Monday, 22 February 2021
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
For many Australians, last year, 2020, was the most challenging year in living memory. Tens of thousands lost livelihoods and for the first time found themselves in receipt of government assistance. And, boy, do we remember the phones running hot in my office, as, no doubt, they did in offices around the country. Thousands required assistance, not just from JobKeeper but from other government support, simply so they could make ends meet at their homes, so they could pay the bills, pay the mortgage. A lot were reduced to tears, and many people experienced what it means to be on government welfare.
Whilst, for some, the beginning of 2021 has seen a relatively normal start to the year in some ways, it is folly to think that these circumstances apply to all. For many Australians, JobKeeper continues to provide a much-needed lifeline, keeping them connected to their workplaces and the bills at bay. I'm deeply concerned, listening to other honourable senators in this place, at the attitude that they bring to the debate before us, at the attitude that we heard today in question time regarding the effect that a premature withdrawal of JobKeeper will have on many workers around this country, especially those in industries that are still yet to get back on their feet. I can think of a few—tourism, hospitality, retail—but I want to touch on aviation. Late yesterday one of my staff came to this place, travelling from Melbourne, and he encountered a pilot who is only being given one shift every month. That pilot made it very clear that he and his wife are struggling. They are thankful that, yes, they are receiving JobKeeper but they are still struggling to make ends meet, struggling to pay school fees for their children. When he went to get a cup of coffee, the lady over the counter felt sorry for him and actually offered to give him a discount.
These are the real stories of the real people and the real impact that withdrawing JobKeeper will have on many, many households around this nation—working families unable to pay their bills, unable to send their kids to school and probably unlikely to be able to pay for dinner, lunch or even breakfast. But somehow government senators seem to think the economy is just going to get back on track—snap back, as they claim. But we do see state governments around the country imposing lockdowns, and we will continue to see that, because the spread of the coronavirus will continue, especially while people from overseas enter Australia—and for good reason.
But we know that the numbers of people who will suffer will be great. The Reserve Bank governor has told us himself. The government's own Treasury secretary has told us that a pause in the labour market will have an impact on the economy. Whilst the government might seek to hide behind nonanswers in this place on questions of job losses after the premature end of JobKeeper, we know that, for many Australians, the answer will be painfully clear at the end of March. Is this the best that those opposite can muster? Is this the best that they can do to support Australians whilst they are doing it tough? This is simply not good enough.
Question agreed to.