Wednesday, 17 February 2021
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Families and Social Services (Senator Ruston) to a question without notice asked by Senator Siewert today relating to the JobSeeker Payment.
Here we are 42 days out from when the JobSeeker payment goes back to just $40 a day—a rate the government know very well is insufficient because they knew there was an urgent need to double it with the coronavirus supplement when the pandemic hit. The government knew when they made that decision that people couldn't survive on $40 a day. Well, they still can't survive on $40 a day. But when I asked whether the government would guarantee that people on the JobSeeker payment won't go back to $40 a day on 1 April, the minister told us some information but she would not say yes or no. The fact is that people cannot survive on $40 a day. The government is subjecting people to uncertainty about their future and that is untenable. What are people going to do in 42 days time?
The government this week have been floating some balloons about what they might do about our income support system. There's one about how there are so many supplements that we might simplify the system. Some of the more cynical among us think that will be an excuse to actually not significantly increase the JobSeeker payment. But then, today, we hear of the so-called employment insurance scheme, which, some proponents would suggest, would put one per cent on the Medicare levy to pay for it, would create a two-tiered system in this country which would cut people at six months, would significantly impact on the long-term unemployed, would significantly impact on young people and would significantly impact particularly older workers, who are constantly suffering from age discrimination and who find it hard to find work.
Underpinning all of this is that the government and the minister kept saying, 'We're trying to encourage people into jobs.' At the moment there are 1.3 million people unemployed and at the end of January there were 129,000 jobs. You tell me how 1.3 million people fit into 129,000 jobs. They don't. The jobs aren't there for people to be able to apply for. People aren't able to find work. That is still going to be the case on 31 March. The jobs won't be there.
The government is floating various ideas with their favourite media people—'We might simplify the system. There's the unemployment insurance scheme.' All this muddies the waters when the focus needs to be on the fact that on 1 April—a totally unfortunate day—the government perhaps will let people know that they're going back to $40 a day. Why can't the government guarantee that jobseekers will not be going back to $40 a day? People cannot survive on that. The government actually needs to immediately let those people looking for work know that they won't drop back to $40 a day and that it will be increasing the JobSeeker payment so that people no longer have to live in poverty.
No matter how much evidence is presented, the government still don't seem to get that poverty is a barrier to work. That is what also stops people being able to find work. If you haven't got a home because you can't afford it because you are living on $40 a day, you're working out where you're going to sleep the night. You're homeless. You can't put food on the table, pay for your medications or go to the dentist. These are all things people have been saying they were able to afford when the coronavirus supplement came in and doubled JobSeeker. We need to make sure that Australians on the JobSeeker payment aren't living in poverty on $40 a day.
Question agreed to.