Senate debates

Wednesday, 8 April 2020


Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Bill 2020, Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus (Measures No. 2) Bill 2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 5) 2019-2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 6) 2019-2020; Second Reading

5:12 pm

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—





Today I introduce the Government's third tranche of measures responding to the economic impacts of the Coronavirus. As with the previous package of measures, this legislation adheres to the principles announced by the Prime Minister. They are targeted, temporary, scalable, and utilise our existing tax and transfer system.

This package includes the $130 billion JobKeeper payment, which will support significantly affected businesses, not-for-profits and sole traders to help keep Australians in jobs. This historic wage subsidy will be available to around 6 million workers who will receive a flat payment of $1,500 per fortnight through their employer before tax, or approximately 70 per cent of the national median wage. This will help ensure the connections between employers and employees is maintained even through a period of hibernation.

These Bills also make amendments to existing laws to give the Government flexibility to respond quickly to challenges posed by the Coronavirus outbreak and to extend existing support to those Australians who are most in need.

Combined with the Government's previous actions, this totals $320 billion of economic support to Australian businesses, households and individuals affected by the Coronavirus outbreak to get them through to the other side and to put Australia in the best position possible to bounce back.

Fair Work Act amendments

This schedule will allow for the effective operation of the jobkeeper scheme within the national industrial relations system. It will quickly provide the certainty that employers using the jobkeeper payment need. By temporarily varying working arrangements where necessary, we can keep people employed. At the same time it will offer employees strong protections from employers misusing the provisions and certainty as to their entitlements under the jobkeeper scheme. These measures are time-limited to the COVID-19 crisis and are only accessible to businesses participating in the jobkeeper scheme, whose that really need this flexibility right now.

In order to manage a downturn in business caused by COVID-19, this schedule allows an employer to stand down an employee by directing them to work fewer days or reduced hours if the employee cannot be usefully employed because of the impact of the COVIDD-19 crisis on the business. It also allows an employer, where the employer reasonably believes it is necessary to maintain the employment of their employee, to direct an employee to work from a different location, such as the employee's home, or undertake different duties than usual, but only where the direction is safe to do so and reasonably within the scope of the businesses' operations. It further allows an employer to stand down an employee by directing them to work fewer days or reduced hours if the employee cannot be usefully employed because of the impact of the COVIDD-19 crisis on the business. An employer will also be able to request that an employee agree to change their days or time of work or use some of their annual leave, provided it does not result in the employee having a balance of less than two weeks annual leave.

This schedule includes strong protections for employees to ensure they are treated fairly in any direction by an employer. The schedule applies only to employers and employees who are eligible for the jobkeeper payment. Any direction issued by an employer under this schedule must be reasonable, the employer must consult with the employee about it, and it must be put it in writing. An employee can dispute a direction made by an employer and; the Fair Work Commission will be able to settle any such disputes, including by arbitration and serious penalties will apply to employers who misuse the provisions.

The JobKeeper Payment

The Government will provide financial support to businesses, not-for-profits and sole traders affected by the Coronavirus outbreak.

Under this framework, the Government intends to deliver a wage subsidy to those employers significantly impacted by the Coronavirus outbreak to continue paying their employees. The JobKeeper Payment will support employers to maintain their connection to their employees, helping them to reactivate their operations quickly – without having to rehire staff – when the crisis is over.

Eligibility for the JobKeeper Payment will be set out in rules made by the Treasurer. The JobKeeper Payment will be payable to an eligible employer who chooses to participate in the scheme, for a maximum of 26 weeks in respect of each employee that is on their books on 1 March 2020 and is retained or continues to be engaged by that employer. The program commenced on 30 March 2020, the day of its announcement. Eligible businesses can begin distributing the JobKeeper payment immediately and will be reimbursed from the first week of May.

This schedule will also help new parents who have been stood down during the Coronavirus pandemic to retain their eligibility for the Government's Paid Parental Leave scheme by allowing the JobKeeper payment to qualify as work for the purposes of the Paid Parental Leave work test.

This change will provide increased certainty and security for expectant families through this difficult time.

To assist Services Australia to assess claims for social security payments, the Bill allows temporary modifications to Part 5 of the Social Security (Administration)

Act 1999 to enable the ATO to share information with Services Australia in relation to payments, such as the Jobkeeper payment, made as part of the Coronavirus Economic Response Package.

Technical amendments to the Guarantee of Lending Act

We are making a minor amendment to the Guarantee of Lending to Small and Medium Enterprises (Coronavirus Economic Response Package) Act 2020.

The amendment will ensure that smaller lenders that are non-authorised deposit-taking institutions are eligible for the Government's Coronavirus Small and Medium Enterprises Guarantee Scheme. This reflects the Government's original policy intent to enable a wide range of lenders to be eligible for this scheme.

Amendments to support the child care sector

The Government will assist families who are already struggling with the financial impact of the Coronavirus by updating the calculation method used at Child Care Subsidy Balancing for individuals who have changed their relationship status during the financial year.

We will ensure that this cohort of families' Child Care Subsidy entitlements more closely reflects their income capacity as it changes throughout the year. This change will take effect at reconciliation from July 2020 onwards.

This measure will ensure funding of the Community Child Care Fund Special Circumstances Grant program and the Additional Child Care Subsidy through special appropriations. It gives the Government flexibility to respond quickly to community need in the event of unforeseen events such as the recent bushfires, drought and Coronavirus.

Modification of information and other requirements

The Government is responding to challenges posed by social distancing measures and restrictions on movement and gathering which were introduced to respond to the Coronavirus pandemic.

We will provide a temporary mechanism to alter arrangements for meeting information and documentary requirements under Commonwealth legislation, including requirements to give information in writing and produce, witness and sign documents.

In recognition of the importance of continued business transactions and government service delivery during the Coronavirus pandemic, this schedule provides that a responsible Minister may determine that provisions are varied, do not apply or that another provision specified in the determination applies, for a specified time period. The mechanism is temporary and will be repealed at 31 December 2020. Any determination made under the mechanism will also cease to operate at this time.

Additional support for Veterans

We will ensure that payments and assistance for veterans and their dependents can be amended in line with future changes to payments and assistance for equivalent social security recipients.

The Coronavirus supplement will be extended to veterans or their dependents who receive payments on the same basis as those Department of Social Services payment recipients who receive the Coronavirus supplement.

The schedule will include a provision for the Minister for Veterans' Affairs to make a legislative instrument under which payments of the Coronavirus supplement could be paid to a person receiving a payment or a benefit under the veterans' law for the same period as payments of the Coronavirus supplement are payable under the Social Security Act 1991 (the SSA).

For both of the provisions under which the Minister for Veterans' Affairs may make a legislative instrument, the Minister must be satisfied that the determination was made in response to circumstances relating to the Coronavirus pandemic and the Social Services Minister is to be consulted before the determination is made.

Information Sharing

This legislation will ensure the Government is equipped to respond to this unprecedented challenge with the best available information. Under this schedule, the ATO will temporarily be allowed to disclose relevant de-identified data to the Treasury for the purpose of policy development or analysis in relation to the Coronavirus, including any programs introduced in response to the economic impacts of the Coronavirus.

Treasury currently is able to access de-identified information from the ATO for the purpose of designing or amending a tax law, estimating or analysing taxation revenue, and estimating the cost of policy proposals.

Full details of these measures are contained in the Explanatory Memorandum.

This package of legislation also includes Appropriation Bill (No. 5) 2019-20 and Appropriation Bill (No. 6) 2019-20. The details of these Bills are set out in their accompanying explanatory memoranda.

I commend these bills.


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