Monday, 9 August 2021
COVID-19: Income Support
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Siewert from moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter; namely, a motion to provide that a motion relating to Australians in lockdown may be moved immediately and take precedence over all other business until determined.
This is an extremely important motion. I move:
That the Senate notes:
That hundreds of thousands of people are in lockdown across Australia without sufficient access to income support and calls on the Government to provide a disaster payment to all those on income support.
We should suspend standing orders because right now hundreds of thousands of people are in lockdown without access to income support that is sufficient to meet their needs. We are in the middle of a pandemic health emergency like no other. People have lost their jobs and their incomes, and this is happening right now. This is why it is so urgent.
The Morrison government refuses to provide people with adequate income support. The COVID disaster payments are only available to people who have lost eight hours or more of work a week. There are hundreds of thousands of people out there on income support who work less than eight hours a week and they are missing out on access to income support right now. They can't put food on the table adequately, they can't pay their rent, they can't afford medications and they can't properly provide for their kids. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a deliberate decision by the Morrison government, a deliberate choice, to exclude people on income support from accessing additional payments.
We can't afford to keep having these conversations. People are suffering right now. People cannot afford to wait any longer for the support they desperately need. This is why we should be talking about this in this chamber. This is why we need to be talking about it right now. I am hearing from people who have no way of paying their bills. They can't put adequate food on the table. They can't afford the bare essentials. There has been a dramatic increase in financial stress. If you haven't been hearing about it, you haven't been paying attention. Requests for food, emergency relief, financial support, housing support and mental health services are reaching record levels right now. People are at risk of homelessness, of losing the roof over their head. Single mothers are shouldering the cost and responsibility for home schooling. Foodbank is being flooded with requests for emergency support.
Hundreds of thousands of people in lockdown are trying to survive lockdown on income support levels below the poverty line. Without adequate income support, people have no choice but to leave their homes in search of work or emergency supplies. They have no choice but to risk getting COVID and potentially spreading it to other people. They do not want to be doing this but they are given no choice. This is happening right now in lockdown. This is a public health emergency, and the government has a responsibility to ensure that people can afford to stay at home.
The Delta outbreak will continue to wreak havoc with people's lives until we are all fully vaccinated. We cannot beat COVID if people are forced to make the terrible choice between going out to look for work or going without food because they are unable to access adequate income support. COVID doesn't discriminate based on whether you have lost more than eight hours of work a week or you've lost less than eight hours a week. Therefore, the government shouldn't either, but they are. They are discriminating against people who were working less than eight hours a week or, in fact, have not been able to find work. They get no additional support. This is outrageous.
The Morrison government must act now. This is why the Senate needs to talk about this. They must act to ensure that all people on income support, regardless of whether they have lost work, are able to access COVID disaster payments in lockdown. If we want people to be able to eat, clothe themselves, keep a roof over their heads and not have to go out, because they are forced to, to look for money and a job, because they are not getting adequate support, we need to be providing additional support right now to those people who are not getting any additional support or disaster payments. This is critically important to all those who are trying to survive lockdown on income support payments that keep them below the poverty line, that keep them having to go out to try and find work to make ends meet, or else they end up on the street—and you can't stay home if you don't have a home. Increase people's money while they're at home. Make sure that everybody on income support has access to a COVID disaster payment. (Time expired)