Senate debates

Thursday, 8 October 2020

Questions without Notice

Women's Economic Security

2:00 pm

Photo of Malarndirri McCarthyMalarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the minister representing the Minister for Women, Senator Ruston. Can the minister confirm that of the approximately 754,000 women currently without work and on JobSeeker or youth allowance, 61 per cent are aged over 35 years?

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank Senator McCarthy for her question. What I can confirm, Senator McCarthy, is that when the pandemic first hit we did see that women were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic when it came to job losses. What I can also tell Senator McCarthy is that prior to the pandemic we did have a disproportionate number of older Australians and also older women who were represented on social security payments.

This was probably a result of many things, including many measures that had been put in place prior to the pandemic and many measures that have been put in place over a number of years, not the least of which was the increase in the number of young people who were coming off unemployment and going into work. It could also be the fact that we had changes to our pension arrangements, like the wife pension, and these changes had taken place over quite a long period of time and under successive governments. As a result of the fact that we had started to see probably a disproportionate number of older Australians on unemployment benefits or on welfare, the government has taken a number of initiatives to support older people who find themselves unemployed.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Point of order: it was a very succinct and specific question which asked the minister to confirm the numbers of women without work and on JobSeeker and youth allowance. They were the only words and subject points raised, so I would ask the minister, who has been speaking for in excess of a minute—and I understand she has taken time to get to the answer—if she could confirm the numbers in Senator McCarthy's question.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

It was a very specific and factual question. I've said when in the chair that, when such specific and factual questions are asked, the directly relevant test is quite a narrow one. Senator Wong, you have reminded the minister of the question and I do so as well. Senator Ruston will continue.

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I will get the exact statistics for Senator McCarthy because, as you could imagine, we are seeing the unemployment figures moving around quite significantly at the moment. I will certainly make sure that I get the absolute and specific statistics provided to you. I can give statistics that are old, but I would like to make sure that I give you statistics that are current post pandemic. As you would be aware, statistics pre pandemic probably don't mean a great deal. As I was about to inform Senator McCarthy, there have be a significant number of measures that have been put in place in recognition that we have a high number of older Australians who find themselves out of work.

2:03 pm

Photo of Malarndirri McCarthyMalarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What advice does the minister have for the 460,000 women who are aged over 35 years, are without work, face a future of living on $40 a day, have been excluded from the Morrison government's hiring credit scheme and will need to compete against younger subsidised jobseekers?

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

One of the things that I can absolutely confirm to Senator McCarthy is that this government understands that older Australians often find barriers to getting into work, which is why, amongst a number of initiatives that were put in place prior to the pandemic—

Opposition Senators:

Opposition senators interjecting

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

If you'd listen, I will tell you about the measures that we have put in place, including, as an example, the Restart program. With the budget this week, we talked a lot about the wage subsidy for younger Australians. I would just like to advise the chamber that in the 2018-19 budget the government put in place the Restart program, a wage subsidy for older Australians. So employers of older Australians over the age of 50 have access to a $10,000 wage subsidy. I am really pleased to advise the chamber that 50,000 older Australians have been the beneficiary of that wage subsidy specifically dedicated to older Australians.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator McCarthy, a final supplementary question?

2:05 pm

Photo of Malarndirri McCarthyMalarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Research released by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office last week revealed a 23 percentage point increase, to 71 per cent, in the number of women on unemployment benefits for years. The Morrison government excluded many of these women from JobKeeper. Isn't their exclusion from the hiring credit scheme just the latest example of the Morrison government leaving women behind?

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Not at all. The Morrison government has been absolutely dedicated to supporting all Australians before the pandemic but most particularly through the pandemic with an absolutely unprecedented amount of money that has been provided to support all Australians—and that includes older Australians. As I said before, we already had in place a number of very significant packages to help older Australians. But we must not forget that when the pandemic hit we saw a doubling, or a 100 per cent increase, in the number of people who required the support of our unemployment benefits system, and a 150 per cent increase in those under the age of 35. I would suggest that if I had come into this place after a budget where we hadn't actually addressed youth unemployment, you would be standing there criticising me for not assisting young people who have been disproportionately impacted by the number of jobs that have been lost. I think our track record in supporting older Australians stands.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order, Senator Ruston!