliction, because their spots are coming back one by one.

Indeed, what we are seeing right now is that, rather than demonstrating that they've learnt the lessons of COVID-19, the government is instead using the pandemic as a cover to double down on the very problems that we had in the first place. I am very worried that these cuts to income support herald a return to the failed philosophies of neoliberalism; of slashing wages and conditions; of cutting funding and reducing services; of handing over fundamental functions to the private sector and trusting the market to simply look after itself; of removing protections of citizens against the unethical actions of private companies; and, of course, of taking from those who can't afford it and giving to those who don't need it. It's little wonder that the Treasurer included Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan as his sources of inspiration. This government needs to be very, very cautious before going any further down this path.

As I mentioned, the Morrison government demonstrated early on that they are capable of acting with compassion and ensuring that vulnerable Australians have the support they need during this crisis. It's time for government members to do this again, to support Labor's amendments today. You know it's the right thing to do. You know it is a tried and tested pathway to recovery from a devastating pandemic and a shocking hit to our nation's economy. It is unthinkable to those 1.6 million Australians that the government has managed to rack up more than $1 trillion worth of debt, and is on a trajectory to clock up $1.7 trillion of debt, yet cannot find it in its heart to help those whom it will push back into extreme poverty if it carries out its intention to slash these payments in just two short months time. That's what happens. There are many vulnerable Australians already dealing with entrenched barriers in our society, but forcing a shocking financial hit at a time when people are at their most vulnerable would be unforgivable.

I don't think any Australian who is listening to this debate today and has been following the debate closely throughout this pandemic would feel, in any good conscience, that they would want to stand alongside this government as it announces its intention to strip a basic fundamental living allowance from our most vulnerable Australians during a pandemic. It is tough enough at any time, but during this pandemic it is totally unforgivable. I don't believe the government can do that. I remain forever optimistic that the government will see a way to ensure that there is a permanent increase to JobSeeker, that it becomes a liveable allowance for Australians and that Australians in receipt of JobSeeker will be able to live with dignity and have enough money to actually look for work. That is the outcome we seek to achieve in a nation like Australia. (Time expired)

6:37 pm

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in favour of the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Coronavirus and Other Measures) Bill 2020 and also the amendments moved by the member for Barton. I was happy to second the amendment earlier today, and reserved my right to speak until this moment. I cannot believe that we are standing here talking about changes to the Social Security Act, many of which are overdue, yet do not have a proposal from the government to increase or maintain the most significant payment, the coronavirus supplement. We are seven weeks away from thousands of Australians on JobSeeker and youth allowance being forced to go back to the old Newstart rate or the old youth allowance rate. We will see thousands of Australians forced back into poverty if this government doesn't act soon. That is why Labor has put forward this amendment calling on the government to at least keep the current COVID supplement rate, that extra $250 a fortnight, going until March. Line it up with JobKeeper. We believe there needs to be a permanent increase in the base rate in an ongoing way. The pandemic has proven that the old rate was just unliveable, and the newer rates have really changed people's lives. We've heard stories in our electorates of people who have been able to live with dignity, secure a roof over their heads and look for work—and not simply survive, not be destined to poverty, which is what the old Newstart rate did.

I want to share a couple of examples from my electorate of people who have spoken out about how their lives have changed and how petrified they are that this government will do nothing and simply let them fall back to the old rate in seven weeks time. Peter Austin said that, with the increased JobSeeker payment, he was able to buy warm clothes and shoes this winter. He said he was able to go out and buy some food and even put petrol in the car. This is the reality. They're not people who are living on millions. They're not people who are spending it on expensive trips or luxury items like watches. They're spending it on the basics. He said: 'It might not seem like much, but to me it was a lifeline. Every fortnight the old JobSeeker payment would go on bills. I was always trying to find some way to survive. I'd usually have to dip into what little super I had.' He said that he felt like he was being kicked constantly by this government. He had worked hard his whole life and this was not the Australia he grew up in. In that moment when he found himself unemployed at 65, those few years away from retirement, he felt abandoned. He said, 'I'm not living a lavish lifestyle; I'm just getting by.' The supplement that he is receiving is helping him, and yet what this government wants to do, pre Christmas, is kick him back to that old rate.

