Thursday, 8 October 2020
Questions without Notice
I have a question for the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Cash. Can the minister outline to the Senate how the budget's JobMaker plan is backing small businesses to recover, rebuild, reinvest and employ more Australians as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic?
I thank Senator O'Sullivan for his question. Mr President, you'd be aware that this week's budget is all about jobs—backing those Australians who are in jobs and ensuring that they stay in those jobs and, obviously, getting as many Australians back into work as we can. A fundamental part of that plan is backing our small and family businesses every step of the way. They are the engine room of the Australian economy in so many different ways. They're major drivers of employment—in fact, employing over six million Australians—and they contribute around $418 billion to our national economy. The CEO of the Council of Small Business of Australia, Peter Strong, has welcomed budget 2020 as providing great things in it for small business people.
In terms of what we're doing for small businesses across Australia, we are, of course, allowing them to invest in themselves—we're supercharging the instant asset write-off by delivering temporary full expensing, allowing businesses to write off the full cost of eligible depreciable assets until 30 June 2020. We understand that so many businesses have done it tough as a result of COVID-19 and they need that important cash flow, so we're providing $4.9 billion in tax relief through temporary loss carry-back. This is going to allow businesses impacted by COVID-19 to write off their bad years against their previous good year. We're also expanding access to small business tax concessions. We're providing $105 million in tax relief to an additional 20,000 businesses and their employees. Importantly, in the skills space, we're removing costly barriers for businesses to train their employees by exempting employer provided retraining from fringe benefits tax. This will allow small businesses to capitalise on our $7 billion skills investment. Small and family businesses are the backbone of the Australian economy and, in budget 2020, we are backing them every step of the way.
COVID-19 has meant that many businesses have had to adapt, innovate and build their digital capability. How is the budget's JobMaker Digital Business Plan supporting small businesses to grow digital and grow their businesses?
One of the things that COVID-19 has shown us is the importance of digitisation and building resilience for small businesses. In fact, so many of those businesses that were able to pivot overnight—in particular in the hospitality industry—were those businesses that were digitally literate. COVID-19 has well and truly accelerated digital growth in our economy, and an important part of our budget is supporting small businesses to adapt to this challenge.
We are investing, as you're aware, $800 million in our JobMaker Digital Business Plan. That is all about supporting small businesses to embrace digital technologies. We are investing over $19 million to support small businesses to go digital by expanding the Australian Small Business Advisory Services—otherwise known as ASBAS—Digital Solutions program to a further 10,000 small businesses. In fact, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry have endorsed the policy, noting it will create the jobs Australia needs.
We've seen the impact of health restrictions and shutdowns and how they put enormous pressure on the mental health of all Australians. How is this budget helping to support the mental health and wellbeing of Australia's small business owners?
As we would all be aware, COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on Australia and Australians. But, in particular, it has brought considerable challenges for our hardworking small business owners and their staff right around Australia. That is why the government in this budget is investing a further $7 million to support the mental health of small business owners through our business balance initiative. Business balance will expand Beyond Blue's new access program to small business owners and it will provide them with free, accessible and tailored support to help manage the pressures of COVID-19. We're also providing funding to expand Deakin University's free accredited professional development program to build the mental health literacy of trusted advisors like accountants and bookkeepers. It's been welcomed by Beyond Blue's chair, the Honourable Julia Gillard AC, and it will assist small business owners who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Women, Senator Ruston. Today, Mr Morrison referred to those expressing concern that women have been left behind by his government's budget as 'voices of disruption, of division.' Does the minister agree with Mr Morrison that Australian women concerned about being left behind by this government are just 'voices of disruption, of division'?
Thank you very much, Senator O'Neill, for the question. One of the things that has probably most greatly concerned me over the last few days in response to the budget by those opposite and others has been the lack of understanding of the depth of the measures in this budget that support Australia's women. As a woman in this place, and representing today the Minister for Women, Senator Payne, it is very distressing that we have not seen credit for the massive level of investment that has been made in all Australians over the last seven months, as we have managed our way through the pandemic and, again, on Tuesday night with the measures put in place to help Australia's women. As I said, apart from all of the general measures of which the majority are accessible to women, there are dedicated measures that are specifically targeted towards assisting women in this budget. We've been through them on a number of occasions in this place, but I'm more than happy to stand here again and talk about some of the great initiatives in Tuesday night's budget for women. These are on top of a number of measures that have been announced over the past seven months as Australia has come to terms with a pandemic that has never been experienced in the lifetime of anyone sitting in this chamber.
