Monday, 23 March 2020
Assistance for Severely Affected Regions (Special Appropriation) (Coronavirus Economic Response Package) Bill 2020, Structured Finance Support (Coronavirus Economic Response Package) Bill 2020, Appropriation (Coronavirus Economic Response Package) Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020, Appropriation (Coronavirus Economic Response Package) Bill (No. 2) 2019-2020, Boosting Cash Flow for Employers (Coronavirus Economic Response Package) Bill 2020; Second Reading
That these bills be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.
The speeches read as follows—
CORONAVIRUS ECONOMIC RESPONSE PACKAGE OMNIBUS BILL 2020
The Bills I introduce today implement the Government's package of measures responding to the economic impacts of the Coronavirus which combined, total $189 billion across the forward estimates, representing 9.7 per cent of annual GDP.
The Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Bill 2020, along with the other the Bills I am introducing today, provides critical support for the Australian economy and those in our community most affected by the global spread of the Coronavirus.
The measures contained in this package of Bills are designed to bolster domestic confidence and household consumption, reduce cash flow pressures for businesses and support investment to lift productivity and keep people in jobs.
The Package targets four key areas:
The measures in this package are temporary, targeted and proportionate to the challenge we face.
This is a decisive response to the economic challenges posed by the Coronavirus.
It will put Australia in the strongest possible position to secure our economy and return to strong and inclusive growth once the health challenge of the Coronavirus has been overcome.
Enhancing the Instant Asset Write Off
The Government will provide immediate additional support for business investment by enhancing the Instant Asset Write Off for small and medium-sized businesses.
The threshold for eligible assets will increase from $30,000 to $150,000, allowing businesses to immediately deduct purchases of eligible assets each costing less than $150,000. To be eligible, assets need to be first used or installed ready for use in the period between 12 March and 30 June 2020.
Access to the instant asset write-off will also be expanded during this period to include all businesses with an aggregated annual turnover of less than $500 million, up from $50 million. As a result, an additional 5,300 businesses which employ around 1.9 million Australians will be able to benefit from the instant asset write-off.
Backing business investment
We will provide support for business investment by allowing businesses with an annual aggregated turnover of less $500 million to access accelerated depreciation deductions.
Eligible businesses will be able to bring forward depreciation deductions of 50 per cent of the cost of certain assets that they have committed to purchase after 12 March 2020, if they are first used or installed by 30 June 2021. Around 3.5 million businesses which employ 9.7 million people are eligible to benefit from this measure.
Boosting cash flow for employers
The Government will support employers to manage cash flow challenges and help businesses and not-for-profits, including charities, retain their employees and keep operating by providing a cash flow boost payment. This measure will provide at least $20,000 and up to $100,000 back to eligible businesses and not-for-profits (including charities).
This will benefit around 690,000 businesses employing around 7.8 million people. Around 30,000 not-for-profits will also benefit.
Stimulus payments to households to support growth
We will provide two rounds of Economic Support Payments. In each round, the payment will be $750 for each eligible individual.
The first Economic Support Payment will be made to certain recipients of social security and veterans' payments, Farm Household Allowance and holders of certain concession cards eligible in respect of a day in the test period 12 March 2020 to 13 April 2020, to assist them in a time of economic uncertainty during the Coronavirus outbreak.
The second round of Economic Support Payments will be delivered to a sub-cohort of those payment groups who received the first Economic Support Payment. This second payment will not be paid to recipients of the Coronavirus Supplement on the test date. All other payment groups who were eligible for the first payment will be eligible for the second Economic Support Payment providing they would ordinarily be residing in Australia in respect of the test date of 10 July 2020.
Improving our capacity to respond to biosecurity emergencies
We are amending the Biosecurity Act 2015 to allow for the Director of Human Biosecurity to delegate any or all of their functions or powers concerning human biosecurity control orders to senior executive officers of the Department of Health who are also human biosecurity officers.
This will ensure some of the Commonwealth's key powers for responding to biosecurity threats, including the human biosecurity control order, can be implemented in an efficient manner should it become necessary to use them. It is vitally important that we have a range of qualified medical personnel able to conduct administrative processes such as reviewing control orders, to ensure they are being used in a way that is proportionate to the public health risk.
Waiving environment management charge and national park entry fees
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Regulations 2019 will be amended to temporarily waive the Environmental Management Charge for the next nine months. This charge mainly applies to tourism activities and this waiver is intended to relieve cost pressures on tourist program operators in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
A number of national park entry fees will also be waived administratively by the Director of National Parks.
Supporting apprentices and trainees
The Government will support jobs for apprentices and trainees through this period of economic challenge by providing $1.3 billion for up to 70,000 small business, including those using a group training organisation to support the retention of around 117,000 apprentices and trainees. This support, which will be in the form of a wage subsidy of 50 per cent for apprentices and trainees, will help ensure the continuing development of the skilled workforce that Australia's employers need.
Supporting the aviation industry
Australia's aviation industry has been among the first sectors affected by the Coronavirus outbreak. The sector is facing an unprecedented and sustained period of falling international and domestic aviation demand.
The Government will provide $715 million to support the aviation industry as it grapples with these challenges.
The Bill will refund aviation fuel excise and refund or waive charges levied by Airservices Australia on domestic airline operations.
The Bill also includes funding to reimburse domestic and regional aviation security charges. The provisions will apply to charges paid by domestic airlines since 1 February 2020 – providing an upfront benefit of $159 million to our airlines to provide immediate relief.
Supporting child care
The Government will amend the A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999 and A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Act 1999 to allocate extra allowable absence days for child care in addition to the current 42 days. The Minister for Education will have the power to prescribe where a family does not need to provide evidence in relation to additional absences related Coronavirus.
The Government is also waiving the current obligation of child care services to enforce payment of gap fees for a particular event or circumstance and the period specified in a Minister's Rule. This will enable services to provide fee relief to families where exceptional circumstances require it for limited periods.
Giving retirees more control over their superannuation
The Bill also adjusts the superannuation minimum drawdown rates, reducing them by 50 per cent for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 income years. These rates prescribe the amount that an individual in the retirement phase must withdraw from an account-based pension or similar product, depending on their age.
This measure will help alleviate concerns of retirees regarding selling assets in a loss position, giving them greater control over their capital during a time of increased market volatility and assist with retirees' confidence in the economy.
Temporary Jobseeker payment and Coronavirus supplement
Additional temporary financial support will be provided to working-age income support recipients through a Coronavirus Supplement of $550 per fortnight. This measure will provide streamlined access to income support and extended eligibility to income support payments for people whose income is significantly reduced by the economic impact of the Coronavirus. The Minister for Families and Social Services will have the power extend the Coronavirus Supplement in whole or in part to other categories of recipients of social services payments.
This measure will also create a new category of Crisis Payment where a person will qualify for payment if there is a national health emergency, such as the Coronavirus, and delay commencement of the Simplifying Income Reporting Act for up to a year to ensure Services Australia can focus on assisting people who require income support as a result of the Coronavirus.
Providing flexibility in the Corporations Act
Treasury Ministers will be given a time-limited instrument-making power in the Corporations Act to grant time-limited relief from regulatory requirements where these would interfere with the ability of companies to manage their business through the impacts of the Coronavirus. Each instrument would be effective for up to six months from when the instrument is created.
Assisting businesses to trade through the crisis
The Government will also provide a safety net for businesses to allow them to get through a temporary period of insolvency and recover when economic growth picks up.
To do this, we are amending the Corporations Act to temporarily increase the threshold for a creditor to initiate bankruptcy proceedings, an increase in the time period for debtors to respond to a bankruptcy notice and extending the period of protection a debtor receives after making a declaration or intention to present a debtor's petition. There will also be temporary relief for directors from any personal liability for trading while insolvent.
For owners or directors of a business that are currently struggling due to the Coronavirus, the Australian Taxation Office will tailor solutions for their circumstances including temporary reduction of payments or deferrals, or withholding enforcement actions including Director Penalty Notices and wind-ups. This will provide directors with additional confidence to continue to trade through this difficult period.
Allowing early release of superannuation
We are establishing a new temporary compassionate ground of early release of superannuation for individuals and sole traders impacted by the economic consequences of the Coronavirus. This will allow impacted individuals to access up to $10,000 of their superannuation tax-free in 2019-20, and up to a further $10,000 in 2020-21. Applications must be made within six months of Royal Assent of this legislation and will be able to be made online via the myGov portal.
This Bill amends the Medicare Levy Act 1986 and A New Tax System (Medicare Levy Surcharge — Fringe Benefits) Act 1999 to increase the Medicare levy low-income thresholds increase for singles, families and seniors and pensioners to ensure these remain in line with changes to in the consumer price index.
Charter of Budget Honesty
During this time of uncertainty it is extremely difficult to formulate reliable economic and fiscal estimates over the next few months. In line with the Government's decision to postpone the Budget until later this year, the next Intergenerational Report will now be released in mid-2021 to ensure there is adequate time to produce long term projections that are based on robust budget estimates.
The Government remains committed to producing an intergenerational report that assesses the long term sustainability of the Government's finances. The Charter will continue to require 5 year updates of the IGR from 2021.
Deferral of sunsetting
Over the coming months this Parliament will, quite rightly, be focused on responding to the needs of the Australian community. During the next six months a number of Acts passed by this Parliament and a large number of legislative instruments are scheduled to sunset. Where an Act or legislative instrument is scheduled to sunset on or before 15 October 2020, the Bill will allow the minister responsible for that Act or instrument to defer the sunset day by up to 6 months. This will ensure no gaps occur in our laws during this critical period.
Guarantee to lend
The Government understands the need to move quickly to provide support and relief to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are under incredible pressure and play such an integral role in the Australian economy. We are providing a guarantee for new short-term loans issued by Authorised Deposit-taking Institutions (ADIs) and non-ADI lenders to support SMEs to cover immediate cash flow needs in response to the economic crisis associated with the Coronavirus pandemic.
Importantly, the guarantee will apply to eligible loans made after the Government's announcement of this measure regardless of whether the loans were made before or after the commencement of the Bill. There is an overall cap of $20 billion on the appropriation for meeting liabilities under the guarantee. In the event of a loan default, under this measure, the Government will compensate the lender for an agreed proportion of the losses.
Supporting Australia's small and medium enterprises
The Australian Business Growth Fund's purpose will be to offer growing, established companies patient equity capital and strategic support, to assist them to reach their growth potential. Business seeking support can be from across Australia and from a range of industries.
Established Australian businesses will be eligible for long-term equity capital investments between $5 million and $15 million, where they can demonstrate three years of revenue growth and profitability and a clear growth vision.
Supporting severely affected regions
This response package will appropriate a further $1 billion from the Consolidated Revenue Fund to support those sectors, regions and communities that have been disproportionately affected by the economic impacts of the Coronavirus.
Further plans and measures to support recovery will be designed and delivered in partnership with the affected industries and communities through the funding allocated in this package.
The Government is also establishing a $15 billion Structured Finance Support (Coronavirus Economic Response) Fund and the Structured Finance Support (Coronavirus Economic Response) Fund Special Account.
The Fund will ensure continued access to funding markets impacted by the economic effects of the Coronavirus pandemic and promote competition in consumer and business lending markets.
In particular, this will ensure that smaller lenders can maintain access to funding, by the Government making targeted investments in structured finance markets.
To fund this Package, the Government is appropriating the necessary funds from the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
Full details of the measures contained in the Package are set out in the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bills.
This Bill supports the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Bill 2020 by providing a guarantee for new short-term loans issued by Authorised Deposit-taking Institutions (ADIs) and non-ADI lenders to support small and medium-sized enterprises to cover immediate cash flow needs in response to the national economic crisis associated with the Coronavirus pandemic.
Full details of the Bill are contained in the Explanatory Memorandum already tabled.
