Wednesday, 2 December 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Families and Social Services, Senator Ruston. Minister, through you Mr President, on 1 January 2021, the new rate of the coronavirus supplement will result in an extra 1.16 million people living below the poverty line. Is it government policy for people on the JobSeeker payment to live in poverty?
I thank Senator Siewert for her question. The one thing that the Morrison-McCormack government is absolutely committed to is making sure that we support all Australians by providing a safety net for those people who find themselves without work. But, Senator Siewert, we recognise that we have been through a once-in-a-hundred-year crisis and that the impact of that crisis has been severe across our entire economy. That's why we put in place the coronavirus supplement and a raft of other measures to support Australians through this crisis.
As part of that, we have made decisions on a regular basis about how much additional support we need to continue to put into the economy to make sure that we support Australians through this really difficult time. We put in place the coronavirus supplement back in March, and we continue to have that supplement in place. It continues in place at the moment for the three months to 31 December then it will remain in place from 1 January at a rate of $150—
Yes. I kept my preamble really short and I asked a pretty short question, so could I ask the minister, through you, Mr President, to get to my question, which was: is it government policy for people on the JobSeeker payment to live in poverty?
You're quite right: you had a short preamble. I'm listening carefully to the minister's answer and she is directly addressing the issue of that payment and the supplement, at least that's what I've heard. I've allowed you to restate the end of your question; I can't instruct her how to answer the question. Senator Ruston.
Thank you very much, Mr President. Senator Siewert would know very clearly that the absolute priority and policy of this government is to make sure that we work with the Australian economy and with the Australian public—with all Australians—to make sure that we have a strong economy which creates jobs so that those people who find themselves in a situation where they don't have employment have jobs created so they're able to get to work.
We know, as you know, Senator Siewert, that people who are working have a higher standard of living than those who find themselves having to rely on welfare. But the most important thing we can do is support Australians through the appropriate policy settings that we have put in place through this once-in-a-century pandemic to make sure that that ongoing support reflects a very clear balance between supporting Australians and recognising the shallow jobs market. At the same time, we need to make sure we put in place the right incentives for Australians to re-engage with the workforce. (Time expired)
Some 1.1 million children are living with parents who receive the coronavirus supplement. What do you say to these children, who will miss out on a proper Christmas this year because there is no certainty about the JobSeeker payment?
I thank Senator Siewert for her follow-up question. I obviously don't accept the premise of her question. The government has worked very hard this year to make sure we put additional supports in place for all Australians. Those supports remain in place today and they will remain in place after Christmas—into the first three months of 2021. We will continue to monitor the situation to make sure we balance the supports that have been put in place to make sure Australians are supported through this pandemic. Senator Siewert would be well aware that the government has always been committed to making sure our welfare system is targeted so that we are providing the level of support to make sure individuals get the support they need to recognise their individual circumstances. I reject the premise of the question you first asked, Senator Siewert. This government remains committed to supporting all Australians.
The Productivity Commission recently found that mutual obligation and the income support system are exacerbating people's poor mental health. Do you agree that the low rate of income support and the punitive mutual obligations are making Australians' mental health worse? Wouldn't a permanent ongoing increase in the JobSeeker payment help the nation's mental health?
The one thing we are absolutely committed to is to make sure Australians who want to work have the opportunity to go to work. As you rightly point out, Senator Siewert, people who find themselves without work are in a more difficult situation and have lower levels of personal wellbeing than those who are working. That is why we are absolutely committed to making sure we put job creation absolutely at the top of our agenda and, at the same time, provide levels of support to support all Australians through this pandemic. On 16 November the government released the Productivity Commission report you've referred to. We will very carefully consult with stakeholders in relation to the findings in that report. We will deliver a very comprehensive whole-of-government mental health and suicide prevention response to that report in the coming months.