Senate debates

Thursday, 12 November 2020


COVID-19: Income Support Payments

4:17 pm

Photo of Jess WalshJess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

At the request of Senator Gallagher, I move:

That the Senate—

(a) notes that the Reserve Bank of Australia's quarterly Statement on monetary policy highlighted:

(i) 'growth in employment is expected to be subdued over the next few months, as policy support measures, such as JobKeeper, are tapered',

(ii) 'the pace of improvement [in employment] has slowed since August',

(iii) 'employment remains well below its pre-pandemic level', and

(iv) 'there is a risk that business insolvencies will rise by more than expected as government support programs are tapered, slowing the recovery in activity, reducing investment and placing upward pressure on the unemployment rate';

(b) further notes the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show a fall in jobs and wages in every state and territory in the first full fortnight after the Morrison Government cut JobKeeper prematurely;

(c) expresses disappointment in the Government's decisions to cut JobKeeper and the JobSeeker Coronavirus Supplement, and exclude 928,000 Australians from the new hiring credit;

(d) acknowledges these decisions will mean the recession will be deeper than necessary and the unemployment queues longer than they need to be; and

(e) calls on the Morrison Government to deliver a comprehensive economic plan for the recovery to prevent 1 trillion dollars of debt and higher unemployment for longer being the only lasting legacies of this recession.

We are in the middle of the worst recession and jobs crisis in almost 100 years, and Australians are concerned about their futures. They're uncertain about their futures, and this government is making it worse. They've already slashed JobKeeper. They are winding back JobSeeker again. They're freezing the pension and superannuation. They refuse to deliver a plan for good secure jobs. And, to top it all off, the few schemes they have announced either don't go far enough or the government never properly delivers them. They are letting down Australians at the time when Australians need them the most. They're cutting people's income and support while they are still struggling, and this is hurting families and it's hurting our recovery.

This year has been difficult. It's meant loss and sacrifice for too many people. It's critical that we get this recovery right—a recovery which supports those in need of support; a recovery which sees a plan for good secure jobs; a recovery which supports the aspiration of every Australian. But, right now, many Australian families are doing it tough. Many people are struggling to make ends meet on JobKeeper. Many people are struggling to make ends meet on JobSeeker. Many are concerned about losing their job, especially in the period just before Christmas. And of course hundreds of thousands of Australians have already lost their jobs. Many are struggling to get back into work or find extra hours. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister says things like: 'If you have a go, you'll get a go,' or, 'If you're good at your job, you'll get a job.' This is not the reality that so many Australians are actually facing today.

The latest ABS figures saw the number of jobs fall in every state and territory. There were 30,000 jobs lost in the fortnight to 17 October. There have been 470,000 jobs lost since the coronavirus outbreak began, and a further 160,000 jobs are predicted to be lost by Christmas. So this jobs crisis is only getting worse. Contrary to the Prime Minister's statements, there are seven jobseekers for every vacancy today. The reality is that, in this recession, the worst in 100 years, there are just not enough jobs out there right now.

In a lot of cases the difference between being able to make ends meet or not is JobKeeper or JobSeeker, which is why the cuts to these schemes are so concerning. These cuts are causing anxiety, fear and hard decisions for families across Australia. Angela, whose story was reported recently, is on JobSeeker. She said: 'I am really scared. Getting that supplement made a huge difference, otherwise I don't know where I'd be.' Her adult son, who lives with her, lost his job at the beginning of the pandemic. She went on to say: 'If he isn't able to find work by December, we'll have to find somewhere else to live.' But we know just how tough it will be for her son to find work, because he is one of the seven jobseekers for every vacancy that is out there right now. Does the government really think it's fair to leave Angela and her son in this position?

And what about Ross, from Pakenham in Melbourne, whose story was reported by the ABC just today? Ross is a car mechanic who has owned his own repair shop for 17 years. He said this about the JobKeeper payments his small business is receiving: 'JobKeeper is the only thing keeping food on my table and paying my bills.' He is deeply worried about the next cut to JobKeeper in January.

What would those opposite say to Angela, Ross and the millions of people in that exact same situation? What would the Prime Minister say to those people? I don't think 'If you have a go, you'll get a go' is going to cut it. People need support while Australia is still recovering, and people need this support to help Australia and our economy recover. But this is a government that finds it all too easy to leave people behind, to leave them out. I remember, and Australians remember, when the Prime Minister stood at a press conference at the beginning of this crisis and said these words: 'We're all in this together.' But while his words say one thing, his actions say something else. These cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker feel very much like he is saying to millions of Australians: 'You're actually on your own now. If you can't find work, it's your fault.' Just this week he said he needs to cut the lifelines people rely on because they're holding Australia back. No; what will hold us back is cutting support too early.

Whether this Prime Minister and this government are cutting people out of support or cutting incomes, they've got form. Just look at the long list of workers who were unfairly left out of JobKeeper right from the very beginning: casuals; freelancers; temporary migrants; NDIS workers; university workers; arts and performance workers; local government employees; many charity workers; international students; and, of course, the early childhood educators, who were ripped off JobKeeper earlier than anyone else in this country. This has a real human impact. It's tearing lives apart.