AUSTRALIAN BUSINESS GROWTH FUND (CORONAVIRUS ECONOMIC RESPONSE PACKAGE) BILL 2020
The Australian Business Growth Fund (Coronavirus Economic Response Package) Bill 2020 supports the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Bill 2020 and introduces legislation that authorises the Commonwealth Government to participate in forming, and acquiring shares in or debentures of, the Australian Business Growth Fund and appropriates $100 million for that purpose.
Full details of the Bill are contained in the Explanatory Memorandum already tabled.
ASSISTANCE FOR SEVERELY AFFECTED REGIONS (SPECIAL APPROPRIATION) (CORONAVIRUS ECONOMIC RESPONSE PACKAGE) BILL 2020
The Assistance for Severely Affected Regions (Special Appropriation) (Coronavirus Economic Response Package) Bill 2020 supports the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Bill 2020 and will appropriate $1 billion from the Consolidated Revenue Fund to support those sectors, regions and communities that have been disproportionately affected by the economic impacts of the Coronavirus. This will include:
Further plans and measures to support recovery will be designed and delivered in partnership with the affected industries and communities through the funding allocated in this Bill.
Full details of the Bill are contained in the Explanatory Memorandum already tabled.
STRUCTURED FINANCE SUPPORT (CORONAVIRUS ECONOMIC RESPONSE PACKAGE) BILL 2020
This Bill supports the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Bill 2020 by establishing the $15 billion Structured Finance Support (Coronavirus Economic Response) Fund and the Structured Finance Support (Coronavirus Economic Response) Fund Special Account.
Full details of the Bill are contained in the Explanatory Memorandum already tabled.
APPROPRIATION (CORONAVIRUS ECONOMIC RESPONSE PACKAGE) BILL (NO. 1) 2019-2020
Today, the Government introduces the Coronavirus Economic Response Appropriation Bills. These Bills are:
Together, these Bills underpin the Government's Coronavirus Response expenditure decisions. These Bills ensure there is sufficient appropriation to implement decisions in 2019-2020 that support the Government's response to the Coronavirus.
Appropriation (Coronavirus Economic Response) Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020 seeks approval for appropriations from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of just over $1.6 billion. The Bill will provide the Department of Health with an additional $571.6 million, including $113.5 million to establish and operate dedicated respiratory clinics to assist with diagnosing and managing respiratory cases, including Coronavirus, influenza, and pneumonia. A further $48 million will be provided to support aged care providers experiencing a Coronavirus outbreak, providing workforce, financial support and consumer education. A further $119.0 million will be provided to support a range of measures to support a national communications program and a Triage Hotline.
Further, the Bill will provide $188.6 million to the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, to provide support for small businesses to retain their apprentices and trainees by providing a wage subsidy of 50 per cent of the apprentice's or trainee's wage. This measure will support up to 70,000 businesses, employing around 117,000 apprentices and trainees.
The Bill also provides an additional Advance to the Finance Minister (AFM) provision of $800 million to provide the Government with the capacity to allocate additional appropriations for Coronavirus related responses that are not contemplated in the current package. While this new AFM provision is significant, it will be limited to Coronavirus response requirements only, including health and economic responses.
Details of the proposed expenditure are set out in Schedule 1 to the Bill. Further details of the Bill are contained in the Explanatory Memorandum already tabled.
APPROPRIATION (CORONAVIRUS ECONOMIC RESPONSE PACKAGE) BILL (NO. 2) 2019-2020
Appropriation (Coronavirus Economic Response) Bill (No. 2) 2019-2020, along with Appropriation (Coronavirus Economic Response) Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020, which was introduced earlier appropriate funds to support the Government's Coronavirus Economic Response.
This Bill seeks approval for appropriations from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of $744 million, primarily for the Department of Health.
This will provide $700 million for the purchase of additional personal protective equipment for the National Medical Stockpile, including surgical and P2 masks, surgical gowns, gloves and goggles. A further $40 million will be provided to purchase antibiotics and antivirals for the National Medical Stockpile.
The Bill also provides an additional Advance to the Finance Minister (AFM) provision of $1.2 billion to provide the Government with the capacity to allocate additional appropriations for Coronavirus related responses that are not contemplated in the current package. While this new AFM provision is significant, it will be limited to Coronavirus response requirements only, including health and economic responses.
In early March, the Finance Minister approved two advances under Appropriation Act (No 2) 2019-20, at a total of $300 million, for initial Coronavirus related responses. This latest AFM provision is a proportionate expansion of the size of the AFM facility that will be available through to the end of this financial year, to assist in the management of this significant challenge to public health and the economy.
Details of the proposed expenditure are set out in the Schedule 1 to the Bill. Further details of the Bill are contained in the Explanatory Memorandum already tabled.
BOOSTING CASH FLOW FOR EMPLOYERS (CORONAVIRUS ECONOMIC RESPONSE PACKAGE) BILL 2020
This Bill provides legislative authority for the Tax Commissioner to make cash flow boost payments to eligible entities.
Full details of the Bill are contained in the Explanatory Memorandum already tabled.
I say from the outset that Labor will be supporting this legislation. Now is not the time to stand in the way of this package of measures, because Australians need support now. Today in suburbs across Australia there have been queues forming outside Centrelink offices, with people anxiously, and some patiently, waiting to find out what support they might have access to. It is happening in Marrickville, Darlinghurst and Burwood in Sydney; Brunswick in Melbourne; Southport on the Gold Coast; Inala in the suburbs of Brisbane and right here in Canberra. Centrelink is even trending on Twitter. These are horrific scenes on a scale that our country has not seen before, and I pray they won't be seen again after this current crisis. The people in these Centrelink queues are people we all know. They are our family members, our friends, our neighbours. Whether they are barristers, bartenders, chefs or flight attendants they are all our fellow Australians. On footpaths, people who should be working in retail, running their small businesses or seeing clients are instead looking for a lifeline. There are reports that 88,000 people in hospitality alone have lost their jobs over the last few days and another 200,000 more could be lost in the next 12 weeks. That is some 280,000 people without a pay packet. That's the equivalent of the MCG filled almost three times.
Australia is the land of the fair go. We pride ourselves on being an equal and fair society. Sadly, the coronavirus is also a great equaliser. It does not discriminate. We are all equal in the face of this crisis and we are all in this together. And whether these people are just a handful of kilometres away or on the other side of the country in Western Australia, we are here in this chamber to pass a stimulus package to help them. It is called a stimulus package but it is designed to ensure the survival of our country and our community. It is not so much a stimulus as a basic support package for Australia. It is designed to keep Australian families going.
Our frontline health and public safety officers are currently doing the same. Nurses, doctors, anaesthetists, aged-care workers and disability workers are showing up to work to fight the coronavirus and protect some of the most vulnerable in our community from it. Australian Border Force officers are enforcing border measures. Our state and territory police forces are also playing an integral and ever-increasing role. We thank them for their dedication and sacrifice, for the fact they are risking their health and wellbeing for the wider Australian community.
As I told the chamber earlier, Labor has worked constructively with the government to address the coronavirus crisis. We will give the government credit when they deserve it and apply scrutiny when it is required. However, Labor is concerned that the government's latest response has not substantially addressed some of the gaps we identified in the original stimulus and it raises additional concerns, which we will work through with the government. Foremost amongst these concerns: there is no substantial support to protect jobs and no guarantee that businesses receiving support will keep workers on. We are also gravely concerned that the coronavirus supplement may not be available for some Australian families struggling to put food on the table, particularly given there has been no change to the income test.
I can advise the Senate that the leader of the Labor Party, Anthony Albanese, met earlier this afternoon with the Prime Minister to raise the concern regarding the income-free area for a couple or family to get access to the jobseeker payment and the coronavirus supplement. I thank the Prime Minister and the government for listening and taking those concerns on board, and I look forward with anticipation to a response this evening—potentially from the government—in the form of an amendment that may seek to address this. I understand the government are considering this at this time, and I thank them for their consideration.
In addition, we are concerned that there is a lack of urgency in this support. We are concerned that payments to households, including pensioners, will arrive too late. We are deeply concerned that cashflow assistance to businesses will arrive too late and will not help otherwise viable businesses most at risk of collapse. For others—for sole traders and the self-employed—the support is just not enough. Renters have no direct support, despite the Prime Minister flagging this as a serious issue last week. I should note that Labor welcomes the announcement by banks that they would grant reprieves for mortgage holders, but we are deeply concerned about renters. Students are also highly vulnerable. There is no coronavirus supplement for students, even if they lose their job or have their hours cut. I flag that the shadow minister Linda Burney has already raised this issue with the government. There are also no provisions for the 1.6 million temporary visa holders in Australia, soon to be trapped here with varying levels of health care and no access to income support.
One of Labor's most grave concerns is the threat posed to retirement incomes and the stability of the financial system by the expansion of the early release of superannuation. Drawing from superannuation should only be done as a measure of last resort. If people are at that point now as a result of coronavirus, it is a sign that the government must do more to help them. We should not be encouraging people to draw from their superannuation at the bottom of the market. In addition, charities, food banks and organisations that provide essential services to vulnerable Australians really need more substantial support. We cannot ignore the absence of a coordinated whole-of-economy plan and the lack of sufficient support and planning for essential and strategic industries—like the airline industry, the childcare sector and the arts.
Finally we now know that there is the potential for a third economic support package. I hope the government is working on this with a sense of urgency to ensure the gaps in the existing responses are dealt with. The government must address the traffic issues on the myGov website as a matter of urgency, as well as those issues being faced at Centrelink shopfronts. As my colleagues the shadow minister for government services, Bill Shorten, and the shadow minister for families and social services, Linda Burney, said earlier today, 'It has never been more important for the social security safety net to be strong in this country.' The fact that you have people congregating to access benefits poses a further health risk to Australia as well as to the public servants working for Services Australia.
For many of the hundreds of thousands of Australians who will be left without a job as a result of this crisis, this may be the first time they have ever had to access income support. For others—and I have been in this position—they might be accessing Newstart for a short period until they can find a job, begin paying taxes again and, in turn, are able to help their fellow Australians just like they have been helped. We must acknowledge today that many people in our country are having to rely on a safety net when they've never had to do so before.
This is not the fault of any person or company. This is because we are all confronted with a health and economic crisis like we have never seen before. It is exactly why our safety net exists: to catch you when you fall, even though you have fallen through no fault of your own. We are all feeling the impact of this crisis; we are all feeling the same concerns and worries; we are all pulling together. Australia survived the recession in the early 1990s and came out stronger on the other side with 29 years of uninterrupted economic growth. We weathered the global financial crisis and, thanks to strong leadership by federal and state governments at the time, fought off the strongest headwinds to avoid falling into recession.
There will be no quick fix, though, to this coronavirus crisis. This crisis is going to be one of the most—if not the single most—difficult since the Second World War. Whilst it is testing our resolve, I have faith in Australia and, more importantly, Australians. We have fought threats to our security, our sovereignty and our fiscal stability, and we now must fight a war on two fronts: a virus that is both attacking the health of Australians and undermining our way of life.
I do flag tonight that I understand that there have been amendments already circulated from the Greens, and I appreciate the concern that they're expressing through those amendments. We believe there is merit in many of the Greens' amendments. We have raised these concerns, about people who slip through the cracks, directly with the government. But we do believe there is no point holding up this package tonight by supporting amendments that will ultimately fail in the House because the government will not support them.
We also note that section 1210B of schedule 11 of the bill gives the minister the power to make almost all of these payments by legislative instrument, and we urge the government to act on this. Without changing the legislation, students, pensioners, people on disability support payments—in fact, anyone on a payment—can be given the $550 coronavirus supplement or a supplement of another amount. New Zealanders and other temporary visa holders can also be given access to payments—usually, by the special benefit—by legislative instrument. It does not require amendment tonight. The minister also has the powers to vary the amounts of money quarantined for people on income management under existing legislation. We have raised all these issues directly with the government, both through Shadow Minister Burney, as well as directly through the Leader of the Opposition, to the Prime Minister, and, as I flagged, I understand the government is working on some amendments we anticipate later tonight.
