Senate debates

Thursday, 10 December 2020


Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020; Second Reading

4:25 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | Hansard source

I'd like to make a contribution in this debate today, really just to put on record my concerns about the government's intention to scrap the increased rate of JobSeeker, come March next year. Really, the government's position, which is that JobSeeker should revert to the pre-pandemic level of $40 a day, is another example that, for all of their claims that Australians are in this together, that is not what this government are about. In fact, what they are preparing to do is to leave millions of Australians behind while we remain in the worst recession that this country has seen in decades.

Labor is putting forward amendments to this bill that I sincerely hope the government will support, because those amendments are intended to ensure that we continue to see the higher rate of JobSeeker that we have seen through COVID-19 remain in place once we get to March next year. As I say, if the government doesn't support those amendments, then, come March next year, the well over a million people in this country who are unemployed and the similarly huge number of people who are underemployed, unable to find the number of hours of work they need, will return to the poverty-level JobSeeker payment that we saw prior to COVID-19, that rate being $40 a day.

It is well documented, whether it be in the Senate inquiry reports, in other research or just from talking to someone who was on Newstart prior to the pandemic, that the $40-a-day level that the government had in place and stubbornly refused to increase condemned Newstart recipients to poverty. I've heard stories, whether it be in the media or in direct conversations with unemployed Australians, about the difference it made when the government agreed to the coronavirus supplement and a higher rate of Newstart than it had been pre-COVID. It meant, for instance, that single parents were able to actually put salad—a piece of tomato, a piece of lettuce—on their kids' sandwiches when they went to school, because pre-COVID, when we had the $40-a-day level, kids in single-parent families weren't able to have a bit of salad on their sandwiches because their families didn't have enough money to pay for it. No Australian and no Australian child should be forced to live in that sort of situation because of the mean-spiritedness of their government. But that is what we saw from this government before the pandemic when they stubbornly refused to increase what is now JobSeeker, and that's what we will see again if the government does not accept the amendments that Labor is putting forward to make the increase to JobSeeker permanent after March. If the government doesn't do it, it will condemn those Australians to poverty. And we're talking about not just unemployed Australians. We're talking about, all up, around two million Australians who will be affected by this, who will lose the increased payments that have been in place through COVID-19. It's unemployed Australians, it's young people receiving youth allowance, it's sole parents, it's students receiving Austudy or Abstudy, it's widows receiving widow allowance and it's farmers receiving the farm household allowance. A very wide cross-section of the Australian population will go backwards and be left behind by this government unless the government accepts Labor's amendments.

That will obviously be terrible for those individuals, but it will also be terrible for the Australian economy. In the middle of a recession we should not be pulling out economic support for Australians which they need for themselves and to be able to buy the very things that will create jobs in the wider economy. If we are really in this together, as the Prime Minister and his government continue to tell us they think we are, then they will back Labor's amendments and keep the higher rate of JobSeeker on a permanent basis.

( Quorum formed )


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