Melissa Anthony is a single mum in her 30s receiving the single parenting payment and she also qualifies for the supplement. She said the current payment increase allowed her to pay a little bit extra into her utility bills and her mortgage so she could have a small financial buffer, because she just doesn't trust this government and what will happen in the future. She also acknowledges that the job market has been severely impacted by COVID-19 and, no matter her previous experience or her previous roles, she doesn't know whether she'll actually gain a job, because of the competition. Melissa says that the base rate of JobKeeper must permanently be raised and supports what Labor is doing. She said that the misnomer out there that this will entice people not to work is simply a furphy, that having a higher rate keeps people out of poverty and allows them to look for work. With the increase, Melissa, who has a six-year-old child, has said she has been able to build a buffer, pay her council rates and actually smile and not stress about money.

Then there's Sharon. Sharon was on the old Newstart rate and spoke bravely to the media about her experience. She, unfortunately, is becoming the new face of who is on JobSeeker. She is in her 60s, unemployed and looking for work and also, prior to the supplement being introduced, was homeless. She said that the higher rate has made a world of difference. She said: 'All of a sudden I went from facing poverty, being homeless and being quite frightened to receiving enough money to keep a roof over my head and to start thinking about other issues, like finding work and addressing health issues. The extra money has given me a sense of normality. It is just enough to get by and I'm worried what will happen if I go back to the old rate. Will I be able to afford my new home?' These are real people and real stories. These are people who are saying, 'Don't push me back to the old rate.'

We are in a situation, because of the COVID-19 recession, where jobs are hard to come by. Sure, there are jobs available in my electorate. I see the job ads pop up on my Facebook feed. A lot of them are in hospitality and are for part-time or casual work. They also call for people with skills and experience in hospitality. It's hard to have experience in hospitality when the sector has been closed. But that's what they're looking for. I raise this because it's hard for Melissa, Sharon and Peter to apply for jobs in a sector where they don't have the experience. In the markets they've come from there simply aren't jobs. This government is not doing enough to help with retraining. There is a real disconnect between the people looking for work and the jobs that may be available.

The other part to this motion that I really hope the government supports is an obligation for the minister to better support pensioners. There was huge disappointment in my electorate when the government announced all pensioners would get is an extra $250 one-off payment. It doesn't increase the base rate. Increasing the base rate helps pensioners keep up with the cost of living helps. Everything is going up. If you take out child care, if you take out luxury items, if you look at the cost of fuel, if you look at the cost of basics, such as energy or food, CPI is going up—yet the pension did not. When people found out that all they got was an extra $250 in my electorate, I was told things like, 'It might help me pay for part of the summer energy bill,' or, 'It might help a little bit with Christmas, but it's not going towards supporting me to survive going forward.' Many of our age pensioners worked hard and started work in a world where there was no superannuation. They entered the workforce under the belief that they were paying it forward—that they paid their fair share of taxes, and, when they retired, there'd be a decent pension to live on.

I've also been contacted by people on the carers pension, the carers payment and the disability pension, all of whom are saying that costs have increased for them and that they need extra support from this government. They are disappointed. As one person said to me, 'Is this an attempt at a bribe—that I might be happy with this one-off payment?' They get the importance of a regular increase to their base rate. They get how that will make a difference.

I also really support the call for this government to announce a permanent increase to the base rate of JobSeeker. How much more evidence do they need that this rate needs to go up—that we as an economy and as a society cannot afford to have people fall back to the old Newstart rate? If you really want to see us come through this recession, the economic data is in: you increase JobSeeker and you increase these payments, and that money flows through the economy. It will have a better impact on our economic outcome in this country than very big tax cuts at the top end of town.

