House debates

Wednesday, 2 December 2020


Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020; Second Reading

4:17 pm

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

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

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

I rise to speak on the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020, and also—and I want to stress this—to support the amendments that will be moved by the member for Barton. The purpose of the amendments is to get the government not to cut the coronavirus supplement at this important time just as we are coming up to Christmas—when families are doing it tough and when many have lost their jobs and have no prospect of earning or of securing a job in the very near future—and at a time when the OECD today, in its economic outlook, warned the Morrison government that cuts to vital support in the economy will hamper Australia's recovery from the worst downturn that we've seen in a century.

We're hearing the speeches from the other side in this place and seeing them pat each other on the back. It's no way to go when they're withdrawing supplements for people who are going to be in dire straits, given that we are looking at thousands of job losses between now and Christmas and going into the new year. Instead of patting themselves on the back they should be hanging their heads in shame, because we are hurting the most vulnerable people. We now have an opportunity to increase that base rate for those people who don't have jobs, and we're missing the opportunity because of ideological politics from the government at this moment. Those people have been suffering, and will continue to suffer, for a long time. I would like to ask anyone in this place if they could live on $40 a day. You're obligated by Centrelink to look for work, go to interviews and apply for jobs. If you're doing that five times a day, think of the average transport costs and the average mobile costs to receive text messages and send emails. In fact, the $40 a day is hampering people getting jobs, because they cannot afford to take the transport and put food on the table. They don't have the economic ability to look for work.

With this bill this government should have ensured that the base rate was increased. The member for Barton and everyone on this side have been calling for that. This was a missed opportunity. That's why Labor moved the amendment calling on the government to permanently increase the base rate of the JobSeeker payment. There are beneficial elements of the bill, notwithstanding the JobSeeker payment. We need to ensure that those people have a decent living like everyone else and they can put food on the table, pay their transport costs and pay their rent or mortgage and whatever else there is.

The government love talking about the support they have put in place. The reality is that, with the biggest economic downturn we've ever faced, they really haven't done much. Yes, they've plugged a few holes here and there, but we should go back and look at the worst economic downturn when we were in government—the global financial crisis. We immediately put money where it was needed—in infrastructure, projects and a whole range of things. Most importantly, we gave the most vulnerable people payments so that that money could turn the economy around. When you give someone on JobSeeker an extra $10, $20, $30, $40, or whatever it may be, that money will go straight into the economy. That money will be spent immediately, because that mum or dad who is unemployed and receiving that payment will need that extra $20 to buy school shoes for their children who will be starting school in January. If you give extra money to a millionaire, it will stay in their bank account.

If you were to think of this logically, this is totally illogical in a period when the economy needs an injection. This is one way we could inject money into the economy. Those people have desperate needs. They have been doing it tough on very minimal payments—$40 a day. Every single cent gets spent on surviving. Anything above that, no matter how little or big, will go straight back into the economy. It's not rocket science. I cannot understand this. With this legislation we've missed an opportunity to increase the base rate; assist those people, which is the humane thing to do; and help the economy.

We should not cut the coronavirus supplement, especially now at Christmas. This government should have delivered a permanent increase to the base rate of the JobSeeker payment. Everyone would have benefited from that—the people who need it the most, our retailers and a whole range of other people.

At the start of the pandemic the government introduced the coronavirus supplement of $550 a fortnight. It was an additional payment for those receiving unemployment support as well as for single parents and students. We supported this additional payment, which was urgently needed, not just because of the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic but because the unemployment payment is so low. Everyone—from church groups to volunteer groups who assist people who are doing it tough—continually comes to see me in my electorate office and tell me that we must increase it. How can people live on those payments?

The OECD figures that came out have confirmed the expectation that unemployment will remain above prepandemic levels until at least 2022. That's what we know of, but it could go on longer. We have the government come in here patting themselves on the back and saying how great they are, but we know it's only going to get worse and be worse for those people. They are going to feel the hardship and pain of knowing that they have no prospect of receiving a job. All you have to do is look at my own home state where people have lost their jobs. Some of the people I talk to are in their late 40s, early 50s or up to 60. They have absolutely no prospect of finding work in these economic times. We should be thinking about those people and ensuring that we assist them, and the way to do it is by increasing that base rate.

