Thursday, 12 November 2020
Questions without Notice
COVID-19: Income Support Payments
My question is to the Minister for Families and Social Services, Senator Ruston. Can the minister advise the Senate how the Morrison government's leadership in response to COVID-19 is supporting Australians who have been hardest hit by the economic consequences of the pandemic?
I thank Senator Chandler for her question. The Morrison government is absolutely focused on supporting all Australians as we fight our way through this incredible pandemic and as we reopen the economy. Over the course of this year the government has provided leadership and support to the community. We have tried to cushion the blow from the pandemic with enormous fiscal and economic support through programs such as the JobKeeper program and the JobMaker program in the budget, and through enhanced measures across the income support system.
This week, the Prime Minister and I announced that we will extend temporarily this enhanced support through the social security system for a further three months, as economic confidence builds and as momentum builds across the economy. We're spending $3.2 billion in the first three months of next year to extend the supplement from 1 January to 31 March. Importantly, our extended temporary measures go much, much further than just the supplement. For an additional three months, we'll be expanding the eligibility for these payments. These measures will enable about 185,000 people who otherwise would not be eligible for payment to access payments during these uncertain and challenging times. That includes such things as the extension of the partner income taper test so that people will be able to access some payments where their partner earns less than $80,000 a year. We'll also be extending eligibility to people like sole traders, people who are self-employed, people who have been stood down, people who have to isolate and people who are looking after somebody who has had to isolate as a result of the COVID pandemic. We'll also extend the nil rate period, which basically means that people will be able to retain their concession cards as they return to the workforce, to provide additional confidence, security and certainty to them as they make that very, very important transition back to work.
Through these extensions and the new measures, like the one-off payment to pensioners, we will stand side-by-side with all Australians as we recover from the pandemic.
As we extend additional and temporary supports, we also need to make sure that we strike the right balance between providing elevated levels of support to people but also providing incentives for people to re-engage with the workforce. That's why, in September, we temporarily increased the income-free area of the JobSeeker payment and youth allowance other payment to allow people to earn up to $300 per fortnight. That means that recipients can earn that $300 a fortnight without losing a cent of their payment.
We're extending this measure for another three months from 1 January because we want to make sure that people have the confidence to go back and test themselves—just to put their toe in the water in the job market, even if it is only for a day a week. We know, through our priority investment approach, that people who report earnings, even if they're only a small amount of earnings, are twice as likely to come off payments than those people who do not report earnings. This is absolutely essential as we help people to re-engage with the workforce as our economy reopens and people can go back to work.
It is really pleasing to be able to tell the Senate that the economic outlook is improving. Just last week the Reserve Bank confirmed that the economic recovery in Australia is well underway. They upgraded their forecast around Australian economic growth and our labour market. Pleasingly, 450,000 jobs have been created in the last four months, with more than half of the record number of jobs lost having already now been recovered. The RBA expects that further easing in the domestic activity around restrictions, particularly in Victoria, is going to see a boost to employment over the coming months. The ANZ Australian Job Advertisements rose 9.4 per cent in October following an 8.3 per cent increase in September. We've now regained more than three-quarters of the fall that we saw between March and April. The ABS data is also showing significant growth and improvement in job vacancies being reported. Consumer confidence is up—