In relation to the bill that's before us—and we support the bill as it's been put forward—I do want to make a couple of comments. I cannot believe it's taken the government this long to put forward the required changes around paid parental leave. The fact that this bill backdates these changes to March 22, when the pandemic first hit, demonstrates just how slow this government can be when it comes to supporting families. There are babies that are now six months old. It's hard to believe that it's taken them that long. We've had how many sitting days since 2 March? It's not like we haven't been here, yet we're only dealing with these changes now. Because the government have delayed and brought this change in now, it will create complexity and confusion. Some families may have debts and others may be owed money. Tax time is going to be a nightmare for many.

It's disappointing it took so long for the government to extend support for new parents—people who had their babies in the most difficult of times and who've been through the last six months where, in states like my state, there have been no parent groups because of COVID, there has been no Tumble Tots because of COVID and there has been no opportunity for family and friends to get together. They've struggled on their own. When they've needed a government to help them, the government hasn't been there.

I've also got some concerns about the changes to youth allowance. I do support encouraging young people, if they want to do a gap year or to work in agriculture to earn a bit of money, to qualify for youth allowance. But I do have to ask the government whether they have actually put in place the safeguards. We know that the agricultural industry is riddled with exploitation. So, if young people take up this opportunity to work through November to December and take that gap year, the first question is: Will they earn the $15,000? Will they be exploited? Will they be properly paid? Will they be safe? Perhaps more of our young people would have the gap year in Australia if this government did more to clean up the industry and ensured the safety of people. I don't criticise all farmers; many farmers are doing the right thing. But there is an underbelly of exploitation in our agricultural industry. One of the reasons we've become so reliant upon overseas workers—undocumented workers and backpackers—in this industry is because it is riddled with exploitation.

I also can't believe that it's taken the government so long to bring forward the changes around concessions for people demonstrating independence when it comes to youth allowance and Abstudy. Again, this measure is backdated to 25 March 2020. I do welcome the improvements to stillborn baby payments and infant deaths. I couldn't imagine not coming home with Daisy last year—to be one of those parents in that tragic situation of not coming homing with their newborn. I couldn't imagine the heartbreak and the trauma. The least that we can be doing is supporting these payments so that they're not worried about money. It also gives me an opportunity to say that we need to be doing more: more research, more support, more funding for health care in this area for families so that they don't have to go through this heartbreak of losing a baby towards the end of their pregnancy or in the first year of their life. I feel for those families. I know that many in this place have spoken of their own personal grief of personal connection.

These changes before us are needed. Some of them are overdue. Some of them may help in terms of agriculture and helping people claim youth allowance but it's still quite small stuff. The government isn't doing enough of the big, bold reform to really help people, particularly when it comes to our social welfare system. I strongly urge them to back our amendment around JobSeeker. One million job-seekers have been left out. Older workers are not supported by this government in terms of finding real job opportunities. Pensioners missed out with only 250—That's it? That's all they get when you spend a trillion dollars plus in a budget? It's missed opportunity to help the hundreds of thousands of people who are on JobSeeker—but not a jobs plan.

We want the government to do better. They are the government until the next election. The foundations we put down now are what will determine whether this is a long and deep recession or a shorter recession. If we support them through a strong social welfare system they will then support the rest of us. It's not an old saying: you give someone on a low income a dollar and that dollar gets spent in their community. Supporting people on youth allowance and on JobSeeker supports local business. As I said, it's good for our economy, it's good for our community, it's good for these individuals and their families. I strongly urge those opposite to adopt Labor's modest, and I say modest, amendments going forward.

6:52 pm

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

I'm very pleased to support the member for Barton's amendment to the Social Services and other Legislation Amendment (Coronavirus And Other Measures) Bill 2020 and to speak on some of the measures that it contains. I want to start with the positives. The one thing that I'm really pleased to see in this bill is changes to the tests to be eligible for paid parental leave. It is extraordinary, as we've heard here today, that these changes had to be backdated. This is something that should have been in place right from the start. It was always obvious that people's work patterns were going to be interrupted, particularly the work patterns of pregnant women. We have no idea what coronavirus does to pregnancy and newborn babies, and certainly back in March we had even less idea. We've still got so much to learn about it. So it was always going to be an impact for women in that situation.

