Wednesday, 11 November 2020
Economic Recovery Package (JobMaker Hiring Credit) Amendment Bill 2020; Consideration of House of Representatives Message
I seek to debate the motion before the chair, before the question is put, and say that the Senate should insist on its amendments to this bill. This bill requires the transparency that has been put forward by the Senate in this legislation, such as the quarterly reports and the protection for workers that this place has seen as valid and important to be in the JobMaker legislation. It's all very well for the government to try to slate blame on this place for, indeed, wanting to put reasonable legislative amendments in place, but it is on the government's head if this legislation doesn't proceed today because it has not seen fit to agree to these extremely reasonable amendments.
These amendments simply put forward the idea and put into the new rules that there needs to be transparency so that we can see properly that the JobMaker hiring credit scheme is working and that we can also ensure that workers aren't worse off under this legislation. It is critical that the Senate stand up for itself and say to the government, 'What we've put forward is absolutely and entirely reasonable.' The government has the opportunity to get on with this legislation, because in the Labor Party we have, unlike the crossbench, expressed our support for this legislation.
But what the Senate has resolved is that the legislation, if it were to proceed—and this we have in common, irrespective of whether there are senators here who don't want to see the legislation proceed at all—needs to be amended in this transparent way. So it is entirely up to the government to say, 'Look, what the Senate has asked for is entirely reasonable; it's not difficult to do.' In fact, the government hasn't even finished drafting rules for this legislation—the delegated legislation inside it. The fact that the Senate expresses some opinion about what should be in those rules is not a difficult thing. It is an entirely reasonable thing. The drafting of the rules can be done in a way that is entirely consistent with what the Senate has asked for.
The Greens have a very strong position that the Senate should insist on its amendments to this Economic Recovery Package (JobMaker Hiring Credit) Amendment Bill 2020. We've been here for the last two days debating the JobMaker hiring credit scheme which, in the legislation, is no scheme at all. There have been members who have stood up—many members over the last two days—and spoken about the bill. And many on this side have expressed their deep concerns about the bill and the implications of the bill.
The Greens really believe that it is, at the end of the day, a corporate welfare scheme with very little chance, or indeed no promise, of creating good, secure, well-paying jobs. We have expressed our concerns that the bill does nothing to prevent the wage subsidy from being used to bolster corporate profits, because we know that many businesses which will be eligible for the scheme have made profits during the pandemic. They have given millions of dollars of dividends to their shareholders through the public purse. They have paid their executives bonuses using public money. We know that there is nothing in this bill preventing wage thieves, for instance, from not having their eligibility revoked—and we know the history of many of the big corporations which have really been exploiting and underpaying their workers. This bill doesn't provide a dispute resolution process. This leaves workers who have their hours reduced or even lose their jobs really exposed. And we know that none of the regulations are in this bill.
On all these issues we have moved amendments, to make sure that this bill, in some way, shape or form, is improved. Although I'm very disappointed that the Greens amendments on these issues haven't been supported by the majority of the Senate, I have to accept that that's the way it is. But there have been amendments that the Senate has approved and passed. One of those is a very crucial amendment that I moved on behalf of the Greens. It makes sure that there are safeguards for workers and makes sure that there are protections for existing workers, to ensure that they do not lose hours of work or their jobs so that businesses which fiddle their books can hire workers who might be eligible for the credit. New jobs should not come at the expense of existing jobs and workers must be protected. We know who the workers will be that will go. It will be older workers. With the way this legislation stands now, companies can easily get rid of those older workers to make way for other workers who they will get a benefit for through the scheme.
We note that the Senate accepted an amendment about creating transparency and reporting on what happens. The government in the House of Representatives did not accept the Senate's will. That's in a way really subverting what the Senate said. We won't let that happen. It shouldn't be allowed to happen. We have been here discussing and debating. The will of the Senate should stand. This bill should be accepted in the way that it was amended. We are here right now making sure that that will happen.
The Economic Recovery Package (JobMaker Hiring Credit) Amendment Bill 2020 should stand as it was when it left the Senate because the amendments that were made to this legislation were sensible and necessary, particularly the amendment moved by Senator Faruqi on behalf of the Australian Greens that would prevent businesses from firing existing workers in order to hire workers who are eligible for the hiring credit so that those businesses can receive the subsidy. The amendment also protects the ordinary working hours of existing workers. It makes sure that their hours are not reduced to make way for the minimum 20 hours of work those eligible for the credit must do.
The government claims it has headcount and payroll protections in place; however, these are not adequate and will not stop businesses from rorting the scheme in order to take advantage of the subsidy. We have to enshrine protections for workers in law because the government's track record on protecting workers shows that they cannot be trusted and that the draft rules are insufficient. We need to stand up for workers and make sure that this bill does not allow unscrupulous companies to fire existing workers in order to turn around and hire workers who are eligible for the hiring credit.
This amendment is particularly important for workers in my home state of Tasmania. The labour force data from September this year shows that there are 252,000 people employed in Tasmania. This amendment will protect those workers from being fired so that businesses can replace them with workers eligible for the credit. This amendment will also protect those Tasmanian workers from having their hours cut so that businesses can turn around and give those hours to workers eligible for the credit so that they meet the 20-hour criteria. The unemployment rate in my home state of Tasmania is 7.6 per cent. That is obviously too high. This amendment will stop that rate going up, by ensuring existing Tasmanian workers retain their jobs.
I will make a few comments. The fact that the government has refused to accept the amendments and is asking the Senate to not insist on them without an explanation really begs the question: why is the government opposed to amendments that stop employers from being able to sack existing workers? I think that is the question that the government needs to answer here. It is very instructive, and I guess we shouldn't be surprised by this, because the government never works collaboratively with the chambers. When it's convenient the government works collaboratively with the Senate, but not this time. The Senate has expressed its view in these amendments, the amendments were returned to the House and the government has said no. There was no engagement, no explanation, no justification for why relatively minor but important amendments could not be agreed to.
