Senate debates

Thursday, 3 December 2020


Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020; Second Reading

12:28 pm

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Australian Government is committed to supporting individuals, families and the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing financial assistance to people who lose their jobs or have reduced income as a result of the outbreak.

The Government is also committed to ensuring fiscal responsibility, by adjusting temporarily increased levels of support.

The Government is actively monitoring economic conditions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and is responding by continuing assistance for individuals and families.

The Government thanks the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee for its report on this Bill and its recommendation that this Bill be passed.

The Government notes the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens commented on an ongoing increase to JobSeeker Payment. As the Government has previously indicated, we are focused on the immediate issue at hand, which is outlining and providing the next stage of temporary social security supports to Australians as we transition to a post-COVID economy.

The Australian Greens also recommend a further waiver of the Liquid Assets Test Waiting Period. Successive Governments have always been clear that people should rely on their own resources before calling on the community for support. As the health and economic situation improves, it is no longer appropriate to continue to waive the Liquid Assets Test Waiting Period.

The Government rejects the Greens comment that the Coronavirus Supplement should be paid at a rate of $550 a fortnight. While there remains uncertainty around economic conditions, there are signs of improvement and confidence is increasing. The Government considers support at $150 a fortnight is appropriate as the economy starts to open up and people have capacity to take up work to support themselves.

To date, temporary measures have been successful in supporting Australians through economic shock and uncertainty, but challenging conditions continue.

This Bill responds to the continuing uncertainty around economic conditions in Australia by extending temporary financial support, through the Coronavirus Supplement and other temporary eligibility and access measures, mostly until 31 March 2021.

The Bill permanently repeals provisions providing temporary exemptions to the assets tests. These exemptions were put in place as part of the initial package of Coronavirus Economic Response measures in March 2020 and are no longer necessary.

The Bill also introduces a discretionary power under the social security and veterans' entitlements assets tests to extend the principal home temporary absence provisions. This provision is beneficial as it prevents the inclusion of the principal home in the assets test while a person is unable to return to Australia within the allowable absence period, due to circumstances beyond their control.

Schedule 11 of the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Act 2020 included a power that allowed the Minister to temporarily modify social security law to respond to circumstances relating to COVID-19 by making a disallowable legislative instrument.

This broad power that allowed the Minister to modify (or vary) any qualification or rate in social security law was critical in allowing the Government to respond flexibly to emerging situations, amend the partner income test for JobSeeker Payment and apply changes that aided Services Australia in quickly addressing the large volume of claims received in March and April 2020. The Minister's power to make these modifications will be automatically repealed on 31 December 2020 and instruments made under the modification power will no longer have any effect.

This Bill introduces a new, diminished and time-limited instrument-making power, allowing the Government to respond flexibly to any changes in circumstances which might arise as a result of COVID-19 in the first quarter of next year, while Parliament may not be sitting. The temporary power will operate until 31 March 2021.

The current powers in social security law that enable the Minister to set the rate and duration of the Coronavirus Supplement and the related exemptions from waiting and preclusion periods will remain in place until 31 March 2021.

Together, these powers in effect until 31 March 2021 will enable the Minister to determine:

                      Under current temporary arrangements in place until 28 March 2021, the Australian Taxation Office provides JobKeeper information to Services Australia for planning, policy development and compliance purposes. While the Australian Taxation Office will not provide any new JobKeeper data to Services Australia after 28 March 2021, the Bill will clarify that, after 28 March 2021, Services Australia and the Department of Social Services will be able to continue to use the Jobkeeper information provided on or before 28 March 2021.

                      The policy delivered by this Bill has a cost of $3.2 billion to 2024-25.

                      Debate adjourned.