Extension of Coronavirus SupportSpeech
I rise to speak on the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020.
Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the shadow minister for families and social services, who continues to tirelessly lobby the Morrison government for better outcomes for our pensioners, our parents, our young people and Australian families. She is a force to be reckoned with, but even so the government continues to leave too many people out and too many people behind. While there are elements of this bill that will be beneficial, it is a huge missed opportunity to deliver certainty for Australians who are doing it tough. In particular, it undermines far too many Australians—the 160,000 Australians who are expected to lose their jobs by the end of the year and the 1.8 million Australians who will be reliant on unemployment support by Christmas. In such a time of economic crisis, with so many losing their jobs, shouldn't the Morrison government do what is right and fair and increase the unemployment payment rate to more than $40 a day? This government should not make the unemployed wait 26 weeks before they can access support.
Every day I talk to residents in Corangamite who are facing increasing costs to protect their health because of the coronavirus pandemic. Every day I talk to pensioners in my electorate who are facing rising costs in energy and grocery bills. And every day I talk to residents in Corangamite who are dumbstruck that the Morrison government doesn't seem to care about them. In particular I've heard from many childcare workers, workers in the university and arts sector and many casual workers across my electorate who have been left out in the cold by this Morrison government. The government talk about consumer confidence on the radio, harp on about jobs on the telly and then come into this House and propose legislation that, apart from hurting many people, will decimate the economy.
At the start of the pandemic the government introduced the coronavirus supplement, a $550 fortnightly payment to those who were receiving unemployment support as well as to single parents and students. Labor supported this additional payment. Currently the coronavirus supplement is mostly paid to people through regulation-making powers that the minister has under the Social Security Act 1991. But while the impact of the pandemic will persist for many years this bill will end the government's authority to extend the coronavirus supplement. This is unnecessary and cruel. JobSeeker needs to be increased.
The KPMG chief economist, Brendan Rynne, recently said that the current payment of $40 a day is making it harder for the unemployed to find work due to the cost of travelling for interviews. The evidence of the benefits of increasing the unemployment payment is clear. Since the rate of JobSeeker was temporarily boosted, Australians on JobSeeker have been lifted out of hardship and poverty and have had more to spend at local businesses. They've been able to put food on the table to pay bills and to meet their rent.
In the wake of this pandemic, the budget was an opportunity for the government to deliver lasting structural change for vulnerable Australians while boosting business and jobs. The government has missed that opportunity, and here's why: they don't understand how employment works. When you apply for a job either you get the job or someone else gets the job. That's how it works in each individual case. So it's tempting to think that's how it works across the entire system; it's not. When more people are employed across the whole economy, they create more wealth, then they spend more money and then there is more demand for workers. Somebody else then gets a job indirectly, helping everyone else get or keep a job. The more jobs there are, the more jobs there will be, because jobs make jobs. This is fantastic news when things are going well, but it's really bad news when things are going poorly. When things are going poorly, unemployment makes more unemployment. When people lose their jobs, they spend less, then there is less demand for goods and services and then there is less demand for workers.
Because jobs make jobs and unemployment makes unemployment, the unemployment level goes up a lot faster than it goes down. When this country went into the recession in the 1980s, it took about two years for unemployment to rise above five per cent. Then it took almost 6½ years for it to come back down again. That's about three times slower on the way back to economic health. When this country went into recession in the 1990s, it took two years for unemployment to rise about 5½ per cent. Then it took over 7½ years for it to come back down again. That's three times slower on the way back to economic health. Unemployment arrives fast and leaves slow, so this is why the first thing to do in an economic crisis is protect jobs and this is why the first thing to do during an economic recovery is stimulate jobs. It's not rocket science, but it is essential.
The wealth of literally millions of Australians is at stake, and this is the exact moment when government should intervene and provide support to families during a time of hardship and crisis. This is just what Labor did, suggesting to the government the need for supports to keep people and the economy going. Thankfully, the government listened. But, with a number of branded and marketed supplements and schemes—including JobSeeker, HomeBuilder, the cash flow boost for businesses and employees, JobKeeper and apprenticeship support for small businesses—at the same time the Prime Minister made comments about a job being the best form of welfare. But where has all his keeping, seeking and building left us? Importantly, where has it left those who are unemployed or at risk of unemployment? In the budget the Morrison government released two months ago, they planned for unemployment to be worse next year than it was through the worst of the pandemic. That is their plan. Their plan is to withdraw support before the economy has recovered. A return to a pre-COVID unemployment payment of $40 per day will leave many people at risk of homelessness. It will leave many living below the poverty line.
On 6 October this government printed in black and white its intention to keep unemployment well above five per cent for the next four years. They plan for about one million Australians to be unemployed this year, next year and the year after that. That is their plan, and it is one of the worst economic plans any Australian government has ever stitched together. So what should the plan be? The plan should be for less pain and the plan should be for less unemployment. That's what the plan should be. It sounds expensive, but independent experts, including the Grattan Institute, estimate that if we invested about another $100 billion then we would return Australia to full employment by the end of 2022. This is worthy of serious consideration.
There is no shortage of ways the government can invest in this country—social housing, an energy grid that works, education, health, waste and recycling and, of course, child care. Strong investment would lead to less net debt, not more. Increasing the base rate of JobSeeker, as called for by every business and peak body worth their salt, including ACOSS, Brotherhood of St Laurence and even the Business Council of Australia and former Prime Minister John Howard, would be a good place to start. But this is not in the government's plan. The plan is for more unemployment and, I'm guessing, a few marketing campaigns along the way.
Catastrophic unemployment strategies aren't the only thing this government has lost its way on. The government was caught trying to freeze the pension—busted with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar, except that cookie jar is filled with the livelihoods, independence and self-determination of 2.5 million pensioners. But this government doesn't care about that. This government thought it could sneak a freeze past the Australian people. The Morrison government thought it could sneak in a budget save, but the reality is that pensioners plan their lives around biannual indexation. Luckily, the shadow minister for social services led the charge to call out this sneak attack, naming it for what it is: a catastrophic proposal. The government has had a long track record of cutting or attempting to cut the pension, but the member for Barton will not stand for it and neither will the Labor Party.
There was a time when the Liberal Party was branded a party of strong economic management, but economic orthodoxy has long since been chased from the Liberal Party by populism welding a pitchfork. They don't believe in economic mobility. They don't believe in people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. This bill will damage the livelihoods of working families. It will mean fewer jobs, not more, and more hardship, and it will undermine the economy for decades to come.
My question for this House is: what does the Liberal Party believe in anymore? I know what Labor believes in. We believe in a permanent increase to the base rate of the former Newstart to more than $40 a day.Share Tweet