28 October 2020

When I was elected in a hard fought by-election in 2018, I promised the people in my electorate real change—change that can only be delivered by a party of government that is committed to change for the better. I'm a member of the Labor Party, because, in this great country, all major social change has been brought about by Labor. I am proud to stand here as a Labor member of parliament with the legacy this great party carries and to stand with the wonderful member for Barton, who is moving a substantial legislative amendment to this bill, which calls for a permanent increase in JobSeeker, better support for pensioners, and certainty for people relying right now on JobSeeker.


From the full employment policies of the wonderful postwar government of Chifley to the NDIS and paid parental leave policies, to name only two, of the last Gillard Labor government, it will always fall to Labor to make people's lives better. Those in conservative or neo-liberal governments, like the Morrison government—


We must remember that they did not want to introduce wage subsidies, something the PM called very dangerous; they did not want to give people paid pandemic leave; and they did not want to support flailing industries. We had to fight for all of that, and still they've left many workers and people out of the important support they needed. Ultimately, they've had to admit that their economic policies of old do not support the whole of society, only a privileged few—like well-paid CEOs who use public funds to buy their mates gifts or to do their tax returns, like mates of theirs being appointed to highly-paid public roles and like ministers trying to rort the system for personal gain. These they protect, promote and support until it gets found out or gets too hot to handle any longer.


How quick the Prime Minister was to demand the CEO of Australia Post step down when she was found out, but not once did he admonish his own minister caught up in scandal after scandal. How is it we saw no action on the wrongdoings at ASIC until, again, all was made public? There were sports rorts, scandals, relief funds promised but unspent and infrastructure projects yet to begin, and today we hear that they are prepared to subsidise expensive private jet costs for their rich donating mates like Clive Palmer. As long as they like the lies that Mr Palmer peddles on their behalf, they will happily let taxpayers pay for his indulgences. And that's just in this horrible year.


As we've pointed out in this House over and over, this country had been going downhill long before the pandemic hit. With insecure work, record-low wages growth and rampant underemployment, this government was overseeing the weakest growth since the global financial crisis. As the shadow Treasurer said in his post-budget address:


This pandemic has entrenched the disadvantages of age, gender, geography and education. It has magnified structural weaknesses in growth, investment, dynamism and productivity. And it has exposed the unfairness and uncertainty inflicted by years of cuts to essential services, growing casualisation and financial insecurity.


The government's budget missed the greatest opportunity of recent times to rebuild this country fairly and securely.


So here we are again today. Yes, there are some good things in this bill before the House that we will support. But, once again, it has taken a long time and lots of pressure for the government to initiate these changes. Labor called on the government months ago to change the work test for paid parental leave and for there to be exemptions to the youth allowance parental income test. The delay has caused considerable anxiety and distress, and it's disappointing that they've taken this long to act.


We know that this government have dreadful form when it comes to supporting pensioners, with the cruel pension freeze and a long track record of cutting, or attempting to cut, the pension. They still haven't adjusted deeming rates, which remain significantly higher than interest rates, meaning pensioners are being short-changed by the Morrison government.


Once again, here we are, with Labor moving amendments to improve this bill because the government are giving with one hand and taking away with the other, offering a little extra here and there with this bill, for example—important changes, I grant you—but always taking more away than they offer—cutting pensions, cutting JobKeeper and cutting JobSeeker.


One hundred and sixty thousand Australians are expected to lose their jobs and 1.6 million Australians are receiving JobSeeker. In my electorate of Cooper, close to 12,000 people are relying on JobSeeker to get by. They are local folk who, through no fault of their own, find themselves without a job. Some are people this government could have kept in a job had they extended JobKeeper to their industries, like the workers laid off from La Trobe University or the many, many people in Cooper who work in the entertainment and arts industry or casuals and so many women. With one job for every eight jobseekers out there right now, a statistic that is in reality much worse given the number of employed people who are looking for more work to get by, for all of those people the situation is dire. There just aren't enough jobs. Even if you pulled yourself up by your blooming bootstraps, there still wouldn't be enough jobs.


Given that, the member for Barton has moved that the $250 coronavirus supplement be extended until March. But she is also moving for a permanent increase in the base rate of JobSeeker and better support for pensioners, disability support pensioners and carer payment recipients. The passing of these amendments would mean that JobSeeker payments would continue at their current amount until March next year, in line with JobKeeper, when the situation can be reviewed again. This will give people a better Christmas and less uncertainty moving into the new year. And everyone knows that it would be unthinkable to push the JobSeeker payment back to pre-pandemic levels—$40 a day is impossible to live on. It would be an act beyond forgiveness and definitely beyond the boundaries of responsible government.


JobSeeker has to be permanently increased, and the government could commit to doing that right now. Constituents have told me that the extra money means being able to live without anxiety and treating the kids to a new book or a new pair of shoes, let alone a decent meal. One single mum told me it has meant she has been able to finally focus on setting up her own business, something she's been trying to do for a long time but has never had the means to really settle into and make work. Imagine that: assisting someone to actually make their own way; making sure people can eat, be healthy, be well-dressed, be mentally well and ready to get out and find work where they can. God forbid this government would want to do that.


When it comes to unemployed people the Prime Minister and his government are only interested in chasing illegal and immoral robodebts and driving people further into poverty and, indeed, desperation. The Prime Minister has often tried to draw on the bow of Australian values, but they do not know the true meaning of Australian values and it makes me furious when they pretend they do. Their values are all about dog eat dog, or kick you when you're down. If you are poor, sick, uneducated, unemployed, young, old, female, from a migrant background, then bad luck it's your fault. The Treasurer let the cat out of the bag when he said he drew on Thatcher and Reagan for inspiration—the idea that governments should step aside and let markets rip. Decades of Thatcherism and Reaganomics has created the inequality and insecurity we face today. Wealth didn't trickle down to the masses. It flowed all the way into the deep, deep pockets of a very privileged few.


On the other hand, the Leader of the Opposition, in his budget reply, spoke of his mentor Tom Uren, a truly great man. The member for Grayndler said he draws his values from what Tom Uren told him was a simple code for survival: the healthy look after the sick, the strong look after the weak and the young look after the old. I know whose values I trust more. To channel our Labor leader again, we say that with the right plans, the right policies, the right leadership, and strength and fairness we can beat this recession. We can launch a recovery and we can build a future where no-one is held back and no-one is left behind. These amendments will go a long way to ensuring that.