Finally, this is not a time for a 'she'll be right' attitude. There are no excuses anymore. The risks are too high. Australia cannot become an Italy, we cannot become a United States, when it comes to coronavirus. Even if we don't get sick or don't feel sick, we—our families, our children, our community members—could still be making multiple other people sick. We could be sending our neighbours to the hospital or putting our parents or grandparents into intensive care if we spread the coronavirus around.
We can't see this horrendous virus that is hurting us and our country. But we can see what it does to people, and we must do everything we can to stop the spread of it. Wash your hands. Use hand sanitiser. Keep 1.5 metres away from other people at all times. Stay at home, regardless of your age or how at risk you might be. This social distancing, though, does not need to mean social isolation. We can FaceTime our families regularly. We can have a drink with our friends over a Zoom video conference. We can start streaming the same Netflix series together at the same time with our mates, as if we're all watching it together. We can be kind to one another, especially to those workers who are ensuring our society can still operate, like the supermarket staff, or the public transport workers or other public servants. We can exercise, to keep our minds and spirits clear. We can find new routines, as our society finds a new, and hopefully temporary, way of life.
Whilst we may not be back in this chamber for some time, the government, the parliament and all of us as elected officials will continue to work for the people of Australia. We will survive this crisis and we will do that by working together. I move:
At the end of the motion, add:
", but the Senate calls on the Government to more quickly implement the measures it is proposing, noting that, under the current proposal:
(a) the Coronavirus supplement will not begin until 27 April 2020;
(b) expanded access to the Jobseeker Payment and Youth Allowance will not begin until 27 April 2020;
(c) most people won't receive the first payment to households until April 2020 or the second payment until July 2020;
(d) pensioners won't see a boost in their income due to the change in deeming rates until 1 May 2020; and
(e) employers won't receive a cash flow boost until 28 April 2020".
(—) (): Our response to this pandemic will, quite literally, determine who lives and who dies. It will determine the social, economic, family and personal future of every single Australian. But it's not just the way we manage our response to this pandemic that we will be judged on, nor just the way we look after people during this crisis. We will be judged on how we rebuild our society and how we rebuild our economy when the time comes, and we will be judged on what we rebuild them into. What is clear is that business as usual—which too often means putting business first—just isn't going to cut it anymore.
COVID-19 has shown us that running down our public services, firing public servants and cutting scientific research all to give away tax cuts to big corporations and high-income earners has left us more exposed and worse prepared than we should have been. Today, for example, we are seeing lines around the corner at Centrelink offices around the country. Centrelink is completely ill equipped to manage this predictable influx, and that was no accident. Politicians driven by neoliberal ideology have changed Centrelink from an institution staffed by people trying to help other people into a swarm of robots hounding down people in many cases for debts they never owed. Neoliberal ideology in the years leading up to this pivotal moment has been about extracting budget savings from public services, rather than looking after people.
What this crisis has exposed is that government should always have a crucial role to play in our economy. We simply cannot go back to a cycle of unrestrained public greed and inequality—rampant inequality in the good times and socialising the losses in the tough times. Hopefully, this crisis sounds the death knell for neoliberalism and the rebirth, painful though it will certainly be, of a more caring economic and social framework.
These bills that we are debating have not been guided by neoliberal ideology. Why is that? Because the ideology of free markets is completely and provably unable to look after people. It completely and provably destroys nature. It does those things in the good times and the bad. We are all in this pickle together, so let's make sure our economic framework reflects that reality. We should leave no-one behind during this pandemic. We need to learn lessons and make sure that we never leave people behind once the pandemic is over. Let's not just go back to normal, because for far, far too many people 'normal' meant 'really, really difficult'.
The isolation, the deprivation and the alienation that we are seeing now as we close down our society and our economy did not begin during this crisis. Before the crisis, there were more than 100,000 Australians without a home. Before the crisis, too many Australians could not afford groceries or to pay their bills or to pay their rent. Before the crisis, people were working long hours in poorly paid and insecure jobs without fair reward and without basic workplace rights. So, when we come out the other side—and we will—we should not plan for things to go back to the way that they were. That means we need to make sure that the superrich and the big corporates pay their fair share and that we use the money we raise to look after each other and to properly fund our public services and public institutions.
It also means that we need to tackle the climate emergency with the same whole-of-society mobilisation and response that we are seeing today in this legislation. We have to try to emerge from coronavirus with an economy that matches the values of our society, not the other way around. That means well-paid, secure work, with strong protections for the tough times. It means clear plans for the essential work that needs to be done: building renewable energy, caring for people, rewilding and reforesting, farming and building the things we need here in Australia. It means a strong safety net for everyone, not pushing everyone on income support back below the poverty line once this is all over. The work on a fairer economy starts now, and it starts with the government's legislation, which we are currently debating. We will support these bills, and we wish the government all the best with keeping people in good health and out of poverty. But we do have very real concerns that the government's package does leave some people behind.
The government's response has not been fast enough, it's not been strong enough and it's not been fair enough. A lot of these payments don't kick in until this time next month. People who aren't getting shifts or who have lost their jobs need support now, not after they've been evicted or had their internet or electricity cut off. One in every three working parents in Australia have no paid leave. Think about the consequences of letting them fall through the cracks: they can't pay rent, have to keep paying childcare fees or lose their spot, face eviction and have no home of their own to care for their children. Students and carers who worked casual jobs for extra income will have their shifts taken away. Unlike others, who will be relying on income support, they won't be eligible for the $550-a-fortnight COVID-19 supplement. They will be left in poverty. Where is our plan for them?
We've heard last Thursday's plan for $30 billion of public money, pouring onto the balance sheets of the banks, for residential mortgage backed securities—the very products, I might add, that spawned the global financial crisis. But where is the plan for more intensive-care beds in Australia? Where is the pledge that beds and medical equipment locked up in the private health system will be available for everyone on the basis of need, not just for the wealthy? The Greens have moved amendments to deal with some of these concerns and other concerns that we have with the government's package, and we will continue to pursue these issues as we move through extraordinary times.
The biggest recipients of the government's package are the big banks. Two-thirds of the money is going straight onto banks' balance sheets. These are the same banks that came out of the GFC stronger than they went into it. Have we learnt nothing? The world's experience of so-called unconventional monetary policy, or quantitative easing, is that it's helped financial markets and speculators more than it's helped the real economy and productive activity. Government investment should be for the future. It should be for people. It should be to look after nature. It should be to respond to climate. It should be for infrastructure that creates jobs and sets us up for a clean future. It should not just be for short-term sugar hits or favours for suddenly-impoverished financial speculators. We need to use government bonds to put money in the pockets of people who need it right now.
The UK will pay, up-front, 80 per cent of a worker's wages if they are kept on the books. Denmark is doing the same, at 75 per cent of a worker's wage. We need the government to come back into this parliament and legislate to do something similar to keep people in work. When we all come out the other side, we need to get building and creating the jobs of the future. The high level of government intervention that has been necessary to keep us safe and secure during coronavirus is the same approach we need to keep us safe and secure from the climate crisis—the mobilisation of a workforce, all hands on deck, to do what needs to be done to keep us safe. Just as we need to build medical equipment like ventilators here in Australia, we need to manufacture and build a climate-resilient society as well.
The UN has estimated that the long-term losses from this pandemic will be $3 trillion to $4 trillion. That is huge, and it's possibly an underestimate. But the expected losses from staying on a four-degree trajectory of global warming, as we are on, are a minimum of $630 trillion over this century. That is why we need to create jobs and clean industries, which a Green New Deal would provide us. This is our chance to use the powers of government to not only keep us safe over the next few months but allow us to prosper when we come out of this pandemic and face the next great human challenge: bringing our emissions under control. We're all in this together. I do have confidence in humanity to navigate these challenges, because we don't have any other choice.
I want to end by thanking all of the people who work in our allied health system. The coming weeks and months are going to be so, so hard for you. Many of you will become infected, and, tragically, it is likely that quite a few of you will die because you will sacrifice yourself for the greater good and for the rest of us. Thank you for the sacrifices you have made, are making and will make in the months ahead. Thank you so much. Let us all be prepared to make the sacrifices that we need to make to try and keep safe not only our health workforce but every other Australian. Do the sensible things and follow the medical advice. If you don't need to leave home, just don't. I move the second reading amendment circulated in my name:
At the end of the motion, add:
", but the Senate is of the opinion that the Government must develop and promptly present its plan to at least double the number of intensive care units, ventilators and the necessary medical equipment immediately, and then further increase these supplies in line with the advice of medical experts so the Australian people can be confident that no one will be left to die unnecessarily from this pandemic".
Thank you so much for the opportunity to speak on this very important economic package tonight. Labor has been constructive from the outset and will continue to be constructive. We have offered to work with the government in a bipartisan fashion to ensure we do everything we can to protect the livelihoods of all Australians. This includes Labor being supportive of the government's first and second economic responses to COVID-19 which we've seen in the last week or so. However, there are aspects of the government's package that we do have concerns about.
We are concerned that there is a lack of urgency, we're concerned that there are gaps in support and we're concerned that the packages do not go far enough to protect jobs. However, we have made it clear that Labor will not stand in the way of the package of measures that is before us today because it is very clear that our economy and Australians need support now. We do know that there's potential for a third package, and I hope that the government is working on this with a sense of urgency to ensure that some of the gaps in the existing responses are dealt with. To meet the scale of the challenge that is before us, the government's response must be large enough, must be implemented quickly enough and must be targeted enough to protect and support the livelihoods of Australians and prevent more job losses, more business failures and a more serious economic downturn. These were the three tests that the Prime Minister set himself at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. Australians need the government to do a better job getting this support out the door than they have done with the drought relief, the bushfire relief and the original stimulus. The Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Bill 2020 and related bills seek to implement the two responses announced by the government to date—the initial $17.6 billion package, announced just over a week ago, and the $66 billion package announced over the weekend just gone.
The package contains a number of additional measures, including the delay to the Intergenerational report; the routine adjustment to the thresholds of the Medicare levy and Medicare levy surcharge; the ability for ministers to temporarily defer the sunsetting of legislation where the sunset date falls due during a period when the parliament may not be sitting; and the changes to the Australian Business Growth Fund which we have agreed with the government. There are also appropriation bills for this financial year that deal with the implementation of both the economic and the health responses to COVID-19. This includes $1.3 billion for health, as part of the response to COVID-19, including $113.5 million for the establishment and operation of dedicated respiratory clinics and $700 million for the purchasing of personal protective equipment for the National Medical Stockpile. It also includes $437 million for infrastructure relating to the airlines package announced by the government a few weeks ago. We'll support all of these measures.
Labor is concerned that the Morrison government's latest response has not substantially addressed some gaps we identified in the original stimulus and raises additional concerns, including no substantial support to protect jobs and no guarantee that businesses receiving support will keep workers on; the newly announced $550 coronavirus supplement may not be available for some Australian families struggling to put food on the table, particularly given there's been no change to the income test; the payments to households, including to pensioners, may arrive too late, with the second $750 payment not due to hit bank accounts until mid-July; cash flow assistance to business will arrive too late and will not help otherwise viable businesses most at risk of collapse; and the first boost in cash flow payment isn't set to arrive until the end of April, and a second payment won't occur until the end of July.
Other concerns include the lack of more substantial support for sole traders and the self-employed to help them stay in business; the absence of any direct support for renters, despite the Prime Minister flagging this as a serious issue last week; and no coronavirus supplement for students even if they lose their part-time job or have their hours cut. We note that the expansion of early release superannuation risks undermining retirement incomes and compromising financial system stability and should be considered only as a last resort, and that the $1 billion regional and community support fund, despite the bill that is before us today which seeks to legislate for the fund, still lacks significant detail, which is a worrying sign given this government's track record at these types of funds. Our concerns include the lack of more substantial support for charities, including food banks and organisations that provide essential services to vulnerable Australians; the absence of a coordinated whole-of-economy plan; and a lack of sufficient support and planning for essential and strategic industries including, but not limited to, the airline industry, the childcare sector and the arts. These are all concerns that Labor has raised publicly, consistently and, I think, in a way that urges the government to consider these and respond to them as part of this unfolding economic crisis.
