Tuesday, 1 September 2020
Questions without Notice
COVID-19: Community Services
My question is to the Minister for Families and Social Services, Minister Ruston. Can the minister advise the Senate as to the immediate financial services that are available for Australians who have suffered from the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic?
I thank Senator Hughes for her question. Clearly many Australians have found themselves in very, very challenging circumstances as a result of the COVID pandemic and many of those people may need access to financial tools now or in the future to assist them to make stable and safe financial decisions going forward. To make sure that people get the advice they need we have made available an additional $20 million to scale up the capacity of our existing financial counselling services in Australia. Of that, we've provided $6 million to Financial Counselling Australia. We did this most particularly because we wanted to make sure that they had the ability to train more interns through their financial counselling traineeship so they could get out on the ground and start assisting Australians who need them. This has allowed us to fast-track the time frame in which we are able to get these students accredited. So far I'm pleased to say that 70 agencies have agreed to employ these students to make sure that they are able to get the hands-on experience they need to get their qualifications. Increasing the workforce capacity of the sector means that we as a country are in a position to respond to what we expect to be an increased demand.
I'd also like to take the opportunity to remind all Australians that the supports that have been put in place are there to assist Australians to make sure that when they go through the difficult times that clearly many Australians are going to have to go through over coming months the resources are there and confidential, free advice is available to them. So I would recommend that anybody who finds themselves in difficult financial circumstances contact a financial adviser and get the advice they need to assist them in their negotiations. (Time expired)
Clearly part of our response to the COVID pandemic has been around making sure that we provide the resources to the financial counselling sector into the future not just to deal with the COVID pandemic, which we know is going to put many people into financial difficulty, but also to make sure that in an ongoing sense we have the kind of capacity and capability built into our financial counselling services so they are able to assist Australians in the future.
Certainly I'd like to recognise the huge work undertaken through the Sylvan report, where recommendations were made about providing greater capacity in the longer term. It was probably very timely that this capacity was being built and we were providing additional funding to the financial counselling sector to build that capacity because when the COVID pandemic hit we realised the need for those services was going to be very strong. So we as a government will continue to invest in financial counselling services to assist Australians no matter what the circumstances. (Time expired)
Part of the suite of measures that are available to us through the financial counselling mechanisms that occur in Australia are no-interest loans. As part of our COVID response package, we have increased the amount of money that's available to Good Shepherd Microfinance, who have been delivering no-interest loans to Australians for years. But the most important reason we wanted to make sure that we provided this money was to enable them to leverage that money with other providers.
I acknowledge the National Bank of Australia, who have made available $40 million worth of loan capital on the back of the support that this Australian government has put into these microfinance loans to make sure that loans of up to $3,000 are made available to people to pay for such things as essential household products that they may need and the payment of bills. It also gives them the capacity to access an alternative to high-risk, high-interest products— (Time expired)