Monday, 18 October 2021
Questions without Notice
COVID-19: Income Support Payments
Congratulations, Mr President, on your new role. My question is to the Minister for Emergency Management and National Recovery and Resilience, Senator McKenzie. Can the minister update the Senate on how the government has supported Australians who have been unable to work during the COVID lockdown?
Thank you so much, Senator Bragg, for the question and for your ongoing advocacy for the people of New South Wales. Throughout this entire pandemic our government has stood side by side with Australians and carefully monitored their needs to ensure that our recovery remains on track. More than 65 per cent of the eligible population have done the right thing and rolled their sleeves up and are now fully vaccinated. But a few states are leading the way, and there is no doubt this is due to the fact that they have had to endure lengthy lockdowns that have meant millions of workers have been unable to work or have seen their hours significantly reduced.
The Liberal and Nationals government has been there to support those Australians and it has paid more than $11 billion to over two million people throughout this period through the COVID disaster payment. That's a payment that was always intended to be temporary and to ensure the financial viability of Australians while we slowed the spread of the virus and increased vaccination rates. It's a payment that has kept food on people's tables, kept fuel in the car, kept the heater on and removed financial stress at a time of such uncertainty. Without these payments, a lot of people wouldn't have made it through.
As more and more Australians are getting their vaccination, states and territories have been able to safely ease restrictions and we are finally beginning to see the end of these lockdowns. This has meant that people have been able to not only get back to work but get back to doing things they love and they are learning to adjust to living with the virus. This week, we have seen Victoria, the state with the longest lockdown in the world, bring forward their plan to ease restrictions. Canberra has one of the highest vaccination rates of any city across the globe, with over 99 per cent of the population having received their first dose. The transition back to normal life means there will be less need for the COVID-19 disaster payment. It served its purpose and will continue to do so until vaccination rates reach 80 per cent in states and territories.
It's been a very long lockdown, indeed, Senator Bragg and it's good to see we're opening up. It was over 100 days, in fact, and it was 100 days of limited to no income for some. That's why we were supporting the people of New South Wales to be able to come out of lockdown in a strong economic position. The Liberal and Nationals government COVID disaster payment has provided more than $1.3 billion in financial support for those in New South Wales alone. They did the right thing. They stayed at home. They got vaccinated, reaching both the 70 per cent and 80 per cent milestones before any other state in the country. They did this with the hope that at some point their lives would return to normal.
I'm so pleased to see that coming to life, and I am sure you are too, Senator Bragg. Our support has extended to businesses across the state. In partnership with the New South Wales Liberal-Nationals government, we've seen more than 200,000 businesses receive nearly $6 billion through the JobSaver program. Our government will continue to support the people of New South Wales as they transition out of this pandemic.
We know that people want to just get back to normal. It's been an incredibly tough period for our country. They want to be able to travel without restrictions. They want to be reunited with loved ones, their friends and their colleagues in the workplace and to put this pandemic behind them. This means when states and territories reach 80 per cent double vaccination rates our support won't stop. It will wind down, though, over a period of two weeks because the COVID disaster payment is just that: it's a disaster payment. It was never intended to be long term. Once phases B, C and D of the national plan are reached, we will no longer be in a state of disaster. We are not abandoning workers, like those opposite have claimed—a claim that is completely unfounded, given the continued commitment throughout this pandemic of the federal government to both individuals and business support payments. After the disaster payment is tapered down over a two-week period, we will continue to support Australians who have been unable to transition back to their usual employment through our existing strong safety support network that is run through Services Australia. (Time expired)