Senate debates

Thursday, 14 May 2020


COVID-19: Economy

4:38 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | Hansard source

The government has been talking about getting Australia to snap back to a time before coronavirus. They've foreshadowed a return to their old agenda of cutting funding to public services, sitting back as Australians barely survive on the low rate of Newstart and undervaluing the work done by teachers, nurses and other frontline workers in our communities. This pandemic has exposed the government's faults. It's exposed their ideological preoccupations and it's exposed their shortcomings, and it's forced them to address sectors and services that they have been ignoring for years, like social security, early childhood education and manufacturing.

We cannot go back to how it was before. As Mr Albanese in the other place said this week, 'We must move forward to having not just survived the pandemic, but having learned from it,' and with one million Australians unemployed, there is no time to waste.

Before the government introduced JobKeeper it asked Australians to reach into their retirement savings to cope with the loss of income during this crisis, and it's the same advice that's been provided day after day during question time by the finance minister. People should not have to choose between a decent retirement and paying their rent. Superannuation works by putting away small amounts now, small amounts when you're young that grow to large amounts when you retire, and the consequence for a young person taking money out of their super now could be very significant at retirement.

I'm particularly concerned about the impact on women. Women already receive significantly less than men in their retirement, they retire with significantly smaller balances than men, and the government is now inviting them to take as much as $20,000 out of their superannuation to get by. Taking money out of your retirement if your balance right now is only $40,000 could have a very, very significant impact on meagre earnings that have been put away.

Australians working in the hospitality and arts sectors have accessed their super more than any other workers during the COVID-19 crisis, and it's no surprise because these are the sectors who are most likely to be excluded from JobKeeper because of the narrow terms on which JobKeeper has been reconstructed. Labor has been calling for more support for these sectors so that young people, women and vulnerable workers are not required to rely on their super but instead receive proper government support. The government's policy decision means that thousands of people have relied on their savings to get through difficult times, and the sad truth is that these savings will need to be rebuilt.

This is not a Young Liberal debating contest. This is a $3 trillion system that Australians depend on. In establishing the scheme, the minister should not have embarked on a rapid rollout of a major reform whilst wilfully ignoring warnings from the industry about the risk of fraud, because exactly what the minister was warned about has come to pass. She's on the record as having rebuffed those warnings, telling the industry that there was nothing to worry about, that perfectly adequate protections were in place, but that wasn't right. It wasn't right at all. Those protections were not adequate, and the minister was forced to suspend the scheme that she put in place because of the fraud risks that eventuated exactly as she was warned. I say this: this was a time when the government ought to have cooperated with industry. It ought to have put aside its ideological attacks on super, it's endless determination to undermine this system, and actually—

Senator Hume interjecting—


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