Dec 2, 2020

BILLS – Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020 – Consideration in Detail – Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerLeader of the Opposition) (17:14): Throughout what has been a very difficult 2020, those of us on this side of the chamber have not allowed the perfect to be the enemy of the good. We have been prepared to be constructive. We have put forward ideas to improve legislation in areas like JobKeeper and wage subsidies. We advanced it, even when those opposite in leadership positions were saying that was a bad idea. The shadow minister has just indicated that we will not stand in the way of this legislation, consistent with that. But we have put forward constructive amendments. I say to the government: come to the table in the spirit in which the opposition has put that forward. It is one thing to be the ‘no-alition’ when you were in opposition and say no to everything, as you did during the global financial crisis. It’s another thing now, when you are the government and you have the responsibility to look after people during this crisis, to say no to constructive suggestions which have been put forward.


Three essential principles have been advanced by the shadow minister here. One of them is to call for a permanent increase in the unemployment rate—what we used to call Newstart and now call JobSeeker. If those opposite have acknowledged that $40 a day is not enough to live on and, indeed, they doubled the payments in an act that resulted in more money flowing around the economy—which resulted in improving people’s lives and, literally, for some people, meant the difference between having three meals a day and what they used to have to do—then surely we are in a position to provide certainty to those people. Those opposite often speak, quite rightly, about the mental health impact of this crisis. There’s no question that that is real. There’s no question that there’s a genuineness about the need to act on those issues.


The idea, as you are saying to people, that in March that rate will go to $40 a day is having an impact. It’s having an impact right now. We have one more week of sitting before we adjourn for the Christmas period. To say to those people, as they head into Christmas, ‘We are going to put you back into poverty; we are going to go to a rate which, when confronted with the reality, we recognised was not on,’ is not good enough. We have given the government the space, as well, by not advocating a particular figure. That was designed very explicitly—we say that upfront, and we’ve got some criticism because of it—to give you the space to make a change that makes a difference to people’s lives and that we would hopefully be in a position to back in.


For you to vote against that amendment is an outrage, but it’s not the worst thing that you’re doing here today. To reintroduce the liquid assets waiting period, during a period in which unemployment is going up and during a period in which we know, as government support from the economy is withdrawn, you’re relying upon increased expenditure and confidence in the economy, is bad economic policy and also has a bad social policy impact. Reintroducing the liquid assets waiting period now is having a particularly draconian impact in two areas, and you need to think about this. Firstly, to those people who, encouraged by this government, drew down their super because they needed liquid assets—in a way that will not only hurt future governments’ fiscal positions but will hurt people’s retirement incomes—you’re now going to say that they need to spend all that money before you will give them eligibility, by reintroducing the liquid assets waiting period. It’s quite extraordinary. You’re effectively doing this, and be clear about this: person A, who did not withdraw $10,000 from their super, will be eligible for support payments, but person B, who did withdraw $10,000 from their super, will miss out. That is what you are doing here. Think about it. Think about it and act.


The second area is in redundancy payments. A range of people have lost their jobs. We all know that. Don’t come in here and say, ‘That’s bad but, by the way, what we’re going to do here is reintroduce the liquid assets waiting period so that those people who’ve lost their jobs and have a redundancy payment will then miss out as well.’ It’s just extraordinary you would not support these amendments that are put forward in faith. There’s nothing radical about the propositions put forward by the shadow minister, my colleague, the member for Barton. These are sensible amendments to improve your legislation—your legislation that we are not threatening to hold up, your legislation that will be improved. By the way, you can like other things and take the credit for it. It’s a bit like wage subsidies and JobKeeper. I’ll give you the big hint.


The third area of amendments—and think about this that you’re voting against with your amendment here—is that we are moving an amendment to retain the ministerial power of the Treasurer of Australia to be able to adjust the coronavirus supplement. Think about that. We are trying to give the Treasurer the power—while the coronavirus supplement is in, it will remain Josh Frydenberg, unless he’s pushed aside in the reshuffle that’s coming—to adjust the supplement if you have got it wrong, if you shouldn’t decrease the supplement come next March.


These are sensible amendments. They’re practical amendments. They’ll make a difference to people’s lives. But they’ll also improve the economic outlook by increasing the funds that are flowing around the economy. That is the whole point of economic stimulus when you have a recession: you increase the money that flows around the economy, and you increase it at the lower end because people spend it and don’t save it. What you are doing in opposing this is sheer arrogance, and you should reconsider your position.


We will be pursuing these amendments in the Senate as well. If you want to save face, and not come up with some common sense here, then for goodness sake—so many of the things that we have advanced during this difficult year of 2020 have been adopted by the government. When they have we’ve welcomed them, like JobKeeper. We’ve welcomed wage subsidies. We’ve welcomed the increased support for mental health. We’ve welcomed a range of the initiatives that have been done. But they just say, ‘No, we’ve got this all right. We’re geniuses. We know what’s going on. We don’t need any help.’ That’s what parliament’s for, to improve legislation. That’s why we have a process of consideration in detail.


Had the opposition acted like the coalition acted in opposition during the GFC, I might have thought, ‘Oh, well, it’s an either/or proposition.’ Instead, we have the childish position of those opposite not being prepared to engage in serious policies and suggestions that are put forward here. I would just say to you: have a bit of common sense and think about what we’re putting forward here, by the member for Barton, in good faith. We’ll continue to vote for our amendments that have been put forward, but we’ll vote for the legislation. I think this parliament, in some cases this year, has acted with a great deal of maturity and we’ve got better outcomes because of it. But this is not a fine moment, when you have an amendment before you now to give your Treasurer more power to adjust payments, if you vote against this. That is just sheer arrogance, hubris and bloody-mindedness. (Time expired)


The SPEAKER: The question is that amendment (4) be disagreed to.