Wednesday, 8 April 2020
Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Bill 2020, Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus (Measures No. 2) Bill 2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 5) 2019-2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 6) 2019-2020; In Committee
I have a number of questions I would like to ask, which I will try and move through expeditiously, and then I would like to move my first amendment. Colleagues may have other questions, as does Senator Patrick, I'm told. I want to get some things clarified about the way that the jobseeker payment and the JobKeeper payment will operate together. Thank you for the briefing yesterday. It helped. Some of the questions were answered in writing, and it helped to clarify things enormously, so thank you to the government for that. I understand that, if somebody has already applied and done a notice of intent for the jobseeker payment, the process is aimed to make sure it's seamless. I must admit I do have some concerns around that in terms of the way it will work. But, if I have sought nomination to be part of JobKeeper, and the first employer that I nominate for doesn't decide to enter the scheme, do I have to wait for that or can I also indicate the second employer beforehand so there's no gap in that process?
In relation to JobKeeper, there is no issue of second employer. There's only one employer. That is in relation to JobKeeper. If the employer is not eligible, and a particular employee finds himself or herself out of work, that former employee then would have the opportunity to apply for the jobseeker payment. We have waived many of the usual eligibility requirements and waiting periods, though not all, and so there are some tests that continue to apply. If an employee is not able to participate in JobKeeper and has lost his job, he or she would have the opportunity to apply for the jobseeker payment, and the waiting period would be waived.
Minister, I apologise if I was not clear. Some casual employees, as you know, have a number of jobs. What I'm concerned about is the process of applying for the second—just say I've chosen my first employer for the job that I most want to work for or that I think is the best opportunity, but that employer decides not to opt into the process. How long a time frame do you envisage before I know that that employer hasn't opted in and I can then go to my second employer, because I've got a second job?
It's the employer that applies, and the employer nominates the employees under the arrangement. If I understand your question correctly, if a casual employee is working for two employers then that employee would have to nominate their preferred employer. And if that employer was ultimately not eligible—and this is the scenario I think you are getting at—then, yes, the employee would absolutely qualify to go into the JobKeeper program through the other employer.
Thank you. What I'm after is the time frame to make sure that there is a continuous process. So I'll continue to get the jobseeker payment while I go through the first nomination process, and then keep it for the second one—is that correct?
Just along similar lines, Minister, I want to describe a scenario to you and understand whether or not this person would be eligible for JobKeeper. A typical scenario is a chef who works in restaurant A for nine months and then switches to restaurant B, where he has been for three months. Is that chef entitled to JobKeeper? He's clearly had tenure in the industry. It's quite common for a chef to go from one restaurant to another. Does that chef qualify for JobKeeper?
I think this is a pretty black-and-white scenario. The tenure is consistent with the long-term casual definition in the Fair Work Act. The test is an association of 12 months or more with the same employer. Now, it could well be that the business is owned by a new owner, so the business transfer provisions would kick in. But if you're saying that this is an individual who has worked in the industry but across different employers over a period, then, no, they would not qualify; but, of course, they would be able to apply for the jobseeker payment.
Minister, there is a small business owned and run by people on safe haven enterprise visas in Minister Ruston's home state of South Australia. I visited them last year. They employ a range of Australian nationals in their business. Can the minister confirm if a business owned and run by SHEV holders would be eligible for JobKeeper funding for their Australian employees? They have safe haven enterprise visas; they are SHEV holders. They own and run a business and employ Australians. Would that business be eligible? The safe haven enterprise visa is a visa category created by this Liberal government. It is a form of temporary protection visa.
I want to confirm this. You are confirming that a business owned by someone who is on a safe haven enterprise visa, a temporary protection visa, is eligible to register for JobKeeper and provide it to their Australian citizen employees. Is that correct?
I can't understand where you are getting confused. If an Australian business is employing Australian citizens who are eligible for the JobKeeper payment then those citizens would be able to receive the JobKeeper payment.
The confusion arises, Minister, because your government has said that safe haven enterprise visa holders and temporary protection visa holders are not eligible for JobKeeper payments as employees, so there does seem to be a very interesting inconsistency here. A person on a temporary protection visa, either a TPV or a SHEV, who has a business that employs Australians, as this one business I went to in Adelaide does, can register for JobKeeper and ensure that its Australian citizen employees are able to get JobKeeper payments, but if those same temporary visa holders are employees, they are not eligible to receive JobKeeper payments—is that correct?
Again, it is entirely straightforward. The JobKeeper program is designed to keep Australian employees, and of course 444 visa holders from New Zealand, connected to their employing business when that business is in financial distress and might otherwise be unable to hold onto its employees. This is about providing support to employees through employing businesses. I think the situation is very clear.
What kind of support then can the temporary visa holders who own this business receive from the government to ensure that their business stays afloat and is able to continue to employ Australian citizens?
In the context of this legislation, clearly the JobKeeper payment does not extend to temporary visa holders. I went through that in some detail during my second reading debate summing-up speech. But in terms of Australian businesses we have announced a whole series of measures to support, in particular, small- and medium-sized businesses with a turnover of less than $50 million—including the cash flow boost, the measure where Australian taxpaying businesses who are employing Australians, who are withholding tax for their employees, are able to get payments of up to $100,000, depending on what their payroll and withholding tax liabilities are.
This is my last question on this because I'm mindful that other senators may have questions. Minister, you keep using the term 'Australian businesses' but it's not run—
Senator Cormann interjecting—
You've just interjected that it is an Australian business, but it's not actually run by people you consider Australian. These are temporary protection visa holders. You have not given them permanent residency or any permanent status in Australia. So can you clarify that all of those supports that you have just outlined to the Senate are available to a business in Australia regardless of the visa status of the business owners.
Again, I don't understand why Senator Keneally is in any way confused. It's very clear that Australian businesses with an Australian business number are able to participate in this JobKeeper program but that the JobKeeper payment is available only to Australian citizens and relevant others, not to temporary visa holders.
Minister, the JobKeeper package currently, as we know, applies to sole traders, who are able to claim the $1,500-a-fortnight payment if they can demonstrate a 30 per cent decline in turnover. My question is about sole traders who operate as partnerships, typically owner-drivers. For example, in the trucking industry many small contractors operate as family partnerships, including husband-and-wife partnerships. Is it the case that these kinds of partnerships will individually be eligible for a single JobKeeper payment, regardless of the fact that there are two workers actively operating the business?