We have a lot of issues with the JobMaker hiring credit scheme. I think JobMaker was announced in June, when the employment department knew nothing about it. JobMaker existed for about 4½ months before any detail was released. Some detail was provided in the budget, and at that time the government claimed that the hiring credit scheme would create 450,000 jobs. In estimates we found out that the Treasury view is that only about 10 per cent, or 45,000, of those jobs will be created. We have concerns about this scheme. We are in a deep recession. We have nearly a million unemployed people. We will have 160,000 extra people in the unemployment queues by Christmas, and the queues are already long. We have seven jobseekers for every job ad.
This hiring credit scheme may do some good for young workers, and that is why we have supported the scheme, albeit with concerns. Those concerns go to issues like job security, the fact that the scheme is pretty modest and the fact that government has no answer for what it will do for unemployed workers over the age of 35. The Restart scheme has been a failure in terms of the government's own targets. Despite having concerns about the scheme, in the same spirit of bipartisanship with which we have engaged in tackling the pandemic, we have been prepared to work with the government and support proposals, even if they weren't perfect. We worked with the government on JobKeeper. We called for a wage subsidy scheme weeks before the government finally agreed to one. When the scheme was introduced, it excluded a lot of workers and now the government is reducing the payment way too soon, in our view.
We will support the JobMaker hiring credit scheme, but we think that protections should be put in place to protect existing workers against rogue employers. Frankly, it's been months since the JobMaker scheme was announced. The government has had enough time to put in place sensible legislation, but it hasn't been able to do so. We have half-baked legislation, with rules being written on the side but not released until quite late. We are prepared to work with the government, and that's why these amendments exist. The amendments specifically offer some protections for existing workers, so that rogue employers cannot churn through employees. Rogue employers will be prevented from sacking existing workers and bringing on other workers. We think these amendments offer the necessary protections that should be in the legislation.
There is also an amendment concerning transparency, so that this government, which we know likes a fair bit of secrecy and refuses to provide information, can report on how this scheme is going. Those are the reasons that we believe these amendments should be supported. We will be insisting on the amendments. We wish the government would work more collaboratively when the Senate expresses its views on things like this, instead of making a flat rejection without any explanation. These amendments are about protecting working people. We want people to keep their jobs and we want the government to create new jobs, but we don't want a scheme with loopholes and room for rogue employers to manoeuvre to force existing employees out of work just so these employers can access the scheme. It's up to the government to explain why it finds these amendments offensive. If the government finds these amendments offensive, it obviously has no problem with the lack of job security in this country and the ability of some employers who are not eligible for this scheme to lay off people and bring on others. That is our major concern and it remains our major concern. We wish the government shared this concern.
The cheek of this government to bring this bill back in here and try to insist on removing a change that this Senate put in to protect older workers—I am flabbergasted! We know this government has no respect for workers' rights, but this is rich even for them. This Senate did its job. We are not a rubber stamp. We did the job of amending this bill to put in place protections for existing workers so that they can't be sacked by an employer who can then hire someone else and get the benefit of a subsidy. So much for JobMaker! It's why this scheme has been called 'JobFaker'. This government won't even come at that basic protection for existing workers. Now, as we've all been standing here for the last 15, 20-odd minutes, we see that it looks as though Pauline Hanson's One Nation has joined with the government to sell out older workers, to remove the protections that this chamber put in place to ensure that people can't be sacked. I hope that their voters are paying close attention, and I hope that the voters for the government are paying close attention. Conventional wisdom has it that older voters might tend towards the conservative side of politics. Well, you've just sold out your own constituency!
The Senate is not a rubber stamp. We are here to amend laws, to scrutinise them and to improve them where we can. We did that job yesterday, and you folk cannot even come at a small amendment to protect workers from getting the sack so that your corporate mates can get free taxpayer money to hire two other people on insecure and precarious contract arrangements. This is a very low day for this government. It's a very sad day for older workers in this nation who this chamber protected yesterday. Now this government, with the support of Pauline Hanson's One Nation, is ripping away their protection. I understand those discussions are still underway, and perhaps they'll backflip yet again—I hope so. Older workers deserve protection. We are in a pandemic. It is hard enough as an older worker to find work, let alone keep work. This was a small protection to give them some job security that this government and One Nation are now forcing the parliament to remove. Shame on you!
I'm going to keep on talking because there are some discussions happening over there. I'm an eternal optimist, and I live in the hope that they will change their position yet again to their original position of ensuring that workers can get protection. I know you're not meant to say these things out loud, but here I am doing it, and we're on broadcast. This is what's happening: democracy is being sold out.
I believe we're in the committee stage. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think I can ask a question of the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I'm really interested to know what offer was made to Pauline Hanson's One Nation in order to secure this backflip, to deliver you her votes and to ensure that you can remove the protections that this Senate gave to older workers from getting the sack. I don't imagine the minister's going to take up my invitation, because they don't actually have to stand up. We can ask them questions, and they can just stay seated. There's no recourse for senators to hold them to account. So we'll see. But I think the public deserves to know what deal was made. What did you offer, and what did they accept for them to do a 180 and sell out older workers? This is our democracy we're talking about. The Senate has a job to do. We are not a rubber stamp. I don't care if I've broken the rules in calling out what's actually going on in here. I would like to know what deal you did with them to get their support and abrogate and abandon older workers. Chair, I seek your clarification. Can I indeed ask the minister questions in this committee stage?
