Tuesday, 23 February 2021
I know better than to expect a good outcome from this government. I'd settle for good enough. But there's good, there's good enough and, apparently, there's 25 bucks a week, so I guess that's good enough. I've seen all the outrage from people saying that $25 a week is a slap in the face for people who need help. I've got to say I get where that's coming from. Really, people have been calling out for so long for a pretty basic bit of help. The bit of help they get is not really enough. It isn't enough to put food in kids' bellies and get their parents into a decent suit, and it's certainly not enough to get them out to a job interview. If you go to a doctor and the doctor says, 'Take four tablets a day or you'll die,' it's better than nothing to take one tablet a day. We're lifting a payment that left people in desperate poverty to a level where people are still going to be living in desperate poverty. I can't applaud that—I just can't. As a matter of fact, I find it extremely heartless.
This is what gets to me the most: the government has come out today and said it's time for people on JobSeeker to go and find some work. Good on you! People are going to have to go out and do 15 job applications a fortnight through April and then up to 20 in July. I know a lot of people won't like that part, but I reckon the government's right: people should be getting out there and getting some work now that things are picking up a little. But whatever the government says about wanting people to get into work, they're not actually going to support them to do it. That's because the income tests are coming back in April too, and anyone who works two shifts a fortnight will lose half the money they make on their second day of work. They will lose more than half of what they make on the third day. That is not very encouraging. It's not exactly a carrot at the end of the stick. It looks like we're going backwards—back to where we were before COVID.
It baffles me that Liberal and National Party politicians come into this chamber every day and tell us that the best form of welfare is to get a job while they're slapping a great big tax on anyone who actually manages to land one, let alone makes the effort to work extra hours. You're basically just going to take the money back from them. I just don't get it. I'm missing the whole encouragement thing here. Sorry, I'm just not getting the whole carrot. You're out there, high and mighty, telling people to pull their finger out, and you're punishing them while they're actually doing it. How does that make any sense? How is that fair? How is that Australian? It's no wonder people are outraged. What we've seen today is just completely and utterly outrageous. But the sad fact of the matter is that this place will let them get away with it.
I'm not going to stand in the way of poor people getting more money—all of 50 bucks a fortnight, 25 bucks a week, not even a cup of coffee each day for seven days; yes, that would be right. If the government were going to offer unemployed people so much as a bus ticket, I'd wave it through, not because it's all that they need, but because there's much more that they need and any start is better than not starting. So let me make a prediction because I know what's going to happen here: we'll get 30 speeches attacking the government for being stingy, then we'll get 30 speeches praising the government for being generous and then the senators will all vote to agree with each other to give these poor people an extra 50 bucks a fortnight. That's how it will work, because Labor won't have the guts to stand up and say: 'No way. We're not going to accept 50 bucks. We just won't, because it's not enough.' They'll say: 'Bugger this. Damned if we do, damned if we don't. We'll just give them 50 bucks, that's it and we'll walk off.' That's how it's going to happen.
The fact that we don't have the option is pretty damning, to be honest, and things are so bad, anything is better than this. Every time I speak with the government about ways to help people on JobSeeker, I'm told it's too expensive. 'Don't worry about the results, but it's too expensive.' Then I come back with ways to help people on JobSeeker that are less expensive and I'm told: 'Guess what? It's too difficult to administer.' The top people in the Public Service are paid more than enough money to get the job done. Then I come back with ways to help people on JobSeeker that are less expensive and easy to administer and then I'm told the politics are too difficult. Jeez, I can't win here and I'm starting to think they just don't want to help people on JobSeeker. As a matter of fact, they just don't want to help the most vulnerable.