I was contacted recently by Louise who has been struggling with these issues about trying to meet the eligibility criteria for paid parental leave. Her baby is not due until December. She had a tough start to the year, in fact her father died in March, just as coronavirus was really taking hold. And not long after she found out she was pregnant. That in itself was a joy because it wasn't something that she had expected to happen easily. The advice to her from her GP, the supporting practitioners she had around her and the school that she taught at was that she should err on the side of caution so she did. But when it came to filling in the form that asked why she was off early, in terms of eligibility for paid parental leave, there wasn't even a box to tick to say, 'Well, that would be because of COVID.' The system hadn't even caught up with the fact that there was a problem.

She has been really distressed because she is only about 35 days short of the number of days she has to have worked to be eligible for paid parental leave, but missing out by 35 days means she misses out on the whole amount, and that means being up to $15,000 worse off. It's not something that she was looking forward to having to cope with. Right now, as a pregnant person who's not working—and she's not eligible for JobSeeker—the family income is already taking a hit. But with this legislation she is very hopeful, even confident, that she will be able to access paid parental leave. So I really welcome this amendment, because there are many Louises who, since March, have been wondering: 'What's it going to be like? How long am I going to have to survive on my partner's income?'

The other positive thing I see in this legislation is around youth allowance. Again, this has to be backdated, because the government has belatedly realised that, oh yes, there was a problem there. I know things had to happen fast, but there were certain obvious place to look, and supporting people who are the most vulnerable through our social security system ought to have been a key priority for the government. The changes to youth allowance will obviously support young people. For those who want to do working holidays and gap years, I hope that this facilitates those sorts of arrangements and allows them to meet the independence criteria more easily.

The key part of this legislation relates to people who are unemployed. I think that everyone in this place has recognised, whether they've admitted it or not, that $40 a day is not enough to survive on, let alone thrive. It's certainly not enough to be actively jobseeking and preparing yourself for the workforce. Yet we're here talking about a reduction to a benefit that has, as we've heard, transformed people's lives. It has allowed them to get on top of debt and plan in advance for certain events and certain bills. I've heard such stories in my own electorate. Yet we've got a minister and a Prime Minister who are refusing to give any certainty to this same group of people, saying: 'We'll tell you later; we'll tell you in December. We're just working on it.'

What we've had this week is the minister not being able to rule in or out future permanent rises but then stressing that what she was looking at was temporary assistance, temporary measures, temporary conditions and temporary supports. That's not going to do anything for the mental health of people on unemployment benefits. It's not going to do anything to give them confidence for the future. It's not going to do anything to allow them to plan, to maybe think about how to take the next step. I'm really struggling with the idea that the government has asked us to support something that is very temporary, rather than focus on the impact on the individuals. I think we all recognise the difference it makes to someone's hip pocket.

I want to look at the difference it makes for our economy, because that's the other major consequence of the government not getting this right. We learnt just today that the number of people on unemployment payments will surge to 1.8 million by December, 300,000 more than the previous projections. That's from the Department of Social Services in Senate estimates today. We've also had it confirmed that the number of people who will find themselves on unemployment payments will be higher in 2024 than it was before the recession. The projections are 1.3 million in 2021-22, one million in 2022-23 and then 900,000 in 2023-24.

To put that into context, there were 813,000 people relying on unemployment benefits in December 2019. This obviously shows us the jobs crisis is going to get worse, yet has been there no plan for jobs from this government. For the people who rely on benefits, for every person who doesn't have enough to live on, social security benefits flow through to our local economies. They flow through to my local businesses—the hairdressers, the coffee shops, the supermarket, the petrol station. Every single business in my community relies on there being a flow-through of funds, and we all know that people who are on social security benefits flow all that money through into the economy. So it is a very short-sighted move to say, 'Let's squeeze these individuals.' Even setting aside the impact it has on them individually—on their health, their families, their mental health—think about what the consequences are for our economy. I'm conscious that there is a perception that businesses are struggling to employ people. There's no doubt that it is a patchy recession and there are uneven consequences. But that's not a good enough reason to make everybody suffer, which is what concern about not having ongoing permanent support does. If JobKeeper can be sustained till March, why can't JobSeeker be sustained at least until then? Why can't we see levels commensurate with what we're putting into other things? This inconsistency is very hard to fathom.