To avoid any doubt, this is what is going on here in the Senate: Senator Waters has asked a completely legitimate question of the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Birmingham. That question is: what secret, dirty deal has been done between the government and Pauline Hanson's One Nation party to sell out workers? What secret dirty deal has been done between the government and One Nation to ensure that companies actually can fire a worker and then turn around and hire other workers to take advantage of the hiring credit?
I referred in my earlier contribution in this debate to workers in Tasmania and the need to protect them. Here is a bit of news for Senator Hanson and Senator Roberts: those arguments apply equally to workers in Queensland. When Senator Waters asked this entirely reasonable question of Senator Birmingham, what did we get from the government? Absolute crickets. That's what we got. The big bagel. We got absolutely zilch out of this minister. This is his first week in the gig and he's squibbing it already. He won't even answer questions. Interestingly, he couldn't even mount an argument when he moved the motion as to why the Senate should not insist on the amendments passed yesterday. So we've had no argument from the government, no restating of a position and no stating of any new position. Again, all we've had is crickets. When Senator Waters got up and asked that incredibly reasonable and sensible question about what backroom deals had been done, all we got was crickets once again.
Let's be really clear about what is going on here—a deal stitched up between Pauline Hanson's One Nation and the Liberal and National Party government in this country to do over workers and to look after the interests of the big corporates. That's what's going on here. Once again the interests of those big corporates take precedence over the interests of ordinary Australians. It's no surprise that that is what the Liberal Party would do. They are the agents in this parliament of the corporatocracy. But One Nation pretend that they are the party of the battlers. Yet they turn around and vote with the government to do over workers right around this country.
Senator Birmingham, in your first week on the job, you have a chance to show you take this chamber seriously and you take the role of Leader of the Government in the Senate seriously. Will you please answer the question: what deal has been done with One Nation? What did you offer them in order to induce them over to your side of the chamber when in fact they were saying in here yesterday they wanted this bill defeated utterly?
Senator Birmingham interjecting—
I think I heard Senator Birmingham respond to me and say, 'None.' If that's your answer, could you please get up and put it into the Hansard because waving your hands around, mate, is not helping anybody.
I'll take that interjection. It's on the record now. He is suggesting that there has been no quid pro quo here at all, no offer or proffer from the government at all, and he is asking this Senate to believe that One Nation have magically and without any inducement from the government gone from saying, 'We hate this bill; we want it killed off completely,' which was their position yesterday, to, 'Oh, okay; we'll facilitate the government's agenda to look after the big corporates today.' That's what Senator Birmingham is asking this chamber to believe. It's on the record now. We will ensure that there is an opportunity for Senator Hanson to confirm or deny that. It's a sad day when the Senate is actually failing to stand up for the very sensible, the very logical and the very necessary amendments that it passed yesterday.
The final point I'll make is this: there is absolutely no skin off the government's nose for it to support these amendments. The amendments are sensible. They are logical. They'll protect workers from being exploited. And the government should show maturity, it should be reasonable and it should ensure that the interests of working Australians are protected.
There is plenty of time for the government and the Senate to sort this out. Should the Senate indicate a preparedness today to say that it will insist on these amendments—and I hope it does—I note, with the minister, that the regulations will be in consultation until November 27, so there is no rush today for the government or the Senate to finalise this legislation. There's plenty of time for a message to go back to the other place and for them to consider that what the Senate has asked for is entirely reasonable. Indeed, payments are supposed to start flowing in February—again, there's plenty of time. In terms of the architecture of the regulations that need to be written for this legislation, these are simply some suggestions from the Senate to guide the writing of that legislation. They in no way at all impede the government's ability to progress all of the other regulations and rules that go with this scheme. Minister, please can you confirm for me that the regulations are in consultation until late November?
Certainly the government is consulting on the rules. That is exactly as the government has said and I explained multiple times during the lengthy committee stage on this bill. And, during that committee stage, I responded to the various amendments, a couple of which we are dealing with and reconsidering here.
Let me, for Senator McKim's and Senator Waters's benefit, restate what I said across the chamber before: no deals have been done. Let me equally restate the important merits of this program, which are to ensure that we have incentives in place to stop young Australians from being on unemployment queues for too long and to help get young Australians into jobs. That's what this is all about. Look at it. We've now got a filibuster, in planned preparation happening across the chamber, from those who seem to want to impede the passage of a program to help young Australians get jobs. That's what this program is all about. I've now heard all manner of arguments put to somehow impede, block, complicate or stall the legislation or create different barriers as to why this program needs changing when, at its heart, it's a program that has clear safety valves in place. You don't get the subsidy unless you are employing more people overall—that is, unless you've increased the headcount of the people in your business. You also don't get the subsidy unless your payroll has increased. So not only do you have to employ more but your payroll has got to have gone up. It's designed to ensure and support additionality of employment to help young people get in.
It also doesn't supersede in any way, shape or form any of the different measures in relation to how fair work laws work, unfair dismissal laws work or the like, so we have all the existing protections in place. The program is designed to ensure additionality, and businesses ought to have certainty in terms of this legislation passing so they can get on with making decisions. Yes, the rules are out for consultation but, Senator Pratt, in relation to your question, the scheme applies to new hires from 7 October. Businesses can be, should be, making decisions now about putting young Australians into work, yet the actions of the Labor Party and the Greens in seeking to filibuster this are putting doubt in the minds of Australian businesses. That doubt may well mean that a young Australian misses out on getting a job that otherwise could have been there. That's what those opposite are doing: jeopardising the potential employment of young Australians. Shame on them.
I want to bring to the chamber's attention that we understand there has been a change in position from Pauline Hanson's One Nation party. They will be not supporting these amendments, on this occasion. They will be folding and selling out to back in the Liberal-National government yet again. This has very big consequences for older workers in my state of Queensland, which is the home state of Senator Hanson and Senator Roberts. If you had believed them when they were out there you would have thought Senator Hanson and Senator Roberts had had the interests of older workers in Queensland. Instead, as we could have predicted because we've seen it so many times before, they've rolled over, they've caved in and they've backed in the Liberal-National government.