The business participation requirements are that at any time in the fortnight the individual is actively engaged in the business carried on by the entity. The individual must be actively engaged in the operations and activities of the body. This engagement in the business must occur in Australia. Further, depending on the type of entity the business is, the individual must have a particular role within the business. In the case of an entity that is a sole trader, the individual must be the entity. In relation to a partnership, the individual must be a partner in the partnership, and it can only apply to one individual.
Well, we do have a special relationship with our friends from New Zealand, and this category of working New Zealanders, who have been employed in Australia and have the opportunity, because their employer wants to remain connected to them, to continue to be employed, is something that we felt was appropriate to support.
Minister, as a number of us in this chamber have articulated, there are a number of people who are stuck in this country and have no income. They're not eligible for jobseeker payments or, in fact, JobKeeper. I've had a number of emails from Australians overseas who are in similar situations in the countries in which they live. Because they've been away, because they're stuck overseas, they've exceeded the extensions that have been made to some of the payments, or they had already fallen off the payments, and they have no visible means of support in the countries in which they're staying. And now we're doing the same here. Are you negotiating with any other countries for Australians to be supported overseas? As for all of the nonresidents who are here—and they're basically stuck here with no income and no access to income support—how are those people going to survive, when we've got citizens overseas who can't survive either?
In relation to Australian citizens overseas—in particular, Australian citizens receiving or in need of a government payment who are overseas and unable to return to Australia—within the portability limits of their payment, because they are unwell with coronavirus or affected by coronavirus travel restrictions or country lockdowns they have generally had their portability automatically extended. Anyone who has stopped receiving a payment should let Services Australia know immediately to have their payment reinstated.
In relation to temporary visa holders who are here in Australia, we don't accept that there is no capacity for temporary visa holders to return home if they are unable to support themselves in Australia. It's a long-established principle. Reading through one of the second reading amendments—I think from the Labor Party—even in that motion it was recognised that it's a longstanding principle that temporary visa holders are expected to be able to support themselves while in Australia. We have made a decision to facilitate access to superannuation for those temporary visa holders who have work rights, but what we do say is that we strongly encourage those temporary visa holders who are unable to support themselves over the next six months, either through work, through savings or by accessing their superannuation, to return home, and this is the time to go. It is a situation that we will continue to review periodically, and further changes may be made if required, but at this point in time our very strong advice to any temporary visa holder who cannot support themselves is to return home.
International students do come here on the basis that they are expected to support themselves while in Australia. That is the basis on which they come to Australia and that is the reason why we expect temporary residents, temporary visa holders, to support themselves either through their savings, through work, or through accessing superannuation if they have work rights here. Many working international students would have access to a level of superannuation.
Minister, do you accept that, given the current situation with employment, many students will have lost their jobs? Yes, they were working, but they will have lost their jobs. They'll probably have little superannuation, in fact, and it's going to be very difficult for them to gain those jobs, particularly if they can't access JobKeeper.
In Australia, when it comes to income support and related arrangements it has always been based on a residency requirement. That is not a new principle at all. We of course understand that it is a difficult circumstance, but the Australian government has a responsibility to prioritise Australians in the first instance. Indeed, we have extended supports to permanent residents and waived the waiting period for permanent residents that hadn't yet served the entire waiting period to be able to access relevant income support payments.
Just to put that into context: we are here about to spend $130 billion in relation to six million working Australians—nearly half the Australian workforce. Probably another two million Australians will receive jobseeker payments. That is well over half the Australian workforce that will be receiving payments from the government. While I hear that some are saying that we should do more and more and more, the truth is that in this circumstance, in the context of the capacity of what we're able to do, in the first instance we do have to prioritise the interests of Australians.
Thank you for your answer, Minister. I don't agree with you. We have amendments that we will put on that particular issue. You made a comment about Australians overseas. I did acknowledge that some of the portability processes had been extended. There are people stuck overseas that have previously been on payments but have fallen off them because for various reasons they got caught over there, overseas. Are you saying that they could potentially apply for some form of income support from Australia, even though they have actually then exceeded their portability requirements?
Just to clarify this: those Australians who were receiving payments but had their payments stopped because they exceeded their portability requirements should approach Services Australia to have their payment reinstated. In relation to Australians who are overseas and who are unable to support themselves overseas, our advice would be the same to them. In fact it has been the same to them for some time now: come home. Of course, in that circumstance Australians would be able to receive the relevant income support in Australia and apply for income support here.
I am aware of occasions where people actually can't come home for a number of reasons. But I will pass on your answer. Can I also ask about the issues around superannuation. If I'm stuck overseas and can't get a payment, am I able to access my superannuation while I'm overseas? It's my Australian super—superannuation that's been generated in Australia. Can I access that while I'm overseas?
In relation to Australians who have permanently moved overseas, there are longstanding provisions that enable people to withdraw their superannuation. In relation to those Australians, any Australian who finds themselves in a position of hardship and complies with all of the relevant eligibility requirements would be able to access their superannuation.
Minister, last week the Prime Minister said that the inclusion of New Zealanders in the JobKeeper program was due to the fact that they've been making a life here, working here and are connected to businesses here, and they've made commitments here and own properties and rental properties et cetera. Why then has the government not included other long-term visa holders that have made a similar contribution to the Australian economy?
The legislation before us tonight will allow the Treasurer to include classes to access the JobKeeper payment. What is the process of assessment that will occur for the inclusion of any new classes of people? How will you determine whether they qualify, and will it simply be up to the minister's will?
I would very respectfully refer the senator to my statement in my second reading summing-up speech, where I addressed that precise question directly. The Treasurer is given the power under this legislation to exercise discretion, as you have rightly pointed out, and he will have the capacity to issue rules and determinations to give effect to that. I spelt all of that out in some detail in the second reading summing-up speech.
Thank you, Minister. As we know, Minister Ruston has been given similar powers to expand the jobseeker program to other categories of people. With the Treasurer's powers with JobKeeper, can you give confidence or provide any commentary around how the Treasurer will go about assessing whether there will be a need to look at different categories when the need arises? What trigger points will there be where the government will say, 'Okay, we'll agree to include certain categories of people in the JobKeeper payment'?
Again, I really have addressed this in second reading summing-up speech. The reason that this legislation proposes to give the Treasurer this flexibility is that we recognise this is an evolving situation and there are likely to be unforeseen issues that will arise in the future. In that context it is going to be important, both for the minister for social services and for the Treasurer, to be able to adjust the relevant rules and eligibility criteria and the like in the context of an evolving situation.
