Thursday, 12 November 2020
COVID-19: Income Support Payments
At the request of Senator Gallagher, I move:
That the Senate—
(a) notes that the Reserve Bank of Australia's quarterly Statement on monetary policy highlighted:
(i) 'growth in employment is expected to be subdued over the next few months, as policy support measures, such as JobKeeper, are tapered',
(ii) 'the pace of improvement [in employment] has slowed since August',
(iii) 'employment remains well below its pre-pandemic level', and
(iv) 'there is a risk that business insolvencies will rise by more than expected as government support programs are tapered, slowing the recovery in activity, reducing investment and placing upward pressure on the unemployment rate';
(b) further notes the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show a fall in jobs and wages in every state and territory in the first full fortnight after the Morrison Government cut JobKeeper prematurely;
(c) expresses disappointment in the Government's decisions to cut JobKeeper and the JobSeeker Coronavirus Supplement, and exclude 928,000 Australians from the new hiring credit;
(d) acknowledges these decisions will mean the recession will be deeper than necessary and the unemployment queues longer than they need to be; and
(e) calls on the Morrison Government to deliver a comprehensive economic plan for the recovery to prevent 1 trillion dollars of debt and higher unemployment for longer being the only lasting legacies of this recession.
We are in the middle of the worst recession and jobs crisis in almost 100 years, and Australians are concerned about their futures. They're uncertain about their futures, and this government is making it worse. They've already slashed JobKeeper. They are winding back JobSeeker again. They're freezing the pension and superannuation. They refuse to deliver a plan for good secure jobs. And, to top it all off, the few schemes they have announced either don't go far enough or the government never properly delivers them. They are letting down Australians at the time when Australians need them the most. They're cutting people's income and support while they are still struggling, and this is hurting families and it's hurting our recovery.
This year has been difficult. It's meant loss and sacrifice for too many people. It's critical that we get this recovery right—a recovery which supports those in need of support; a recovery which sees a plan for good secure jobs; a recovery which supports the aspiration of every Australian. But, right now, many Australian families are doing it tough. Many people are struggling to make ends meet on JobKeeper. Many people are struggling to make ends meet on JobSeeker. Many are concerned about losing their job, especially in the period just before Christmas. And of course hundreds of thousands of Australians have already lost their jobs. Many are struggling to get back into work or find extra hours. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister says things like: 'If you have a go, you'll get a go,' or, 'If you're good at your job, you'll get a job.' This is not the reality that so many Australians are actually facing today.
The latest ABS figures saw the number of jobs fall in every state and territory. There were 30,000 jobs lost in the fortnight to 17 October. There have been 470,000 jobs lost since the coronavirus outbreak began, and a further 160,000 jobs are predicted to be lost by Christmas. So this jobs crisis is only getting worse. Contrary to the Prime Minister's statements, there are seven jobseekers for every vacancy today. The reality is that, in this recession, the worst in 100 years, there are just not enough jobs out there right now.
In a lot of cases the difference between being able to make ends meet or not is JobKeeper or JobSeeker, which is why the cuts to these schemes are so concerning. These cuts are causing anxiety, fear and hard decisions for families across Australia. Angela, whose story was reported recently, is on JobSeeker. She said: 'I am really scared. Getting that supplement made a huge difference, otherwise I don't know where I'd be.' Her adult son, who lives with her, lost his job at the beginning of the pandemic. She went on to say: 'If he isn't able to find work by December, we'll have to find somewhere else to live.' But we know just how tough it will be for her son to find work, because he is one of the seven jobseekers for every vacancy that is out there right now. Does the government really think it's fair to leave Angela and her son in this position?
And what about Ross, from Pakenham in Melbourne, whose story was reported by the ABC just today? Ross is a car mechanic who has owned his own repair shop for 17 years. He said this about the JobKeeper payments his small business is receiving: 'JobKeeper is the only thing keeping food on my table and paying my bills.' He is deeply worried about the next cut to JobKeeper in January.
What would those opposite say to Angela, Ross and the millions of people in that exact same situation? What would the Prime Minister say to those people? I don't think 'If you have a go, you'll get a go' is going to cut it. People need support while Australia is still recovering, and people need this support to help Australia and our economy recover. But this is a government that finds it all too easy to leave people behind, to leave them out. I remember, and Australians remember, when the Prime Minister stood at a press conference at the beginning of this crisis and said these words: 'We're all in this together.' But while his words say one thing, his actions say something else. These cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker feel very much like he is saying to millions of Australians: 'You're actually on your own now. If you can't find work, it's your fault.' Just this week he said he needs to cut the lifelines people rely on because they're holding Australia back. No; what will hold us back is cutting support too early.
