Senate debates

Thursday, 12 November 2020


COVID-19: Income Support Payments

5:10 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to make a contribution on what was a very, very important motion advanced for discussion today in the chamber by Senator Gallagher. I thank her for bringing this matter to the floor of the Senate. We haven't got many people in the parliament because of the COVID reality. They've only just started coming back this week. But I know a lot of people will be listening to parliament and they will be relying on this parliament to acknowledge the reality of their lives, to tell the truth to them about what's going on and to authentically provide them with the support that they need.

Let's be clear. We are in a recession for the first time in 30 years and this government has set up a budget that will put Australians in $1 trillion worth of debt. That's $1 trillion of debt set up for Australians by this Liberal and National Party government. We just heard a contribution from a Liberal Sydneysider who actually believes that she has some understanding of regional realities for Australia and that she's got a handle, like the rest of the Liberal Party continue to say, on small business. Well, I can tell you that I know small business in and out. I know it from my own childhood and from my own growth as an adult as well. I'm surrounded by businesspeople in my family. Small business is being overlooked by this government. Small business is not being listened to by this government. Small business will be exploited by this government.

I want to go to the report, but, before I do that, I just want to make one comment about the design capacity—or the design incapacity—of the government when it comes to genuinely helping somebody get a job and genuinely helping a small business. They are missing the mark on both fronts. If you are an Australian who was caught right at the beginning of this COVID crash, the government—who are still the government today after these many months—decided that they didn't want to give you any support. Make no mistake about it. The government were very, very clear: 'Shut down the parliament. Go home. We're not doing anything. You're on your own.' That was their first instinct and their first response. It took battering, week after week, by the Australian Labor Party to stand up for the jobs of hardworking Australians. It was the Australian Labor Party leading the charge, not in the parliament because the government had shut that down, but out in the community with the fourth estate, trying to tell the stories of Australians who were doing it really, really tough very, very quickly. It was the businesses of this country. The big businesses and the small businesses were out there with their battering ram getting this tone-deaf government to hear them, saying: 'You cannot let all these people lose their jobs. You've got to put in place some sort of wage replacement.' So, thank you, big business. Thank you, small business. Thank you for standing up for the workers of this country, because the government were missing in action when it all started to come unstuck.

The pictures that happened on that fateful day this year, with queues of Australians who had never been unemployed in their lives standing outside Centrelink trying to get some help, hundreds of thousands of them, and the shock of that finally unblocked the deaf ears of this government. They decided: 'Oh my God, maybe the Labor Party were right, because they are the party of jobs. We can pretend to be, but Labor are the party of jobs. Maybe they were right. Maybe we should listen to the big businesses that have been telling us we've got it wrong. Maybe some of the small businesses might have something to say.' Eventually, after resistance, and a special call-back here to Canberra, legislation was passed that brought in the JobSeeker payment and gave succour and support to families who were starting to feel very vulnerable. That's the political reality of what happened.

Now, families have been managing. Some families have been managing quite well; they have resources. Other families, without resources, are struggling. Small businesses, with their houses on the line, with mortgage payments suspended, know what's going on. They know the challenges they're facing, and they're very concerned about what government's proposals for policy, going forward, will look like for them. We've got reports of insolvencies in small businesses building up. We are getting reports that, despite this being the cheapest money that people could ever get to invest in their business, there is a drop-off in investment in business, because people know what this government doesn't want to say: people in small business, with their lives on the line, their families on the line, the housing that they live in on the line, their businesses on the line and the jobs of the people they employ on the line, know that things are very fragile. And, in the midst of all that, we've got the spin. We've got all the job lines—JobSeeker, JobKeeper, JobMaker. I'll tell you what, you can put them all in one big bin, because what's really going on here is 'JobFaker'. These guys are great at spin but not at delivery.

Today Senator Ruston, who I note is here in the Senate on chamber duty, was asked on multiple occasions, as she has been throughout the week, to tell the truth about what's going on with the JobSeeker payments that people have been surviving on up till now. So disingenuous is this government, so unable to tell the truth to the Australian people is the minister, that they can't say straight out: 'We've cut JobSeeker. We've cut the amount of money we're giving you. That's our choice. It's the way we think about how money operates. We think that you've had enough for long enough. We didn't want to give it to you in the first place, and now we're going to turn the tap off. We're going to choke it a little bit at a time. We're going to put your family at risk and make you more and more vulnerable.' Day by day, the choke is on from this government.


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