Earlier this year I spoke to Darcy and Giovanni about how being excluded from JobKeeper had impacted them. Giovanni is an international student who was working to support his studies and his family, with a newborn baby. He has spent years in Australia but he wasn't eligible for JobKeeper. The government essentially said to Giovanni, 'Just go home.' This put everything at risk—his work, his studies, his ability to pay his bills, his family. After spending years in Australia paying taxes and contributing to his community, he said being excluded was 'one of the most heartbreaking moments in my life'.

Darcy is a veteran hospitality worker. He's worked in hospo for 15 years. He'd never been unemployed until this year. But, due to the casual and transient nature of his work, he too was excluded from JobKeeper. That meant he could no longer pay his bills and pay his rent. He had to move back in with his parents to survive. He described the situation as gut-wrenching when we last spoke. Darcy also noted that he was lucky to have a family that was in a position to support him during this time. But of course many of his colleagues and his friends did not.

The government's approach of excluding millions from support programs and then ripping those support programs away too fast isn't just hurting workers and their families directly; it's hurting Australia's recovery. According to figures from analytics consultancy Taylor Fry, job numbers fell by 1.6 per cent in the two weeks following the reduction in JobKeeper and JobSeeker. That matches up with the ABS data, which showed a five per cent drop in total salaries paid and the loss of 30,000 jobs in that fortnight.

We know that the further JobSeeker continues to fall towards the old Newstart rate the more it will negatively impact on people's ability to actually go out and find the jobs that may be there. It's a rate which is so low that it traps people in poverty and actually prevents them from finding employment. This is not an approach that will speed up our economic recovery. We need to be supporting people while they find a way to get back to work, and that means making sure people can afford the essentials they need—training, tools, transport, appropriate clothes and keeping a car on the go. These are not possible on the old Newstart rate, which the government seems to have us inexorably moving towards.

Cutting support too early hurts the economy and, as Senator Gallagher's motion states, the RBA confirmed this just recently. The Reserve Bank have said:

Growth in employment is expected to be subdued over the next few months, as policy support measures, such as JobKeeper, are tapered.

So JobKeeper gets cut and jobs growth slows—that's the equation. They also said this:

There is a risk that business insolvencies will rise by more than expected as government support programs are tapered, slowing the recovery in activity, reducing investment …

The cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker don't make sense. They don't make sense while people are still struggling to get back on their feet. They hurt families and they slow down the recovery.

The government know this. The decision to cut these programs is ideological. They aren't based on evidence or on reason. The government's decision to cut supports too soon and to exclude millions of workers from their programs will mean that this recession is longer and deeper. But the government are going to do it anyway. They are going to exclude almost a million jobseekers over the age of 35 from JobMaker. They are going to exclude one million employers from JobMaker as well. They are going to continue to cut JobKeeper and they are going to continue to cut JobSeeker. They are going to do all of this while they still do not have a plan to deliver and create good, secure jobs for Australians.

Their budget did not deliver. They gave us a big-spending budget. They are racking up $1 trillion in debt. But contained in that budget was no plan for jobs and no plans for sectors that we know create jobs. There was no plan for early childhood education, no plan for social housing, no plan for cheaper, cleaner energy projects and no plan for aged care. The few schemes they did announce in the budget did not go far enough or, as we found out at Senate estimates, the government inflated the number of jobs they would create.

The government is going to rack up $1 trillion in debt, but why? What is it doing if it isn't creating jobs? If we really want to look out for workers and their families we need to get this recovery right—a recovery that focuses on rebuilding good and secure jobs, a recovery that works for all Australians, not one that excludes them. We need a plan for this recovery now. We need a plan that means making more of what we need right here in Australia, a plan that gets started on the big transformative infrastructure projects, a plan to guarantee apprenticeships on major federal projects, a plan to address the skills crisis by reinvesting in TAFE, a plan to recharge the workforce participation of women and a plan to power our recovery with clean energy projects and renewables. This is what we need. We need a plan that is committed to rebuilding good, secure jobs in this country—jobs people can count on and jobs people can plan a future on—and that is what a Labor government would do.

We're eight months into this crisis and action is well past due. People need a government that is on their side, a government that is actively looking out for them, a government that provides the support they need to get through these difficult times, a government that is planning for the recovery—a government that has a vision for Australia's future. But, until now, the government has been more concerned with its ideological battles, attacking workers' rights, slashing support programs, freezing super and pensions, and, as we've seen this week, teeming up with One Nation to reject important protections for workers. It's time for the Prime Minister to reconsider his early cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker. It's time for him to commit to a plan for good, secure jobs and to get to work delivering it.

4:31 pm

Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank Senator Gallagher for bringing forward this motion. It gives us the opportunity on this side to highlight exactly what we have been doing during this pandemic, because it's clear those on the other side don't pay attention to anything that we do. I think that's quite selective on their part, as are the selective quotes that Senator Gallagher has used in her motion; she grabs a few little bits that she somehow thinks are going to support this argument that we're not doing enough for Australians.

