Senate debates

Thursday, 5 August 2021


Treasury Laws Amendment (COVID-19 Economic Response No. 2) Bill 2021; In Committee

11:37 am

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I'd like to get a few things on the record for the Australian Greens. I can see what the government is trying to do here. It's trying to take some credit for something that they've done in the last 18 months. Because of the vaccine rollout fiasco that this country has had to endure, those opposite are trying to claim some credit. I want to get it on the record that this government had to be dragged kicking and screaming to bring in JobKeeper in the first place. Those opposite significantly resisted providing the payments that we're debating today to people in lockdowns around the country. It wasn't their first inclination to protect the vulnerable; they had to be coerced into providing these payments.

Labor have put it on record that they were early proponents of a living wage. So were the Greens. I remember Senator Cormann's very first response when the stimulus package occurred. The Greens were very vocal, saying it wasn't enough and that we needed a living-wage-style arrangement such as we've seen in other countries.

I also want to get it on record that it was the union movement, working with chambers of commerce and a number of other business groups around the country, with the Greens and with Labor, that got JobKeeper in the first place. So claim all the credit you like, and good on the government for eventually listening and bringing in this much-needed scheme. Good on you for doing that. But don't come in here and claim credit for it when you didn't want to do it and you had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, there in the first place.

In relation to exemptions or changes to these payments to make sure they are not rorted, may I also say that the Greens, in the very first COVID hearings we had and in significant correspondence to Treasury, were the first to say that we wanted to see a scheme that didn't allow for share buybacks, CEO bonuses being paid or dividends being paid by big companies that were taking JobKeeper. That was also being looked at by other countries very early on in the piece. So this is not a novel idea. This is something we've been fighting for since day one when JobKeeper was brought in. I think that's also very important to point out.

In relation to Senator Birmingham's confusing messaging here today around small businesses also being beneficiaries of JobKeeper, asking, 'Do you want to see their payments disclosed?' there's a very important reason why in the legislation we've brought forward the Greens haven't wanted to include small business. That is that partners in and owners of very small businesses often don't take a wage. They often don't take a salary or, if they do, it's very low. They rely on getting to the end of their year, if they're lucky, and making a profit and then paying themselves out of that by the end of their terms or the end of their financial year. That's why it would be very difficult and probably patently unfair to include small businesses in these payments. So I just wanted to get that on the record. This is a very important factor.

Senator Roberts is right about one thing—

An honourable senator: Just one thing.

just one thing—and that is that these JobKeeper payments and the payments we've seen today have been brought in because of lockdowns. But, unlike Senator Roberts, the Greens feel that having lockdowns quickly and rapidly is currently the best solution we have in getting on top of the pandemic and protecting the lives of all Australians. So we need to continue with this.

Australians want to see their politicians in this place working together to their advantage. They want to see us getting on top of the vaccine rollout. They want to see us getting on top of stimulus payments so they can pay their bills and pay their rent in times of hardship. They want to see this parliament acting on the homelessness crisis. They want to see this parliament acting on public housing. They want to see this parliament acting on the frightening increase that we've seen in house prices around this country during this pandemic. That's been caused by a lot of reasons. There are so many Australians out there, especially young and low-income Australians, that still haven't been able to get into the housing market. We've got, I believe, an obligation to those Australians, just like we do to everyone else in this country, to tackle inequality and try and make this a fair place to live.


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