I drew interesting conclusions from the latest Deloitte Business outlook, which talks about 2021 looking more like a usual recession rather than the sort of recession that we're seeing. We may or may not still be in a recession technically, but we all know the consequences of a recession: it gets cleaned up on paper a long time before it gets sorted through in the community. The report talks about families and businesses facing a cash crunch between now and the end of March 2021 as JobKeeper and JobSeeker are dialled back, so it reinforces the idea that while the recession arrived fast it's going to leave us slowly. Measures that pull back support too fast are absolutely going to mean there will be a cash crunch.

As I said, it is going to be different in different areas. I look at the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury, in my electorate of Macquarie. My wonderful manufacturers of teardrop caravans, Frank and Olga, are doing really well. They are in one of those businesses that are really thriving in this environment. They're in South Windsor. Frank took a punt. He built seven of his teardrop caravans not knowing whether or not it was a good decision. It has proved to be a fabulous thing to do. They're being bought sight unseen online. But that isn't the case for every business. People aren't necessarily in businesses that have been able to thrive in this very peculiar and difficult set of circumstances.

Deloitte concludes that right now we need continuing government support. The government need to be going hard and going smart. That is what Australia needs right now. My concern is that this is not smart. It will be devastating for many individuals and their families, but it may also be devastating for our economy. What's absolutely appalling is that the Prime Minister has no plan to get even close to full employment—not even a hope of it, let alone a plan for it. They are the considerations I would urge the government to have.

The last point I want to make is about pensioners, because they are also covered in this bill. The pension freeze was a shock for pensioners. The rise wasn't going to be very much but it was factored into their expectations—a permanent small bit regularly to help them manage the additional costs they face. There is no doubt that COVID has cost people more money, not just pensioners but also people with disabilities, carers—there's a whole group of people who simply have had to hand over more money—yet what they're going to see is two lots of $250. That isn't sufficient, and I'd really ask the government to consider more compassion for people who really have no choice but to accept what they're given.

So these are some of the limitations of this bill. As I say, I wanted to start with the positives, but there are so many more things that could have been achieved by a piece of legislation such as this, and I only wish the government was able to put itself in other people's shoes and think about what would not only work not for those individuals but then flow through and support local economies like mine in the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury.

7:05 pm

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We'll be supporting the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Coronavirus and Other Measures) Bill 2020 but also speaking in support of the amendment that the member for Banks has put up. I think there was a missed opportunity by the government to permanently increase the JobSeeker payments. We know there are over 160,000 Australians expected to lose their jobs and 1.6 million Australians on JobSeeker, so we really feel the government has missed a huge opportunity to deliver a permanent increase to JobSeeker in this budget and deliver some certainty for Australians that are doing it tough.

With more jobseekers than each job vacancy—and you can see that, for every position that's advertised in the papers, on the net or wherever, there are hundreds that are vying for that position. There are simply not enough jobs to go around for everyone who needs one. That is the simple fact. It's even more difficult to find a job in the regions and outer suburbs. I suspect a lot of this also has to do with the issue of delivering a good, proper jobs program for our regions and our areas where there is high unemployment. In my electorate, the unemployment rate in the northern suburbs is way above the average rate, with youth unemployment close to 15 per cent, and for those people the prospect of actually finding any work is pretty low. To be cutting the JobSeeker payments at this time will do more damage to those people than anything that is being proposed in this bill. We know that Australians are doing it tough. It's an anxious, uncertain time that people are facing, especially those people on JobKeeper or who are unemployed.