We on this side will absolutely stand by our record as a government in support of women. I too am happy to stand by my record in the time I've been the minister responsible for families and social services for initiatives we have undertaken to assist Australia's women. The Women's Economic Security Statement is absolutely specifically targeted at making sure we return the level of work participation by Australia's women back to the highest levels and hopefully— (Time expired)
Thank you once again, Senator O'Neill, for your supplementary question. What I would say is that I have been extremely disappointed at some of the commentary we have received about the budget that has lacked any understanding or acceptance that there are a number of measures in this budget specifically targeted towards women. But, equally, we have a number of measures—in fact, just about every single measure that is contained in the budget—that apply to women. And the idea that we would have a budget that's gender specific in every single measure that's contained in it is completely ludicrous. Equally, we have a number of measures—in fact, just about every single measure that is contained in the budget applies to women. The idea that we would have a budget that is gender specific in every single measure that's contained in it is completely ludicrous.
Opposition senators interjecting—
I note that Senator McAllister asked me about just one measure. I can go through many, many measures. We can talk about the paid parental leave changes. We can talk about the advanced apprenticeships for women. We can talk about the female leaders imitative. We can talk about a number of measures. (Time expired)
In his International Women's Day address last year Mr Morrison said of gender equality:
We want to see women rise. But we don't want to see women rise only on the basis of others doing worse.
Is this why Scott Morrison's budget has left women behind?
First and foremost, the Morrison budget delivered by the Treasurer, Mr Frydenberg, on Tuesday did not leave women behind. In fact, I would say that the budget on Tuesday night was one of the most comprehensive suites of interrelated measures to support all Australians, and the support has been specifically targeted at areas of greatest need. Clearly, there are initiatives contained in the budget that are targeted specifically at women. We've been through them on numerous occasions, but, as I said, I'll go through them again if you want to ask me another question.
Equally, we have other measures that have targeted other areas of our community where there is greatest need. Clearly, the work credits that have been put in place were targeting the fact that so many young people have lost their jobs during the pandemic. Clearly, there are other initiatives that are contained in the budget that are focused on Indigenous Australians in areas of need. This budget is targeted, focused and measured.
My question is to the Minister for Youth and Sport, Senator Colbeck. The Morrison government is ensuring maximum opportunities exist for young Australians, with the best available opportunities in education and employment prospects and the most appropriate assistance for those who require help during the COVID-19 crisis. How is the government's plan for jobs, as outlined in Tuesday night's budget, supporting young Australians to access job opportunities and rebuild their connections to employers during these times?
I thank Senator Chandler for her question. We know as a government that young Australians have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting impacts on essential services, but Tuesday night's budget paved the way for a road to recovery. The coalition government has committed $4 billion to support young people into work through the JobMaker hiring credit, which provides a wage subsidy of $200 a week for up to a year to make an eligible position available for a young person aged 16 to 29 or $100 a week for those aged 30 to 35 who have been receiving the JobSeeker payment, youth allowance or parenting payment for at least one month within the last three months before they were hired.
The Morrison government has always focused on creating jobs. Since the election of the coalition in 2013 to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic we have seen the Australian economy create 1.5 million new jobs. The budget on Tuesday night further demonstrated our government's commitment to getting the Australian economy back on track and Australians back into the workforce, with young Australians being a key focus of that commitment. The JobMaker hiring credit will accelerate growth in employment during the recovery by giving organisations incentives to take on additional employees who are young jobseekers 16 to 35 years old. It's expected that the JobMaker hiring credit will support around 450,000 positions for young people to move back into employment. As the Treasurer outlined in the budget speech, having a job means much more than just having an income.
Minister, I recognise, and this government recognises, the important role of our apprentices to our economy and communities across Australia. What initiatives is the government investing in to recognise the importance of our young apprentices and trainees?
This government is acutely aware of the devastating impact that COVID-19 has played on the employment of many young Australians. That's why the Morrison government has announced $1.2 billion to encourage employers to take on apprentices and trainees through a new commencement wage subsidy. This additional $1.2 billion will enable us to support 100,000 new apprentice commencements. As someone who started their working career as a tradie, I can only commend it to any young person out there who is looking to start work. It's a great start in life. This measure will help prevent future skill shortages and create opportunities for women and young people, including recent school leavers. Employers of any size or any industry, Australia-wide, who engage Australian apprentices from 5 October through to 30 September 2021 will be eligible under this program. (Time expired)
This is one area where young people have been impacted significantly, and we all remain extremely concerned about their mental health. We're committed to ensuring that the mental health of young people is maintained through our ongoing investment into youth mental health and suicide prevention measures.
The Australian government has invested an unprecedented $5.7 billion in mental health in 2020-2021 alone. We've doubled the number of Medicare-funded psychological services from 10 to 20 through the Better Access initiative and additional mental health support will be available to young people living in bushfire affected regions and those bearing the brunt of COVID-19. On top of this, the government is driving the largest expansion of the headspace network, from 124 services to 153 services nationally by 2022. (Time expired)