Senate debates

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers


4:14 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Cormann, to a question without notice asked by Senator Waters today relating to COVID-19.

We asked about the people that are left behind in the government's COVID support package, and why decisions were made to leave those particular cohorts of people behind. I don't feel like we got satisfactory answers, and we will be moving amendments, once we come to this legislation, to fill those gaps, to make sure that no-one is left behind—which seems to be a phrase that's been bandied around a lot, but actually a lot of people are being left behind.

I asked firstly about renters. We've seen the government take action on commercial leases, but, despite some early commitments a week or so ago, we've seen no actual action to protect residential tenancies. I asked why and was told that it was a state issue. Commercial tenancies are technically also a state issue. So that still doesn't explain why you're leaving renters behind. It's also not clear whether or not renters might be subject to a rent increase next week or whether their landlords might be able to evict them once this pandemic is over. We need a national, coordinated response on residential tenancies to protect renters. We need a national rent holiday. We need a national mortgage holiday. We need a national response on housing. Surely that is the most fundamental task of government—to ensure that people have a roof over their heads. There's some discretionary power that will be granted to various ministers, and we will continue to urge that those powers to be used to protect people, to keep them safe at home, and to ensure that landlords can't increase rent or boot people out onto the streets.

I also asked about why casuals have been left behind if they've not been employed for that one-year time frame. I asked why the one year; why this arbitrary distinction between people in precarious and casual work; why draw that line; and what's the justification? It's very telling that, of the one million people who are casuals and will miss out on JobKeeper because they haven't been an employee for one year, half of those are young people. Half of them are under 24. So they're also facing those other precarious rental and insecure income situations. They're already struggling with the realities of everyday life that has left young people behind for so long, and now they're facing this added insult of being left out of the JobKeeper package. I'm afraid I didn't feel like I really received a response as to why that line was drawn. Reference was made to the Fair Work Act. Well, you're still leaving a million people behind, and half of them—half a million people—are young people. So we will continue to campaign for casual workers, all casual workers, to be eligible to receive the JobKeeper allowance.

Lastly, I asked about the increased costs for disabled people and their carers and why they haven't been topped up to the rate of the jobseeker payment, and we were told, 'Well, this is because they used to get paid more than the old rate of Newstart and they've had a few increases.' I think there have been two that we were informed of. But, sadly, those increases still don't see disabled people or those on carer payments receiving the same amount as the new jobseeker amount; yet these folk are facing increased costs. The burden of self-isolation is increasing their costs. We've had stories shared with us about people who used to be able to catch public transport now not being able to take the risk as they're immune-suppressed or for a whole variety of other reasons. So the cost of transport has increased for them, and yet they're now getting less than others in a comparable situation. Again, we don't want to see anybody left behind, and we want those words to mean something when they're used by the big parties in this parliament. We will be moving amendments so that renters are not left behind, people with disabilities and their carers are not left behind, and casual workers, irrespective of how long they've worked, are not left behind.

We'll also be moving amendments to protect people and residents who are temporary workers, who are migrant workers or who are visa workers who are being left out of this support system, for no good reason. We'll also be moving to protect international students and, crucially, people in the arts and entertainment sector that are providing us with such joy and reflection in these times of self-isolation. They do not deserve to be left behind. Nobody does. We can fix these things later today, and we will be moving to ensure that this parliament does just that.

Question agreed to.