Tuesday, 6 October 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Families and Social Services, Senator Ruston. Minister, a constituent recently told me that surviving on JobSeeker was very difficult after the cut to the coronavirus supplement. They said: 'I don't think many politicians understand how heartbreaking it is to live in poverty. Constant financial stress is causing my mental and physical health to deteriorate. Without an extra $300, I'll have no way of paying for necessary appointments and medical assistance.' Minister, if the government is funding tax cuts for millionaires, then why aren't you funding a permanent increase to the JobSeeker payment so that people aren't living in poverty? Why are you prioritising millionaires over the millions of Australians who are unemployed and underemployed?
Thank you, Senator Siewert, for your question. Clearly, one of the things that this government did back in March, when we realised that the coronavirus pandemic was going to have a significant impact on Australians, and particularly those Australians who find themselves out of work, was to put in place the $550 supplement to support people. We recognised, first of all, that there were no jobs out there; and, secondly, that people were sent home. Basically, we shut Australia down for two months. That ran for six months, as you would be well aware, and then in the July economic fiscal update we made the announcement that, recognising that the jobs market was still shallow, we were intending to extend that supplement at a rate of $250 through to the end of the year. At the same time, we recognise that we've seen jobs come back—we've seen over 700,000 jobs. If I'm correct, Senator Cash, 760,000 jobs have come back.
So what we're seeking to do is to encourage Australians to test themselves by going back into the jobs market, even if it means only getting a part-time job. That's why we've put in the $300 per fortnight income-free area—so that those people who find themselves out of work but have got the opportunity to go and get a little bit of work can do so without losing any of their payment. Going through until 31 December, people in Australia—
A point of order. I do appreciate—before you pre-empt me—that I did do a little bit of a preamble, but it's gone for a minute and a half with a history lesson. I don't need a history lesson. I asked about tax cuts over JobSeeker's permanent increase.
Senator Siewert, you asked a question with loaded language at the end of an extensive preamble, which gives me very little ability to tightly hold the minister to direct relevance. The minister can be directly relevant by addressing any part of the question, including your preamble. The minister is being directly relevant in this because of the nature of the question.
Thank you very much, Mr President. One thing that this government will continue to do is continue to support all parts of our economy. Despite what Senator Siewert might think, jobs don't grow on trees; they're actually created by profitable businesses. That's why we are making sure that, whilst we maintain levels of elevated support for people who find themselves without a job, we also need to make sure that we stimulate our economy, because the businesses that create jobs will be the ones that get Australians who find themselves unemployed back into a better place.
Senator Siewert, as I mentioned in my previous answer, this government is targeting all sectors of the economy because we believe that the pathway out of the pandemic is making sure that our entire economy starts working again. That means providing supports for people who find themselves unemployed. As I said, we do it by the extension of the coronavirus supplement through to the end of the year. If at the end of the year we are still in need of additional supports for people who find themselves unemployed, then we will make those supports available at that time. Equally, we must open up our economy. We must put incentives in place by stimulating aggregate demand so people start spending money.
This is not a one-trick government. We have got a range of measures that we want to put in place to make sure that all Australians play their role in making sure that our economy can return to strength and making sure that it happens as quickly as possible. I think you'll see in tonight's budget a range of measures that go towards making sure that our economy rebuilds with great strength.
We established in the COVID committee that the government hadn't done any modelling of the impact of cutting the coronavirus supplement. Does the government have any understanding of the impact this reduction is having on people looking for work?
First of all, I would like to clarify that the government has not cut anything. The government has extended. In March we put in place a six-month coronavirus supplement of $550 and in July we made the announcement that we were intending to extend it through until the end of the year. Governments don't model individual measures; they model things in total. Tonight the next big lot of economic modelling will be available for all to see, because it will be the budget tonight. The last lot of economic modelling that was available to all Australians was through the July economic fiscal update. So I would say to you, Senator Siewert: the government is absolutely committed to supporting Australians who find themselves in a tough situation. We are absolutely committed to making sure that we continue to provide elevated levels of support to people who find themselves unemployed, but to characterise the extension of a payment as a cut is completely and utterly misleading.