Sep 1, 2020

BILLS – Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Jobkeeper Payments) Amendment Bill 2020 – Consideration of Senate Message – Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerLeader of the Opposition) (16:17): As members would be aware, Labor argued from the very beginning of this crisis that wage subsidies were an essential component of a response to keep people in employment, that what we needed was to keep the relationship between workers and their employer intact. That’s why we argued for it when parliament first met and considered what changes would be required. People would remember that JobSeeker was the first response from the government. What they did was send out this message to Australian businesses that, if people missed out and were laid off, they’d get increased income support. Australian businesses got that message. What we saw was Centrelink queues form. Only then, after hundreds of thousands of Australians lost their jobs needlessly, did the government change its position on wage subsidies.


The reason we have to discuss the bill before us today, the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Jobkeeper Payments) Amendment Bill 2020, is that the government were reluctant; they were dragged kicking and screaming to it. They said, ‘Oh, it’ll only last until September.’ We would snap back, and all support would be withdrawn. In spite of the fact that we had issues with some of JobKeeper and its implementation—the fact that some people were left behind and left out and the fact that other people were paid more than they were paid prior to the pandemic—we voted for it. We were responsible, unlike those opposite during the global financial crisis.


We didn’t think it was necessary for the Treasurer to make a $60 billion bungle and we pointed that out when that happened: the biggest fiscal mistake in Australian history. We were also, of course, very concerned that we had now entered into the first recession in 30 years, and the gap between the government announcement and delivery is there for all to see right across the board. Today we asked the question about the $314 billion economic support that the government says they have, and the Treasurer outlined $85 billion in support—a big gap, $85 billion or $314 billion; it’s a very different scenario.


Now, with the amendments that were rejected by the government, we have a circumstance of another anomaly that they know they are entrenching, which is that workers will be better off if they work for companies that are doing worse during this recession. Figure that out. If you’re working for a company that is in decline, you will still be eligible to receive JobKeeper. But, if you work for a company that has lost JobKeeper, a company that has seen a 10 per cent decline in its revenue, then that business will be able to put people down from working five days a week to three days a week. A young hospitality worker who has two of their days cut could see their income fall from $753 to just over $450 a week. That is $150 less than they would receive if their employer had access to JobKeeper. This makes no sense.


We raise this in good faith. I raised this with the Prime Minister. I talked with the minister about it. The response we got was: ‘Oh no, we’re comfortable.’ I bet they are. But what we see is ideology come through—not missing an opportunity to attack industrial relations and not missing an opportunity to attack superannuation and the previous commitments which have been given. It’s a retreat back to the old right-wing conservative frame of mind. They’re so uncomfortable with the idea of government support, which is so necessary during a recession, that they have an irrational opposition to what was a very sensible proposition put forward in good faith in the spirit of ‘We’re all in this together.’ When workers are worse off and paid less, it will be completely on this government, which is consciously making the decision to pay people less than they would earn if they were on JobKeeper.