Whether this Prime Minister and this government are cutting people out of support or cutting incomes, they've got form. Just look at the long list of workers who were unfairly left out of JobKeeper right from the very beginning: casuals; freelancers; temporary migrants; NDIS workers; university workers; arts and performance workers; local government employees; many charity workers; international students; and, of course, the early childhood educators, who were ripped off JobKeeper earlier than anyone else in this country. This has a real human impact. It's tearing lives apart.
Earlier this year I spoke to Darcy and Giovanni about how being excluded from JobKeeper had impacted them. Giovanni is an international student who was working to support his studies and his family, with a newborn baby. He has spent years in Australia but he wasn't eligible for JobKeeper. The government essentially said to Giovanni, 'Just go home.' This put everything at risk—his work, his studies, his ability to pay his bills, his family. After spending years in Australia paying taxes and contributing to his community, he said being excluded was 'one of the most heartbreaking moments in my life'.
Darcy is a veteran hospitality worker. He's worked in hospo for 15 years. He'd never been unemployed until this year. But, due to the casual and transient nature of his work, he too was excluded from JobKeeper. That meant he could no longer pay his bills and pay his rent. He had to move back in with his parents to survive. He described the situation as gut-wrenching when we last spoke. Darcy also noted that he was lucky to have a family that was in a position to support him during this time. But of course many of his colleagues and his friends did not.
The government's approach of excluding millions from support programs and then ripping those support programs away too fast isn't just hurting workers and their families directly; it's hurting Australia's recovery. According to figures from analytics consultancy Taylor Fry, job numbers fell by 1.6 per cent in the two weeks following the reduction in JobKeeper and JobSeeker. That matches up with the ABS data, which showed a five per cent drop in total salaries paid and the loss of 30,000 jobs in that fortnight.
We know that the further JobSeeker continues to fall towards the old Newstart rate the more it will negatively impact on people's ability to actually go out and find the jobs that may be there. It's a rate which is so low that it traps people in poverty and actually prevents them from finding employment. This is not an approach that will speed up our economic recovery. We need to be supporting people while they find a way to get back to work, and that means making sure people can afford the essentials they need—training, tools, transport, appropriate clothes and keeping a car on the go. These are not possible on the old Newstart rate, which the government seems to have us inexorably moving towards.
Cutting support too early hurts the economy and, as Senator Gallagher's motion states, the RBA confirmed this just recently. The Reserve Bank have said:
Growth in employment is expected to be subdued over the next few months, as policy support measures, such as JobKeeper, are tapered.
So JobKeeper gets cut and jobs growth slows—that's the equation. They also said this:
There is a risk that business insolvencies will rise by more than expected as government support programs are tapered, slowing the recovery in activity, reducing investment …
The cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker don't make sense. They don't make sense while people are still struggling to get back on their feet. They hurt families and they slow down the recovery.
The government know this. The decision to cut these programs is ideological. They aren't based on evidence or on reason. The government's decision to cut supports too soon and to exclude millions of workers from their programs will mean that this recession is longer and deeper. But the government are going to do it anyway. They are going to exclude almost a million jobseekers over the age of 35 from JobMaker. They are going to exclude one million employers from JobMaker as well. They are going to continue to cut JobKeeper and they are going to continue to cut JobSeeker. They are going to do all of this while they still do not have a plan to deliver and create good, secure jobs for Australians.
Their budget did not deliver. They gave us a big-spending budget. They are racking up $1 trillion in debt. But contained in that budget was no plan for jobs and no plans for sectors that we know create jobs. There was no plan for early childhood education, no plan for social housing, no plan for cheaper, cleaner energy projects and no plan for aged care. The few schemes they did announce in the budget did not go far enough or, as we found out at Senate estimates, the government inflated the number of jobs they would create.
The government is going to rack up $1 trillion in debt, but why? What is it doing if it isn't creating jobs? If we really want to look out for workers and their families we need to get this recovery right—a recovery that focuses on rebuilding good and secure jobs, a recovery that works for all Australians, not one that excludes them. We need a plan for this recovery now. We need a plan that means making more of what we need right here in Australia, a plan that gets started on the big transformative infrastructure projects, a plan to guarantee apprenticeships on major federal projects, a plan to address the skills crisis by reinvesting in TAFE, a plan to recharge the workforce participation of women and a plan to power our recovery with clean energy projects and renewables. This is what we need. We need a plan that is committed to rebuilding good, secure jobs in this country—jobs people can count on and jobs people can plan a future on—and that is what a Labor government would do.
We're eight months into this crisis and action is well past due. People need a government that is on their side, a government that is actively looking out for them, a government that provides the support they need to get through these difficult times, a government that is planning for the recovery—a government that has a vision for Australia's future. But, until now, the government has been more concerned with its ideological battles, attacking workers' rights, slashing support programs, freezing super and pensions, and, as we've seen this week, teeming up with One Nation to reject important protections for workers. It's time for the Prime Minister to reconsider his early cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker. It's time for him to commit to a plan for good, secure jobs and to get to work delivering it.