Senate debates

Thursday, 3 September 2020

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

JobSeeker Payment, COVID-19: Employment

3:12 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

I remind senators that this debate will finish at 3.30.

3:13 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of answers given today by Senator Ruston to questions asked by Senators Gallagher and McAllister.

Well, what an extraordinary question time we had today! It seems to be that there's a cancer in this government—that is, they don't want to pay attention to what is happening in the community, there is no accountability, and there certainly is no responsibility. Australia's economic activity fell by seven per cent in the June quarter, making it the first recession in almost three decades. Not only that, but we now in the deepest recession that Australia has experienced since the Great Depression. And yet we have a minister who can't seem to do her maths: there's a reduction to the JobSeeker payment—and a loss of $500—down to $300, and she doesn't see that as a loss. There were a lot of Australians out looking for work before we had this pandemic. And now the economic circumstances are such that one million Australians are out there looking for work. In Australia, the figures are that there's one job for 13 people trying to get a job. In Tasmania, my home state, it's at least 15 people applying for that one job. And the minister says:

But across much of the economy, we are starting to see the green shoots of our economy opening up. We are starting to see jobs occur.

Well, I don't know where she's been lately, but I can tell you one thing for sure: in Tasmania, we're looking at losing a lot more jobs. We know, because all the reports are telling us so, that we can expect another 400,000 Australians to have lost their jobs by Christmas.

We've seen time after time across the last few months small businesses closing their doors but failing to be able to reopen. We have a situation where we have a government that are great at making announcements. They love the photo-op. But they just don't deliver. We've seen that again today, when the minister stood up and tried to tell us: 'It's all okay. It'll be right, mate. It's going to snap back.' The reality is that, in the real world, when you go out and talk to real Australians, people are doing it very, very tough and it's only going to get worse.

I was reprimanded today because I held up a blank piece of paper and said: 'Here you are. Here's the government's jobs plan.' There is no plan. Unless we have a plan, unless this government can somehow get the ability to put together a jobs plan, things are going to be very bleak for our economy for some time to come. The leader of the government in this place said today during question time, 'There are a lot of jobs out there.' Please, tell us where all those jobs are so I can tell my fellow Australians who are either unemployed or underemployed. We have in excess of 30,000 Tasmanians who are either unemployed or underemployed now. We've got businesses—restaurants, cafes, hotels, clubs and the list goes on—that are doing it really, really tough.

We've got two economies running at the moment in my home state. We've got the businesses that rely on locals to support them. They're saying, 'Everything is going along as well as can be expected.' But they're not putting on as many people as previously. Then we've got the industries around tourism and others that rely on not only national visitors coming to our home state but also international visitors. So when you say that we've got green shoots I'd just like to remind you, Minister, that what's really happening is the vines are withering and dying and, with that, comes lot more disadvantage and social issues that are going to impact on our communities.

It will be a bleak Christmas for the one million unemployed Australians now, and there will be 400,000 additional people unemployed by then. While the government sing off the hymn sheets that we've seen over the last two weeks that we've been sitting in the Senate, where they've been talking about how good they've been with JobSeeker and JobKeeper, there are many in our communities who have been left behind. The Prime Minister used to say, at the start of this pandemic, that we're all in this together. That didn't last very long, because what he's doing is leaving people behind. He's leaving people behind and it's unacceptable. (Time expired)

3:18 pm

Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to take note of the minister's answers as well. It's been one thing to see that Australia is entering into its first recession in 29 years—a remarkable event in and of itself. The amount of growth that's happened in the Australian economy, especially over the last seven years, all comes down to coalition governments. We've entered into this recession, a recession that I remind senators is caused entirely by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has shut down economies all around the world. Let me just put on the record how Australia has performed against some of its larger international peers. Australia's GDP has decreased by seven per cent. We acknowledge that. The United States of America's GDP has shrunk by 9.5 per cent. Germany's has shrunk by 10.1 per cent. France's has decreased by 13.8 per cent. The GDP of the whole eurozone has decreased by 12.1 per cent. And the UK's GDP has decreased by 20.4 per cent. So senators can see that, by any measure, the Australian economy has done better than that of many of its peers.

As I said at the beginning, this fall in GDP—this recession—has been caused by COVID-19. Indeed, in some states where there are no lockdowns and no border closures, like the good state of New South Wales, yes, there are green shoots starting to arise because businesses can open. Businesses can see the light of day. They see that they have the ability to trade out of this, unlike those in my home state of Victoria, where there is little or no hope because we're in stage 4 lockdown, and we're going to be locked down for an awfully long time yet. Why are we locked down, I hear you all ask?

Senator Seselja interjecting

Thank you very much, minister. The reason is that the Andrews state government has failed Victorians miserably. Let me talk about how they have failed. There are a number of ways you can protect a community from a pandemic. One way is to keep it out of the community. That's called quarantine. That was failure No. 1 for Premier Andrews. If you have let it out into the community—and this can happen; as New South Wales has seen, you can have outbreaks—then what do you need to do? You need to contain it. There are two ways to contain a pandemic: testing and contact tracing. New South Wales has provided a gold standard. It provides a lesson to Victoria on how to do contact tracing. Victoria's contact tracing is, on any estimate, at about 30 per cent of New South Wales's contact tracing. By any measure, 30 per cent is a complete and utter failure.