Well, nothing is further from the truth. It is absolutely true that the pandemic is a once-in-a-century shock. It is placing immense pressure on health systems and economies not just here in Australia but right around the world. The Australian economy has outperformed most other countries in both health outcomes and economic outcomes right through this crisis. The evolution of the public health crisis shaped the very recovery trajectory for both Australia and the world. The IMF said that it is expecting that the global economy will contract by 4½ per cent this year. This compares to a fall of 0.1 per cent in 2009 during the GFC. Australia's economy contracted by seven per cent in the June quarter. We know that. But, by comparison, there were falls of around 12 per cent in New Zealand, 14 per cent in France and around 20 per cent in the United Kingdom. Real GDP is expected to fall 3¾ per cent in the calendar year 2020 but grow—I say that again: grow—by 4¼ per cent in calendar year 2021. I'm happy to repeat that if any senators would like me to. It's clear that this outlook compares favourably with a forecast fall of 12.8 per cent in Spain, 10.6 per cent in Italy, 9.8 per cent in France, 9.8 per cent in the United Kingdom, 7.1 per cent in Canada and 6.1 per cent in New Zealand. Clearly, Australia is doing the right things, and they are working.

However, events in Victoria have been a major setback, because the state represents one quarter of the national economy. Treasury estimates that the imposition of stage 3 and 4 restrictions in Victoria through the September quarter will take two per percentage points off GDP growth. Why is that? Let's look at the mishandling of the pandemic in Victoria. Not only did Premier Andrews let the disease out of hotel quarantine, he brought in some people who I think were called 'security guards', but they provided little security and did little to guard those people in there. Remember, quarantine is a tool used to keep the disease away from the population. That is its only job—to keep the disease away from the greater population.

There was that major failure by the Andrews government, for reasons their inquiry probably won't even let us Victorians know. And why is that? Because no-one can recall—not the ministers, not the chief of staff, not the bureaucrats that have been thrown under the bus and certainly not the Premier. But he is the one who says, 'Hey, I'm responsible for all this.' When is he going to take responsibility for all that? Why did a lockdown that he said would take six weeks take 14 weeks? There's a simple answer to that. It's because they did not have contact tracing in place.

If you're looking at a public health system and you've got a virus that can spread quickly, what do you need to do? You keep it out of the population. There's a cross against that one; they didn't do that. What do you do next? You have to stop it spreading through the population. What do you use to do that? You use testing and contact tracing, both of which are things that the Victorian government didn't have in place until probably well and truly six or eight weeks into lockdown. Why did it take so long for lockdown to work? They hadn't got their contact tracing working. Why did they end up getting their tracing working? Because our Treasurer, the member for Kooyong, and the Minister for Health, the member for Flinders, Greg Hunt, called on them to do so. There was no movement. The Victorian government was saying to everyone at the daily press conference, 'Our contact tracing is world class.' World-class fax machines? World-class pen and paper? It was an utter, utter failure on any level. The Victorian public health system failed terribly. That brought about an immense cost.

Senator Walsh, who spoke before me, was saying she gets all these calls. I get a dozen calls a day from constituents, mostly small-business people, as I was before having the honour of being elected to this place. Those small businesses said to me all the way through stage 3: 'I survived stage 3. I got through stage 3.' But stage 4 crushed their business, as it went on and on—their desperation, the cries of anguish over what they were going through. They will acknowledge that JobKeeper kept food on their family's table, but there was nothing from the state government to help them pay their rent or keep the electricity on. There was one tiny little handout six weeks ago or so.

Premier Andrews is standing up there every day, saying, 'I'm going to deliver so much largesse in this budget, people will just look at me in wonder.' Well, they're looking at him and wondering why they haven't seen him do anything for the Victorian economy right through this whole mess. He's still standing there. No-one knows when this budget's coming, and small businesses are being absolutely crushed by his failures in public health policy and in not letting them know when help might come.

We have been helping people. We've been helping them with JobKeeper and JobSeeker, and the new JobMaker hiring credit will help enormously. The government's total economic support, since the onset of the coronavirus, totals—let me check this, because I find it really quite staggering—$507 billion. That's 25.6 per cent of GDP in overall economic support. So how can those opposite say that we haven't been doing enough? I find it absolutely amazing.

The Reserve Bank governor, Governor Lowe, said only recently—and this flies in the face of Senator Gallagher's motion:

… the government's strategy is the right one, through the combination of income transfers, incentives to the private sector and direct job creation—that together is going to get people into jobs …

The governor said it would be completely incorrect to draw the conclusion that this is 'a judgement on the government's fiscal strategy'. He said:

… the government is on the right track …

I now refer to some spending by the government in Victoria, which is aimed at trying to help those Victorians crushed by Premier Andrews's poor performance on public health. Around $35.2 billion has been credited to Victorians, with approximately 312,000 Victorian organisations receiving JobKeeper payments totalling about $20.8 billion. And that was as at 4 November, so the amounts will now have gone up. These organisations cover around 1.1 million employees and eligible business participants. The Morrison government has delivered $8.6 billion in cashflow boost credits paid to over 208,000 Victorian entities. Turning to the coronavirus supplement, $3.9 billion has been paid out to Victorians, with 572,000 Victorians currently receiving the supplement. Victorians have received $2.3 billion in the form of the $750 payment under both the JobKeeper and JobSeeker schemes, with 1.8 million Victorians receiving at least one of those payments. These figures show that we have been doing a lot.