I really would have thought that after the most recent Queensland election, where Pauline Hanson's One Nation party was demolished by Queensland voters, they might have learnt something from that. They might have learnt that you pay a price at the ballot box for selling out your voters. What we saw in the lead-up to the Queensland election was Pauline Hanson's One Nation party sell out older voters by demanding, over and over again, that Queensland's borders be opened. If you have a look, as I have done, very closely at who votes for Pauline Hanson's One Nation party, it tend to be older people. Despite that, Pauline Hanson's One Nation party and Senator Hanson herself repeatedly called, through the Queensland election campaign, for Queensland borders to be opened, exposing older people in Queensland to the risk of contracting COVID and dying.
I'm happy to do so. I understand that Senator Hanson is embarrassed about her recent performance in the Queensland election and I understand that she's embarrassed to have it pointed out to her that she has sold out older Queenslanders, again, but why that's relevant here is that it's exactly what she's doing here in this bill. The amendment that Labor succeeded in having passed by the Senate, when the bill was last put here, seeks to protect older workers. It seeks to stop employers from sacking older workers, replacing them with younger workers and then putting their hands out to get a subsidy from this government to help pay for it. This is a measure that is designed solely to protect older workers—the very people who Senator Hanson constantly goes around Queensland saying that she cares about.
Just as Senator Hanson did in the Queensland election, where she sold out older Queenslanders by demanding the borders be opened, one-and-a-bit weeks since the Queensland election she comes back down again, sells them out again and says that their jobs are expendable, that they should be replaced by younger employees and that she's not going to stand up for them. I'm sorry, Senator Hanson, but if you're prepared to sell out older workers in Queensland, Labor isn't.
We're going to stand by older workers in Queensland, and we're going to tell older workers—over and over again—that you've sold them out. Your vote's down to seven per cent in Queensland because you sold out older Queenslanders over COVID and the borders. It'll go down further when they find out that you're selling them out about their jobs. Older workers are concerned about their jobs and job security right now, and Senator Hanson is prepared to trade them off as yet another deal with the Liberal-National government. The reason she does that is that she cannot be trusted. She always votes with the Liberal-National government. She's doing it again, and this time older workers are paying the price. Senator Hanson's going to be held to account for this, and she still has time to reconsider her position.
The minister said, 'We wanted to make sure there aren't different barriers.' The measures that are being proposed are not barriers; they're actually making sure that people have appropriate opportunities, that workers don't simply get replaced. This is not actually an argument about older and younger workers. Yes, that's part of it, but this is also a situation where younger workers can be replaced by other younger workers. The reason they've going to be replaced is that this government has not put in place obligations not to sack those people. The government are doubling down on a ludicrous situation. The party I'm a member of was going to support the legislation if they were prepared to put into it the appropriate safeguards. It's purely because the Prime Minister got caught this morning on his own incapability to have a bill that works—all show, no go.
I've had a few arguments with Woolworths over the years, in my previous life, and I've made a few comments about them in this chamber as well, but Woolworths, to their credit, have said that they will not replace their workers—their casual, young or older workers—with subsidised workers. They've done that by choice. But their competitors, like Aldi, haven't said that. Quite frankly, if Woolworths' board change their mind because their competition isn't doing it, they'll be able to do it, too, because the government is not agreeing to this amendment. Even the scoundrels that I've called out before, companies like Woolworths, have said they're not going to be scoundrels anymore; they're going to turn around and do the right thing. That's to their credit, their absolute credit. I think it's the first time I've given them credit for anything in this chamber! But the government is letting all their competitors off scot-free, and it will be letting the board of Woolworths off scot-free if they change their minds.
Then we go to the situation with Qantas: 2½ thousand workers replaced. 'Don't worry; we've put great conditions in place,' say the government. It's all show, no go! These 2,500 workers are being outsourced after the government gave $800 million to their employer to keep people connected. What are the government doing? The exact same thing. Do you know what they're going to say? 'We spent hundreds of millions of dollars to give young people jobs.' It's so they can have a one-line answer when people say, 'What the hell did you do with a trillion dollars?' This money will be spent in a way that will see hardworking young people replaced and people over the age of 35 discarded. This government, through its own arrogance—just as we saw from the Prime Minister when he doubled down on the incorrect claims he made earlier this month—does not want to accept that it made a mistake about what this program will look like.
I do come to this chamber with a bias. I'm a member of the Labor Party and a very proud trade unionist. But that experience also gives me the opportunity to say I've dealt with many fantastic employers, people who did the right thing when they did haven't to. They did it because they believed it was the way they should run a business: fairly and squarely. Those opposite have just opened up a situation in many decent companies I've dealt with where their employees, among them active union members who participate with their employer to make sure their operation is successful, will be undercut by subsidies from this government. They're going to be throwing out our hardworking Australians; that's the reality.
I've taken cases to court for the reinstatement of casuals, on the off-chance not that the judge was going to make a decision but the employer would be embarrassed enough to say, 'Look, we're rethinking what we did.' I've gone through conciliation on the odd occasion it happens. But, I'll tell you what, I've never been up against a wage subsidy from the government to make it happen or for it to continue to happen. This government has made a decision that will undermine the fabric of hardworking jobs in this country. If you work hard then you expect your employer to look after you. They're going to subsidise that out of every employer they can.