People on social security will have less to spend on local and small businesses. Local and small businesses will have less to spend on wages and jobs. The reality is that, if we want our businesses to grow so they can employ people, we need to put money in people's pockets so they can actually spend it in the economy to be able to stimulate that economy. I've made this point on a number of occasions. If you give someone on JobSeeker a small increase or payment, that will go straight back into the economy because, with those extra few dollars that they will get, they will go out and buy the pair of shoes they've been putting off for six months because they can't afford them. They will go off and buy the shirt that they needed because their old shirt was getting so old but, because the payments were so low, they couldn't afford to buy another shirt. That money goes straight into the economy. That's why I think stopping the extra increase in JobSeeker in December is a big mistake by this government.

I'd like to know how many jobs will be lost when JobSeeker is cut in December. We've sought this information from the government. We've asked numerous questions, but the government either doesn't want to tell the opposition or doesn't know. One million jobseekers will be left out—especially older workers. The budget has left Australians on JobSeeker at an average age of 35 or over—almost one million Australians—out of the budget and ineligible for its wage-hire subsidy. Older Australians represent one of the largest cohorts of jobseekers. If you look at all the statistics on people over the age of 45 or 50 who have lost their jobs, the prospect of getting another job is very low. When GMH shut three years ago, most of the people who lost their jobs relocated to other jobs or upskilled, but the majority of workers aged 50-plus are still unemployed. It's difficult to find work because of structural barriers and the age discrimination that takes place.

The other area of concern is pensioners. The government were caught out by Labor on the pension freeze for 2.5 million pensioners, and that's the only reason they have acted on it. Pensioners were meant to get the indexation, and it was the first time in years that it wasn't passed down to them. Now the government is passing on some sort of increase, but the reality is that they missed out on that indexation. We argued against the government's pension freeze and raised it in here, and the Leader of the Opposition raised it. The reality is that pensioners plan for their twice-yearly indexation, which occurs on 20 March and 20 September. So the government were first caught out on the pension freeze in August, the freeze took effect in September, and they made pensioners wait for the October budget before announcing any kind of relief.

This government have a long track record of cutting or attempting to cut the pension. They still haven't adjusted deeming rates. This is a big issue. Many pensioners contact me about issues they have with deeming rates. Deeming rates remain significantly higher than interest rates. Deeming rates are used to look at how much pensioners earn from their secured financial assets—typically, in most cases, savings—and this is used for the purposes of determining eligibility under the income test for pensioners. The upper deeming rate is 2.25 per cent, and the lower deeming rate is 0.25. With the cash rate at nearly zero per cent, it's difficult to see how pensioners can reasonably earn 2.25 per cent on their savings. So, on the one hand, they didn't get their indexation. On the other hand, they're punished by being short-changed by the unreasonable and unrealistic pension deeming rate.

Pensioners also won't forget this government's record on cutting the pension. The government are obsessed with cutting the pension, attempting to cut it in every single budget every year. In 2014, they tried to cut the pension indexation, a cut that would have meant that pensioners would have been forced to live on $80 a week less within 10 years. In 2014 they cut a billion dollars from pensioner concessions that were designed to help pensioners with the cost of living. Also in 2014, they axed the $900 seniors supplement for self-funded retirees receiving the Commonwealth seniors health card. Again in 2014 they tried to reset the deeming rate thresholds, a cut that would have seen half a million part-pensioners made worse off. In 2015 they did a deal with the Green to cut the pension to around 370,000 pensioners by as much as $12,000 a year by changing the pension asset tests. The assets test threshold has usually gone up over the years. This time they cut it and they dropped it, taking thousands of pensioners by surprise, as they had done their budgets for every year, with many losing as much as $12,000 a year through that particular change. In 2016, the government tried to cut the pension to around 190,000 pensioners as part of a plan to limit overseas travel for pensioners to six weeks. In 2016 the government tried to cut the pension for over 1.5 million Australians by scrapping the energy supplement for new pensioners. The government's own figures show this would have left over 563 Australians who are currently receiving a pension payment or allowance worse off. Over 10 years, in excess of 1.5 million pensioners would have been worse off. They spent five years trying to increase the pension age to 70. Pensioners have paid their taxes and have contributed their entire lives, and they deserve our respect in this place. As I said, pensioners deserve better than that.

