Senate debates

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Pensions and Benefits

3:30 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Families and Social Services (Senator Ruston) to a question without notice asked by Senator Siewert about the jobseeker payment.

I asked whether $40 a day for somebody on jobseeker payment is decent or fair. It's quite obvious that the government has in fact 'snapped back'. It has snapped back to its old rhetoric that you can live on $40 a day because most people get other payments. The payment that most people get is the energy supplement of—wait for it, folks—a whole $8.80 a fortnight, which is around 65c a day. So can people live on $41 a day? No, they can't. Is it decent and fair? No, it isn't.

My question was about whether all those 1.4 million people who are currently receiving jobseeker payment at that much higher rate—thank goodness—would be employed in September. Quite obviously the answer is no, although the minister didn't actually say that, because she wouldn't actually commit. She told us what the government might try to do to get people into work, which is all well and good, but I'm sure the government knows just as well as we on this side of the chamber do that there is no way that, on 25 September, all those 1.4 million will be in work. That's assuming the government doesn't muck around with JobKeeper and more people don't fall out of employment, adding to the growing list of unemployed. We will certainly have a large number of people, likely over a million, still on the jobseeker payment come 25 September.

What are those people going to do? They're going to try and survive on $40 a day. When I asked about whether the government intends taking that payment back to $40 a day, I didn't get a straight answer. But my assumption is that, yes, that's what they're going to do. I'm not saying that's what the minister said, but it was very obvious from the way the minister answered the question that the government wants to drop jobseeker payment back to $40 a day. Forty dollars a day is way below the poverty line, so we know very well that people are living in poverty. And we know the government knows that, because it actually did increase jobseeker payments. It did include a supplement. And, by the way, that supplement gets paid along with people's CRA, their rent assistance, their energy supplement and their family tax benefit. So the people who were trying to survive on that $40 a day—plus some of them who, as the government keeps pointing out, get some of those additional payments—are (a) still living in poverty and (b) still getting the supplement.

I am not for a second arguing that they shouldn't get the payment, of course. What I'm arguing is that the government needs to acknowledge that we are not going to snap back in September. A large number of Australians will still be trying to survive on a measly $40 a day, if it goes back to that, or $41 a day if you include the energy supplement. The government knows you can't survive on that. It knows you can't, because it doubled the payment—quite rightly, and I'm very pleased that it did. It saw that people weren't going to be able to survive. We heard in the COVID inquiry on 30 April that Treasury were working on the estimate that 1.7 million Australians were potentially going to be on jobseeker payment come the end of September. So the government quite rightly—and we congratulated the government—made sure that people who were living on the jobseeker payment could survive.

But let's not pretend that even that supplement is anywhere near the median wage, because it's not. People are still finding it hard to make ends meet, even on that payment. But at least they're not living in poverty. They are living above the poverty line, which is what we should be seeing in this country. We don't want to see people living in poverty. We should not be dropping people down to $40—or $41 a day, for those who are pedantic. We should make sure we retain the rate. We need to make sure that people are living in decency and fairness—the government's own words. That's what our safety net should be providing—decency and fairness. So we need to retain the rate. We need to keep the jobseeker payment and youth allowance, with the extra supplement, at the rates that they are at so that people aren't dropped back into poverty when they are trying to find work, making it even harder to find work. It's been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that living in poverty is in itself a barrier to work.

Question agreed to.