By the same token, I have made very clear the government's position in relation to a number of categories that have been put to the government now. We are not proposing to expand the JobKeeper program to local council workers. Local council workers are the responsibility of the states, and state governments recognise that. We're not proposing to expand the JobKeeper payments to TAFE or state school employees. Again, these are matters for state governments. We are not proposing to expand them to temporary visa holders, for the reasons that I have clearly spelt out. We are not proposing to expand the JobKeeper payment to casuals that have been with the same employer for less than 12 months, again for the reasons that I have already outlined. But, in the future, issues might arise that we can't currently foresee, and out of an abundance of caution in this legislation the government has proposed to give the Treasurer this discretion to be able to respond flexibly. These sorts of decisions will be subject to the normal decision-making processes of government, but, by giving the Treasurer discretion in this legislation and by giving Senator Ruston discretion in the legislation that we passed a couple of weeks ago, we are able to flexibly respond to an evolving situation.
I appreciate the minister's response. With coronavirus highlighting the complications that can arise when the economy becomes heavily reliant on temporary visa workers, will the government consider measures in the future to encourage more permanent forms of migration?
Australia is a great migrant nation. Australia's success, in large part, has been built on the back of generations and generations of people who have chosen to make Australia their home, and many in this chamber come from a proud migrant tradition. I think this government, like other governments, supports the contribution made by permanent migrants and migrants that have chosen to make Australia home all throughout our history.
Given that holders of holiday-maker visas make up a significant proportion of the low-skilled workforce in the ag industry and given how important this labour source is to Australian farmers, why does this bill provide no support for working holiday makers who may be temporarily experiencing a reduction in work but want to stay in Australia and make a contribution to our national economy?
A lot of Australians are out of work, and our priority is to ensure that Australians are able to, at this point in time, pursue the jobs that are available. But working holiday-makers who have jobs are of course welcome to stay. In fact, we have announced certain flexibilities in relation to their visa arrangements during this period, including letting them work for the same employer for longer than they ordinarily would be able to and various other arrangements. But the principle is a very basic, simple principle: if you are a temporary visa holder, including a temporary visa holder with work rights, you are expected to support yourself while in Australia. You're expected to support yourself, through work, through your savings or by accessing your superannuation, and we've made it easier for temporary visa holders to access their superannuation in this current circumstance. If you're not in a position to be able to look after yourself, then we would expect you to go home.
I wanted to ask about JobKeeper and the payments going to part-time workers. There's a flat rate. Part-time workers normally work a certain amount of time. Will an employer be able to require part-time workers to work more if they don't want more hours?
You would be aware that I've got an amendment on this, so I want to be really, really clear that employers can't force a part-time worker to take on more hours if they don't want to. Given that there's a flat rate, they can't say, 'These are the number of hours that, previously, you would equate to that much money.' They can't force that. I want to be really clear about it.
I thought I was extremely clear about it. They can't force it, but consenting parties can reach agreement. We would encourage all those businesses and employees in this situation to seek to come to sensible commonsense agreements with each other.
I have a slight variation of that question. If an employer were to say to an employee, 'If you want me to sign you up for the jobseeker scheme, I'll expect you to work the equivalent hours of a $1,500 a fortnight payment,' would that employee would be able to go to the Fair Work Commission and complain? Where would they take that situation?
For the third time, yes, an employer can't do that and, yes, an employee could complain in that circumstance. But, again, we would encourage all Australian workers and all Australian employees and their employers to work together through this period in a consensual spirit.
I have a couple of questions in relation to businesses that are seeking to provide their workers with basically a tie-over until these payments commence in May. I believe that's the advice on the fact sheets. I've had a couple of constituents contact me and basically say that they've been to their bank and their bank is refusing to provide them with enough money to cover off on the jobseeker payment.
I spoke with Anna Bligh this morning. She said that there may be some latency issues associated with some banks understanding what all of the requirements are. Can you please lay out what the government has done formally in respect of communicating with banks to make sure that these businesses can tie themselves over until the May payment?
Secondly, I spoke to someone in a bank this morning who said that they still have quite rigid requirements in respect of the regulator that require them to go through a number of hoops. Are there any changes in that space in respect of directions to banks to ensure that people are not tied down in paperwork as they—and I'm talking about businesses—are seeking access to loans from banks to cover them between 30 March and the first payment, which is expected to come some time in early May?
Let me first make the observation that in the context of the coronavirus crisis the banks have actually been fantastic. They have really sought to do their bit to help support our economy through this period in terms of the way they have approached, in particular, business lending and the challenges faced by Australian borrowers more generally. In relation to the issue of the JobKeeper program and being able to use that program and the expected payment as a basis to seek credit, that is an initiative that Anna Bligh, CEO of the Australian Banking Association, flagged in a statement that she released on 5 April.
Senator Patrick, you mentioned a specific example. It's hard to make judgements without knowing the financial circumstances of an individual business as to why they may or may not be able to get financing. I was just observing in my own mind that, really, in terms of our mindset towards the banks, we seem to have come a long way from all of the recommendations for stronger protection of borrowers in the wake of the banking royal commission, to the proposition that you're putting now—that we should make sure we get rid of all this paperwork so they can get easy access to finance. So it's quite a spread in terms of the aspiration and what we're asking our banks to do. But that's just an observation on the side.
In terms of the broader issues, the government has taken unprecedented action in coordination with the RBA and APRA to ensure the flow of credit in the Australian economy, in particular for small and medium-sized enterprises. This includes the government providing a guarantee of 50 per cent to SME lenders for new unsecured loans to be used for working capital, which enables lenders to provide credit, which will result in SMEs being able to access additional funding to help support them through the upcoming months. To ensure support is being provided to small and medium-sized businesses across Australia, any particular bank or non-ADI lender is required to provide weekly reporting on a number of factors, including the average interest rate they're offering. This will be a way of comparing what lenders are offering and ensuring they're not taking advantage of SMEs under the scheme. In addition, the government has provided ASIC and APRA with record levels of funding, which has enabled them to increase their focus on consumer protections to ensure that all regulated entities are complying with the law.
The government has also provided the Australian Office of Financial Management with $15 billion to invest in structured finance markets used by smaller lenders, including non-authorised deposit-taking institutions and smaller authorised deposit-taking institutions. This provides SMEs with the option of going to a wider number of lenders, including small banks and non-bank lenders, to get the credit they need without having to only rely on the big four banks.