And let's make it one step clearer: we have seen an avalanche of people moving from permanent to casual work—a lack of job security, a lack of capacity to raise a family or to decide when the bills are going to be paid and how they get paid. And now the government is turbocharging not only the dismissal of many, many workers, young and old—to be replaced—but they're also going to turn around and put in the situation where permanents are also dismissed because the incentive is if you're there for over 20 hours. Let's casualise the workforce—we don't have enough casualisation! We don't have enough job insecurity! We've seen it under their watch, where wages have collapsed. We've seen it under their watch, where permanency has declined. And now we're seeing the worst part of it.
They've been running the strategic line about how they would deal with the Industrial Relations Act and the many other wage subsidy programs they misdirect. But they're now actually being very barefaced about it. We don't want barriers to people having decent jobs. We don't want to have barriers where the employer can turn around and sack somebody. That's because it's a lie: you can sack people. Everyone knows that the industrial relations system will not protect those casuals. The employers know it, I know it, this chamber knows it and, by hell, I'm sure the government knows it.
We have the situation here—and I'll go back to the great credit to Woolworths and many, many other companies; I know that many companies would fall into this position—where some companies have said, also leading into Christmas and New Year, that this is a time for them to reward their staff when they've done it so tough. They reward their staff because they know that family incomes are based on the wage cycle of that industry—the income of that industry. It's not about going for a holiday, it's actually about paying your bills and making sure that you have insurance, pay your car repayments and pay your rent. People factor that in, and yet this government is now subsidising every competitor with Woolworths to say, 'If you don't do the same thing you'll be competitively disadvantaged, because we're going to put government money in to make sure you get rid of those people'. That's the effect of what this government has proposed.
I just want to take a brief moment to make sure that everyone in the chamber understands the effect of the amendment to the bill.
I just had a brief conversation and I would like to place on record that under our existing workplace laws there are no protections from being dismissed unfairly if you have been employed for fewer than 12 months with your employer. Contrary to an opinion that was just expressed, there are no protections for existing workers who have been employed for less than a year with their employer. That's what this amendment seeks to address. This amendment says that the government isn't going to give a boss an incentive to fire those people who they can legally fire; it's not going to incentivise that firing through this scheme.
I want to make it crystal clear that the purpose of this amendment is to protect existing workers from being sacked and from being incentivised to be sacked so that an employer can simply hire two additional employees to get the subsidy that this bill would provide them with, in fact on lower hours and with lower wages. The Greens don't think we should be using public money to incentivise insecure work and to encourage older workers—or even younger workers, for that matter; any worker—who have been hired for less than a year to get sacked. I said my piece before, but this is a very sensible amendment. This was an improvement to a scheme that we hope creates jobs—we hope it does what it promises to do. But this protection is a necessary one to make sure that older workers, or even younger workers, for that matter, are kept on by their employer in this time of economic precariousness and huge unemployment rates. This is an important protection. I just want to make sure that everyone in the chamber understands that that's what this amendment does.
It would be ironic if this legislation were to proceed to the other place with the Senate not having insisted on its amendments—if it were to proceed with, in effect, the support of a party who have expressed their very strong opposition to this legislation. It is the Labor Party that have said we are prepared to support this amended legislation, because we believe in the principles of the scheme, but we're not happy with how it's designed, in many ways, and we would have done it very differently. We are the ones that want to see this injection of cash into the economy in order to support young Australians to get work.
But, let's be clear, we're the ones that said we supported this legislation, and it would be a great irony, indeed, if this legislation were to proceed back to the other place with the Senate not having insisted on its amendments, because that would, in effect, be expressing your support for the legislation—because the Senate's capacity to insist on the legislation is the only thing that stands in the way of its passage, ultimately. We want to see this legislation amended, and amended according to the very solid principles put forward by the Senate.
So I presume—again, just to assist me—if the motion is agreed to, the bill doesn't go back to the House; it is effectively passed. If it's not agreed to, it does go back to the House. Is that correct?
The TEMPORARY CHAIR: If the motion is agreed to, then the bill is essentially passed without amendment.
That's clarified things for me. Thank you very much, Chair.
I have a question for the minister. Can you clarify, please, how casuals are protected using the headcount system outlined in the draft legislation, where a casual's hours are reduced to near zero?
As outlined, there's a duality of tests applied in terms of the way the scheme works under the rules that are out for consultation at present. The consultation on those rules is about ensuring that we do make them as robust as possible. But the dual principles being applied relate not only to the headcount but also to the increase in payroll, ensuring that you can't simply substitute one person for another.
That really doesn't rule out the possibility that an individual casual might have their hours reduced in order to bring on a subsidised worker, particularly in large corporates. Can you explain to me how an individual worker is protected from having their hours reduced to zero?
As I indicated, the details there relate to the measure of increase in payroll, and that is the duality of the test that's applied, as a precaution and a safeguard, to ensure that substitution can't occur. Businesses have to be not only employing more people overall but paying more overall, so that they do actually get more people on the books, people getting more work overall, and that they're helping to get young people into work.
Minister, my understanding of the rules is that ineligibility of the employee is based on them receiving JobKeeper and that, overall, the legislation counts new recruits via a headcount, so you could employ new employees and they might not receive this subsidy but you could offer the subsidy to someone else.
The subsidy relates to new staff being employed and those new staff, in terms of the growth of payroll, adding to payroll. Of course, the wages that they are paid are the wages as dictated in awards, EBAs or other employment conditions. In that sense, what the staff member receives, whether they be an existing staff member or a new staff member, are the wages to which they are entitled.
The payment is designed as an incentive or a wage subsidy. It is an incentive for employers to take on more young Australians. That is the fundamental premise behind this. All the evidence—from the past and recently—is that, when young people get stuck on unemployment benefits, when they get stuck on JobSeeker, they can be stuck for a very long period of time. So this is an incentive for employers so we can avoid that. The evidence from the last recession we had was clear. Youth unemployment took far longer to recover to its pre-recession levels than the overall unemployment rate did. What we are trying to do here is tackle a known problem in previous economic downturns. We are targeting that particular problem and providing an incentive to get young Australians out of the perennial cycle of unemployment that could plague their lives for a long time without this type of intervention.