COVID-19 and the economic crisis that surrounds it demand urgency, scale and coordination, but the Morrison government's initial and subsequent responses, we believe, have come too late, have been too slow and have too many gaps. Businesses are already closing, workers are already being laid off and many vulnerable Australians are at serious risk. The level of anxiety across the community is enormous. We've all been seeing the images of people in the shops, worried. And the only thing around this anxiety that many of them can control at the moment is shopping and making sure they have enough food and supplies for their family, because they feel out of control about everything else that is happening around them. And we are asking them to accept a huge amount of change to the way that we have lived our lives for so many years—for all of our years, really. So it's no surprise that people are anxious. As leaders, this government needs to respond to that anxiety. We're seeing the lines outside Centrelink and the websites crashing, and we're hearing the stories on the street as you walk around, with people saying: 'I've had to let all my casuals go. There was nothing I could do. I did it a month ago.' Many of the coffee shops in Canberra were telling me they let their casuals go a month ago. This is causing so much disruption and concern across the community that it's confronting for all of us who never thought we would witness this kind of dislocation and disruption in our lives.
With queues outside Centrelink offices and the myGov website crashing, we have to ensure that Centrelink services, both online and in person, are working now when Australians need them the most. I am not in any way reflecting on the capabilities of Centrelink staff or staff across the Australian Public Service more broadly, who have been exemplary in their response considering the number of job losses they've absorbed in the last six years. The work that they have been doing, including those from Foreign Affairs and Trade and the officials who went into Wuhan to help evacuate Australians—these are public servants who always get a pretty negative rap about cushy jobs, being well paid and not being at the front line. So many of our Public Service are at the front line, and those that aren't are supporting the ones that are. They're developing the policy, they're coordinating the response and they're advising the government what to do in this crisis. We should acknowledge that effort today. It has been enormous, off the back of the bushfires and then straight into this. Labor certainly wants to thank them and put that on the record. Centrelink need additional staff. There is no way they will be able to do this. Services Australia—I think there is a response from the government around that—need to make sure that staff are protected while they do their job and that they are also given much greater capacity to deliver the services that so many more Australians are going to need. This is important particularly for Australians that have never had to navigate this system before; navigating this system isn't part of the way they've lived. Centrelink needs to be significantly ramped up and urgently ramped up.
Our priority is to support jobs and help Australian workers, businesses and communities through this difficult time, and particularly ensure that vulnerable Australians are supported. We understand that people are anxious and they are looking for leadership and they are looking for consistency in the messages they are getting. I think they are looking for understanding, too, about how difficult this time is. I think, for the most part, people are genuinely trying to do the right thing. Where they aren't, of course, that needs to be dealt with. Labor will continue to be supportive, constructive and responsible, and will work with the government where we can, as we are doing to facilitate the passage of these packages today. We will keep working with the government to point out where there are gaps or where key groups have been left out. We will inject a sense of urgency where it is absent or lacking. On the point of urgency, I note the second reading amendment which has been moved by Senator Keneally, which goes to the points we have all made about how some of this support will not reach people for some weeks or months, and for many that is going to be a very long wait.
I'm also going to foreshadow a second reading amendment in my name that covers issues surrounding superannuation—in particular, the early access to super measure that is proposed in the package of bills. On superannuation, I want to point out that it was Labor, of course, that created a universal, world-class superannuation system, and we very much believe that every Australian deserves a dignified retirement. Labor notes that drawing down on super, as it's proposed, though the early access to superannuation measure, when the market is at historic lows will have negative implications for most Australians. We seriously believe it should be an option of last resort. I would note that in the other place we moved some amendments, around trying to improve this particular measure, which the government didn't agree to. We're not repeating those amendments here, in the interests of getting this package done, but we believe a second reading amendment is warranted. Labor also calls on the government to ensure that Australians have access to the right information and advice in times of financial hardship, and also that people who do access these early access provisions are being provided with the right advice. We're calling on proper consultation with all stakeholders to ensure the measure does not have significant negative impacts on the retirement outcomes of Australians.
We take our responsibilities here as legislators and leaders extremely seriously. In times like these, Australians are very rightly looking to those in authority for leadership and guidance, which is why Labor have taken the approach we have in recent times. It's why we have been supportive and attempted to act in a bipartisan and constructive manner. It's also why we have been pointing out the gaps where we see them. Our support for the legislation today does not in any way mean that we think everything is perfect, as I've outlined already. However, what Australians need right now is the support that is provided by this package, and that is why we support the legislation today.
I would also like to place on the record for those senators who aren't able to speak tonight, and our colleagues who aren't here, our thanks, admiration and gratitude to everyone working out there to help deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. I've already mentioned staff across the Public Service and in all our state and territory public services, many of which have had to regear to focus on this crisis, not least of which are the staff in our health system and the community service system who are having to respond to, I think, extremely distressing workplaces which are only going to get more difficult to work in in coming months. Whether it be our health professionals, aged-care workers, workers in supermarkets, or anyone else involved, you have our support and everlasting thanks for what you are doing.
As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia I advise that One Nation will support the government's measures tackling COVID-19, coronavirus. We don't agree with them all, yet now is when the government that the people elected must be allowed to govern. I will raise serious questions about the government's approach to fulfilling its three core responsibilities: protecting life, protecting property and protecting freedom. All three are relevant tonight. We are well aware of the devastating effects and the human tragedy that this virus is leaving in its wake around the world. Now its attack is taking hold on Australia and on Australians. Many people have died, and, unfortunately, many more will die or be scarred.
The World Health Organization says that, of the people who contract the virus, 3.4 per cent will die, yet there are many factors, including transmission rate and whether or not a nation's healthcare system is overwhelmed. Experts tell us that everyone will eventually get coronavirus. Using these figures simplistically means 850,000 Australians would die. That's staggering, yet we must remain calm, though, because such broad figures cannot be applied so simply, and we can do much better when we are committed. Italy's early figures show a fatality rate much higher than this 3.4 per cent; South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore much lower, around one-tenth.
The first step is to protect people, to prevent deaths. That means stopping or reducing the transmission and that means, in part, stopping human interaction. This virus easily transmits itself from human to human. The second step is to prevent the overwhelming of our healthcare system, so that everyone can get effective treatment. The third step is to identify economic impacts and serious economic challenges, because, without human interactions, economies contract. The fourth step is to identify which industries, sectors and individuals will need assistance. The fifth step is to ask what the sources of financing and the areas for reducing people's expenses are. The final step is to consider how to restore our economy afterwards. That involves short-term and long-term factors to restore our nation's productive capacity and economic resilience.
Let's return to the first step. Some foreign governments acted swiftly to stop the virus. They immediately closed borders and sent people home to protect them and to help isolate and stop the virus. They proactively quarantined, including closing schools, while infection numbers were low. They took immediate action to help curb the spread of this killer. We may or may not know who shares this deadly virus with us—a friend, a relative who does not know they even have the virus themselves—yet the death rate isn't the only determining factor regarding how deadly a pandemic can be; it will be the impact on our families, our businesses, our economy and our way of life. Who knows what life will be like after this storm passes?
Minister, every day Australians are more and more concerned, and we rely on our governments to protect us, yet in Canberra yesterday we saw shoppers mingling normally, and the same in Brisbane restaurants. It is time for decisive action to protect our health, our children, our jobs and our country's future. The sooner we act to stop transmitting the virus and isolate it, the safer Australians will be and the fewer will die. The 1918 Spanish flu epidemic was the deadliest flu season we know, killing around 50 million people. The coronavirus, COVID-19, is no less a killer and is easier for humans to catch than the 1918 Spanish flu.
I base my facts, my data, on reports from Taiwan, South Korea, China and Singapore and from the Western countries that are currently floundering, like Italy, the UK, the USA and more. I have become very concerned that we need decisive action and that we need a stronger, broader, deeper response—now. The question is which is more important: people's lives or the economy? It is not appropriate to try a balancing act. The higher priority is to protect people's health, and I commend the government for acting, yet we have to be both dynamic and aggressive in attacking this enemy, and to base decisions on data.
From a strategic point of view our choice in combating this deadly virus is either mitigation or suppression, yet what does this mean? Mitigation involves voluntary isolation and trying to reduce the impact, like Italy, France, Spain and Britain and the USA, yet this has the potential that very soon we will see the overwhelming of our healthcare system and the destruction of the economy, needlessly costing Australian lives. Mitigation takes time, and experience overseas, as in Italy, says that it is killing more people. Suppression, though, is preferred and is the enforced isolation of the population, as in Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea. It involves aggressive testing and then managed treatment. Suppression could cut this horrendous mortality rate from five per cent in Italy to 0.6 per cent in South Korea. The harsh enforcement of suppression is against our democratic ideals and our friendly outdoors lifestyle. Yet doing it will save potentially hundreds of thousands of Australian lives—and this does not include the collateral damage, where people in need are not able to get into intensive care units.
We should not assume that there will be a hospital bed waiting for us if we get sick or injured. The data suggest that, using mitigation strategies, only one in 30 infected people will be able to get into an ICU bed in Australia. That means that intensive care units in our healthcare system will be completely overwhelmed. Patients will be lying in hospital corridors. Nurses and doctors will decide who survives and who dies—and that's a terrible, scary responsibility for professionals who care. Media reports from Italy say that people over 80 years of age are now not treated. Some victims of coronavirus—and there could likely be many—will need intensive care units, because COVID-19 is a respiratory disease and many people will need intubation. What is going to happen to those who would normally be referred to an ICU unit for other causes, like major trauma or severe burns, respiratory failure, organ transplant or car accidents? Sick or injured Australians may not find a bed that does not already have a coronavirus patient in it, and that means more deaths.
According to the experts and overseas data, suppression is best. But we're not doing it. After that, it's going to take an effective vaccine, which is up to a year away, and then herd immunity, which blocks out the virus when we become immune, from already having had COVID-19. The overseas data seems to show that, right now, we need a suppression strategy, until we develop a vaccine. Our government isn't there yet. And complacency kills.
Reportedly, in South Korea, comprehensive testing for body temperature is followed with testing high-temperature people for COVID-19. Those with the virus are isolated, as are those with weaker immunity. The majority of people stay at work and keep going. That means much less economic disruption to the economy.
Until the government takes stronger action, we're all going to need to practice social distancing, to help minimise the number of people who contract the virus. In simple terms, we all need to keep our distance from others; practice good hygiene, including regular hand-washing and surface-cleaning; eat well; rest; and be considerate of others. We will need to work together to limit exposure to one another, especially with older adults and people with underlying illnesses, who have the greatest risk of developing severe symptoms. Though we do need to take action to contain the spread and to protect our most vulnerable Australians, we all have to take responsibility for the health and welfare of ourselves and others. It is time to care and to be kind.
We have every reason to stay calm and make decisions based on data and facts. Minister, a matter of importance is that every day Australians are calling now for detailed and regular information and updates, and people want information when and where we need it—often. Australians deserve to know the data and the facts about what the government is doing and what is happening to us, here and overseas. Television and the internet may not be available or enough. The government must engage effectively to keep us all up to date with facts.
I especially want to express Australia's thanks and best wishes to all of our healthcare professionals, our heroes, for what they are doing and for what they are going to do in the tough months ahead. Some have talked about bringing health professionals out of retirement. This may be a good idea, provided the older professionals themselves are not in a group at high risk of getting this sinister virus. To all those who step up to the challenge, and to those who support our healthcare heroes: we thank you.