The government is also providing a temporary exemption from responsible lending obligations—going to the question of paperwork, I guess—for lenders providing credit to existing small business customers to help small business get access to credit quickly and efficiently. The government is confident that, with these measures in place, banks across Australia will do the right thing and provide support to assist otherwise viable businesses across the economy who are facing significant challenges due to disrupted cash flow to meet their existing obligations—and I stress here: this is to support and to assist otherwise viable businesses across the economy. Should banks not comply, then the government would be able to take action under the existing frameworks, including under the Banking Executive Accountability Regime, which holds banks and their senior executives to account and includes a range of tougher consequences if expectations are not met. This framework will incentivise good behaviour and ensure that banks and individuals are held to account where they fail to meet the standards expected of them.
Thank you, Minister. I wasn't intending to say anything bad about the banks; I was just trying to understand what the government had put in place, so I thank you for that answer. I have one question that flows from that answer. Again, it's based on another constituent who is in a pretty good position but has noted that the margin between the official interest rate set by the RBA and the credit that is being offered to them in support of their business during the crisis is quite high. It's quite a large margin. You mentioned that there were reports going back, I presume, to the regulator in relation to interest rates. Does the government have any sort of expectation—and I appreciate it does depend on risk profiles—as to what is reasonable in respect of the difference between the RBA interest rates and what banks should be setting as interest rates in relation to these coronavirus payments?
The government doesn't set prices. The government doesn't set the interest rates charged by the banks. In the end, we have a competitive banking sector and we are going out of our way to ensure, as you've indicated, that there's the capacity to compare what lenders are offering and ensure they're not taking advantage of SMEs under the scheme; specifically, by requiring weekly reporting on a number of factors, including the average interest rates that are being offered. I would just make the general observation that, compared to what was the case in the past, and in particular and including on the back of some of our initiatives, the interest rates available to small business borrowers now are better than they have been.
I just wanted a small clarification in relation to the relaxing of responsible lending laws through this period. Does that only relate to helping businesses, for example, pay their first month of the economic stimulus, the JobKeeper package, or does it relate to tiding them over during the period? Or can they, for example, go out and get a massive capital loan under this relaxed regime?
The banks will still make their proper assessments. The answer to the first question is no. The exemption from the responsible lending rules is not just limited to the loans in the context of the JobKeeper program. The temporary exemption from responsible lending obligations for lenders providing credit to existing small business customers, to help small business get access to credit quickly and efficiently, is a general exemption. But it's 'existing small business customers', so they would have a pretty good read on their viability and profitability in ordinary times. And we think in the current circumstances that is appropriate.
In relation to the previous question I asked the minister regarding partnerships, would the government consider amending the package to allow the active partner along with the principal in the partnership to claim the jobseeker payment?
There are a number of questions that hopefully I can go through fairly quickly, and they relate to income support and the process over this next six months. Can I confirm that the reviews that are normally carried out on a periodic basis of people on DSP, carer payment, and carer allowance have been and/or will be suspended?
Senator Siewert, as you would imagine, the absolute priority and pretty much the full use of the workforce at Services Australia has been directed towards making sure that we progress the applications for payment of people who have come onto the payment. In limited circumstances, particularly where it was in the interests of the person for whom an assessment is needed, we would probably do so. But they would have to be quite exceptional circumstances where the safety of both the person undertaking the assessment and the person who the assessment was being undertaken with were not compromised in any way. So, whilst there hasn't been a blanket decision to cease all reviews over this period of time, there certainly has been a decision that we will only be undertaking them under exceptional circumstances.
I thank the minister. That was my understanding, but I've now had a number of people approach my office saying that it seems like the standard review doesn't sound like it falls into those exceptional circumstances. In those instances, what happens? Will they continue, even though they're not exceptional ones, or can they say that they don't want to do it at the moment because they don't want to expose themselves to risk?
Senator Siewert, what I'd suggest you do is what you have been doing over the last few weeks. Often there's a lag in the system—a decision is made and it takes a little bit of time before the system slows down or actually enacts the action. So what I'd suggest you do is provide me with the advice, as you have done in other circumstances. We will address them, and, if the matter persists, we'll obviously need to take stronger action. But at this stage it appears as if it may just be lag in the system.
I appreciate that, Minister. We're getting people, as I said, ringing up and saying that it's difficult to respond. So we'll take those on notice and go straight to you. Thank you. Can I also confirm the issue around income reporting that was suspended during that very intense period of Centrelink being swamped? My understanding was that people did try to report their debts. I'm aware that a number of people did—a number of people did and it was not successful. Again, I've had people come to me and say they've now had a debt notice, which actually seemed quite quick. Other people have said, 'Well, we're really, really anxious that we're going to get a debt notice.' So there are a couple who have, but there are a lot of people that are anxious. My understanding is that, during that period where they couldn't and they did try to report their income, they're anxious that they will get one. Can I confirm that, in fact, that is not going to be the case?
Senator Siewert, once again, I would be very interested in seeing the individual cases. We did suspend reporting; so there would be no reason why Centrelink would be aware that, if somebody hadn't reported income, they actually had income. So I'm a little confused about how it might have been raised. But if debt notices have been raised for the period you're talking about, that would seem like it would have been in error, and we'll pursue them.
Thank you very much. That's appreciated. I found it a bit incredible, or a bit confusing, but they assure me that that's what it was related to. So I will follow that up. But I just want to confirm for those that are anxious—we have a lot of people that are just plain anxious—that, because they weren't able to report, they won't get a notice. They're very worried about it.
My understanding is that the income reporting was suspended until last Friday. So for the period—I think it was the two weeks prior to that—nobody was required to have reported income. So you can be absolutely assured, in giving an assurance to anybody who is anxious, who believes that they should have reported income during that period and didn't, that there is no issue at all that they didn't. Income reporting commenced again last Monday, once the system was back and able to cope with it.
Thank you for that reassurance. I can assure you that we were reminding people that they needed to start income reporting as well so there was no issue. I wanted to go to the recent announcement about the suspension of debt processing. There have been people that have sought advances on their Centrelink payments—you know, when they seek advances for big costs—that have been told no in the past because they had debts. For people that do need advances, and they have frozen debts, are they now going to be able to seek those advances where some crisis happens et cetera?
Senator Siewert, I will endeavour to get you an answer to that in the next few minutes. My understanding is that they should still be able to get their advances, but I will check that and get back to you during the questioning.
That's much appreciated; thank you. You've suspended mutual obligations to 27 April—again, very much appreciated—and you've also indicated that, if there are ongoing problems, that will be extended. On what basis will you make that decision?