Senator Gallagher's motion refers to insolvencies. I have received many phone calls from businesses that are fearful of going insolvent, but the Morrison government has done a lot to try to relieve some of their anxieties. The Morrison government will undertake the most significant reforms to Australia's insolvency framework in 30 years as part of its economic recovery plan to keep businesses in business and Australians in jobs. The reforms will help more small businesses to restructure and survive the economic impact of COVID-19. As the economy continues to recover, it will be critical that distressed businesses have the necessary flexibility either to restructure or to wind down their operations in an orderly manner.

These new measures, which are similar to the US 'chapter 11' bankruptcy processes, will help small businesses to restructure in a way that means not all their assets are going to insolvency practices. These measures mean that they can keep control of their businesses through this period, because they know best whether they are going to be able to get through it. With the advice and the support of an insolvency practitioner, they can restructure in a way that helps their creditors get what's due to them whilst the businesses keep going. Having been a small-business owner, I know it is incredibly important to have the sort of support from the government that gives you the ability to flexibly and in a controlled way look after your business, get it through the tough times and make sure it comes out the other side.

Despite the allegations of those opposite, the Australian economy is fighting back, with 450,000 jobs created in the last four months, beating all market expectations, and more than half of the number of jobs lost at the onset of the pandemic already recovered. It's good to acknowledge that 60 per cent of these jobs have gone to women, while 40 per cent have gone to young people aged 15 to 24, a cohort that has always struggled with high unemployment during tough times. The Morrison government, through its budget, has done more than anyone else to support those people. Around 60 per cent of the 1.3 million people who lost their jobs or were stood down on zero hours are now back in work. In conclusion, the motion before us is nothing but an opportunity for opposition members to have another whinge, because they know that the Morrison government is doing more to help the Australian economy, more to help Australian workers, more to help Australian businesses, than they ever could.

4:44 pm

Photo of Nita GreenNita Green (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this motion brought forward by Senator Gallagher. I'm very pleased to have this opportunity to highlight to the Senate the comments made by the Reserve Bank of Australia in its quarterly Statement on monetary policy, in which it made important statements. These were extraordinary statements to make about the economy, and it's very important that Australians understand the very deep economic recession that we are currently in. The predictions the Reserve Bank is making about how that economy will respond are something that Australians need to listen to and are something that the government needs to listen to.

The Reserve Bank said that growth in employment is expected to be subdued over the next few months. It also said that improvement in employment has slowed since August. It remains well below its pre-pandemic level, and there is a risk that business insolvencies will rise by more than expected as the government support programs are tapered. This is what the Reserve Bank of Australia is saying—that is, that as the government take supports away, insolvencies will rise. So it seems strange that the government would, this week, announce that they will be reducing JobSeeker payments. Cutting support prematurely to these payments will make the recession deeper and longer, and it's unfortunate that during question time this week the minister has continued to play word games about what this cut, this reduction in support, will mean to Australians.

It was very clever to put an end date on these payments so that every time the cuts came through, the government could stand up and say, 'We're not reducing the payment, we're extending it.' But they are, in fact, cutting the amount of money that people who are unemployed in Australia will be receiving and will be relying on during this incredibly difficult time, and during an economic period of our country's history where we know unemployment remains well below pre-pandemic levels. The unemployment crisis is getting worse—it's not getting better—as 1.8 million Australians are set to be unemployed by the end of this year—just in time for Christmas. Labor have consistently called for a permanent increase to the JobSeeker amount, and we are calling for the government to provide support to these Australians to get them through this difficult time.

The Morrison government are cutting the coronavirus supplement by $300 per fortnight from when it was first introduced at the $550 per fortnight rate. And when you ask the government why they are doing this—well, first they deny that they're doing it at all—they say that, actually, they're being so very generous in extending this rate. They're denying that they're cutting it in the first place, but, when your questions finally get through the denials and the word games and the very clever language used by the ministers responsible for these decisions, what you discover is that they do not believe that people need this money. They do not believe that they are responsible for helping these people through this crisis.

Even Senator Ruston has acknowledged that the job market is shallow, but she still thinks that now is the right time to make these cuts. In the last couple of days, or the last week, I recall that Senator Ruston said unemployed people needed to dip their toe into the employment market. There's one vacancy for every 28 jobseekers right now in regional Australia. I'm not sure what employment market Senator Ruston thinks the 1.8 million unemployed Australians are dipping their toes into. They're not sitting at home not wanting to work. That's a fallacy put forward by this government to justify their cuts.

The other thing that strikes me about these cuts is the impact they will have on the local economies, the regional economies that are starting to open up. These economies have suffered and they need assistance. We know that people who receive these JobSeeker coronavirus supplements are not saving the money; they're spending the money in local shops, they're going out and doing a full grocery shop for probably the first time in a very long time, they're going to the local gift shop, they're going to the local newsagent and they're spending money in local communities. A report from analytics consultancy Taylor Fry found that reductions to JobSeeker and JobKeeper in September had an 'instant and dramatic' impact on the finances of Australian households. The report found that JobKeeper and JobSeeker cuts would result in $4 billion less income in the pockets of five million Australians. And now they are cutting JobSeeker again.

We've questioned the government on this issue many times, and sometimes the retort from the ministers and those opposite is that these are silly questions or that these questions are repetitive. But we still have not received an answer as to what economic modelling the government has done on these reductions in coronavirus supplement payments. How will these cuts impact the Australian economy? What impact will making a cut to this payment have on local, small businesses that are relying on people going out and spending this money in the local economy?