Who knows what Australia and, indeed, the world will look like after this menace is overcome. I just hope that the actions that our national and state governments are taking today will be quick and decisive and ensure that we are saving as many Australian lives as possible. The sooner we are through this event, the sooner we can all get back to normal.
One Nation has scrutinised the bill and, in the interests of speedy action and support for people across our country, will vote in favour. I do, though, want to address two measures we oppose strongly. The first is the business growth fund. Recently the crossbench came together to oppose this legislation. We raised many, many problems with how this terrible legislation would work in practice. We pointed out that there is already a patient capital industry in this country. This legislation will eliminate it. That will reduce competition for the major banks. That will increase returns for the banks. We pointed out that Australian taxpayers would now subsidise the local arm of foreign corporations, to the detriment of Australian owned businesses. We said that the government has no place trying to pick winners in the venture capital space, and no place eliminating competition for the banks. All these objections and more have been ignored. Now I find the bill has been included in the rescue package, so we can no longer oppose it. The Liberals, Nationals and Labor worked on this together. The Liberal-Labor duopoly will do whatever it takes to transfer wealth from everyday Australians to their mates in the banks, even at the cost of wiping out our entire venture capital industry. I thought this was a rescue package, not a 'wipe out the competition to the banks' package.
I do find one thing interesting. One of the suggestions by Senator Patrick was to turn this fund into an underwriting fund. That would allow the existing venture capital market to make loans the government underwrites. This is a much safer bet for the taxpayers: our risk ends as soon as the loan is made. Imagine my surprise when I opened the rescue package and saw the Guarantee of Lending to Small and Medium Enterprises (Coronavirus Economic Response Package) Bill. It is a $20 billion fund—not an underwriting fund but a guaranteed fund. The taxpayers will be guaranteed $20 billion worth of loans. My first thought was: doesn't this fund make a business growth fund moot? What has the venture capital industry done to bring the wrath of the banks down on them? The Liberal-Labor banking cheer squad have moved, from the banks to the taxpayers, the risk for $20 billion worth of small business loans. Yet risk is what the banks deal in. If the government is now picking up the banking sector risk, is the government becoming a bank? Let me take that a step further. It is One Nation policy to create a 'people's bank' to give the big four banks some real competition in the areas in which they are complete failures—honesty, integrity and accountability. A people's bank would be really handy right now. At least we would be propping up a bank we own.
The second area that causes us alarm is the $115 billion this government and the Reserve Bank are about to spend on securitised mortgages. At Senate estimates earlier this month, I asked the Reserve Bank if they had actually checked the $300 billion they are already holding in securitised mortgages. By 'checked' I meant picked a tranche at random, cracked it open and made sure the paperwork was in order, the properties were correctly valued and the mortgaging income and assets were correct. The Reserve Bank admitted to me that it has never opened any of these tranches. I know from the banking victims' cases that flood my office that mortgages are being altered after being issued. The scam is to make a mortgage look better so it can be securitised. This government must check these things before it buys them with taxpayer money.
Now let me turn to the one that is missing from this package, and that is simply the future. Can this government really only think a few months ahead? Where is the vision in this rescue package? Why are we not getting cracking today on nation-building schemes to create new productive capacity to power this nation to a future, to create fresh wealth for everyday Australians? Where is the Bradfield scheme? Where are the dams, the power stations, the ports and airports? Where are the railways to places that need them? We are selling off our farms, shrinking rural Australia, shedding jobs and sending the profits from this new corporate agriculture to the Cayman Islands.
Where are the government's measures to save rural Australia? Oh wait! The Liberal and Labor governments are the ones who have been killing rural Australia for 30 years! Where is the $1 billion for South Australia's south-east drainage project to turn the drains around and send 400 gigalitres of freshwater a year back into the Coorong? This will save a Ramsar listed wetland, with all the tourism and commerce that brings. It will save the Menindee Lakes wetland from being drained—again. It will free up hundreds of gigalitres of water for irrigation, to grow billions of dollars of food and fibre for the world and earn us exports.
Where is the government's response to the PFAS contamination? Yes, that will be expensive to fix. Yet it will inject billions into regions right across Australia as we move affected residents into like-for-like properties and remediate the environmental damage. What a perfect time to be doing that. What about restoring land-use rights to farmers who bought them? The Howard Liberal government and many state Labor government since have stolen without compensation. If not restored under our Constitution, farmers need to be compensated—restoration or compensation so our farmers can get on with the job. What about stopping the waste of billions on subsidies for expensive intermittent solar and wind power? Bring jobs back to Australia with affordable energy using our abundance of energy currently exported to our competitors for cheap energy.
The Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians told us today that a major global source of personal protective equipment for healthcare and aged-care workers is—wait for it—Wuhan, the virus epicentre. This virus has taught us about the stupidity and the cost of the globalist elites in the United Nations preaching 'interdependence'. This virus shows that interdependence is really dependency. We need to restore our productive capacity, our economic resilience and our economic independence. One Nation would build for our future and put people to work, not just put the entire nation onto unemployment benefits. We rely on our government to help protect our health, our economy, our jobs and our way of life. In all respects, we need decisive action and we need it now. People need reassurance, confidence, hope, support and care. (Time expired)
As the leader of the Labor Party indicated in the House and as Labor speakers this evening have indicated, Labor will be supporting the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Bill 2020 and related bills. We're supporting it because it is so urgent, but it doesn't mean that we don't have deep concerns about the framing of the legislation and the capacity of the legislation to do what it is supposed to do.
I want to make a couple of remarks this evening to foreshadow an amendment circulated in my name in relation to the employment aspects of the legislation. I want to be frank about some of those issues here this evening. I think we have a responsibility in this place to fight for every job in the Australian economy. We are here for one day together, probably, but nurses, doctors, schoolteachers, supermarket workers, aged-care workers and Centrelink workers will turn up day after day after day to do their jobs. It's appropriate that we're here for one day, but we should be honouring those workers and we should be making sure that we fight for every job in the Australian economy.
The risk of mass unemployment is here, and it's real. Generational unemployment is a social cancer. It eats away at families, it eliminates hope and aspiration for a better life and it corrodes social cohesion. I fear that those on the government side are a little bit too glib about the impact of unemployment and have run up the white flag, conceding that mass unemployment is inevitable. It is not. This government is paralysed by its own sterile ideology, its obsession with small government and trickle-down economics, so that they are dismissive of the power of government to act in the interests of everybody in a market economy. They are too sceptical about the capacity of the state and state action in a crisis. Mass unemployment is not inevitable. I notice that the Treasurer was on his feet conceding very large numbers in terms of the Australian economy today.
Other countries are acting decisively and urgently now to protect jobs and businesses to ensure that they maintain employment and productive capacity for the other side of the crisis. The British government of Boris Johnson—Senator McGrath's old boss—will subsidise firms who keep workers employed to the tune of 80 per cent of their wage bill in order to ensure that furloughed workers remain on the payroll. This plan will initially last for three months, and there is no cap. The Danish government is planning to spend 13 per cent of the nation's GDP subsidising private-sector workers to avoid mass lay-offs. The Danish plan is to essentially freeze the economy for the length of the outbreak so that it can be revitalised quickly when it is over. The New Zealand government is providing immediate wage subsidies of NZ$585 every week for every full-time worker, up to 12 weeks.
Australian governments are entirely capable of decisive action. Kevin Rudd and his government didn't accept the inevitability of mass unemployment either. All but Australia fell victim to corporate collapses and generational job losses in the GFC. Rudd acted with urgency, scale and ambition. Hundreds of thousands of Australians have good jobs today because Kevin Rudd and that government acted decisively then. Of course, it has been pilloried in a dishonest, partisan and corrosive campaign by those opposite ever since. They turned up and voted 34 times against the GFC stimulus package. Contrast that with how Labor comes to the parliament in this time of crisis: constructively, with a sense of urgency and in the national interest.
This package looks anaemic alongside the determination of other governments today and the Rudd government 10 years ago. This package is better at supporting people who lose a job than it is at keeping them in a job in the first place. The value of the withholding tax arrangements is only around 20 per cent for a worker on average weekly ordinary-time earnings. It is nowhere near enough, and business can cash it in and lay off workers. It is unconditional, and that is unacceptable. The package should seek to protect jobs now, not to temporarily soften the blow of unemployment. Firms that receive assistance should be required to maintain workers in their jobs. That's in the interests of the firms themselves, it is in the interests of workers and it is in the national interest. That's what the UK, New Zealand and European economies are doing, and they will be in much better shape after the economic crisis has passed.
Assistance to airlines and other major businesses must involve commitments to maintain capability and employment and an honest consideration of equity stakes rather than untied grants that can be sold again when profitability returns. That is in the interests of taxpayers. Two-thirds of the $189 billion announced by the government is for measures to support credit flows and business lending, even though there was an effort to claim the whole $189 billion as a stimulus. The actual injections of government spending across both stimulus packages amount to only three per cent of GDP, a much smaller figure than for comparable nations. The Morrison government has brought a fiscal knife to an economic gunfight.
The decision to make low-income workers raid their retirement savings rather than the government stepping in to support them stinks. Telling recently unemployed people to raid their own super at the bottom of the market instead of offering substantial wage subsidies is an abrogation of the responsibility of government. It will shift the burden of paying for this crisis onto those who can least afford it. I suspect that the government couldn't help itself. Forcing super funds to liquidate assets at the bottom of the market rather than what they should be doing in the interests of their members—that is, buying assets—is just vandalism.
The package is deeply flawed. It runs up the white flag on jobs, it lacks ambition and it is nowhere near the scale of the response that this crisis demands. The amendment in my name at least holds out the prospect of challenging the government to look up, assess the scale of the challenge, deliver job security for Australian workers and make sure that Australian firms have the workers and the capacity that they need to produce and compete on the other side of this grave economic and health crisis.
I rise tonight to contribute to the debate on the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Bill 2020. This bill marks an important step in pushing forward the supports for Australians during this unprecedented crisis and covers many areas. Some of the measures in this bill that I want to specifically address are related to a lot of the payments that will be made available for Australians in a number of areas. The once-off payment of $750 applies to people receiving FTB A and FTB B, the age pension, DSP, the wife pension, the carer payment, the bereavement allowance, the widow allowance, parenting payments, youth allowance, Austudy, Newstart, the sickness allowance, the special benefit and partner payments. The first payment applies to people who receive income support between 12 March 2020 and 13 April 2020 and will be made available on 31 March. This bill also covers—and I want to speak about this—the second payment that applies to people who receive income support but are ineligible for the coronavirus supplement. It occurs on 13 July.
The bill also provides for a coronavirus supplement of $550 per fortnight to new and existing recipients of the jobseeker payment and some people on youth allowance, the parenting payment, the farm household allowance and special benefit payments. The $550 supplement will be available for an initial six months and, as we know from the bill now, the minister is able to extend the supplement by legislative instrument for a period not exceeding three months. Income support recipients are also exempt from the assets test, the liquid assets waiting period, the ordinary waiting period, the newly arrived residents waiting period and the seasonal work preclusion period. I strongly, strongly welcome the streamlined application process that removes the requirement for employment separation certificates and the need for jobseekers to make an appointment with employment service providers before they can be paid.
As has been articulated by my colleague, the Greens support this bill, but we are worried that it doesn't go far enough given the magnitude of this crisis, as my colleagues and I are addressing in our contributions during this debate. I foreshadow now that I've got a second reading amendment which highlights our concerns about the people being left behind. We are facing an unprecedented crisis that will see hundreds of thousands of people lose their jobs. A social safety net must be equipped and ready to support everyone in need of help. I will just add here that we're having to do massive repairs to our social safety net because, over the years, so many great big holes have been slashed right through it.
First, I'd like to go specifically to the $550 supplements and say that, finally, the government has listened to the community and all those living in poverty on Newstart, crying out for an increase to Newstart, for years and years now. This substantial increase to Newstart shows just how serious this crisis is, and I welcome the increase. As someone who has been campaigning for an increase in Newstart, when I heard that it was going to be doubling, I've got to admit that a tear came to my eye—that people will now get access to a payment that at least keeps them out of poverty.