The original reason for us suspending mutual obligations was obviously to make sure that our systems were completely focused on making sure we got new people onto payment. There are a number of things that will impact people's ability to meet their obligations. A number of things could occur. We could continue to suspend them if it seems an unreasonable expectation because of the level of quarantining and the requirements of the states in terms of people's actual behaviour. But, equally, it could just be that there is no work available. So it's one of those things that we're going to be constantly keeping an eye on and we'll be making the decisions closer to the time. But I will certainly undertake to make sure that, in relation to any extension on mutual obligations, or a limiting or changing of those mutual obligations, we give you as much time as possible.
I appreciate that. In terms of terms of the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission that was announced by the Prime Minister a couple of weeks ago, some members were named up front in the announcement. It was my understanding that there may be additional people added to that. You will be aware that we felt very strongly there should be somebody from the community sector with strong experience working on the ground. We're also of the opinion there should be representation from First Nations and of vulnerable groups. Have further people been added to the commission? If so, who are they? If not, when do you expect to be letting people know that additional people have been appointed? Are you considering making sure First Nations and other vulnerable groups are on the commission?
I very much respect that these are issues that Senator Siewert feels very strongly about and is very passionate about. They're not issues related to this bill. They're legitimate questions, and I'm happy, on notice, to provide answers to them. I believe you will be a member of the Senate select committee, and I'm sure that, through that work, you will ask the COVID-19 Coordination Commission chair to appear. I would encourage you to put these questions to them too. These questions are not related to the legislation in front of us. I'm mindful of the time, and the fact that Australians probably expect us to get this to a close in the not-too-distant future.
Minister, I'm trying to be as expeditious as possible. This does relate to this package of legislation. I appreciate what you've just said in terms of the commission appearing before the committee. However, I was asking about the membership of that commission. That commission has a very important role, and I would have thought it would have been easy to answer the question. It's not up to the chair to tell me who's on that commission. It's actually up to the government who appointed the commission. I am trying to be as expeditious as possible, but these are issues that Australians are asking us about constantly.
I have a number of questions across a range of issues, but likewise I intend to be very brief. On the rule-making power, can the minister confirm that the broad rule-making powers granted under the payments and benefits bill cannot be used to override or otherwise alter any employment conditions or social security entitlements that a person might otherwise have?
In this legislation the Treasurer doesn't get the power to change IR laws or social security laws, if that is the question. Obviously, there is the capacity here, through the rule-making power, for the Treasurer to vary payment rates, but that can only be prospective and it is in the context of this legislation and this payment. We've also previously legislated, as a parliament, to give the social services minister certain powers for a temporary period, sunseted to 31 December 2020, to make changes to various payment rates, eligibility criteria and the like in relation to income support payments.
Thanks, Minister. I might come back to you with some follow-up questions. I'm aware of the general provisions, but it was more a specific question about whether employment conditions could be unilaterally varied. My understanding is the answer is no, but I was hoping for confirmation. Thank you for the clarification.
I have a couple of quick questions on paid parental leave. I want to confirm that paid parental leave taken does not affect the continuity of service for casuals. Can you confirm that, if they return from paid parental leave but they haven't returned for longer than 12 months, their previous service in that role would count and they would be eligible for the JobKeeper payment as casuals that had been employed for more than 12 months but had been on that period of paid parental leave?
Unpaid parental leave does not break continuity of service under the Fair Work Act. To the extent that a casual employee is a long-term casual employee who is eligible for unpaid parental leave under the Fair Work Act and they are on unpaid parental leave, that period can count for the purposes of satisfying the 12-month regular and systemic requirement as a casual for the JobKeeper payment. Unpaid parental leave does not break, as I've said, the employee's continuity of service. So, as long as that employee is on the employer's books on 1 March 2020, that employee will be eligible, subject to any other criteria which might apply. If a casual employee is on paid parental leave, for example, under the terms of an enterprise agreement, then that period will also count as service towards meeting the 12-month regular and systematic requirement for eligibility for JobKeeper payment.
I have a related question on paid parental leave. If a worker is on paid parental leave but, due to COVID, their employer closes down, what happens to the worker's ability to continue to receive the 18 weeks government funded paid parental leave? Who would administer that if their employer closes its doors?
There is no change to these arrangements. These arrangements will continue to operate as normal. If an employer remains a viable business, has shut down by standing down its staff, an individual will continue to be paid by their government funded paid parental leave according to their current arrangements—typically paid to the individual by their employer. If an employer is no longer a viable business and an individual no longer has an employment relationship with their employer, Services Australia will instead pay individuals their paid parental leave entitlement directly on a fortnightly basis.
Thanks very much, Minister. I have one question about the appropriations bills. I understand this is a cognate debate, so I can ask about those. On the $40 billion discretionary fund, I understand that amendments in the bills before us pertain to when that money can be spent and that now it's permissible to spend it in subsequent financial years, not just the current one. We don't have a problem with that. I'm just seeking some clarity. There's a mention in the explanatory memo about how the large amount reflects the associated uncertainty about what may be required as part of the government's response. What are the parameters that will guide that discretionary spending? Are there any written anywhere? How close a link to COVID is the expenditure required to have, and where is the oversight of the discretion in the exercise of dispensing that fund?
First, let me make a slight correction in terms of when the fund is available. Part of the problem is that this financial year it was not yet available. Under the supply acts that we legislated last time, the advance of the finance minister to the tune of $40 billion was becoming available from 1 July 2020, and clearly the urgency and emergency is with us now. We believe, and we are proposing to the parliament—and we're very appreciative of the support from the opposition, and, as I understand from what you've just indicated, from the Australian Greens—that it is prudent for the government to be able to have access to this fund, this larger fund, earlier. We're not adding to the fund. We're just making it available, essentially, from royal assent for the remainder of this financial year. Then the appropriations acts for 2019-20 will lapse and then the supply acts 2020-21 will kick in. Whatever amount is spent out of appropriation acts 5 and 6 for 2019-20 will be deducted from the fund that is legislated in the supply act 2020-21. That's the first bit.