The Andrews state government has failed Victorians. The economy is going to be strangled because Victoria is not going to come out of lockdown. The Premier has already stated that he is going to keep us in lockdown for another two weeks longer than the six weeks that were initially planned, so that will be eight weeks of stage 4. Business owners I've spoken to are in desperate straits because, although they got through stage 3, in stage 4, they were just crushed under the weight of not being able to open their doors. If you want jobs, what you have to do is very, very simple: let businesses open their doors. If you want jobs, let people travel to your state to do business, to visit your tourism regions and go to your restaurants. But not in Victoria—they can't lock down the borders because no-one wants to come in in the first place. They have strangled the economy such that it is going to take forever to recover.

I know that, in coming months and years, those opposite are going to point at the Morrison government and say, 'Look what you've done.' I want to put on record here that I will remind senators opposite at every turn how this happened in Victoria—that it was the Andrews state government that failed Victorians and continues to fail Victorians. He's now even locking them up for a Facebook post. This is absolutely shameful behaviour. I, for one, condemn it.

3:23 pm

Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We've seen in Senator Van's response the essence of the problem with the coalition's approach, which is that they blame everybody but themselves. The problem that Senator Van points to with lockdowns and border closures around the country is a direct result of failed national leadership. We have a national cabinet that's neither national nor a cabinet: it's just a photo opportunity. A complete vacancy of national leadership from this Prime Minister is a key reason why the Australian economy is in freefall.

There will be more Australians unemployed because this government's JobKeeper and JobSeeker packages were too little, too late and badly designed, and there are now more Australians unemployed in the economy because the economy was in a terrible state in 2019. The growth that Senator Van referred to is imaginary growth. There was no growth. We had wage stagnation, no real wages growth, good jobs disappearing across the economy and productivity falling. The economy was in freefall, and that's one of the reasons it's so hard to deliver growth at the moment.

There will be more Australians unemployed—more people will lose their jobs—because this government is cutting the JobSeeker and JobKeeper packages. There are a million Australians unemployed today. That is more people than in our history. Because of your cuts, 400,000 people will lose their jobs between now and Christmas. We heard in the minister's answers that she can't grasp the reality. She was quibbling about whether they were cuts or a continuation of the program. It's pretty simple. Are the JobKeeper amounts going to be bigger or are they going to be smaller? Are they going to be more or are they going to be less? She couldn't grapple with the reality and take responsibility for the impact that the withdrawal, the tapering off, of these particular projects over the course of the rest of the year will have: that more Australians will lose their jobs.

It's predicted that 740,000 additional Australians—this is from ANU research—will be plunged into poverty because of the JobKeeper and JobSeeker cuts. What do you think that means for Australian children in those households? What is the impact of poverty on Australian children? There is a complete disregard on that side of the chamber for the real impact of those cuts.

The minister said yesterday: 'Across much of the economy, we are starting to see green shoots.' Maybe in the garden parties that the minister goes to in Toorak Gardens, Malvern or Gilberton she sees green shoots, but across Australia in the country, in our regions and in the suburbs, this is what we see: we see a million lost jobs. We see no vacancies. We see closed businesses. We see dwindling opportunities and we see cuts to the other opportunities that Australian families look to to lift themselves up: cuts to universities, the TAFE system in ruins and cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker.

This government is totally out of touch. It has an incapacity to empathise with ordinary Australians, who have got their heads just above water at the moment. They have kept their heads just above water, month after month after month, and now the government is going to cut JobKeeper and cut JobSeeker, and hundreds of thousands of those people will lose those jobs. What do you think that's going to mean for Australian families? This government should be focused on a plan for jobs. It should be focused on using the power of government to lift ordinary Australian families into work, into jobs and into opportunity—and rebuild the economy. Instead, what we are going to see is callous Reaganite Thatcherism driving a very bad agenda for Australians—a weakened government impact. That is why many hundreds of thousands of Australians are going to lose their jobs.

3:28 pm

Photo of Amanda StokerAmanda Stoker (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Ah, Senator Ayres, the ultimate troll, hiding fearfully from the shadows of political figures from other countries in other decades, hiding from very scary people, like Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher! They're not alive and with us, of course, but Senator Ayres is hiding away, terrified that somebody might suggest that—I don't know—the economy might need to have the support of this parliament to grow and become able to get out of this crisis on its own.

It's the kind of crazy, blatant double-speak we get from those opposite all the time. I'll give you an example. When those on this side of the chamber extend JobKeeper, providing a gentle transition out of government support for those businesses that are using it, as they emerge bit by bit from this economic shock, they don't acknowledge the fairness in that. They don't acknowledge the extra help that the taxpayer is providing to keep people in jobs. No, no, no. We have to put the most negative spin on it as possible. 'It's a cut,' they say. They cannot resist talking down our economy. But do you know what?

There's something that Australians need right now, and it is to believe that the people in this place want them to go forward, want them to succeed, believe in their economy, believe that their businesses can get back on their feet and believe that they're going to have a government to support them to do just that. But those on the other side are intent every day that we are here on running down Australians and their good work. We're prepared to fight for you, Australians. We'll fight for your job, we'll fight for your business and we'll fight for truth. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.