But it shouldn't have taken a crisis like this to show compassion for those surviving on Newstart. Of course, we need a long-term and permanent increase to Newstart. The supplements announced are time limited to six months, with the potential, if the crisis continues, to be renewed. But, after this crisis is over, the government cannot simply drop people that are still on jobseeker payments back to $40 a day. That would be unconscionable. We in this country need to make sure we put in place a permanent increase to Newstart, and I for one commit absolutely to continuing to campaign for that. A lot of people are now saying it is time for the nation to consider a universal basic income. It is times like these that highlight the absolute need for these sorts of protections, and I think that's going to be a live, ongoing debate.
I'm deeply disappointed that a number of key groups of people are missing out on the coronavirus supplement because, apparently, the government doesn't think these people will be hurt by the health crisis and economic downturn. Students will be some of the first to lose their jobs, as casual workers in the gig economy. I'm deeply concerned this is going to encourage students to drop out of their studies, hurting both their studies and the universities and TAFEs they are attending. And why should disabled people on DSP and carers on carer payment miss out on this payment, particularly disabled people who are out of work? Why should they be treated differently to those on the jobseeker payment? One of my colleagues received an email from a constituent over the weekend. This person is on DSP and is immunocompromised. They work part-time at a supermarket. They shouldn't be working during the coronavirus crisis, but they don't have a choice. People on DSP must get the coronavirus supplement to ensure that they are not being put at risk.
I'm also concerned about age pensioners, particularly those that are paying rent and getting Commonwealth rent assistance. We all know that's inadequate, and they will be particularly hurt during this crisis. We need to make sure that those who are on the age pension and renting, who are highly likely to be living in poverty, also have access to the supplement. That's why I'll be moving amendments to extend the supplement to those on youth allowance, Austudy, Abstudy, DSP and the carer payment and age pensioners receiving Commonwealth rent assistance.
This uncertainty over whether they should get it has to end now, not if the government decides, out of the goodness of its heart, to use the provisions in the bill to extend it to those payments. Uncertainty needs to be cleared up right now. We are in a time of great uncertainty, and any uncertainty over potential access to resources, if it can be addressed, needs to be addressed, which is why I'm moving the amendments that I'll be moving in the committee of the whole.
We also strongly support the two one-off economic support payments going out to a wide range of people that receive income support, like veterans and concession card holders. This will provide targeted assistance to those struggling through the crisis. However, I'm extremely disappointed—and, again, we'll be moving an amendment—that those that are holding the low-income healthcare cards, who by the very definition of the description of the card are on low incomes, will not be receiving those payments. It's illogical. It is also unfair that families who are raising children and receiving FTB part A won't receive any additional relief to support those children during this particular time, which is why I'm also moving an amendment to ensure that families with children get a payment for the children through the supplement.
I'm also deeply concerned that the supplement is being tied to the cashless debit card and that those that are trying to survive on the cashless debit card will have 100 per cent of the payment on the card. We think this is unfair and extends the punitive approach that government takes on the cashless debit card. People on the cashless debit card should be able to use the $750 payment in their normal bank account so they can take advantage of cheaper food at markets, if the markets are still there, or in other safe ways—to be able to buy second-hand goods, for example. But, importantly, if those that are surviving on the cashless debit card, with limited cash, aren't able to access the second-hand economy like they usually do, they will have more expenses.
The fact that the government still thinks it's okay to enforce mutual obligations is nonsensical. I have had a number of phone calls into my office about this. I've had lots of social media inquiries and comments as well. The government has improved the flexibility. But, for a start, it doesn't seem to be being applied by some job service providers. As of today, I've had people telling me that people are being required to fill in a form to see if they can get an exemption from turning up to job interviews at their job service provider and it'll be up to the job service provider to determine whether they should come in or not. People are still being required by their job service provider to come in for interviews. A lot of people, believe it or not, don't have access to the internet at home. They don't have smartphones and they don't have computers. They use them in libraries and other social places, where they will no longer be able to attend. So to just say, 'Go online,' does not pass muster. Mutual obligations should be suspended.
On top of that, providers are not going to be able to deal with the massive number of people that are going onto jobseeker allowance. Cut it now. You've already done the right thing, finally, in suspending CDP. Suspend mutual obligations for everybody and make sure the employment providers are able to act in a proactive, supportive way instead of a punitive way. Instead of having them take a compliance approach, get them supporting people to update their CVs, encourage them in more training and things like that, not through mutual obligations, where people are forced to turn up and put themselves and the workers in the job service providers at risk.
Services Australia, I'm pleased to see, have an additional 5,000 staff. I'll be asking questions about how they're to be onboarded and what they will be doing. But a serious question remains: is the government still pursuing robodebts and repayment of debts? I've had contact from someone as late as Friday who'd been contacted by Centrelink about repaying a debt. I want to know how many Centrelink staff are currently pursuing debts, including robodebts—illegal robodebts, by the way—when all those debts should be cancelled, and those staff should be looking after the Australians who are currently at risk from and need support through the crisis we are facing. We've already seen the meltdown of the myGov site that occurred today, misattributed to a cyberattack, when the fact is that the system couldn't deal with the 55,000 people who were trying to access it—and we saw the police called to a Centrelink office in Sydney, I'm told. Those staff should be working to make sure that these payments are delivered.
There are a number of communities that are specifically at risk when it comes to coronavirus. They are particularly vulnerable. I am very pleased to see the measures that have been put in place to make sure, for example, that coronavirus is kept out of remote First Nations communities. That is really, really imperative. But there are many things that still need to be done to support particular people—for example, meeting any extra costs for people with an NDIS plan, and making sure we are meeting the needs of disabled people who will have further costs beyond what some other people will have. It's also really important that we're looking after the mental health of Australians, both those who already have poor mental health and those who go into self-isolation. I hope that the government will seriously consider and support our amendments. I'm also pleased to see not-for-profits can access the stimulus package now; they were left out before. We will continue to monitor that situation.
Finally, I'd like to say to everybody, because we're all going to be staying at home more and we're not going to be seeing many of our loved ones: save up your hugs for when this crisis is past, and then we can hug our loved ones, our friends and our family.
I rise tonight to add my contribution to this extraordinary debate that we're having today in this place and the other place on what is an unprecedented package of bills for the parliament to pass, put forward by the government of the day to deal with what are clearly unprecedented times. We are in the midst of a health crisis, we're in the midst of the economic crisis and we're in the midst of a community and social crisis. But, as we go through this process, as we do everything we can to flatten that curve, to save lives and to deal with the economic ramifications, I fear that the community and social crisis is the one that's going to be with us the longest. It is that crisis that many of us in this place have already referenced today—how we help those who are most vulnerable; those who have lost their jobs, literally overnight; and the people on the front lines, working to keep all of us safe and healthy.
These are indeed unprecedented times, reflected in the extraordinary scenes we are seeing across the world. All you need to do is look at the images and reports coming out of Italy right now—not something we would wish on any community, on any group of people, on any country. Here in Australia, there are extraordinary events that are unfolding, like businesses closing and collapsing overnight; and schools closing in some areas, with more to close as the days and weeks go by. And, of course, there are the extraordinary, heartbreaking scenes that we saw today of thousands of people, Australians who have lost their jobs, whether it was overnight or in the last week or two, lining up around the block for Centrelink offices, right around the country. I must say that the footage of people lined up, desperate to get in to speak to Centrelink about what help they could get—how Centrelink could help pay their rent, put food on the table and support their families—is absolutely heartbreaking. There was footage from Bondi where police were called to tell people lined up outside the local Centrelink office to go away and come back tomorrow with maybe a hope that they'd get in the door. One woman outside that office reported that she had $10 to her name today, and the police told her to turn around and go home. I fear that these types of scenes, sadly, are going to be seen more and more as we deal with this unfolding crisis.
That, of course, is why the government has put forward this extraordinary package of legislation. It is a huge amount of money to be putting on the table. But even then, when we look around at what's going on and listen to the experts, we know more is going to be needed. People are anxious, they're scared, they're fearful and they're really confused. It's been really difficult for people to understand what is going to happen. What is expected of them? How can they help prepare themselves and their families? How do they answer those questions that their kids have about what is going on? Children are very good at asking those terrible questions that we as adults dare not utter: How many people are going to die? What's going to happen to grandma and grandpa? When do I get to go back to school? Why can't I have a birthday party with my friends? The questions that children ask us in times of crisis like this are the most illuminating.
As leaders from right across the community and the country here, gathered in this place, we have to steel ourselves to be prepared to be honest and truthful about what these consequences mean. Thousands of people will die. Some medical experts here in Australia are saying it could that 150,000 people may die from this. Hundreds of thousands of people are going to lose their jobs. The Treasurer himself today said that a million people are expected to become unemployed because of the coronavirus. Hundreds of thousands of people are already losing their jobs. What happens when we get sick? We have to be honest about this to the Australian people. Our hospitals are, at this point, going to become overcrowded and overloaded. It's up to us to be honest about that and say what it is that we're going to do to fix it, which is why the Greens today are calling for a doubling of those critical care beds in hospitals. We know they're going to be needed.
Politics has taken quite a battering over the last few years. Trust has been eroded. Trust in public institutions is as low as it's ever been. At a time like this, it's really difficult to ask people or to expect people to all of a sudden trust that we've got this in hand, that the government has a plan and can deliver it. We have to make sure we work bloody hard to rebuild that trust, and that means being honest, that means being clear, that means being able to give advice that is understandable—without contradiction.
Yes, we need to listen to those medical experts who are telling us we need to go hard and we need to go now. I want to thank all of those health professionals and medicos who right now are on the frontline and will be expected and needed to be on the frontline for weeks and months to come. As a community, and as a society, we are going to be indebted to you forevermore. The teachers who are dealing with the questions, anxiety and confusion of students across the country today, the childcare workers and the aged-care workers who know that their skills are critical at this moment—many of whom aren't paid enough, many of whom are not on good wages, many of whom are employed casually and if they get sick themselves are unsure how they are going to be able to pay the rent or the mortgage—for them we must step up and make sure no-one is left behind.
Businesses right across the country are closing their doors, standing down staff. From the biggest companies like Qantas—even the AFL today is standing down 80 per cent of their staff and the remaining 20 per cent are going to take a pay cut—to the smallest businesses that are the heartbeat of our nation's economy. And it's those people who within an instant of the announcements being rolled out by the government over the last two weeks lost business, had to stand down staff and had to close their doors. For those people this is a terrifying time. Many of those businesses will never recover. Whole families have invested in these operations. Their staff are like family to them. The casual workers and the gig economy workers have no idea what they're going to do now. And thankfully there is some support in this package to make sure people have access to Newstart and the coronavirus supplement. Once you fall out of that particular work field it's often very hard, in some sectors, to get back in. While we talk about hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people being unemployed for the next six months, that time, that uncertainty and that lack of employment is going to stretch for many, many of them for months and years to come.
We know that the industries that have been hit the hardest thus far include tourism. After all of the efforts and the heartache that the tourism industry faced, and those small family operators in towns right across the country—who battled the bushfires—today they are having a double whammy. Australia's tourism industry, and all of the businesses and small communities that rely on them, have been decimated all over again. They need their own support package. I'm sad to say that what we have been given by the government thus far is not enough. It is not enough for our tourism industries.