Minister, is it possible for an employer to reduce someone's hours to one or two, replace them with new people and have both the headcount and the payroll increase? How do the rules mitigate that? The reporting mechanism that you outlined does not address that. It's only the amendments put forward by the Senate that do.
In terms of Senator Pratt's argument, I'm not convinced that the amendments as they're constructed achieve the outcome she's claiming in any event. However, the payroll test is a genuine payroll test. Senator Pratt seems to be assuming that, just because one person works fewer hours, you somehow still achieve a payroll rise by the second person coming on board. That's not necessarily the case. That's why we designed it with the duality of tests to make sure that we have maximum incentives for additional people to get that start in life. Indeed, we know that that start in life—that opportunity to get a job and start a job—provides the platform for further shifts, further hours and further jobs. That is what we see as being crucial in terms of getting people off that awful treadmill of unemployment.
As outlined before, the scheme is structured so that employment decisions can be made now. Yes, the rules are still in draft form, but within clear parameters people who are well and truly acting in ways that are within the obvious stated intention of the scheme can have certainty, as long as this legislation passes. If the legislation doesn't pass then there is no certainty for the employer who wants to take a young Australian off the unemployment queue and put them in work. We're trying to make sure that, in getting this legislation passed, there is certainty for Australian businesses and that the incentive the government promised in our budget will be available to them so that they can give those young Australians jobs.
Those decisions may already be underway, because many employers would have thought that the Labor Party would not join the Greens to filibuster, delay, defer and, potentially, defeat this legislation that will introduce this subsidy and support for the employment of young Australians. Many businesses would get a rude shock if they were to tune in right now and find the Labor Party standing in the way of wage support for the employment of more young Australians. We want to get this legislation passed to provide for certainty so that employment decisions can be made. Yes, we will continue to consult to finalise the rules to make sure that the types of hypothetical scenarios that you're raising, Senator Pratt, are addressed and appropriate standards and mechanisms are in place in the rules. The government will continue to consult to ensure that these rules work effectively for both employment decisions, to get the outcomes the government wants and to ensure the integrity and the operation of the program.
I want to share two figures, but before I share them I want to point out that, when we get new data, we have the courage and the integrity to change our mind. That's the way our leader works and that's why I'm with her. These two figures were new to us until a little while ago. The Australian unemployment rate for people aged under 35 years is 10.4 per cent. Where do they go when they are unemployed? Drugs, street. The second figure is that the Australian unemployment rate for people older than 35 is four per cent. I know damn well that people around Australia who are over 35 years of age will recognise those figures, because they care about younger people, not just themselves.
Senator Watt appeals to the green in people. We appeal to the good nature in people. The people of Australia will understand that a 10.4 per cent unemployment rate is not acceptable, and something has to be done. As I said, when we get new data, we have the courage and the integrity to change our position. Senator Hanson consulted with me. I might remind you all who initiated the apprenticeship program: the lady in front of me with the red hair, Senator Hanson. That shows we care. As I said before, older people do care about younger people. I now go to the amendments. We only supported two of the amendments; we didn't support the rest of the amendments.
Order! Senator Roberts, resume your seat. Other senators were given the courtesy of making their contributions without interjections. You may not agree with Senator Roberts, but in this place people are allowed to express their view. You'll give Senator Roberts the courtesy of listening in silence. You'll have your opportunity to make your contributions.
We agreed with only two of the amendments, and one refers to the quarterly reporting. The Treasurer has completely assured us that quarterly reporting will occur. The second amendment we agreed with refers to the duplication of benefits. The Treasurer has shown us the provisions that prevent duplication. There are many details in this legislation that protect people, not just in this bill and not just in the ATO but in the Fair Work Commission. So that's my second point. We were wrong on the amendments and we stand corrected.
The third point is the fear that is talked up by people like Senator Watt—the misrepresentations, the lack of honesty—
I withdraw. The appeals to fear have got to stop. We work with all parties, including the government. We vote with the government more often than the Labor Party, but the Labor Party votes with the government almost 60 per cent, almost two-thirds, of the time. What we do is work with the government and all parties—yes, even the Greens—and shape and mould legislation and change it for the better. Why wouldn't we support it once we've improved it? Why wouldn't we support it when it's been improved? That's what we're doing; we are modifying legislation almost every day, either in this chamber or in government offices or our own offices. We're making sure that only bills that we are happy with come here; if we don't like them, then we vote them down. I didn't like this JobMaker bill initially, but I've given you two figures that changed my mind. I care about young people and older people. Those two figures, again, are that only four per cent of people above 35 years of age are unemployed, and 10.4 per cent of people below 35 years of age are unemployed.
I ask the Labor Party, for the whole of Australia: you often vote with the L-NP government because many of the bills are for the day-to-day running of the country, but how many times do you vote with the Greens? We will support the young and we will support all Australians, and I know that every Australian will support the young.
I have a few comments to make. In regard to what Senator Murray Watt said earlier about me not caring about older Australians in Queensland, that's not the case at all. The borders needed to be reopened, and my concern was for the whole state and everyone there. We had businesses going under, more suicides happening and more people with mental health problems as well. It was the matter of coronavirus that had people, and those older Australians, in fear. If you have health issues and if you are an older Australian, then you should take care of yourself and possibly think about going and locking yourself away if you want to protect society. But we can't stop businesses and people from getting on with their lives because of the fear factor. That's what it was; it was the fear factor. So, as for not worrying about older Australians—I do, constantly, all the time, but I don't use it as a political football, as I have seen happen in Queensland, in the lead-up to the Queensland election.
