Thursday, 2 September 2021
COVID-19: Income Support Payments
But, as you know from our time on the community affairs inquiries—raising the Newstart rate, the Centrelink compliance program and the cashless debit card—there were very few times that we were on the same side of an issue. Here we are again, I guess, so we may as well finish where we started.
The Morrison government has, throughout this pandemic, worked on financial assistance for Australians to suit the situation at the time. This pandemic has evolved in such a way that it's hard to believe that, in early 2020, we weren't really sure how it spread and what the long-term impacts would be. And then, in the fastest speed we've ever seen, the world got to work on a vaccine, and we're now seeing close to two million Australians receiving the vaccine each and every week. We know that vaccination is the key to our recovery and to reopening internally as well as to the rest of the world. We need to learn to live with this virus.
I do note that it is Senator Siewert who's calling for the government to reinstate the coronavirus supplement, even though she is a senator from 'fortress WA'—the COVID-free land where Western Australians can live their lives unaffected by lockdowns. We know this because Premier McGowan keeps telling us so. The 'Lock the border' cry now has its own merchandise, and the message to those dreadful people from the eastern side of Australia is: 'Well, you just stay away from us in WA.' So why would the Morrison government look to a national payment when clearly there's no need for it in Western Australia? It's because this is what we do as a government. We ensure that the financial assistance is targeted and it reaches the people who actually require it the most. Why would the land of Western Australia want national resources diverted away from Australians who are experiencing lockdown, when Western Australians enjoy all the freedoms the Premier consistently speaks of?
I note today that Premier McGowan has genuinely been overtaken by Premier Palaszczuk this week. She allowed in a planeload of footballers and their families whilst keeping a three-year-old separated from his family—and I'm grateful that that is to be rectified soon. Then she claimed that she wants to stay closed off—except for footballers and celebrities—until all children are vaccinated, despite there being not one vaccine approved globally for children under 12. The chutzpah is unbelievable. I'd like to say more, but, after our talk the other day, Acting Deputy President Brown, I have absolutely no doubt it would be deemed unparliamentary language.
What we have seen this year from the Morrison government is the single biggest boost to unemployment benefits—an increase of $50 along with permanently increasing income-free areas to support jobseekers as they look to secure employment and re-enter the workforce. When the whole country was in lockdown, there was a coronavirus supplement, but this was always a temporary measure and was for all Australians on JobSeeker because all of Australia was locked down. Whilst we now have New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria in lockdown, these conditions aren't national. There are no lockdowns in Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia and the Northern Territory, and, of course, Western Australia is locked off but not locked down. The payments that we've made available to all Australians have never been based on a set-and-forget model. They've been planned and timed to ensure that they can have the greatest impact when required. That's why last year, from April through to September, an additional $550 per fortnight was available to all JobSeeker and other payment recipients. But we've seen the landscape change. Not every state has been in lockdown at the same time since then.
This government does recognise that these restrictions, when imposed by state and territory governments, can mean additional financial hardship, with hours lost or work totally put on hold. That's why, in order to support Australians who are affected by lockdowns in states and territories, we've put in place the COVID-19 disaster payment. It's up to $750 a week. That means that, for those who are already receiving government support, it's an additional $200 a week. So, on top of the already increased JobSeeker payment, those Australians are receiving an additional $400 per fortnight. This payment came into effect on 3 August 2021 and will continue every single week whilst that state or territory remains in lockdown. There are also crisis payments available if someone is deemed a close contact and needs to quarantine, or if, in fact, they test positive for the virus. These are measured and targeted supports to those Australians who are impacted by lockdowns—lockdowns put in place by state and territory leaders.
I know Senator Siewert has a very different view than I do when we look at social security. On this side, we believe it's a safety net for all Australians, and I know Senator Siewert looks at it as more of a living wage model. That is a point of difference that we've shared in a number of inquiries and debates. But the Morrison government has committed to supporting jobseekers in multiple ways, not only through the additional payments being received in those lockdown states but through initiatives around ensuring there are training opportunities and opportunities to assist people to move back into the workforce and to see them come out of this pandemic—as we've seen so many people go back into the workplace—and try and re-enter the workforce, to ensure that they're not reliant on government payments.
But it is a fitting way to finish the day, Senator Siewert: talking about one of our favourite topics—again, from opposite sides of the chamber. You will be missed from the community affairs committee. I wish you all the very best in the future, and I look forward to talking to you in our DSP inquiry on Monday.