Hospitality, arts, entertainment—these industries two weeks ago had the rug pulled out from underneath them and instantly lost hundreds of millions, billions of dollars. Half a million people in the arts and entertainment industry have already lost their jobs over the last two weeks. Billions of dollars are going to be wiped out of our economy because we haven't been able to cushion the blow to our arts, creative and entertainment industries enough. Of course, in the midst of the bushfires, who was it that stepped up to give us hope, to raise money, to support their local community without asking for anything in return? It was our artists, our creatives, our entertainers. And when we finally get through this, who is going to be there to help us rebuild and heal? Our arts community is essential to helping us as a community rebuild, regather and redefine ourselves after these challenges. Our arts and entertainment sector desperately needs much more support than what's being put on the table. I implore the government: you have $20-odd billion left in your kitty over the next couple of months as a result of the supply measures. Please use it. The arts and entertainment industry needs its own package to survive.
The world is changing very, very quickly. We need to make sure we guarantee wages and guarantee jobs, which is why I'm foreshadowing a second reading amendment that does this. Passing this amount of money and not ensuring that people get to keep their jobs is crazy. In the UK, Boris Johnson of all people gets this. I implore the government to think very carefully about these amendments and to consider what can be done to guarantee people's jobs are kept when businesses are handed public money.
Finally, I just want to say that in the midst of all of this and the desire for truth, clarity and information, our public broadcasters are essential. The ABC has been doing a brilliant job of trying to keep the Australian people informed with facts and informed analysis, and trying to deal with those tricky questions that no-one seems to have an answer to. Thank heaven for Dr Swan being able to answer those questions that the government can't. I implore the minister today: reverse the cuts to the ABC and lift the indexation freeze so that every Australian knows what is actually going on.
I rise to speak to the coronavirus economic response package stimulus bills. This is of course a time of great anxiety, fear and uncertainty for people. In times like this, we are bound together by our collective humanity and compassion for each other. While we have all seen reports of some people acting without care or consideration for others, it's important that we celebrate the too-rarely reported stories of community strength and solidarity in these times. Around the country, neighbours have banded together to support each other. Whether it's a grocery run, a home-cooked meal or a chat, every gesture is a reminder of the caring attitude that will get us through this crisis.
We are all anxious and dealing with the changes needed for our new, isolated way of life. I've had more than a few sleepless nights this month, as I'm sure many others here and around the country have had. I'm worried about my loved ones, family and friends, who are scattered all over the world—in Pakistan, the US and the UK. I do want to acknowledge the incredible stress that social distancing, separation and travel bans place on families. No amount of video calling could beat having my kids and my mum at home with me now. But, like so many other families, FaceTime and Skype will have to do while we get through these times.
These are trying times for all of us. They are particularly difficult times for the more than three million people in Australia without secure jobs. These are people in precarious work, on contracts and in casual employment. Many have already lost their jobs and their incomes. Many more face losing their jobs in the weeks and months to come. For them, it is a matter of survival. This crisis has brought into focus how capitalism has not built, and fundamentally cannot build, a just and decent life for all. The 'no holds barred' system of profit and wealth accumulation, at the expense of people and the planet, has made workers and all ordinary people vulnerable to the health and economic consequences of the coronavirus. The reality of capitalism's failure to care for people and communities is rendered so stark by this crisis that even the Liberals' stimulus package amounts to a tacit acknowledgement of the truth that economies stand on the backs of workers, not cashed up CEOs. It has exposed the horrific consequences of governments around the world rabidly endearing to the neoliberal dogma of privatisation and small government that has led to the erosion of services and health care, harming so many right now.
Our economy has worked for the benefit of big businesses and their profits for far too long. The test today is whether the package before us finally puts people, the planet and the community ahead of profits. Vulnerable and at-risk people must be at the centre of everything we do in these crucial months. Unfortunately, parts of the stimulus package before us serve to further prop up multibillion-dollar corporations, their overpaid executives and their bonuses. A stimulus without the necessary care for workers to retain their wages and jobs, without conditions that ensure that big corporations who make billions in profits don't beg for public money again and again, is no stimulus at all.
This crisis has provided the government with the right motive, and means, to make a serious commitment to public ownership of public services. This is our opportunity to renationalise, to bring essential services such as airlines back into public hands where they belong. The wealth gap in Australia has become a chasm between those who can afford to adapt to a crisis like COVID-19 and those who are left to bear the brunt. This is the time to correct these historic wrongs of the gross mistreatment of people and nature at the hands of the violent and unregulated neoliberal extractivism and consumerism that has left people destitute and unable to cope with emergencies.
A stimulus that does not have at its heart a green new deal for all does not come close to passing the humanity test. We do not get a shot at resetting the economy very often and we need to get it right. But to do that we'll have to learn from past mistakes. We know that big business bailouts didn't work in the GFC. Corporate responsibility is just a buzzword that pops up every now and then but holds no real meaning. If the government is serious about having a sustainable and just economy for all of us, the stimulus is our chance to do it. The choices this government makes can and should set us on course for a better future where the hallmark of our society is not greed or profit but recognition of our collective strengths.
The stimulus must be used to set up ourselves and our society for a future that is fair. It must be tied to conditions such as secure work and fair wages for all. We know the lengths to which the wealthy and powerful will go—and, frankly, the Venn diagram of these two groups is usually a circle—to get public subsidies and taxpayer funded bailouts. They have the ear of the government. But those in precarious work and casual employment, those already on the brink with no workers benefits, don't. These are the people the government needs to look out for now.
Let us never again think that the economy is built by big corporations. It is built on the back of workers, not executives. It is built on the hard work and dedication of our essential frontline workers—our nurses, doctors, teachers, educators, emergency responders and carers. As the Greens spokesperson for education, I want to particularly thank our schoolteachers and staff who are working incredibly hard right now under a lot of pressure. We support you in fighting for all the extra support and resources you need, including paid leave for all and work-from-home provisions for vulnerable workers in our schools. Society is being literally held together right now, as always, by jobs that are often wrongly considered unskilled—grocery store workers, cashiers, home food delivery drivers, cleaners and those working in the supply chains that we rely on. These jobs are more often than not kept casual and insecure, underpaid and undervalued. I want to acknowledge and thank each and every worker keeping the wheels turning right now. You are essential and you deserve to be recognised and paid as such. It's not right that these bills allow businesses and banks to decide where most of the money, ostensibly for workers, goes. In particular, there is no requirement for businesses who receive government support to keep employing staff. What we need is a jobs and wages guarantee. On this front, we are failing on international comparisons. The UK has guaranteed 80 per cent wages support, while Australia is providing an equivalent of only 15 per cent support.
Let us not forget that COVID-19 is a gendered crisis. Nurses, nurse aids, teachers, child carers and early childhood educators, aged-care workers and cleaners are mostly women. They are on the frontline of this public health crisis and carry a disproportionate risk of being exposed to the virus. Let's also not forget that not all homes are safe places. Quarantine or self-isolation at home will put women and children at risk. Women's advocates and domestic violence experts are warning us that domestic abuse increases during times of crisis, and I'm terribly worried that these warnings have not been heeded by this government that has long resisted adequate funding for the needed resources and refuges.
To leave one of us behind is to leave our humanity behind. Regrettably, the government's package leaves students, carers and those living with a disability well behind those it assists. The Greens will continue our fight, including with our proposed amendments today, to ensure that everybody is included. Health care is a human right. Housing is a human right. Secure work is a human right. The stimulus should ensure that people are not evicted from their homes, that people can get treatment and that a jobs and wages guarantee protects workers and prevents businesses from taking advantage of these funds during a time of crisis.
Students on youth allowance, Austudy and Abstudy are excluded from this package. They are already losing hours and work while their education is up in the air. They are as exposed to the horrors of this crisis as anyone and deserve the same boost in income support. I've been inundated with messages from students, many of whom have lost their jobs and feel they will be forced to abandon their studies to become eligible for the coronavirus supplement to make ends meet. Surely this perverse outcome is not what the government intends. The Greens support the students' calls and will be moving amendments to include students and those payments, as they should.
As well as including students, we need to ensure the raises to income support, including Newstart, are ongoing once the stimulus package expires. The emergency changes to the childcare subsidy and the additional childcare subsidy made this week are welcome, and I will be watching carefully to make sure that the sector that educates, cares for and supports so many children and families receives the support it needs to make it through this crisis.
On the note of child care, I want to reiterate my call for the activity test to be scrapped immediately and properly subsidised child care made available to more families, not fewer. As workplaces suspend operations and cut shifts, families become unable to meet the activity test and may lose access to subsidised child care. Those who currently are meeting the activity test through volunteering or education will also lose out in the wake of the virus as these opportunities are cancelled. We must not let this happen. Not one person should be forced onto the streets by this crisis. It's that simple. To make sure that this doesn't leave people without a roof over their heads, we need action right now, and that will require going much further than the measures before us today. We need an immediate ban on rental evictions; we need rental and mortgage holidays; and we need an increase to rent assistance and urgent funding for crisis housing and services.
In terms of this package that we are debating today, it actually authorises the government to invest $15 billion in debt securities. We know from the announcement last Thursday that this investment will be primarily in residential mortgage-backed securities. In other words, this is government insurance for the derivatives market, which will be particularly beneficial to non-bank lenders, including private equity and hedge funds that provide bank finance for mortgages. These so-called shadow banks are not regulated by APRA and don't have to meet the same capital holding requirements that conventional banks do. This $15 billion amounts to a bailout that will likely go towards some of the riskiest lenders, including subprime loans. This should not happen. I will be moving a second reading amendment to make it clear that, in respect of mortgages, the primary task for governments at this time should be to ensure that COVID-19 doesn't result in families losing their homes, by putting a temporary ban on mortgage foreclosures for homeowners.
What we have here in front of us is a crisis, but it is also an opportunity that we meet the needs of the crisis and go beyond that. We need to look beyond the next six months and commit to rebuilding our society so that no-one can be left behind. To do that we need a stimulus package much bigger and fairer than the one before us today. We need a package that looks to industries of the future. We need a package that kickstarts a manufacturing revolution. We need a package that delivers a green new deal, that values life-making, caring work and that puts people before profit in all that we do. I move:
At the end of the motion, add:
", but the Senate is of the opinion that the Government should:
(a) seek to ensure that the economic impacts of COVID-19 do not result in homeowners losing their homes or the major banks taking a larger share of the market; and
(b) introduce a temporary ban on mortgage foreclosures for homeowners;
(c) provide government insurance of mortgage repayments for homeowners who have a loan with a non-major bank; and
(d) ensure that, where governments cover mortgage repayments for homeowners, the amount covered by the Government be held as a debt against the property, and that this debt have priority over all other debts held against the property".
Firstly I thank those senators who have contributed to this debate. The measures contained in the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Bill 2020 provide critical support for the Australian economy and for those in our community most affected by the global spread of the coronavirus. The measures include additional household income and business support that is designed to flow through to and strengthen the wider Australian economy.
Schedule 1 to the bill supports business investment by increasing the instant asset write-off threshold from $30,000 to $150,000 and expanding access to businesses with an aggregated annual turnover of less than $500 million, up from $50 million. The enhanced instant asset write-off applies to assets first used or installed ready for use in the period from 12 March 2020 to 30 June 2020.
Schedule 2 to the bill supports business investment by enabling businesses with aggregated turnover below $500 million to bring forward deductions of 50 per cent of the cost of certain assets that they have committed to purchase after 12 March 2020 if they are first used or installed by 30 June 2021.
Schedule 3 to the bill will support employers to manage cash-flow challenges and help businesses and not-for-profits, including charities, retain their employees and keep operating by providing a cash-flow boost payment. The bill will provide at least $20,000 and up to $100,000 back to eligible businesses and not-for-profits, including charities. This will benefit around 690,000 businesses, employing around 7.8 million people, and around 30,000 not-for-profits will also benefit.
Schedule 4 to the bill provides for the payment of the first economic support payment of $750 to around 6.6 million social security and veterans income support recipients, farm household allowance recipients, family tax benefit recipients and holders of a pensioner concession card, Commonwealth seniors health card or Commonwealth gold card. This schedule also provides for the payment of a second economic support payment of $750 and to social security and veterans income support recipients, family tax benefit recipients and holders of a pensioner concession card, Commonwealth seniors health card or Commonwealth gold card who receive a qualifying payment or hold a qualifying concession card on 10 July 2020. The second payment will not be paid to a person who receives on 10 July 2020 the new coronavirus supplement established by this bill.
