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Disallowance: Don't Cut JobSeeker

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 7 Oct 2020

I move:

That Part 3 of Schedule 1 of the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Amendment Rules (No. 8) 2020, made under the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Act 2020, be disallowed [F2020L01165].

On 28 September, the JobKeeper wage subsidy which supports about 3½ million workers was reduced from $1,500 to $1,200 a fortnight for employees who work more than 20 hours a week, and to $750 a fortnight for employees who work fewer than 20 hours a week. This motion would reverse these cuts. JobKeeper and the coronavirus supplement should never have been cut. If anything, JobKeeper should be expanded to workers left out of the scheme. Any worker who needs it must have access to this vital support. The risk of the pandemic to people's health and livelihoods has not abated. People are struggling now and they will suffer more as a result of these cuts. Borders are still closed and workplaces are still being radically impacted by COVID-19. The cost of living hasn't suddenly reduced by $300 a fortnight. People will again be forced to skip meals and take on extra debt to pay their rent or to just survive. They'll have to forgo essential health care, like dental appointments and medicines. Modelling by the ANU released last month showed that, as a result of these cuts, the national poverty rate will rise to over 15 per cent. The government should really be ashamed of itself.

A few days before the JobKeeper cut, the $550-a-fortnight coronavirus supplement for those on JobSeeker and other social security payments was also cut by $300. The Greens are fiercely opposed to the cut to the coronavirus supplement for people on social security payments like JobSeeker and youth allowance, but unfortunately the Senate won't even have the opportunity to seek to disallow those cruel cuts, as the only way to strike down the cut would be to strike down the supplement itself.

The Greens were the first to call for a wage subsidy for workers during this crisis. While we have had serious issues with the JobKeeper scheme, there is no doubt that it has helped millions of people. We strongly oppose the government's repeated changing of the rules to keep university workers out. When the government withdrew access to JobKeeper from early childhood educators, we spoke up and spoke out against it. And shamefully, from the very beginning, the government cruelly refused to extend JobKeeper to many casuals and all temporary visa holders.

We are in a pandemic and we are in a recession. This is not the time to be cutting the critical JobKeeper payments, which are only just a living wage to begin with. One survey in June found 50 per cent of people on JobKeeper were being paid less than their pre-pandemic income. Around a million people lost their jobs in the early stages of the pandemic. Unemployment could reach 10 per cent by the end of the year, regardless of the Treasurer's optimistic projections. JobKeeper and the coronavirus supplement were the only things keeping millions out of crushing poverty and serious risk of homelessness when eviction bans are lifted. These cuts are indefensible.

Over two million people are expected to be kicked off JobKeeper over the next few months as the government winds back support. At the very least, hundreds of thousands of people currently on JobKeeper will be pushed onto the even lower poverty-level JobSeeker payment. The Treasurer has admitted this but is still hell-bent on making this happen. What's worse is that the budget last night confirmed that this government doesn't mind spending money. It's not that they are cheap; it's just that, rather than supporting ordinary people, they'd rather splash cash for their mates—the fossil fuel barons, the property developers and speculators, the big banks and the cashed-up private schools.

Cutting back JobKeeper is also an attack on women. Women have borne the brunt of this pandemic, and the cuts to the JobKeeper payments are yet another harsh blow. Women lost their jobs twice as fast as men in the early stages of the pandemic and had their hours reduced at a higher rate than men. Women are now overrepresented in the ranks of casual workers and in industries most affected by shutdowns, like in retail and hospitality. And twice as many women as men will have their JobKeeper payments cut to $750 a fortnight due to their overrepresentation as part-time workers.

The removal of free child care and the withdrawal of JobKeeper from early childcare staff was a double whammy for women. Two-hundred and forty thousand women over 55 are at risk of homelessness and we are staring down the barrel of a homelessness crisis for them when the eviction ban ends. This government needs to commit to closing the gender pay gap and to addressing the financial insecurity so many women find themselves in—not consciously or deliberately making women's lives harder and their futures even more uncertain.

The government thinks that we live in a society where we aren't responsible for one another; where governments don't have the primary obligation to facilitate our care for each other. This pandemic has shown that, in a crisis, ordinary people's instinct is for solidarity—to protect each other by making sacrifices, to check in on each other and to make sure that we each have what we need to get by. This disallowance is about fairness. It is about the kind of society that we want to live in. But, obviously, the idea of fairness for the Liberals is the exact polar opposite of ours. The choices the government has made in the budget in cutting support to people who need it most have intergenerational implications. Children will grow up in poverty and the effects will reverberate throughout their lives. Young people will continue to be locked out of our broken housing system. Those same children and young people face a climate crisis which this government is fast tracking as they give away money to their coal and gas donors.

And yet, in the budget handed down last night, this government is giving out massive tax cuts of $99 billion a year to big corporations and the wealthy. Tax cuts now mean service cuts later. I don't need a tax cut. The Prime Minister doesn't need a tax cut. The Treasurer doesn't need a tax cut. Their corporate mates don't need tax cuts—if they even pay tax in the first place. What the community needs is support for people so that they can come out of the pandemic with a brighter future. This Senate has the power to undo these cruel cuts to the JobKeeper wage subsidy and insist that this government support workers who need help, not be kicked while they're down. I implore everyone in this chamber to make the right choice today and support this motion.


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