Thursday, 18 June 2020
That the Senate—
(a) notes that:
(i) more than 5 million Australians and their families are relying on government assistance to help them through the COVID-19 pandemic,
(ii) JobKeeper and the increase to JobSeeker are set to expire at the end of September, and
(iii) more than $250 billion in deferred loans for mortgages and business are also due to expire at the end of September; and
(b) calls on the Government to outline a national economic plan that:
(i) prevents millions of Australians being 'snapped-back' to unemployment, poverty and insecure jobs at the end of September,
(ii) has job creation and skills development at the centre, and
(iii) ensures that ongoing government investment is targeted to lift Australia out of its first recession in 29 years.
I very clearly want to make a contribution on this general business notice of motion. For those listening, the substance of this motion is that there are more than five million Australians and their families relying on government assistance to get them through the COVID-19 pandemic. JobKeeper and the increase to jobseeker are set to expire at the end of September. More than $250 billion in deferred loans for mortgages and businesses are also due to expire at the end of September. This motion calls on the government to outline a national economic plan that prevents millions of Australians being snapped back to unemployment, poverty and insecure jobs at the end of September; has job creation and skills development at its centre; and ensures that ongoing government investment is targeted to lift Australia out of its first recession in 29 years.
I'm not one of those in the community or on this side of the chamber who is entirely critical of the coalition in this space. I think they have done a sterling job to date in many areas, but it appears that the collegiate approach is fragmenting. We're now seeing drives and the increasing tone in the chamber of, 'If you were there, things would be worse!' Well, we've been hearing that for a very long time. The reality is that you're there. Your job is to make it better for all Australians. Your job is to have a coherent national plan which goes out there carefully and pragmatically assessing the risk and the need and putting in place a proper, prudent system for all Australians.
The simple statement, 'We would do it better than a Labor government,' is not going to wash. People have had the benefit of JobKeeper. They've had the ability to go to their banks and defer their loans. They've had the ability to take $10,000 or maybe $20,000 out of their superannuation. This extraordinary once-in-100-years event has caused some people to be in awful straits, so they've dipped into their super. That's kept the wolf from the door. They've spoken to their bank and put their loan out a bit further. They're enjoying JobKeeper, which is sustaining them. But if in September that all comes to an end without a careful, pragmatic evaluation of the economic risks, the recession we see will be deep and long-lasting. And it won't be a recession for 12 months; it'll be a recession for a number of years. No-one in this chamber wants that. I repeat: there is not a single member of this entire parliament that wants that. Nobody wants their constituents and their electorates to suffer, but we are going to face an awful calamity unless there is a careful, prudent, agreed economic plan out of this.
Senator Siewert mentioned the reports in one or two newspapers that maybe the jobseeker payment won't go back to Newstart rates. Well, is that really the way to do a careful economic plan for the nation—to leak a couple of things to a newspaper and see how popular it is? Seriously, as even former Liberal prime ministers have said, Newstart is inadequate. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry have said that people don't get enough on Newstart to be able to present properly for employment. There's no debate about whether it's enough or not. It's been substantially boosted, but if, catastrophically, it goes back the other way we're going to see a lot of people in destitution.
If we see JobKeeper disappear in the September quarter it'll be the same story. I talk to people in small business. I had a concerned constituent say to me the other day: 'My business is recovering quite quickly. I'm on JobKeeper and I'm getting quite a substantial amount of subsidy each month. When does it turn off? If my business is profitable enough to not qualify for JobKeeper, will the payment stop in July or will I continue to get it until September? Will I get a bill?' The answer to that is: I don't know; there's a review going on. JobKeeper is a great program—absolutely out-of-the-block stunning—but carefully evaluating its operation would be the way to go now.