Schedule 5 to the bill amends the Biosecurity Act 2015 to ensure Australia continues to have a world-class biosecurity system which is flexible and responsive to public health threats such as those caused by the coronavirus.
Schedule 6 to the bill makes amendments to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Regulations 2019 to temporarily waive the environmental management charge. This forms part of the $1 billion allocation government has set aside to support those regions and communities that have been disproportionately affected by the economic impacts of the coronavirus.
Schedule 7 to the bill provides assistance for up to 70,000 small businesses, including those using a group training organisation to support the retention of around 117,000 apprentices and trainees. It also provides a $715 million relief package to help put Australia's aviation industry in the best possible position to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.
Schedule 8 to the bill creates a temporary instrument-making power in the Corporations Act for the Treasurer to grant time-limited relief from regulatory requirements where these would interfere with the ability of companies to manage the business through the impacts of the coronavirus.
Schedule 9 to the bill provides flexibility for approved childcare providers and families who depend on the childcare subsidy to manage absences and to be able to continue to access care for their children.
Schedule 10 to the bill reduces the superannuation minimum drawdown rights for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 income years by 50 per cent. These rights prescribe the amount that an individual in the retirement phase must withdraw from an account based pension or similar product, depending on their age.
Schedule 11 to the bill provides temporary financial support through a COVID-19 supplement of $550 per fortnight to new and existing income support recipients receiving a working age payment. It will also provide streamlined access and extended eligibility to income support for an initial period of six months from 14 April 2020, but it may be extended. The schedule also creates a new category of crisis payment and delays commencement of the simplifying income reporting act for up to a year.
Schedule 12 to the bill provides a safety net for businesses to allow them to get through a temporary period of insolvency and recover when economic growth picks up.
Schedule 13 to the bill establishes a new temporary compassionate ground of early release of superannuation, allowing impacted individuals to access up to $10,000 of their superannuation tax free in 2019-20 and up to a further $10,000 in 2020-21.
Schedule 14 to the bill amends the Medicare Levy Act 1986 and the A New Tax System (Medicare Levy Surcharge—Fringe Benefits) Act 1999 to increase the Medicare levy low-income thresholds for singles, families, and seniors and pensioners in line with increases in the consumer price index.
Schedule 15 to the bill amends the Charter of Budget Honesty Act to delay the next Intergenerational reportfrom 2020 to mid-2021 to ensure there's adequate time to produce long-term projections that are based on robust budget estimates.
Schedule 16 to the bill will allow responsible ministers to defer sunsetting dates over the coming months when this parliament will, quite rightly, be focused on responding to the needs of the Australian community. During this time, a number of acts passed by this parliament and a large number of instruments are scheduled to sunset. When an act or legislative instrument is scheduled to sunset on or before 15 October 2020, the bill will allow the minister responsible for that act or instrument to defer the sunset day by up to six months. This will ensure no gaps occur in our laws during this critical period.
The government understand the need to move quickly to provide support and relief to small and medium-sized enterprises that are under incredible pressure and play such an integral role in the Australian economy. We are providing a guarantee for new short-term loans issued by authorised deposit-taking institutions and non-ADI lenders to support small and medium-sized enterprises to cover immediate cash flow needs in response to the economic crisis associated with the coronavirus pandemic. Importantly, the guarantee will apply to eligible loans made after the government's announcement of this measure regardless of whether the loans were made before or after the commencement of this bill. There is an overall cap of $20 billion on the appropriation for meeting liabilities under this guarantee. In the event of a loan default under this measure, the government will compensate the lender for an agreed proportion of the losses.
The Commonwealth will be authorised to participate in forming and acquiring shares in, or debentures of, the Australian Business Growth Fund and appropriates $100 million for that purpose. The Australian Business Growth Fund's purpose will be to offer growing, established companies patient equity capital and strategic support to assist them to reach their growth potential. Businesses seeking support can be from across Australia and from a range of industries. Established Australian businesses will be eligible for long-term equity capital investments of between $5 million and $15 million where they can demonstrate three years of revenue growth and profitability and a clear growth vision. This response package will appropriate a further $1 billion from the Consolidated Revenue Fund to support those sectors, regions and communities that have been disproportionately affected by the economic impacts of the coronavirus. Further plans and measures to support recovery will be designed and delivered in partnership with the affected industries and communities through the funding allocated in this package.
The government is also establishing a $15 billion Structured Finance Support (Coronavirus Economic Response) Fund and a Structured Finance Support (Coronavirus Economic Response) Fund Special Account. The fund will ensure continued access to funding markets impacted by the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic and promote competition in consumer and business lending markets. In particular, this will ensure that smaller lenders can maintain access to funding by the government, making targeted investments in structured finance markets. To fund this package, the government is appropriating the necessary funds from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. I should also advise the chamber that, after some further discussions between the government and the opposition, the government will be proposing some amendments to this legislation. May I pause here to say that the government has very much appreciated the positive and constructive engagement with the opposition and the spirit in which discussions on this and a number of other bills and measures have taken place in recent times, so thank you very much.
The government will amend social security law to allow the Minister for Families and Social Services to make changes to the relevant legislation via a legislative instrument. This power would allow the government to act with the utmost flexibility in the unprecedented circumstances we're experiencing in respect of the coronavirus outbreak. It will allow us to alter settings associated with payment rates, means-testing arrangements, eligibility criteria, waiting periods and residency requirements to respond in a measured and timely manner where appropriate. We are supercharging our safety net in order to assist Australians impacted by the coronavirus. This power would cease at the end of 2020. We intend to use this power immediately to make student payments—Abstudy, Austudy and youth allowance for students—and to make changes to the partner income test. The government recognises that, in these unprecedented times, some Australians will need to depend on government assistance in the short term to help them through. Providing additional financial support through social security is just one of the many ways that the Australian government, with the support of the Australian parliament, is helping to support individuals, communities and the economy during these testing times. This builds on the broader economic response package to coronavirus. I commend these bills to the Senate.
Thank you, Senator Cormann. I'm going to deal with the second reading amendments in the order—two have been moved, and then I'll move to the ones that haven't yet been moved but have been circulated. The first second reading amendment is on page 8919, moved by Senator Keneally. The question is that that second reading amendment be agreed to.
Question agreed to.
I'll come now to the second amendment, which Senator Faruqi moved at the conclusion of her speech. It's the one on page 8913. I'm going to take it that, if any of these are contradictory, I'll have that pointed out to me, but I'll put them on the basis that they're not. The question is that the second reading amendment moved by Senator Faruqi on page 8913 be agreed to. Those of that opinion say aye. To the contrary, no. The noes have it.
You may. I move:
At the end of the motion, add:
", but the Senate is of the opinion that the Government must develop and promptly present its plan to at least double the number of intensive care units, ventilators and the necessary medical equipment immediately, and then further increase these supplies in line with the advice of medical experts so the Australian people can be confident that no one will be left to die unnecessarily from this pandemic".
On behalf of Senator Ayres, I move the second reading amendment on sheet 8925:
At the end of the motion, add:
", but the Senate:
(a) notes that there is no conditionality on assistance measures to business to keep workers employed; and
(b) calls on the Government to implement measures to provide sufficient incentive for employers to keep employees in work.".
I move the second reading amendment on sheet 8920:
At the end of the motion, add: ", but the Senate:
(a) is of the opinion that:
(i) every Australian deserves a dignified retirement,
(ii) Australians are proud of our world-class superannuation system,
(iii) drawing down on superannuation when the market is at historic lows will have negative implications for most Australians, and should only be an option of last resort, and
(iv) the administrative arrangements specified in Schedule 13 of the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Bill 2020 will not ensure that Australians in genuine hardship receive prompt payment from their superannuation fund; and
(b) calls on the Government to:
(i) ensure that ordinary Australians have access to the right information and advice in times of hardship by increasing funding for financial counselling and the Centrelink Financial Information Service,
(ii) closely monitor the financial advice industry to ensure that early release claimants are not provided with inaccurate advice,
(iii) table a letter from the Chair of the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, certifying that the implementation of Schedule 13 will have no systemic impacts on the superannuation system, and
(iv) consult with industry, unions, and representatives of other political parties before the implementation of the measures in Schedule 13, noting the potentially significant, negative impact on the retirement outcomes of ordinary Australians".
I move the Greens' second reading amendment on page 8923:
At the end of the motion, add:
", but the Senate is of the opinion that:
(a) this package does not adequately support large sections of the population who will be left behind and disproportionately affected by this health crisis and the ensuing social lockdown and economic shutdown, and the Senate calls on the government to immediately amend its package to ensure proper support is provided to at least the following groups:
(i) the 37 per cent of the Australian workforce, casual and gig economy employees with no paid leave,
(ii) students, carers, Disability Support Pension recipients, and age pensioners who receive Commonwealth Rent Assistance, none of whom will be eligible for the$550 a fortnight COVID-19 supplement and will be trapped beneath the poverty line and who face the very real threat of rental eviction,
(iii) First Nations peoples who are at severe risk of harm from COVID-19,
(iv) those facing domestic and family violence who are at serious risk during a period of prolonged isolation and who do not have adequately funded services to support them, and
(v) non-Australians who call Australia home, including asylum seekers on temporary protection visas, people who hold temporary work or skilled visas, international students, people who hold working holiday visas, New Zealand citizens on non-protected Special Category Visas, and new permanent residents, who do not all have access to income support and in many cases cannot return home;
(b) it is critical to protect people from homelessness by placing a moratorium on evictions and the Senate calls on the Government to urgently make this happen;
(c) to enable people to work from home and to maintain social connection the Government must ensure that no one is cut off from internet services including the NBN;
(d) the government must provide much needed extra financial support to those industries hardest hit, including tourism, hospitality, and the arts and entertainment sector;
(e) to provide for workers who have no paid leave at all, the Government must pass the Greens' Fair Work Amendment (COVID-19) Bill 2020;
(f) the Government must ensure that it reverses funding cuts and lifts the freeze on indexation imposed on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation so that it can deliver timely, accurate and reliable advice to the public during this period;
(g) the Government must immediately suspend mutual obligation requirements to protect the health and safety of all people on income support payments and employment service providers;
(h) the Government must permanently increase the Jobseeker Payment, Youth Allowance, AUSTUDY and ABSTUDY after the crisis is over to ensure people on income support payments are not dropped below the poverty line;
(i) the Government must immediately cancel all robodebts and look to repay debts to robodebt victims once the crisis is over; and
(j) the Government must consider what other forms of support should be provided to promote social cohesion and reduce the potential for discrimination against already vulnerable individuals and communities in these challenging times.
The question is that the second reading amendment moved by Senator Siewert on page 8923 be agreed to.
Senator Siewert, you would like it recorded in the Journals and Hansard that the Australian Greens supported that particular motion?
I move the second reading amendment as circulated on sheet 8924:
At the end of the motion, add:
", but the Senate:
(a) is of the opinion that the Government must ensure financial support provided to business under these bills come with conditions attached, including:
(i) a jobs guarantee, so that as many people as possible remain employed during the crisis,
(ii) a wages guarantee, so that money goes to workers who need it and to keep businesses running, not to executive pay, and
(iii) where appropriate, a Government stake in big, essential businesses such as Qantas; and
(b) calls on the Government to ensure that, if the Minister for Finance allocates additional amounts under the powers referred to as the Advance to the Finance Minister, the Auditor-General must complete a review into any expenditure no later than twelve months after the date of the final expenditure".
So: recorded in the Journals and the Hansard that the Australian Greens supported that amendment on page 8924 moved by Senator Hanson-Young. The question is now that the second reading, as amended, be agreed to.
Question agreed to.
Bills read a second time.