This whole debacle going on this afternoon is occurring because One Nation—I and Senator Roberts—have now decided not to support the two amendments. We're now not giving our support to them—support which you need to uphold these amendments so that the bill will then go back to the lower house, where you know they will reject it. You want the bill to come back here again, hoping that it will be put on hold for three months so that it will either never come back again or actually cause a double dissolution. These are the games that are being played in this chamber. That's why you're attacking One Nation—because you know that can't happen without our support.
Now, I had a meeting with the Treasurer this afternoon in regard to this. This information was put to me in those discussions, and, because I supported the amendments, I raised concerns. What you've got in those amendments about people losing their jobs—under the Fair Work Act they can't just be sacked. That can be questioned under the Fair Work Act. Those protections are in place. That is no different to what it is today in the workplace. Any dismissal can be challenged under the Fair Work Act. If you take up this scheme, you can't have a reduction in the payroll. You can't sack people just to put them on. There are oversights to see to that.
An opposition senator: You just don't know what you're talking about.
I do know what I'm talking about. Anyway, as far as I'm concerned, you are actually laying the blame because you don't want to see this bill get up. I'm not playing your games in this chamber by using One Nation. After having consultations and talking to the Treasurer, initially, I wasn't in support of this bill—I can tell you that—because I felt that we've paid out so much money. There's the cost to the taxpayer, and businesses out there are saying that they don't particularly need this money. There might be some who will, but what they want are workers. They want people to go out and get these jobs.
Youth unemployment in this country is of great concern to me. The average figure is 10.4 per cent. Majority areas of youth unemployment in Australia have 27 per cent youth unemployment. If this is going to help those youth get jobs—give them some incentive to get jobs—then maybe I am wrong. I'm quite willing to admit if I am wrong if it will get the jobs. The Treasury figures are saying there will be 450,000 jobs; I hope that is the case. I'm very sceptical of it, but I hope that is the case. I'm willing to admit if I believe the information that's come before me is wrong.
The other amendment was to do with the quarterly reporting. Those reports will be made available to the public. They will be reported to the COVID committee, so they will be available. You put up I think about 10 or 11 amendments yesterday to this bill. I think it's the most I've ever seen in any bill—why? Because you're playing your games again in this place. That's the truth of the matter. If you say that I vote with the Liberal Party all the time—
An opposition senator: You do.
What about the corporate tax cuts? I didn't support them on that, and that's one of the biggest bills that have been put in this parliament. I didn't support them on the ensuring integrity bill. Plus there are other things that I don't support the government on all the time. The government is the one that puts up the legislation in the place, not the opposition—not the Labor Party. It is the government that puts up the legislation. My job as a senator in this place is to look at the legislation, and I've always said that I will vote on what I think is right for the country and the people. I won't play your games in this place, and I won't make my decisions based on what you think is right, because I know from the opposition benches you have to oppose it because one day you hope to be on the government benches.
Thank you very much. We have said that we have been consulted on this. I'm quite happy with the information that I have received from the Treasurer, not from these voices I'm hearing here. The Treasurer has had legal advice and advice from other people directed from the minister's office, not these bits and pieces. I'll tell you what: over the years in this place, I've been told one thing, and it is definitely not the truth. It has been from ministers from the Labor side who put a spin on things that it's not the truth. So on everything that we do here we like to research, get our information and make an informed decision. You may not like the way that Senator Roberts and I are voting today, but our votes are always based on what we believe is right. That's the way we're going to continue to go. You can make all your snide, smart-arse comments in this chamber—
The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Senator Hanson, I ask that you—
I won't repeat it; I've said it.
The TEMPORARY CHAIR: No, I ask that you withdraw it. It's not parliamentary.
Then I withdraw it.
The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Thank you.
And that's exactly what it is, and the rubbish that's said in this chamber is not becoming. I can say the word 'rubbish', and I will say rubbish. Anyway, that's where it is. So, if you're not happy with the way that I'm voting, I really don't care, because I'll answer to the people.
There might not be anything that we could say now to convince Senator Hanson to flip back to her original position, which she supported yesterday. But I just want to set the record straight: Senator Hanson has a complete misunderstanding of the bill and of the amendment that One Nation agreed to yesterday. So, the bill does not stop employers from firing their staff or from reducing the hours of their staff.
I have the call at this point in time.
The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Order! Don't talk across the chamber. Interjections are always disorderly. Senator Faruqi, you have the call, and I ask that you direct your remarks through the chair, please.
Sure. I repeat again, this bill does not stop any employer—
The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Is that a point of order, Senator Patrick?
A point of order, Chair. Senator Faruqi was speaking. There was an interjection from the other side of the chair—
The TEMPORARY CHAIR: I know. That's why I said interjections are always disorderly.
and it would be reasonable to ask him to stop.
The TEMPORARY CHAIR: I did.
The TEMPORARY CHAIR: If you check the Hansard record, you'll see that I noted that interjections are always disorderly, and then I asked Senator Faruqi to direct her remarks through the chair. Both participants in the misbehaviour were spoken to, and there is no point of order.
So everyone in this chamber should have it very clear that there is nothing in the bill stopping employers from firing their staff or from reducing their hours. Yesterday we moved an amendment to actually have in the bill a dispute resolution process, which the chamber didn't agree to. So not only can they fire their staff and reduce their hours but those workers have no avenue to complain or to have a dispute resolution process. That's what One Nation are voting for today. They are throwing all workers—young, old or otherwise—under the bus today, and I hope that they will face the consequences of this decision. But, unfortunately, it will be too late for the workers that they have thrown under the bus.