In terms of the circumstances in which this advance to the finance minister can be spent, this is a longstanding arrangement in our appropriations act. In fact, in the Westminster system it's been in place for hundreds of years as a prudent management tool to deal with urgent and unforeseen items of expenditure. There are established rules in relation to all of this, and there are established accountability requirements. As finance minister, I've got to report to the parliament and to the Senate on the use of the advance. The Auditor-General reviews the report that is prepared on the use of the advance on an annual basis. But in the context of this particular fund, given it's got a larger size, we have agreed to some additional transparency measures in our engagement with the opposition. I've made a commitment that every week, when a determination has been made under the advance to the finance minister, I would issue a statement explaining what funding has been allocated and for what purpose. You will have seen that I issued such a statement last Friday when we committed $800 million to the Department of Health for the purchase of more masks and other personal protective equipment for our health workers.
Right now I can't foresee what is unforeseeable. The reason we have this fund in place is to deal with unforeseen requirements in the context of the crisis that we're dealing with. The cost of medical equipment and personal protective equipment is higher than it has been in the past. The competition globally is more intense, and the demand domestically in Australia is higher than it usually is. So we do expect that there will be more calls on that fund in that context. I should also say that, if there is any expenditure item that goes above $1 billion, then I would seek the concurrence of the opposition for that payment through the shadow minister for finance. So there is that additional check and balance in there as well; it's not just a matter of me running off.
In terms of the decisions underpinning the allocation of funding, the normal processes of government would apply; I can't just make a decision myself to incur expenditure. The decision to incur expenditure is going to be a decision by government through the normal processes, subject to the authority of the Prime Minister and, as applicable, to the decisions of the Expenditure Review Committee and the like. But, ultimately, I have the fiscal capacity to allocate funding to these urgent and unforeseen needs. I hope that answers your question.
Minister, it does. I appreciate that. I have a couple of additional questions that sort of pertain to subsequent amendments. I'm happy to ask them now to expedite things, if that suits. It's just a question about the prescribed period in the bill. It's defined as running from 1 March to 31 March this year, but under the rules it shows that the JobKeeper fortnights end on 27 September. So my question is about why it is that the power to make new rules goes beyond the JobKeeper fortnights, and what this pertains to. Do you intend to keep making payments after August, when parliament should resume and would otherwise be available to approve future payment schemes?
Well, the truth is, parliament is scheduled to resume, but we don't know what we don't know in terms of how this crisis plays out, and it is prudent to give ourselves that flexibility to be able to deal with these things over, like, a six-month period.
Thanks, Minister. Can I just seek your reassurance that, were parliament to resume, you would seek to use the normal courses of parliament to approve any future rule making, rather than relying upon this catch-all power?
The reason this power is in this legislation, and a similar power is in the legislation that we passed last time, is to give ourselves flexibility to deal with a continuously evolving situation. But, of course, once we return back to normal, we would return back to the normal processes of parliament.
Thanks, Minister; it's good to have that statement. The rule-making power in section 7 does appear incredibly broad. What other payment schemes do you have in mind to create future rules that you're able to share with us at this point?
I can't predict what unforeseen circumstances might arise in the future—the definition of 'unforeseen circumstances' is that they are unforeseen—but what I do believe is that it's prudent for the government and for the Treasurer to have this power so that we do have the capacity to respond to a continuously evolving situation.
This is part of the coronavirus economic response, and, as we've indicated, it is prudent for the Treasurer to have powers to flexibly make rules that are relevant to responding to the economic response to the coronavirus crisis.
Why don't I read you what it says, because it's very self-explanatory. Section 7, which is on page 4, provides:
(1) The rules may make provision for and in relation to:
(a) one or more kinds of payments by the Commonwealth to an entity in respect of a time that occurs during the prescribedperiod—
and you've already mentioned the prescribed period—
(b) the establishment of a scheme providing for matters relatingto one or more of those payments, and matters relating to such a scheme.
Paragraphs (a) and (b) do not limit each other.
So it is a broad-ranging discretion that will enable the government to respond to the economic challenges flowing from the coronavirus crisis with the appropriate level of flexibility.
Minister, could that relate, for example, to a potential rescue package for an industry like small brewers in this country? They are potentially looking at losing their stock and their livelihoods because the product they produce can't be sold through outlets anymore. A lot of their product is in keg form, and they're looking at potentially millions of dollars of losses of inventory because they've been forced to shut down. Is that the kind of thing that could be used for?
I'm not going to start speculating on circumstances which may or may not arise. Our approach to this coronavirus economic response as much as possible is to work through existing systems and processes, to make economywide and sectorwide decisions and to pursue sectorwide and economywide measures. This section is extremely clear. It relates to one or more kinds of payments, and the second paragraph of section 7 talks about the eligibility criteria for a payment—if or how an application for a payment must be made. So it is a broad-ranging discretion that will enable the government to flexibly respond to what is an evolving situation.
On that earlier point in relation to section 7 payments that can be made to an entity, apologies if I wasn't clear earlier. My question was: can that payment be made for any purpose? Or must the payment be made for the benefit of workers?
It doesn't limit who the payment could be made to, but it can't be for any payment. It is a section on coronavirus economic response payments, so it is in relation to payments that the government may or may not decide from time to time may be required in order for us to appropriately support the Australian economy throughout this coronavirus crisis.
Since other people are asking questions about their amendments, I might just ask a few quickly so we can get them out of the way. Before I do that, though: Minister, is it your understanding that the UK, New Zealand and Canada aren't discriminating between foreign workers and domestic workers in terms of accessing their emergency economic stimulus payments?
What I know is that, if you compare what we are doing with what other countries are doing, our scheme is significantly and materially more generous. I will compare with New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Canada. In New Zealand, somebody working at least 20 hours a week receives $585.80 a week. For somebody working fewer than 20 hours a week, it's $350 a week. If the subsidy exceeds the wages usually paid to an employee, any difference is to be used by the business for wages of other employees affected. That amount is obviously lower than the Australian amount. In the United Kingdom, it is the lower of 2½ thousand pounds per month or 80 per cent of their regular wage. And in Canada it's 75 per cent of the first $58,700 normally earned by employees, representing a benefit of up to $847 per week. Employers who suffer a drop in gross revenue of at least 30 per cent in March, April or May when compared to the same month in 2019 will be able to access the subsidy, but employers would have to keep records demonstrating the reduction in arms-length revenues and remuneration paid to employees, and there are many details yet to be confirmed in relation to this.
The JobKeeper scheme is more generous than the New Zealand scheme. The JobKeeper scheme is broader than the UK scheme. And we believe that we have developed a system that is administratively more efficient to administer using existing channels through the ATO, which allows government to ensure that businesses are passing on the subsidy in full to workers.