This bill is adjusting how someone qualifies for paid parental leave. To be eligible a person has to satisfy the work test. The existing work test requires a person to have worked 10 of the 13 months prior to the birth or adoption of a child and at least 330 hours in that 10-month period. The concern during the pandemic was that families would miss out on the paid parental leave payment because of job losses and of having their hours or days of work reduced, which would have made them ineligible, leaving a lot of people up to $15,000 worse off.

Labor, on this side of the House, called for the government to temporarily suspend the work test as early as April this year so that families would not miss out. Then in June we moved amendments in the Senate for the work test to be suspended, but this government voted it down. Families need certainty, just like pensioners need certainty when they're doing their budgets. People who are unemployed need to be able to afford to actually look for work. Families need certainty about their access to paid parental leave during what is one of the most challenging times in the history of our nation. It's disappointing that it's taken the government this long to make this adjustment. It's been an excruciating wait for so many families.

This bill will also temporarily amend the circumstances in which a person may be regarded as independent for youth allowance. In May, once again, the opposition, Labor, called on the government to provide case by case exemptions to the youth allowance and parental income test. We were concerned that tertiary students would miss out on the youth allowance and would be unable to afford to continue their studies. These aren't ordinary times and we don't want to see students discontinuing tertiary studies because they cannot afford them. It's disappointing that the government's taken this long to take on this issue as well. It has been, again, a long and anxious period for our students.

This is the worst time for the government to be cutting support for people who have lost their jobs or are unemployed. Unemployment is still going up and predictions are astronomical between now and Christmas. It's time the government does the right thing and increases the base rate of the JobSeeker payment—in other words, the amount that they were on before coronavirus and are about to go back on. It's about $40 a day, which means that they cannot afford to look for work. Just while I was sitting there I thought I would look up the bus fares in South Australia. It can be anything up to $5 for a bus fare. When there is a requirement upon you to have a certain amount of interviews per week and per month, which can work out to about 10, that's $50. If you're going to ten appointments a week and you need to catch a bus, that's $50. On top of that you'd need a mobile phone to be able to get your text messages, if you're being asked to go to an interview, and to be able to get emails. Just to buy a phone it will cost you around $1,000. One of the most minimum cards you can get is around $30 a month, which gives you limited access to internet and email. What we're doing is basically making it harder for people to look for work, even though there is a requirement on them to look for work. This is not a time to be doing that. This is a time when we should be offering all our support and help and be thinking and planning job creation.

Job creation is about creating work so that these people can actually work. There's no better welfare than actually having a job—we all know that—but we need to be able to stimulate the economy and create work. At this point, from what I have seen, there's no job plan. There is nothing that is stimulating the economy. If you look back to the economic crisis that we had in 2009, the Labor government then actually injected money into the economy. Whether it was one-off payments or school halls, it got people working. It ensured that we were the envy of the world when it came to the economic crisis. And we kept the economy going. In this case, all we are seeing is subsidies for big business. A lot of that money won't get spent. As I said, if you give a millionaire $100 it will sit in their bank account. If you give $100 to an unemployed person it will go straight back into the economy. It will be spent on vital things that they need for everyday life. If you give $100 to a family on a very low income they'll use that money immediately for things they've been putting off for weeks and months on end because they can't afford to buy them.

7:20 pm

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to be able to follow my South Australian colleague the member for Adelaide in this debate. I also note that my other South Australian colleague, the member for Spence, is here in the chamber. So it seems that the South Australians are holding up the numbers here well and truly tonight.

The Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Coronavirus and Other Measures) Bill 2020 varies or eases the criteria under which certain government payments, including youth allowance, parental leave support and stillborn baby leave support, are made. The changes are likely to be temporary and are in response to the abnormal situation presented by COVID-19 across this country. The legislation also provides for two payments of $250 to a range of government payment recipients, similar to the two payments of $750 made earlier in the year. The changes are welcome but they simply don't go far enough. Too many Australians struggling because of COVID-19, through no fault of their own, are again left behind by this legislation—as have so many Australians been left behind by the Morrison government's previously announced COVID-19 support measures and, more recently, left out of the Morrison government's budget.

