House debates

Thursday, 25 February 2021


Pensions and Benefits

11:18 am

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

On ABC Radio Newcastle recently Dr Anthea Bill, the lead economist at the Hunter Research Foundation, was asked what the impacts of the government's imminent cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker would be. Dr Bill responded, 'Well, that's the key question.' That is indeed the key question that the government has to provide an answer on to the 17,000 of my constituents on JobKeeper and the 8,000 on JobSeeker. A quarter of the adults in my electorate are in receipt of one of these payments. I can give the government some examples of the impacts that the shocking and premature removal of support are already having on my home region.

I visited Survivor's R Us—an organisation helping combat domestic violence, which is also a food bank—just before Christmas, and then dropped in the week before last to see how things were going. Unfortunately, things are not going well. Survivor's R Us founder, Ann-Maria Martin, reported to me a 200 per cent increase in demand for food parcels after the government's cuts to JobSeeker and JobKeeper in January. This is on top of the tripling in demand for assistance that they saw in September after the first cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker. That's a whopping 600 per cent increase in demand for food assistance and housing assistance in a mere five months.

Another local food bank, Southlake Marketplace, reached out to me earlier this week with an update on assistance they're providing. On Monday, for example, they provided their free emergency food hampers to a family of eight, a family of six and a family of four. These are people in Australia in 2021 who are struggling, through no fault of their own, to put food on their table. What is the government's response? To make further cuts. I said last year that the government's policy response was premature and that it is not only bad economics but also sick social policy. Every Liberal and National member of this place should be ashamed of supporting an approach that makes it harder for people to get through life. Ann-Maria said, 'I don't think the government realises how tough people are doing it. People are scared. The mums and dads are wondering how they're going to feed their children.' I want to assure Ann-Marie, her wonderful team and all the people who volunteer at the food banks in Shortland that I and my Labor colleagues are very aware of how tough people are doing it and are fighting every day to stop these draconian cuts.

I also want to bring attention to the House of the one million people who have been excluded from JobKeeper. Like many MPs, I'm regularly contacted by many travel agents, whose industry has been decimated and are struggling to survive. Before Christmas, I met with Brett Dann, the head of Hunter Travel Group. Brett warned just last week that, unless there is continuing support for the travel industry, specifically through JobKeeper, between 85 and 90 per cent of the travel agent industry will be decimated. This is an industry that employs 50,000 people around the country. This is a clear message from every travel agent I've met: there needs to be an extension of JobKeeper or some targeted support for the tourism industry. The agents always acknowledge and are always grateful for the wage subsidy and tourism support package from the end of last year, but it is not right to cut these workers off when the industry is nowhere close to recovery. I thank the many travel agents who have contacted and lobbied me and assure them that I've heard their message. I just hope the government does as well.

The Treasurer recently released statistics that suggest that two-thirds of Hunter workers who were receiving JobKeeper in September are no longer receiving it. While I welcome any new and permanent employment increase, this statistic still highlights the fact that at least a third of those people are still on JobKeeper and are relying on it dramatically. This is not a statistic that can be cast aside lightly. These are thousands of people in the Hunter region and in Shortland in particular who, come 31 March when JobKeeper ends, will be forced to go on JobSeeker at a very reduced rate of only $43.57 a day. These are mostly people who have never been without work and for whom relying on a government benefit is completely foreign, and they will be forced on to one of the lowest income support payments in the OECD.

I urge the government to remember that there are still over two million Australians who are out of work or are looking for work. I urge them to be cognisant of the fact that there has been a 600 per cent increase in food assistance in electorates like mine. There is dramatic need to support travel agents. There is a dramatic need to recognise that there are millions of Australians who are still doing it tough, aren't out of the COVID recession, and are struggling to feed their kids, pay their rent or pay their mortgage. They should not be abandoned, yet that is what this government is doing when it cuts JobKeeper and cuts JobSeeker come the end of March.