I'm not aware of the visa arrangements of all other countries around the world. What I do know—and I've said this many times now, so, in the interest of time, this will be the last time that I make this point—is that, in Australia, there has always been an expectation under our laws that temporary visa holders will be able to support themselves while in Australia. Those who are unable to support themselves over the next six months, either through work, savings or access to superannuation, are strongly encourage to return home. The time to do so is now.
Minister, the reason I asked the question is that, over the last seven years under your government, in this chamber we've signed multiple trade and treaty agreements with countries all around the world, not just bilateral agreements but also huge multilateral agreements that cover a whole range of rules and regulations around, for example, the mobility of labour. I'm just wondering if your government has sought any reciprocal processes with these countries whereby, if we pay foreign workers or allow them to access our schemes, we can seek compensation from those countries further down the track, and vice versa for Australians who happen to be in Canada, the UK or other countries. If they seek those schemes, would we potentially compensate their governments as part of the bilateral agreements?
The answer is no. We're dealing with a real-time crisis and, quite frankly, the time is just not available to do those things. Our visa laws are very clear, and we believe the arrangements that we have made are overwhelmingly supported by the Australian people.
I have a simple question: why has the government chosen May? I understand you haven't got a specific date yet as to when the first payments will flow to employers under the JobKeeper scheme. Why was there a six-week delay from the time this was announced?
I've made that point many, many, many, many times. Organising this sort of program and these sorts of payments for six million Australians is a huge logistical exercise. To get this set up does take time, in terms of making sure the system is able to do so accurately, efficiently and effectively. It's entirely driven by the time required to get all of the systems in place to do this at this sort of scale.
One Nation agrees with the sentiment in many of the amendments, yet now is not the time for discussing these. I will explain and then check with the minister. Minister, I will have two questions after first confirming my understanding.
First, as I said in my reply to the minister's statement earlier today, we have been concerned about the complexity of the legislation already in place, and now there is the added complexity of this legislation and the speed with which these changes are being made, yet the legislation allows ministers to make changes as regulations. Like the opposition, we understand the short-term need, in the circumstances, to give this government this power, and we'll be holding them accountable throughout the period of managing the virus and after the virus passes. We will continue to listen our constituents and we'll continue to advocate for them to put ideas to the government to protect workers and any groups that fall through the cracks.
Our understanding is that unions have publicly acknowledged that the government has worked well with them on making changes to the legislation. The opposition has acknowledged publicly and in this Senate that the government has worked well with it. Our party has passed constituent concerns and ideas to the government, and the government has implemented these ideas.
Second, the government and opposition have stated that they will oppose all other amendments. Any amendments to this legislation, regardless, would need to go back to the House of Representatives and would delay this package getting out to the people who need it.
Third, given the complexity of the amendments and the lack of costings of some of these amendments, there has been no time for us to check the legislation. We would be neglectful to support these amendments with such little notice. All parties, as I understand it, have had ample opportunity to suggest changes to the government.
Minister, can you confirm the minister's ability to make regulations to close the cracks in legislation to ensure fairness for any people in need who have been missed in this legislation and to make regulations to protect taxpayers from abuse of the new provisions?
I thank Senator Roberts for those comments, for those remarks and for those questions. The Treasurer does have wideranging temporary discretion. The discretion for Senator Ruston in the legislation we passed a few weeks ago is also temporary. It's to respond to unforeseen circumstances. Of course, we will continue to monitor the situation as it evolves. We do want to ensure that those Australians who need support can get appropriate levels of support. Even as issues emerge which require our attention, we will have the flexibility under that rule-making power to respond to any such circumstances.
In terms of scrutiny, there will be the opportunity for the Senate select committee to scrutinise the government's response. It has some very wideranging terms of reference on the government's responses, both on the health front and on the economic front. I know that Senator Roberts has nominated to be a participating senator on that committee, and I would encourage him to pursue all of the issues of concern to him and to One Nation through that process.
Minister, just following on from that, can you confirm that, because of the answer that ministers can make changes through regulations, there is no upper spending limit on this bill? If the estimates are in error, the $130 billion could become $150 billion. What is the top end? That's my last question.
Senator Roberts is right that the $130 billion is an estimate. It's an estimate in a demand driven program. I've seen some of the commentary from observers and I've read some comments from Chris Richardson. The view among commentators appears to be that we have erred on the side of conservativism rather than on the side of underestimating. But the truth is that this is a demand driven program. These are estimates, and changes in economic parameters or changes in decisions could have an impact on the estimate moving forward.
by leave—I move amendments (1) and (2) on sheet 8930 together:
(1) Clause 3 (before line 9), before the definition of approved form, insert:
ACNC -registered charity has the meaning given by the A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax) Act 1999.
(2) Clause 7, page 4 (after line 29), at the end of the clause, add:
(3) If the rules make provision for a test of eligibility of an ACNC-registered charity to a payment, the test must:
(a) exclude funding from a Commonwealth, State or Territory that is provided to the charity for a specific purpose; and
(b) include income from:
(i) individualised government funding, such as that provided for the purposes of the Child Care Subsidy or the National Disability Insurance Scheme; and
(ii) donations; and
(iii) investments and social enterprises; and
(c) for the purposes of this subsection, an entity's turnover is to be assessed for each separate service the entity provides.
Note: An example of an entity providing separate services includes a single entity that provides disability, child care and aged care services.
(4) Subsection (3) does not limit subsections (1) or (2).
These amendments relate to the definition of charity and the charity-specific eligibility. In my second reading contribution I made the argument for why I think this is essential. There are a couple of short points I wish to make.
What I didn't talk about in my second reading contribution, due to time, is the fact that this pandemic and the crisis have an impact on charities' ability to support and to have volunteers supporting their efforts. I did just want to make the point that charities are now struggling to access volunteers. In fact a number of charities and not-for-profits, I understand, have been told that their volunteers won't be covered for insurance, for COVID-19, which means that they will not be able to access volunteer support. In some instances they are then trying to see if they can get other volunteers or, in fact, have to pay workers. The point here is that we recognise and appreciate that we've gone down to 15 per cent versus 30 per cent for not-for-profits. The point is that a lot of charities and not-for-profits actually get a lot of tied grants. They have no discretion over that funding, but they've seen a significant drop-off in funding, in donations and in their revenue-raising capacity.
ACOSS did a short survey—I won't go through all the detail because of time. For me, one of the outstanding statistics on their members was: in less than 24 hours I understand 168 of their members, who represent a lot of people, responded and said that they felt that at this stage—37 per cent thought—they had job losses and thought that they wouldn't come under the 15 per cent turnover drop, because they have those tied grants. That 37 per cent would have job losses is quite significant.
