Wednesday, 17 February 2021
Questions without Notice
Thank you very much, Senator Siewert, for your question and clearly a longstanding and enduring interest in those people that find themselves in need of the receipt of welfare. One of the things that has been made very clear by this government is that we remain committed to walking side by side with all Australians as we walk our way through this pandemic. We understand that it has been a tremendously tough year for many Australians over the last 12 months as this pandemic has taken an unprecedented toll on our economy, our society and, particularly, individuals who lost their work. One of the things that the government has been very clear about is that, whilst we are helping and supporting people who find themselves in a situation where they are unemployed, our most important role, now that the economy is starting to open up and we are starting to see all of the statistics and figures of an economic recovery, a jobs market recovery, with returned levels of job advertisements and job availability, is to make sure that the efforts of the government are entirely focused on assisting people on the pathway back to work. That's why the government has moved and transitioned much of our additional supports that are in the marketplace towards job creation and job access programs, like, for instance, the hiring—
Mr President, on the point of order, I asked, with no preamble, a very simple question. I thank the minister for the information she's given us. Will she guarantee that the payment won't go back to $40 a day on 1 April? Yes or no?
I can't instruct the minister how to answer a question, Senator Siewert. You did ask a very simple and precise question. If the minister is talking about that particular payment, I do consider that to be directly relevant, but I've allowed you to remind her of the question.
The point that I was making to Senator Siewert in my answer is the fact that we still remain in a situation where the COVID pandemic is impacting on our economy and on the response that the government is providing to the economy to support all Australians. We believe that, at the moment, there are elevated levels of support that remain in place for people who find themselves unemployed at this time.
That is a 'no'. Earlier this week, there were reports that the government was considering simplifying the system and considering a flat rate for the JobSeeker payment. Today we learn that the government might be considering a so-called unemployment insurance scheme. Isn't this just a deliberate distraction from the fact that the JobSeeker payment is going back to $40 a day on 1 April?
I can categorically say no, it is not. The other thing I will say in response to the question you just put forward—or the commentary you just put forward—is that one thing I have learnt very clearly around here is that you don't speculate on speculation. That is clearly what you are currently doing. There have been numerous commentaries around what governments do and don't do. I think, probably, the best thing to do is to wait and find out what government is doing when government actually does it.
What I would say to you, Senator Siewert, is that it is very clear that the economy has been significantly affected and the jobs market has been significantly affected, and we have had an unprecedented year of upheaval. But the government have made sure that we have stood side-by-side with Australians by providing additional support to those people who have found themselves out of work. Currently, we have an elevated support level for people who are unemployed of $150 a fortnight. That goes through for another six or eight weeks. But we are absolutely focussed— (Time expired)
Minister, you've just admitted that the effects of the pandemic are still going. You said you're walking side-by-side with Australians through this pandemic. What do you say to the thousands of people who are on JobSeeker today, right now—to the mothers, the fathers, the young people, the older people—about certainty? If you're so keen on walking side-by-side with them, what are you saying about the certainty of a payment that's going to go back to $40 a day on 1 April?
Senator Siewert, I won't repeat the answers I've given to your first two questions, but I would say that the government has stood with Australians who found themselves unemployed over the last 12 months by providing a coronavirus supplement in recognition of the conditions in the jobs market at the time. Clearly, when we first went into the pandemic, the $550 supplement recognised the fact that the jobs market closed down overnight. But, now, as we are seeing the economy starting to open and the jobs market starting to improve, we're very keen to make sure that our initiatives that we have in the marketplace are helping people to get back into work and are helping jobs to be created through the programs that have been put in place, like the JobTrainer program with Senator Cash and the working hiring credits that have been put in place for young Australians. Because the most essential thing that we can do to help people who are unemployed is to create jobs and help business to create jobs, and to make sure they've got pathways to those jobs.