Senate debates

Wednesday, 11 November 2020


Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Coronavirus and Other Measures) Bill 2020; Second Reading

9:49 am

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Coronavirus and Other Measures) Bill 2020. When the government does something good we're very happy to welcome it, and there are many good features in this bill. I'll highlight just a couple of those today. Then I'm going to talk about a huge missed opportunity this government had to address the need for a permanent and decent rate of JobSeeker.

Firstly, I welcome the government's 180-degree backflip on eligibility for paid parental leave. People might recall that just a few months ago the Greens moved amendments to the effect of ensuring that people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own, because of the pandemic, could still get the paid parental leave they had been banking on receiving as folk about to become new parents or adding to their families. This government voted against that amendment, as did the folk in the One Nation party, but today we see in schedule 4 of the bill that this very same amendment is there. We welcome the government seeing reason and standing by people who are about to add to their families. I don't know why it was so difficult to do that two months ago—perhaps it was because it had 'Greens' on the header—but we're pleased to see that our original advocacy for this has ended up in a government bill that, naturally, One Nation is now supporting. I'm very keen to put on the record that our original good idea has now been adopted. We welcome that because raising a family isn't cheap, and people do bank on things like paid parental leave when they're doing their finances for an upcoming addition to their family.

When the pandemic hit the unexpected hit, and many people either had their hours reduced or lost their jobs completely and were not eligible, in many instances, sadly, for JobKeeper, which meant they were ineligible for paid parental leave. We tried to fix the eligibility for JobKeeper as well, at the time, but the government was resolute in denying short-term casuals, in denying people on particular visas and in denying people who work at universities the support that we and many Australians believe they should have received. Nonetheless, there's a backflip here, that we welcome, in extending the eligibility for paid parental leave for people who have lost their jobs due to coronavirus and, therefore, would not otherwise be eligible for PPL. We very much welcome schedule 4.

Schedule 5 talks about stillbirth, and it's a very important topic for many people. The Select Committee on Stillbirth Research and Education did identify the need for more support to be provided to bereaved parents and their families, with more than 2,000 children stillborn each year. The current laws make a really inexplicable and unfair distinction in eligibility for stillborn baby payments. Parents who experience the loss of their first stillborn baby are entitled to a payment, but parents experiencing a second or subsequent stillbirth only get half that payment. But the expenses don't reduce, so there is actually no justification for that reduction in payment. The support payments are designed to relieve the financial pressure, but, as I've said, those expenses don't actually reduce and the grief and the stress are probably vastly increased once this has happened a second or third time around. So, in fact, the need for support is perfectly ample. We welcome the fact that the government has belatedly addressed this. It has been an inequity for many a year and we welcome, finally, some justice being delivered there.

To come to the parts of this bill that, sadly, could have been fixed by this government were they so minded but weren't, we saw this week the government finally announce that JobSeeker would be continued for a few months but at an even lower rate again. They have already cut it once and now they have cut it a second time. Come 1 January, the coronavirus supplement for people on JobSeeker is going to be only $150. That is not enough. That is still below the poverty line. Did the government learn nothing? Did the government not see the joy and the basic needs being able to be met by so many families around this country when they had an adequate amount of income support? As my colleague Senator Siewert has said for many a year, $40 a day was never enough to live on. It's the children that suffer. It's those choices between textbooks and dinner that no Australian, no-one anywhere, should have to make.

This government could have addressed the inadequacy of the JobSeeker payment in this bill, but, no, it didn't do that. What we saw earlier in the week was the Prime Minister making a belated and patched-up announcement of another reduction to JobSeeker support. What I would really like to see, what the Greens would really like to see, would be this Prime Minister actually focusing on job creation, rather than passing the buck to the private sector. We so frequently hear the Prime Minister say that it's not up to him to create jobs. Well, dude, you are the Prime Minister. You've got the public purse strings at your disposal. Public investment in infrastructure, in schools, in hospitals—


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