Approximately 160,000 Australians are expected to lose their jobs by the end of the year. We know that 1.8 million Australians are expected to be relying on unemployment support by Christmas. We've missed the opportunity to deliver certainty for Australians doing it tough by delivering that permanent increase. We know there are seven applicants for each job vacancy. There are simply not enough jobs. I would personally pat the government on the back if it was creating jobs for these people, but it's not. The statistics are black and white. It tells you that for every position vacant there are seven people—let alone if your skills aren't right up to date, up to scratch, let alone if you've been working, for example, in manufacturing most of your life and you're a bloke or woman in your 40s or 50s, let alone if you work in a cafe and that's been shut down because of coronavirus or in the services industry that's really doing it tough. I speak to restaurateurs regularly. Many of them are not eligible for JobKeeper, so many of their staff have gone onto JobSeeker. Those people have no prospect of employment.

I've got to tell government members: get out there and talk to some of these workplaces. They'll tell you exactly what's going on. Unfortunately, what we see in this place is a government that is patting itself on the back, continuously spruiking something that is not happening. What is happening is that unemployment will not go down. The OECD figures show that this will go into 2022 and could even get worse, and we don't know what's going to happen after 2022. We know that they want to reduce the rate, which will make it tougher for those people, and they're not taking the opportunity to inject some extra money into the economy by increasing that base rate. If you give someone who's trying to survive on $40 a day an extra $10, $20, $30 or whatever it may be, that money goes straight back into the economy.

I am very saddened by this move, by the government, because they always seem to want to attack the vulnerable, the ones who are doing it tough, the ones who, for whatever reason, have fallen through the net or the ones who weren't privileged or the ones who, for no matter what reason, are doing it so tough. They're the ones we should be thinking of. They're the people we should be looking after, and they're the people we have a duty to look after, because you as a government and we as an opposition haven't been able to provide the positions and the jobs for those people to work. We haven't been able to provide the climate to ensure that people can get jobs and work. I'm sure that if you speak to any unemployed person and give them the option of earning the base wage per week or being on $40 a day, I know what that answer will be. It'll be: 'We want to work.'

As a government, instead of patting yourselves on the back, create some jobs, put some money into the economy and increase the base rate—and then we'll all pat you on the back. I support the amendments by the member for Barton. Really, it's a sad day if this bill gets through the way it is.

4:28 pm

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

The Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 introduces a new, diminished and time-limited instrument-making power, allowing the government to respond flexibly to any changes in circumstances that might arise as a result of COVID-19 in the first quarter of next year while parliament may not be sitting. The temporary power will be available until 31 March 2021 and until 16 April 2021 for the nil-rate period. The current powers in social security law that enable the minister to set the rate and duration of the coronavirus supplement and the related exemptions from the waiting and preclusion periods will remain in place until 31 March 2021.

Together these powers will enable the minister to determine the rate of coronavirus supplement and the cohorts it is paid to; the personal income test for recipients of JobSeeker payment, excluding single principal carer recipients, and youth allowance (other); the partner income test for JobSeeker payment recipients only; eligibility criteria for JobSeeker payment and youth allowance (other); the waiver of certain waiting periods; the waiver of the 104-week qualifying residence period for parenting payment; the period in which income support recipients can maintain eligibility for payment and retain their concession card while receiving a nil rate of payment due to employment income; the period self-declarations could continue to be used for a member of a couple assessments with a modified test for JobSeeker payment; pension portability arrangements; and extensions to mobility allowance two- and 12-week grace periods.

The bill also introduces a new discretionary power under the social security and veterans' entitlements assets tests to extend the principal home temporary absence provisions. This will prevent the inclusion of the principal home in the assets test while a person is unable to return to Australia within the allowable absence period due to circumstances beyond their control.

The bill permanently repeals the temporary exemptions from the liquid assets test waiting period and assets tests which were in place in the early stages of the government's economic response but are now no longer needed.

Finally, the bill clarifies that after 28 March 2021 Services Australia and the Department of Social Services will be able to continue to use information captured by the Australian Taxation Office in relation to the JobKeeper measure for planning, policy development and compliance purposes.

The legislative framework in this bill will allow the government to extend temporary measures in the income support system to provide additional support to Australians impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The instrument-making power will deliver the policies at a cost of $3.2 billion to 2024-25. I commend this bill.

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

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