Wednesday, 11 November 2020
Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Coronavirus and Other Measures) Bill 2020; Second Reading
As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I advise that One Nation supports age pensioners, and we believe the current pension rate is too low. Our policy is for an increase in the age pension of $75 a week. The Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Coronavirus and Other Measures) Bill 2020 does not increase the base rate of the pension but rather gives two payments of $250. This is a little sugar hit that will achieve very little for the economy.
Our pensioners are trying to support themselves in a very low interest rate environment. Pensioners who have saved all their lives are finding it impossible to live off the income from their savings, because there is no income with interest rates at almost zero. A permanent increase in pensions is the only way to give pensioners a fair income.
Yesterday, the Senate passed the glossy JobMaker scheme. JobMaker is nothing but corporate welfare, with payments expected to go to the government's big corporate mates. Pensioners are clearly not the government's mates. Think about electricity prices that have been driven up by Labor, Liberal, Nationals and Greens policies—doubled or, in some cases, tripled in the last 20 years. That's a highly regressive tax on the poor. How can people afford that, especially pensioners who are receiving little income? Premier Palaszczuk in Queensland, the Premier in absence, is stealing $1.4 billion a year off electricity users in Queensland. Costs are going up but pensions are not. Australia has one of the lowest pensions in the Western world. It's time to increase pensions to restore dignity to pensioners.
The cost of a pension increase to the government is very small. Pensioners are on such a low income that any increase to the pension is immediately felt and immediately spent. This is why the government has selected pensioners for this sugar hit. Treasury knows the money will be spent in the local economy, where that money will grow the local economy and grow employment, creating jobs. That money then comes back to the government in tax revenue: GST, income tax, duties in alcohol and tobacco and so on. It's a shame that glossy JobMaker payments will not work like that. JobMaker payments go to the company, not the worker. That money will increase corporate profits and from there go overseas to overseas shareholders through dividends. JobMaker, notwithstanding its glossy brochure, with lots of colourful diagrams and photos and snazzy headlines, will have little expansionary benefit because the money is in the wrong hands. Pensioners should not be underpaid so big corporates can be overpaid. I do note that the government has made this payment conditional on the pensioner being a resident in Australia—at last. I hope this new-found concern for Australian taxpayers can be extended to every other application of government policy.
Schedule 2 of the bill supports young people whose path towards demonstrating independence through work has been disrupted by the economic impacts of the COVID virus. For the youth allowance, the six month period between 25 March 2020 and 24 September 2020 will automatically now be recognised as contributing to existing workforce independence criteria. That's welcome. Without this change, many young people may not be able to meet the independence criteria and may be unable to access income support if they plan to go onto tertiary study. With this change, as many as 4,000 students will be able to maintain their plan to go to university in 2021. I have previously pointed out that the Morrison government inflates the numbers it uses in these measures to make for a better announcement. I'm sure that this will be the case here. Announcements are not achievements. Announcements are for marketers; achievements are for honest governments and come from honest governance. Announcements are not governance. Nonetheless, One Nation support this measure as well because we support students being able to co-pay their way through university to gain the education they need to better their lives. At the moment, a relaxation of the rules for student payments is a very useful measure. With the level of debt imposed on Australians by the Morrison government now budgeted to exceed $1 trillion, young Australians will need all the help they can get for the future.
Schedule 3 of the bill will make amendments to create temporary incentives in the income support system to encourage young Australians to undertake seasonal agricultural work. We welcome this. The amendment means that a person who earns at least $15,000 through employment in the agricultural industry between 30 November this year and 31 December next year, 2021, will be considered as independent for the purposes of student allowance and Abstudy.
It's about time the government realised we have a farmworker shortage. As Senator Hanson and I have travelled across Queensland in the last few months, we've heard from many businesses—many widely different businesses—who could not bring in the crop or run their business because there were no workers. I spoke with Jackie, for example, a florist in Rockhampton who has run a business for many years. She told me that her business and other small businesses in Rocky couldn't find workers. They now have young teenagers working there. The local waste company couldn't fill their rosters, so they couldn't turn their skips around fast enough to make a profit. That's thanks to the cowardly actions of Premier Palaszczuk, a premier in absence. Queensland farmers are ploughing millions of dollars of produce into the ground because workers won't—or can't, thanks to the Premier—go to the farms. This measure will, we hope, encourage 4,000 young Australians to go bush, where they will find the work rewarding, the pay generous and the lifestyle superb. The regional communities are very enriching.
If the government is to keep the borders closed to backpackers then more measures such as this are urgently required. It's not good enough that able-bodied Australians are languishing on JobSeeker, for years on end, when rewarding jobs are available in some of the best communities in Australia. It may take a push to encourage the unemployed to break patterns of behaviour that are failing them and embrace the move to the country. Now would be a really good time to do that. One Nation calls on the Morrison government to make schedule 3 the start of a new era of matching jobseekers to those seeking workers in rural areas. Matching employers and employees—wouldn't that be wonderful!
Schedule 4 of the bill introduces a revised paid parental leave work test. There will be $130 million spent to provide access to paid parental leave pay, and dad and partner pay, to applicants who do not meet the current work test provisions because their employment has been affected by the government's response to the COVID virus. This measure, we're told, will allow 9,000 Australians to retain their eligibility for parental leave pay and is expected to increase claimants of the dad and partner benefit by $3,500. Once again, government figures provided to spruik these measures are likely shonky; yet this measure will allow dads to give their newborns a better start. We welcome that because, for far too many years, some dads were a pocketbook and nothing more. The modern trend of encouraging dads to share in the birth and the upbringing of their children is most welcome.
The remaining measures in this bill are commonsense measures to simplify bereavement benefits and provide an alternative benchmarking system for child support payments during the COVID era only. One Nation will be supporting this bill.