The government have spent a lot of time in this place talking about how they support regional Australians. But the truth is that these cuts are hurting people living in our regions. In Far North Queensland, in the electorates of Leichhardt and Kennedy alone, these cuts have ripped out $11.5 million per fortnight out of the economy, and 35,000 people have been left worse off through these cuts. The Far North Queensland economy is reliant on tourism. Seventy per cent of that tourism is international tourism. There is still a lot of recovering to go, and yet this government is taking support out of that economy right now.

In Townsville, in the electorate of Herbert, the cuts have affected 13,900 people, and they're ripping $5.9 million from the local economy. I've spoken to young people in Townsville, students who go to the university there at JCU. For the first time ever JCU has had to have a food bank. People donate food, and students can come and get food from the food bank just to support themselves. That's the level of economic impact that is happening in our regions, and yet the government, who profess to stand up for regional Australians, are cutting back the support that they are giving them.

In Dawson, 11,000 people were affected by the cuts that the government made previously—$4.3 million was ripped out of the local economy. In the electorate of Dawson, the Whitsundays has been incredibly impacted by international tourism stopping, and yet the government's ripping money out of these regional economies. This is the worst recession that Australia has faced in almost 100 years, and the government is letting more Australians and communities fall further behind. The Prime Minister's premature cuts could push many Australians back into poverty, risk more jobs and business closures and make economic recovery even harder.

The Liberals and Nationals also decided to exclude Australians aged over 35 from a new hiring credit scheme. This will mean that the recession for those people who we know are relying on JobSeeker payments right now will be deeper and more necessary. The unemployment queues will be longer than they need to be. We know from what the government announced that they believe that all you have to do is put out a media release and jobs will flow—that, somehow, in a media release, putting out how much money you're supposedly spending or how many jobs you are creating is enough. But the people living in regional Queensland are starting to see through a government that are all about announcements and not about delivery. The people living in regional Queensland are starting to see through a government that are all about announcement and not about delivery. Ultimately, if the government were to take back this support in the face of those comments from the Reserve Bank of Australia about how difficult the economic situation is right now, you would expect the government to have a plan for jobs to come out of this recovery. Day after day—and they're going to do it again in this debate in the Senate—they're going to announce numbers and talk about big figures. They'll talk about the things that they are going to do. But we know that what they promise they do not deliver, and they don't deliver jobs in regional Queensland.

In the last budget, before this economic crisis had even started, this government announced it would upgrade the Captain Cook Highway in Cairns. We're still waiting for those upgrades to start. That was all in a media release. Then there's the government's big agenda around recycling. Of the $100 million in the Australian recycling fund, not one cent has been spent. This was a big election promise, and yet the government can't deliver on it. We know that the government has a $50 million mitigation fund that Labor secured in this Senate to spend on mitigation projects to make places like regional Queensland more resilient when it comes to disaster funding. But here we are, in cyclone season and in desperate need of jobs in regional areas, and not one cent of that mitigation fund has been spent.

The NAIF has been a complete failure. The government have failed to spend that money. They've failed to deliver what they said they were going to deliver. They have spent more money on senior executives and boardrooms in regional Queensland than on delivering projects through the NAIF. It's been an absolute flop. Every time they get up here and talk about the NAIF, they should be incredibly embarrassed.

When it comes to the JobMaker scheme, which we've spent a lot of time talking about this week, we know that the Treasurer announced in his budget speech that this scheme would create 450,000 jobs. But when we actually asked Treasury, those figures were much less. So every time that the government talks about the economy rebounding, taking away support because the economy is rebounding and their plan for jobs, know this: every time they put out a press release, they don't deliver on it. Every time they talk about creating jobs in regional Queensland, it is more about saving their own jobs—it is about giving them an opportunity to talk about the things that they are going to do. Regional Queenslanders need the government to get out there and get something done. This is the time to do it. This is the time to deliver the jobs that they have promised for years and years but failed to deliver.

Without a jobs plan, you cannot justify taking support away from vulnerable people who are trying to put food on the table during our deepest economic recession. That is the fallacy of what this government is trying to sell people in regional Queensland. I can tell you that people are fed up and they are starting to see through the constant parade of media releases and no delivery, cuts and no support for the people who need it during our deepest economic recession in regions that desperately need it. But this government gets up every single week and talks about how it supports people in regional Queensland. It doesn't sing true when you actually get there and talk to people who have been left behind by this government and by ministers who are afraid even to call something a cut when it's a cut.

4:59 pm

Photo of Hollie HughesHollie Hughes (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank goodness the Morrison government won the election and is looking after Australians in this unprecedented time of 2020. I would just like point out to Senator Green and to Senator Walsh, who clearly have missed what's been going on this year, that there is a global pandemic. So when we talk about a softening of the jobs market, an expectation that there will be increasing numbers of business insolvencies, that it is a little bit more challenging to find a job, that there are pressures at the moment around the economy and the workforce—that would be due to the fact that we are in unprecedented times globally. That seems to have missed their attention. There is a total lack of recognition of the economic carnage that has occurred globally thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, which, in Australia followed on from the bushfires. That seems to have passed them by. But, as I said, many Australians are incredibly grateful that it is the Morrison government that is in charge. Because the Morrison government had put the economy in such a strong position prior to this occurring that we were able to act quickly, we were able to act responsibly and we were able to act in a way that ensured Australians were in the best possible position to weather the storm and to make an economic recovery as soon as was possible. This included the implementation very early in the piece of two measures: JobSeeker and JobKeeper.