Spending $9 billion helping people who are in need is a massive deal, and I understand that, but you can't point to the fact that you're spending $9 billion on this as evidence of how generous you actually are. We've seen the big tax cuts you'll give in 2024-25—trust me. I just don't take you that seriously anymore. That's how JobSeeker is, you're going to throw $9 billion at a problem and still people will be unable to pay their bills. That's not something to brag about. You can't brag about that. You can draw attention to the fact you're spending $9 billion on this problem, by all means, but you can't expect to get praised for it. If you're bragging about how it's going to cost $9 billion to fix a problem you created, someone has to explain to you what bragging means, because it's not bragging rights. The fact that it isn't enough is all that you should need to know about how much we've let things slide. The government is out there saying, 'This is the biggest increase in 30 years.' That's because there hasn't been an increase in 30 years. You could tell people on JobSeeker you're giving them an extra 40c for a phone call, and you'd still be able to call it the biggest increase in 30 years.
As much as we'd all like this to be higher, it's also fair to say that it could still be lower. You've got to be grateful for that, I guess. Maybe we're all like punch-drunk boxers that have been fighting for so long we keep swinging even after the bells have rung. I'll be honest: $9 billion is better than no billion, $44 a day is better than $40 a day but living on $44 a day is still really awful. You ask anybody on JobSeeker whether they'd like us to vote for an extra $25 a week, and they'd ask us if we had two heads because, of course, they want that. Just because they need more doesn't mean they don't need this. Starting somewhere is much better than not starting, apparently. But I'm treating this like a starting position, not a final position. We're not going to get what we need if we wait for the government to hand it over. That's not how we do things. I'll talk to the government about how we can make this situation better. When they tell me it's impossible, as they usually do, because it's all too hard or it just doesn't suit their agenda, I'll tell them that's what you've been saying about raising the rate for the last 30 years. Today is proof that it's actually not impossible. It's just hard work and, the last I checked, that's what we're elected to do.
Earlier today Minister Birmingham was good enough to answer questions about a friend who is looking for a job. I'm delighted to help my friend find a $400,000-a-year taxpayer funded job. I'm all about creating jobs for people who need a hand to find work. It's hard out there for ex-government members of parliament, so I was delighted to hear Minister Birmingham tell the Senate that my mate should send in his resume. I was delighted to hear he'll be in the mix for the next plum job that's up for grabs. Why wouldn't he be? He's got all the qualifications you need. Let's be honest, he used to be a Liberal member of parliament. Surely that gives you all the qualifications you need for $400,000 plum job. Sure, when he was a Liberal member of parliament he was censured by his own government for working as a lobbyist while he was working as a member of parliament.
What's a little conflict of interest between friends? There's nothing wrong with that up here, surely. It's standard procedure. Sure, he was being paid by the taxpayer to represent them; sure, he was being paid by his lobbying clients to represent them; and, sure, he was working against government policy to help his clients, but that's all good. That's what a good lobbyist does, apparently. There's nothing we can do to stop him doing that, because he's not a member of parliament. Plus, it is not technically a breach of the Lobbying Code of Conduct to be a member of parliament while you're also a lobbyist, because, let's be honest, the Lobbying Code of Conduct isn't worth the paper it's written on. If anything, he's overqualified—God bless him. It would be hard not to be.
What would you have to do to disqualify yourself for a plum gig up here these days? The only qualifications you seem to need is a blue tie and the title of 'former member of parliament'. You can take a job as a lobbyist while you're working as a member of parliament and, if you don't disclose it, all you have to do is apologise. So I'll get him to chuck his resume in, shall I? Even if there are no jobs going publically, it doesn't mean there isn't one going privately, does it? That's how it works up here: jobs for mates.
When the right ex-member of parliament comes along, you don't need a selection criteria, because that doesn't suit you or them. You don't even need to advertise the role. You find a way to pay them six figures, because that's what matters, isn't it? It's not about the country; it's about looking after your mates first. That's what seems to be the practice these days up here in parliament. It's all about mates. It's not about who's best for the job. It's not about who should have the job. It's not about who's the most qualified to have the job. So long as they're a mate first, that's the first criteria. That's how it works. There are no rules or standards. It's: 'G'day mate. You're my mate. That's wonderful. Let's go. You can have your 400,000 bucks a year. Thanks for coming.'