For the sake of the chamber, I want to clarify the current situation with our laws as they stand with the Fair Work Commission: if you are a worker who has been employed as a casual for less than 12 months, you can be fired with no recourse. So this legislation would allow casual older workers—who may have just got a job back—who've been in their job for less than 12 months to be fired. They can then be replaced by two younger workers being paid on pretty low wages but enough so that the overall wage threshold is slightly higher than it was before with the one older worker. This legislation allows that to occur. It allows our taxpayers' money to be used for that situation: to sack older workers who are already in a casual job, who already had job security—probably for years. It allows them to be sacked and to be replaced by two younger workers.
As you know from this debate, the Greens support absolutely all workers being in work—actually being employed. Anybody who wants to have a job should have the right to have a job, and there are so many ways that we can go about that, particularly if you are spending billions and billions of taxpayers' money to be helping to improve the employment situation for all workers. But particularly we want to see good quality secure work and we do not want to be pitting older workers against younger workers. We can be looking after both. The purpose of this amendment, which we are debating today as to whether the Senate will insist on it or not, is so that we can be looking after both and not throwing older workers under the bus so that unscrupulous employees can then use taxpayers' subsidies to then employ two younger workers in their place.
I'll be very brief. I don't say what I'm about to with any expectation that it will change anybody's mind, particularly the minds of Pauline Hanson's One Nation senators. I say it so that they cannot say they didn't know what they were doing.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly said that under this legislation an employer can't sack someone in order to receive the hiring credit. As the legislation was introduced by the government, that is false. That is an incorrect statement. But the fact is that the amendments that are currently being considered by the Senate actually do ensure that an employer cannot sack someone or reduce their hours in order to receive the hiring credit. Those are the facts. The Prime Minister's claims that he repeatedly made in the other place today are false. They are an inaccurate interpretation of the legislation as it stood when it was introduced. It is only this amendment that would actually ensure that an employer could not fire someone or reduce their hours in order to hire other people to receive the credit. Those are the facts. I put them on the record simply so that the One Nation senators cannot later claim that they did not understand what they are doing here today.
It does appear, and I hope, that this debate might draw to a close. In conclusion, I really want to highlight some of the confusion that's happened in this debate. Senator Roberts said that he now supports the legislation, as we do too, but we support it with amendments. He referenced the amendments and that One Nation will legislate on just those two questions. I remind him that those two questions—those two amendments—are the ones before the chamber that the Senate is seeking to insist on today. He said that there was no need for One Nation to insist on those amendments because they'd had an alternative agreement with the government that addressed the very same issues.
I'd like to ask the government what that agreement is in terms of its influence on the draft rules. How will the draft rules change in relation to that agreement? Are they in accordance with the amendments that are before the chamber now that we are seeking to insist on? In addition, Senator Hanson referenced some legal advice. I ask if the government will please table that legal advice and supply it to the Senate. It seems to me a ridiculous proposition that One Nation, who agree with us on the amendments and the passage of this legislation, should, rather than go through the parliamentary process accordingly, ultimately be motivated by making a side deal with the government, so that they are complicit with saving the government from the embarrassment of having the message sent back there and then, potentially, if they choose to insist again, it will be sent back here again. But I'm told that One Nation have an undertaking that the government is prepared to address the very issues that One Nation supported here in the Senate in these amendments.
I put those questions to you, minister, so that you can inform the Senate exactly what the agreement is with One Nation in relation to the form of the changes to the draft rules that Senator Roberts says are part of their legislating process—to take it outside of this chamber—that they've made that arrangement about the draft rules with you.
That is a misrepresentation of what I said. What Senator Pratt said is not correct. We have no deal with the government. We have simply been given facts that we didn't know. We have been given reassurance—no agreement and no bypassing parliament. We consult people, we use these things, we listen and we use this thing and this thing to process what we get. We were reassured. Let me make it clear. Senator Pratt said we agreed on the amendments. No, we did not; we agreed on two of the 11 amendments—two. I'll say it again: we consulted—
On a point of order, I just wanted to clarify with you the question before the chair, because it seems to be misunderstood in the debate. It's on the two amendments that have come back from the House, which are the two that you supported, Senator Roberts.
The TEMPORARY CHAIR: That is not a point of order, Senator Pratt.
Of the 11 amendments that were put yesterday, two were agreed to by us. Let me make it very clear: we have used this thing and this thing to process the information that the Treasurer has given us. I'll give you another piece of information we have got from the government as well. We have made no side deal. We have simply been reassured. As I said, we protect all workers. We are not bypassing the parliament; we just went and listened.
The third piece of data that I want to pass on is that the government has informed us that the increase in unemployment as a result of the COVID measures is 100 per cent. For those who are young, the increase in unemployment is 150 per cent. The increase in unemployment for those over 35 is much less than the average for the community. They are startling figures. But it is most startling and most worrying what is happening to the young. They are disproportionately losing their jobs as a result of the virus that Senator Rice earlier on told us we must take seriously. The virus has impacted on younger people. We need to get those younger people back to work.
We will never play the game of pitting older people against younger people as we are seeing in the Labor Party and the Greens party. We will never do that, because we know that older people care for younger people. We know that all Australians care. That's why we have changed our minds and our position—because we got new data. Because we have integrity and courage, we will change our position. We have and proudly do so.
I'll just agree with Senator Roberts that there is no deal, no agreement and none of those sorts of things. One Nation senators did, as Senator Roberts and Senator Hanson have acknowledged, meet with the Treasurer. The Treasurer talked them through the types of protections that exist, both the pre-existing protections in other laws as well as the protections in the structure of the rules around this program and the work the government is doing on those rules.
The CHAIR: The question is that the motion as moved by the minister, that the committee does not insist on its amendments to which the House of Representatives has disagreed, be agreed to.