JobKeeper ensured that employers and employees were able to stay connected. Even when businesses we unable to operate, employers and employees were able to stay connected. What we're seeing now, as businesses are starting to open up, as the economy is starting to move and as workers are returning to their places of employment, is that businesses no longer qualify. I'm sure what those opposite don't understand—since they are so disconnected from small business, family owned businesses and, in fact, anything in the private sector—is that those businesses see as one of their greatest achievements that they no longer qualify for JobKeeper. They absolutely celebrate the fact that their businesses are operating to a level where they no longer qualify for JobKeeper—that they're able to bring their employees back, that they're able to activate once again and act in a way that their employees are back working and contributing to the economy in such a positive way. We on this side understand that it is businesses that create jobs, not unions and not the government. It is businesses that create jobs. It is innovative Australians that create jobs and that ensure the workplace is contributing to the economy and that Australians are able to get back to work and look after themselves and their families.

JobSeeker was also put in place. There was a JobSeeker supplement that was put in place—a temporary measure, which is something else those opposite don't understand. They are sitting on my far right, but, of course, they are ideologically on my far left! They would like to see a living wage. We all understand that that's their position. But we did put in place a temporary supplement to JobSeeker, which has now been extended to March. That is something, again, that those opposite don't understand—that additional $3.2 billion of spending through to March. Again, that is an additional $3.2 billion of spending that somehow or other equates to a cut, over there. Lucky for them they don't have to sit an HSC maths exam any time soon. So that has been extended to 31 March. Also, there is a reduction of mutual obligation for an extended period of time. Again, those people who sit at that end of the chamber would have very much enjoyed seeing that being removed for a period of time. But JobSeeker ensured that those who did lose connection to the workforce were able to see that COVID period through.

We are seeing the economy improve. We are seeing significant improvements. We are seeing consumer confidence increasing week on week. In fact, we've had 10 weeks of consumer confidence consistently increasing. This week, we've seen a fantastic $4 billion dollar program, JobMaker, pass the Senate. Again, we've done something that those opposite don't seem to understand. We have a 10 per cent youth unemployment rate. The last time we had a recession in Australia, the hardest group to get back to work, those that were affected for the most significant period of time, were the younger workers. They found it more difficult to get back to work. They were more impacted for a longer period of time with getting back into the workforce. So the Morrison government is going to invest $4 billion in the JobMaker scheme, ensuring those under 35 are given an opportunity to reconnect with the workforce as quickly as possible. It was wonderful to see Senator Hanson and Senator Roberts get behind that. They understand the importance of supporting our youth and getting them back into the workplace as quickly as possible.

I do note with some irony that it was a senator from Queensland and a senator from Victoria on the other side who criticised what the Morrison government has done in response to COVID. If it wasn't so ironic, it would be laughable. Victoria is the great drag on the nation when it comes to economic recovery. There has been the failure of quarantine. The hotel quarantine disaster led to an extended lockdown. There was the shutdown of the nation's second-biggest economy. There was Premier Dan Andrews in the 'Republic of Danistan', where the dictatorship took off. Everyone was locked down in their homes. The economic tap was turned off. For years the economy will struggle.

It is the Victorian economy that is going to need the most investment to come back. That is where we are having to spend the tax dollars of so many other hardworking Australians, particularly from my home state of New South Wales, where the economy has continued to flourish thanks to fantastic contact tracing—it was the gold standard—and Gladys Berejiklian. Our taxpayer dollars will go to supporting our fellow Australians in Victoria, who had been locked down, thanks to a failed quarantine system. It was a Victorian senator who dared to come in here and criticise the fabulous measures that New South Wales taxpayers et cetera are contributing to.

That senator was followed by a Queenslander from the 'Republic of Palaszczuk'. They complained that jobseekers in Cairns can't find a job. If the tourism market were allowed to open, fabulous Sydneysiders would love to come up and spend their dollars. But they are banned for no other reason—

Senator Pratt interjecting

It's a little bit petty. As we know, the Premier of Queensland is the princess of petty. The texts would have been flying last night after they were handed the wooden spoon in the State of Origin. 'Princess Palaszczuk' wouldn't have been happy with that. She'll probably be extending the ban on Sydneysiders for a little bit longer because her football team didn't get up. Honestly, Regina George in Mean Girlswould be so impressed with the pettiness we see coming out of Queensland. I'm sure Premier Palaszczuk has her own little burn book going up there at the moment and on the front cover is the fabulous Premier Berejiklian, who is showing the rest of the country what it looks like to do exceptional contact tracing.

The Morrison government has not only continued to deliver JobKeeper, JobSeeker and JobMaker to get everybody back to work but delivered a budget that is absolutely focused on jobs. We are seeing job creation occurring across the board across the country in states that are opening up. It was incredibly satisfying for me to go to the fabulous Hunter region, which is an area I look after, to see the investments we're making across the board in so many innovative areas, such as defence industry. I've worked so closely with the wonderful Minister for Defence Industry, Melissa Price. We've made over $50 million of announcements in fabulous innovative industries. We've looked at making body armour that's more adaptable for different body shapes and sizes and that's lighter and more agile for our troops. Millions of dollars have been invested in submarine technology. We've looked at the Singleton army base and at how we can work better with our troops there. These investments are critical, but that is nothing when you look at the investment we've made on the energy side.

