Senate debates

Thursday, 14 May 2020


COVID-19: Economy

5:21 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise tonight to make a contribution to today's general business notice of motion on the JobKeeper and jobseeker payments. Today the Australian Bureau of Statistics released labour force statistics for April. The figures are dire, as I think anybody in this chamber would have seen. The number of unemployed people increased by 104,500. The unemployment rate increased from 5.2 per cent to 6.2 per cent. The underemployment rate increased to a record high of 13.7 per cent. The underutilisation rate, which combines the unemployment and underemployment rates, also rose to a record high of 19.9 per cent. These are scary figures. What does it mean for our future?

But, unfortunately, these figures mask the real damage being done. Jim Stanford, director of the Australia Institute's Centre for Future Work, pointed out the following gaps in the latest statistics. Last month, half a million people—500,000 Australians—left the labour market. This means that they haven't been counted in the figures—hence his concern that in fact we don't have the true picture. Further, there were another 750,000 people who were counted as employed but didn't work a single hour. This is partly because of the way JobKeeper keeps people attached to the labour market even if there's no work. I'm not passing judgement on that—at least people are getting paid—but it does also need to be taken into consideration when we're looking at the overall number of jobs that are available. Finally, in April there was a big drop in the number of hours people are working. Average monthly hours for those still employed fell by seven hours per worker. That's equivalent to around 600,000 positions—hence Jim Stanford's concern that these figures are not telling the full picture. I'd argue this is even further warning that we need to make sure that we keep the jobseeker payment and that the JobKeeper payment is available for workers. Because of these gaps, Jim Stanford estimates that a more meaningful figure for unemployment is around 20 per cent. I'm deeply concerned that the number of unemployed Australians will keep growing, given these figures.

But there are also so many that are missing out on the supports. Senator Stoker went through those supports, as have other contributors to this debate. I've already outlined to this place how much I was pleased to see the jobseeker payment doubled, and the Greens were strongly lobbying for some form of wage subsidy scheme, so of course we're pleased to see JobKeeper, but the fact is that people are missing out, people are being left behind. The jobseeker payment is not available to those on visas. People on disability support pension and carers payment are missing out on the supplement, and in my adjournment contribution I'm going to go into that in much further detail. International students are missing out. Temporary visa holders are missing out on JobKeeper. Casuals who haven't had their job for more than 12 months miss out on JobKeeper, meaning a million workers are missing out on JobKeeper.

We cannot forget those who are being left behind. Younger workers and women are feeling the effects of unemployment the most. I'm deeply concerned about older workers. We knew, before the pandemic hit, that older workers were getting stuck on the old Newstart, now jobseeker, for much longer. I'm deeply concerned about the future for older workers, and I know there are many older workers who are also worried, because I'm hearing from them. I'm hearing from them concerned about their futures. In fact, some are saying, 'Will I ever work again?' We need to make sure that they do work again. We do not want to see older workers going into retirement in poverty. These are some of the hardest-hit cohorts.

I'm deeply concerned that this situation is going to get far worse come September, when the government think they're going to wave a wand and magically everything is going to be okay again. Well, unfortunately it isn't going to snap back, and we need to be planning for that now. We need to be planning for the fact that there are still, unfortunately, going to be people who either can't find work or are underemployed. That's why we need to retain the new jobseeker payment. Today's figures show how critical it is that we do everything we can to support Australians through this crisis and its ongoing effects. There is simply no guarantee that people are going to miraculously get their jobs back at the end of September, because, quite frankly, some of those jobs won't exist at the end of September.

If the government make policy decisions about the rate of jobseeker because of the arbitrary deadlines and some coalition members who are already lobbying for jobseeker and JobKeeper to end, that's based on ideological measures, not reality. It simply is not based on reality. The government knew that you couldn't survive on $40 a day. They quite clearly knew that. That's clearly demonstrated by the fact that they doubled the jobseeker payment. They doubled it knowing that people need more than $40 a day. That same truth is going to still be in place in September.

We already have experts saying that a sudden withdrawal of support could spark a double-dip recession. Yes, we need to work together, and we have been, by and large, working together to get us through this crisis, and the supports that have been put in place are really, genuinely helping people, but withdrawing them come September will mean that people are dropped into poverty. They won't be able to pay their rent. They won't be able to pay their mortgage or their daily living expenses. They simply won't be able to survive on $40 a day. We cannot go back to $40 a day for our income support system. This country is far better than that. We can't wind back supports to $40 a day come 25 September. We need to be making sure that we are showing that we are a fair and decent community and continue to support people through the ongoing effects of this pandemic. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.


No comments