So I'm moving this amendment. I won't rehash all my other arguments for this, but I do ask—and I do realise that the tax commissioner has some discretion—on what basis is the government prepared to reconsider this issue, if it doesn't support this amendment? I'm guessing, from what people have said, that it won't get supported. Is there a point at which you will keep reassessing the not-for-profit and charity sector, to see when the tax commissioner will look at exercising their discretion?
The government will not be supporting these amendments. The turnover test for charities has already been relaxed, in light of their special circumstances. Let me say, we worked very closely with ACOSS in relation to this. It's true that we haven't been able to deal with all of their issues, but, where we could, we certainly went out of our way to address their concerns. Excluding additional forms of income from the turnover test could result in assistance being directed to charities that have not been significantly impacted by COVID-19. In addition, it would be difficult for the ATO to source such information and verify accuracy in a timely way. The bill already provides flexibility to adjust the turnover test, if the need arises.
In relation to the commissioner's discretion, that is a matter for him. In relation to in what circumstances we might make further changes, as I've previously indicated we will continue to assess an evolving situation and continue to make decisions. I can't make any predictions here or speculate on what we may or may not do but we will continue to assess how coronavirus is impacting on the economy, on jobs, on business, on the community services sector and on all Australians, and we will continue to make adjustments and decisions if and as required.
Minister, I did make the point that we acknowledge that there is a different test. You have made different tests for businesses. Where the businesses are a group you've allowed them to separate into entities, for the purposes of this provision. Why can't you make a concession to or make the same sort of consideration for charities? This will impact on charities—charities that you are relying on to make sure that we get through this pandemic. This isn't about themselves; this is about their ability to support Australians that are in crisis. That's why they're asking for this.
by leave—I won't call a division. Can I please have it registered that the Greens supported—
I move request (1) on sheet 8948:
(1) Clause 7, page 4 (after line 29), at the end of clause 7, add:
(3) In determining the entitlement of an entity to a payment for an employee of the entity, the rules must provide that the types of employee that an entity is entitled to receive a payment in respect of include an individual that on 1 March 2020 was an employee of the entity and was the holder of a temporary visa within the meaning of the Migration Act 1958.
Statement pursuant to the order of the Senate of 26 June 2000
Amendment (1) is framed as a request because it amends the bill in a way that is intended to direct funding under the proposed jobseeker program to additional individuals.
The amendment would require the Treasurer to make rules which include an additional class of employees when calculating an entity's entitlement to receive a payment under the scheme established by the bill. Specifically, the effect of the amendment would be to include temporary visa holders as eligible employees when assessing an entity's eligibility for payments from the Commonwealth under the rules.
As this would increase the number of employees for whom employers would be eligible to receive payments, the amendment will increase the amount of expenditure under the standing appropriation in section 16 of the Taxation Administration Act 1953.
Statement by the Clerk of the Senate pursuant to the order of the Senate of 26 June 2000
If the effect of the amendment is to increase expenditure under the standing appropriation in section 16 of the Taxation Administration Act 1953 then it is in accordance with the precedents of the Senate that the amendment be moved as a request.
This amendment relates to temporary visa holders' access to JobKeeper. We have had substantive discussion in this chamber about this particular issue. We are deeply concerned about this issue and about access to these provisions. The parliament is quite rightly moving to address the current crisis. We think that the people who are on temporary visas do need access to these provisions to be able to have a form of income and, in this instance, to be able to work where jobs are available and where they've had jobs. We've covered this substantially in the chamber, so I won't rehash those arguments other than to try to say: 'Please change your mind. Please support these workers. Please support these people who will have no form of support.' I tabled a petition earlier today that 20,523 people signed in a relatively short space of time, urging the government to move to support the people who are being left behind.
by leave—Madam Deputy President, I ask that the Greens be recorded as supporting this amendment.
In relation to amendment (1) on sheet 8934, I move:
That the House of Representatives be requested to make the following amendment:
(1) Clause 7, page 4 (after line 29), at the end of clause 7, add:
(3) In determining the entitlement of an entity to a payment for an employee of the entity, the rules must provide that the types of employee that an entity is entitled to receive a payment in respect of include an employee of the entity who satisfies the requirements in subsection (4), regardless of the period of time that the individual has been employed by the entity.
Casual employee requirements
(4) The requirements are that:
(a) the individual was a casual employee of the entity on 1 March 2020; and
(b) it is reasonable to assume that the individual would have continued to be an employee of the entity if the entity had not been directly or indirectly affected by the Coronavirus known as COVID-19.
This amendment relates to casual employees. Again, we've had substantial debate in this chamber about casual employees who, for no apparent reason that we can see that's justifiable, aren't able to qualify as they have had their work for less than 12 months. I heard an instance quoted in the chamber earlier today; I think the person was three days outside the 12-month period for qualifying. I had someone who, I think, was 13 days outside the period of qualifying for this.
Surely, the idea here is to keep as many people as possible working and as many people as possible connected to work as we move out of the crisis and the economy picks up. The idea, I would have thought, is to keep these workers connected to work as much as possible. As I understand it, there are over a million workers who are working. They're working. They're casual workers who just don't happen to have had their jobs for 12 months; some are very close to it. In some instances, there's very little difference in the amount that the casual workers who have been working for under 12 months have been earning. As I articulated in my second reading contribution, 50 per cent of the household income for the households that these workers are a part of is coming from these casual workers who are missing out. I don't know how we can justify saying to a worker who has been working: 'You don't get the JobKeeper payment. You can't access the JobKeeper payment, because you haven't had that job for 12 months,' when, as casuals, they have been working for 12 months. It's not justifiable. We should be extending this to casual workers so we keep as many people as possible connected to work and supported in the workplace. I strongly urge the government to extend these provisions to all those workers—the one million workers.
I had an older gentleman contact me. He's a part-time pensioner who has been working for just under the 12 months. In fact, I tell a lie; I had two people contact me in the last 24 hours. Another person contacted me just a couple of hours ago saying they are a part-time worker on a part pension who didn't qualify because they had changed jobs and hadn't been connected to their job for 12 months; it is just under the 12 months. They're going to miss out and they're on a part pension.
This is important to Australians. It's important to workers. What they want to do is hold on to their jobs.
The Senate transcript was published up to 22:00 . The remainder of the transcript will be published progressively as it is completed.