It's always a pleasure to see the member for Hunter at these events. No-one understands the importance of affordable and reliable baseload power like the member for Hunter. It's such a pity to see he has been forced out of the shadow cabinet because of the loony Left taking over the energy policy of those opposite. Poor Joel is out on his own. He can't even look his own constituents in the face anymore because, as much as he understands that the blue-collar, high-vis voters are the old Labor voters of the past, his party has now abandoned them for the inner west, for the latte-sipping lefties, for making sure that it's all about where the sun is providing the renewable energy. It doesn't care if Tomago smelter goes offline. When they're offline for three hours, that's it. It's finished. The smelter closes. But that's okay. They don't care about that in Newtown. They don't care about that in Newtown at all. Poor Joel's had a bit of a shocker this week, poor love. He's had to step down. Anyway, I'm sure I'll see him soon when we're up there again.

It's absolutely critical that we acknowledge the fantastic work the Morrison government is doing on behalf of all Australians. We know how grateful they are because we hear it all the time when we're out talking to those real Australians.

5:10 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make a contribution on what was a very, very important motion advanced for discussion today in the chamber by Senator Gallagher. I thank her for bringing this matter to the floor of the Senate. We haven't got many people in the parliament because of the COVID reality. They've only just started coming back this week. But I know a lot of people will be listening to parliament and they will be relying on this parliament to acknowledge the reality of their lives, to tell the truth to them about what's going on and to authentically provide them with the support that they need.

Let's be clear. We are in a recession for the first time in 30 years and this government has set up a budget that will put Australians in $1 trillion worth of debt. That's $1 trillion of debt set up for Australians by this Liberal and National Party government. We just heard a contribution from a Liberal Sydneysider who actually believes that she has some understanding of regional realities for Australia and that she's got a handle, like the rest of the Liberal Party continue to say, on small business. Well, I can tell you that I know small business in and out. I know it from my own childhood and from my own growth as an adult as well. I'm surrounded by businesspeople in my family. Small business is being overlooked by this government. Small business is not being listened to by this government. Small business will be exploited by this government.

I want to go to the report, but, before I do that, I just want to make one comment about the design capacity—or the design incapacity—of the government when it comes to genuinely helping somebody get a job and genuinely helping a small business. They are missing the mark on both fronts. If you are an Australian who was caught right at the beginning of this COVID crash, the government—who are still the government today after these many months—decided that they didn't want to give you any support. Make no mistake about it. The government were very, very clear: 'Shut down the parliament. Go home. We're not doing anything. You're on your own.' That was their first instinct and their first response. It took battering, week after week, by the Australian Labor Party to stand up for the jobs of hardworking Australians. It was the Australian Labor Party leading the charge, not in the parliament because the government had shut that down, but out in the community with the fourth estate, trying to tell the stories of Australians who were doing it really, really tough very, very quickly. It was the businesses of this country. The big businesses and the small businesses were out there with their battering ram getting this tone-deaf government to hear them, saying: 'You cannot let all these people lose their jobs. You've got to put in place some sort of wage replacement.' So, thank you, big business. Thank you, small business. Thank you for standing up for the workers of this country, because the government were missing in action when it all started to come unstuck.

The pictures that happened on that fateful day this year, with queues of Australians who had never been unemployed in their lives standing outside Centrelink trying to get some help, hundreds of thousands of them, and the shock of that finally unblocked the deaf ears of this government. They decided: 'Oh my God, maybe the Labor Party were right, because they are the party of jobs. We can pretend to be, but Labor are the party of jobs. Maybe they were right. Maybe we should listen to the big businesses that have been telling us we've got it wrong. Maybe some of the small businesses might have something to say.' Eventually, after resistance, and a special call-back here to Canberra, legislation was passed that brought in the JobSeeker payment and gave succour and support to families who were starting to feel very vulnerable. That's the political reality of what happened.

Now, families have been managing. Some families have been managing quite well; they have resources. Other families, without resources, are struggling. Small businesses, with their houses on the line, with mortgage payments suspended, know what's going on. They know the challenges they're facing, and they're very concerned about what government's proposals for policy, going forward, will look like for them. We've got reports of insolvencies in small businesses building up. We are getting reports that, despite this being the cheapest money that people could ever get to invest in their business, there is a drop-off in investment in business, because people know what this government doesn't want to say: people in small business, with their lives on the line, their families on the line, the housing that they live in on the line, their businesses on the line and the jobs of the people they employ on the line, know that things are very fragile. And, in the midst of all that, we've got the spin. We've got all the job lines—JobSeeker, JobKeeper, JobMaker. I'll tell you what, you can put them all in one big bin, because what's really going on here is 'JobFaker'. These guys are great at spin but not at delivery.