COVID-19 has hit Australia hard, despite the claim that Australia has done much better than most other countries, and there is very likely much more pain and hardship to come. Regrettably the Morrison government support measures don't provide those in need with long-term security or certainty about their future. This government has always sought to cut support payments, with its mantra being that the best form of welfare is a job. Whilst there may be some optimism about a COVID-19 recovery and some jobs growth, the reality is that, for the one million or so unemployed Australians and the nearly two million underemployed Australians, some of whom have never previously been unemployed, job prospects over the months ahead still remain grim. Australians who have never before struggled have, for the first time in their lives, had at times to rely on community support to get by.

The Foodbank Hunger Report 2020, which relies on a survey carried out between June and July of this year, which was effectively in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis, exposes the extent of the struggles within communities across Australia. Foodbank last year provided some 210,000 meals a day to people in need, predominantly through some 2,400 charities across Australia. Foodbank also supplies 2,500 school breakfast programs nationally. So it's an organisation that understands need across this country very well. I want to refer to some of their findings in that report. In 2019, 15 per cent of Australians experiencing food insecurity were seeking food relief once a week. In 2020, that figure had doubled to 31 per cent. Almost three in 10 Australians experiencing food insecurity in 2020 had never experienced it before COVID-19 hit this country. It says two newly food insecure groups have emerged as a result of COVID-19: the casual workforce of this country and international students—again, two sectors that previously were not regular clients of Foodbank and not people that were in need. And two in five people who experience food insecurity still do not seek any form of help whatsoever.

Of the people who need government assistance, only 38 per cent suggested that JobKeeper and JobSeeker had helped their situation, and 62 per cent said that they were still not receiving all the help that they needed. The survey also says:

Almost 35% don't know how they will cope or expect they will not cope well at all when this additional support is no longer available.

Those findings, I believe, speak for many, many other Australians who perhaps did not participate in the survey and who do not seek out community support, even though they might need it as much as anybody else.

In particular, what that report found was that it was young people who were bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic across this country, and, again, that's because it is young people who are most likely to be the casual workers of this country, working part time or working in temporary jobs. Again it is young people who appear to be getting left behind at a time that they probably need the greatest amount of support.

We currently have around 1.6 million people on JobSeeker across this country. The government's own figures project that perhaps another 160,000 will join the unemployment queues by Christmas. For them, the end of the $250 supplement at the end of the year will be a huge blow. Unless this government decides to continue some kind of additional support, they will be left on about $40 a day. It is simply inadequate. It has been inadequate for years. It is particularly inadequate when the people receiving Newstart, who were previously taxpayers with families, have children to support, partners to support, mortgages to pay and the like. And they are in this situation essentially because of circumstances that are beyond their control.

Even worse, for almost one million of them, getting a job has now been made even more difficult by this government, because they are over 35 years of age; as such, they will be competing for jobs against people under 35, whose employers will receive a supplement from the government to assist them to employ them. So they will effectively be competing on an unlevel playing field for whatever jobs are available. As I said earlier, for many of them, the jobs that might have been available to them in the past that they are competent for and skilled to do may not be available for some time to come. I can only imagine the uncertainty that they face, having to support their families and the like as they head towards Christmas. It is something that I believe will add to what has already become a major problem for this country, and that is the mental stress and mental strain on people as a result of the situation that they now find themselves in.

So I say to the government it is time that the Newstart payment was increased and increased permanently. It makes sense to do so. Businesses have been calling out for that to happen. It is good for the economy, and, quite frankly, it is good for the government, because, if the economy is stronger, then ultimately the government's ability to balance its budget is stronger. One of the very reasons why the government, quite rightly, brought in all of these stimulus measures in respect of the COVID-19 pandemic was to keep the economy strong while supporting families, and it has been proven to do exactly that. So, if the government do it in a time of need, then there is no reason why they can't continue to do it even after the so-called need period has ended. I urge the government to consider a permanent increase to the Newstart payment.

Debate interrupted.

Debate interrupted.