Thursday, 5 August 2021
Treasury Laws Amendment (COVID-19 Economic Response No. 2) Bill 2021; Second Reading
I thank senators who have contributed to this debate on the Treasury Laws Amendment (COVID-19 Economic Response No. 2) Bill 2021.
As senators are aware, schedule 1 to the bill amends the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Act to allow the Treasurer to make rules for economic response payments to provide support to an entity where they are adversely affected by restrictions imposed by a state or territory to control COVID-19. This measure gives effect to the government's commitment to assist any state that is unable to administer its own business support payments in the event of a significant lockdown imposed by that state or territory between 1 July this year and 31 December next year.
Schedule 2 to the bill amends the information-sharing provisions of the Taxation Administration Act 1953 to allow the Australian Taxation Office to share data with Australian government agencies for the purpose of administering a relevant COVID-19 business support program. Relevant business support programs are those that have been included in a declaration by the Treasurer for this purpose. The Treasurer can make this declaration by legislative instrument if satisfied that the program responds to the economic impacts of COVID-19 and supports businesses who have had their operations impacted by public health orders.
Schedule 3 to the bill introduces a new power in the income tax laws that enables, by legislative instrument, eligible Commonwealth COVID-19 business grants to be declared free from income tax. States and territories are also able to apply the same tax treatment where they have grant programs focused on supporting small and medium businesses facing similarly exceptional circumstances related to COVID-19.
Schedule 4 to the bill extends the operation of a temporary mechanism introduced in 2020 which permits responsible ministers to allow for electronic signature for relevant documents in response to the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Finally, schedule 5 to the bill makes COVID-19 disaster payments received by individuals from the 2020-21 income year onwards free from income tax.
This bill continues the adaptive response to the COVID-19 pandemic that Australia has applied right throughout the pandemic. It enables governments to continue to respond as necessary to the economic challenges created by COVID-19 that they face, particularly as a result of restrictions put in place at different state or territory levels. As we've worked our way through the pandemic, our ability to respond in ways that are more directly applicable to local circumstances has been enhanced. The measures in this bill enable us to ensure that we can have effective administration and tax-free treatment of the COVID-19 disaster payments, which are applied on a case-by-case basis to different areas as they are affected by lockdowns.
The bill enables us to ensure that we can respond with economic support measures for businesses where states and territories need, noting that, to date, states and territories, as they too have enhanced their capability, are showing an ability to deliver those measures themselves, but it's important that we have the flexibility and ability to do that where they find necessary. It maintains other important, flexible measures to get us through the uncertain period that lies ahead. What the advent of the delta variant in particular has taught us is that the uncertainties of COVID continue to exist and that none of us can pretend to predict with absolute confidence what the future will hold. These measures will enable Australia, and particularly the government, to work with state and territory partners, with business and with Australian families, households and individuals to help them as they have done to continue to respond successfully to the COVID-19 pandemic. I commend the bill to the chamber.
On behalf of the Australian Greens, I move the second reading amendment on sheet 1359 that I foreshadowed in my second reading speech:
At the end of the motion, add ", but the Senate calls on the Treasurer to ensure that rules regarding payments providing financial support to entities prevent payments being made to, or include a mechanism to recover payments from, large companies that are profitable or pay executive bonuses in the same financial year that they receive a payment".
At the request of Senator Siewert, I move the second reading amendment on sheet 1361:
At the end of the motion, add ", but the Senate is of the opinion that:
(a) people on income support payments, including Jobseeker Payment, Youth Allowance, Disability Support Pension and Carer Payment, continue to be ignored and miss out on additional support during lockdowns;
(b) this bill does nothing to support the estimated 350,000 people (including 50,000 children) in Greater Sydney who are denied access to Covid-19 Disaster Payments despite living on income support of as little as $44 a day;
(c) if we want people to be able to afford to stay home, Covid-19 Disaster Payments must be immediately extended to all people on income support payments;
(d) people who have lost less than 8 hours a week of work continue to be excluded from the Covid-19 Disaster Payment; and
(e) all income support payments should be increased above the poverty line and everyone who has lost work should be given adequate support with access to the full JobKeeper payment rate so that everyone is supported through the pandemic".