Today Senator Ruston, who I note is here in the Senate on chamber duty, was asked on multiple occasions, as she has been throughout the week, to tell the truth about what's going on with the JobSeeker payments that people have been surviving on up till now. So disingenuous is this government, so unable to tell the truth to the Australian people is the minister, that they can't say straight out: 'We've cut JobSeeker. We've cut the amount of money we're giving you. That's our choice. It's the way we think about how money operates. We think that you've had enough for long enough. We didn't want to give it to you in the first place, and now we're going to turn the tap off. We're going to choke it a little bit at a time. We're going to put your family at risk and make you more and more vulnerable.' Day by day, the choke is on from this government.

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Ruston?

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

On a point of order: I would like you to ask the senator opposite to reflect on the fact that she has just read factually incorrect information into the Hansard.

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister, I'm advised that that's not a point of order.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am going to make a point of order before I return to my speech. The reality is that the minister doesn't understand what a point of order is; otherwise, she wouldn't be seeking to interrupt.

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I don't think that is a point of order either. Senator O'Neill, just continue with your speech.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What we can see by this minister's reaction is actually quite good. There might be just a skerrick, a little, tiny bit, of truth still in there, and she can discern the reality of what she's doing—that she's laying out a con job on the Australian people. She keeps using this word 'extended'. I want Australians to understand that the government are going to tell you, about the money they said you needed, that they were going to help you out with to make sure you didn't fall foul of this COVID-19 crisis, that they're extending their support. They use that word in the most deceptive way to try and convince Australians that they're going to really look after them. They will never tell you that they're going to cut your support. It's only pressure from the Labor Party in this place that has made the government undertake that commitment to eke it out a little bit longer, although they're cutting it all the time. Until this week, Australians didn't know if they'd have any support come Christmas, If it wasn't for the Labor Party, standing up in this place for hardworking Australians who found themselves on JobSeeker and JobKeeper, there is no way this government would have given the 'extension' past Christmas, to March. Just remember that while they're extending past Christmas to March they are cutting support for Australians.

The motion we are debating is about the Reserve Bank. I trust it an awful lot more than I trust this government. This government have another set of words: 'mutual obligation'. They make it sound like it's a good thing that you should seek out multiple jobs every week and that if you don't get the right number of jobs or you make a mistake on the paperwork you're cut off. They think that's a good thing. I've sat through hearing after hearing with Senator Siewert hearing evidence from people who've been cut off—hundreds of thousands of families at risk all of the time, because this government set up a structure where it can cut you off with hardly a moment's notice. That's what's going on. Do you know what the government want you to do? They want you to apply for these jobs where you live. So you end up filling out your form and sending off your job application. Who do you send it to? You send it to all of the local businesses, the local businesses that have no jobs, the local businesses that we hear are lining up for potential insolvency, the local businesses who haven't got the time to do the paperwork and manage these floods and floods of people applying where there are no jobs. The lunacy of what the government have constructed, the intellectual and emotional burden for people to be playing that game while the government come in here and say, 'Everything's good'—it's totally disingenuous. It's a deception of the Australian people. It's a perfect example of the spin machine that is the Liberal Party right now—the spin machine led by the master of spin, none other than Mr Morrison, the Prime Minister, the prime minister of spin, the man who is making Australians who are down on their luck apply for job after job after job that doesn't exist, the man who's pushing that burden of managing all of that paperwork onto small businesses that are already doing it tough. That's what's really going on.

The Reserve Bank put out a statement on monetary policy in November this year. It's pretty fresh off the press. Where they get their data from is not some spin machine. When they choose their words they don't choose words that they've workshopped to see if they can get away with telling lies. They actually rely on accurate data. This report I have in front of me has used record data from the HILDA Survey. The people who put that together are none other than the Australian National University. It's funded by the Department of Social Services. It's managed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, the Australian Data Archive and the Australian National University. These are the people who gather the data to tell the truth about what's going on in Australia, not the spin that this government has made its signature.

What we know from the document, from the facts, from the evidence, from the data is that growth in employment, despite the government's constant claims—'It's all okay, don't worry about it. We're the Liberal government; it's all in control. We do everything financial superbly well'—is not good. Australians know they're not doing it well. Australians know that times are tough. They know that their families are vulnerable. We know from the Reserve Bank:

Growth in employment is expected to be subdued over the next few months …


… as policy support measures, such as JobKeeper, are tapered.

There's a very big difference between 'extended' and 'tapered'. This government tells us it has extended the scheme. The Reserve Bank tells us it's under threat because this government is actually tapering the payment and unemployment is expected to grow.

The pace of improvement in employment has slowed since August, because this government, which didn't want to commence the journey with Australians, was dragged kicking and screaming to provide support. Now, the government can't wait to cut off payments as quickly as it can and put people back on a path to poverty. That is the government's strategy, that is its goal and that is where it is headed. And that is where too many Australian families fear they will be at by or after Christmas, under this government.

The Reserve Bank Board approved the release of this document that states:

Employment remains well below its pre-pandemic level …There is a risk that business insolvencies will rise by more than expected as government support programs are tapered, slowing the recovery in activity, reducing investment and placing upward pressure on the unemployment rate.

That's what is really going on. (Time expired)

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the general business notice of motion proposed by Senator Walsh on JobKeeper be agreed to. A division having been called, I remind honourable senators that, when a division is called on Thursdays after 4.30 pm, the matter before the Senate must be adjourned until the next day of sitting, at a time to be fixed by the Senate. The debate is adjourned accordingly.