13 May 2020

SPEECH - MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE -The new rate of Jobseeker payment and Youth Allowance should be retained so that no one lives in poverty and we continue to stimulate the economy

The fact we have a strong social safety net is a matter of pride to Australians.

There is comfort in times of crisis, whether personal or national, to know there is a strong and inclusive policy that offers assistance when we fall on hard times

Our social safety net has proven critical to the success of our response to COVID-19

It has hinged on our efforts to reduce the economic barriers to complying with self-isolation and social distancing rules.

What we never want to see is people faced with the impossible choice of staying at home and staying healthy, versus going to work just to put food on the table

And yet still thousands of Australians are faced with that.

This is why Labor called for a wage subsidy from the get-go.

A wage subsidy that will keep employees connected to their employers right through to when we come out the other side of this.

And for those who despite the wage subsidy were unable to hold on to their jobs, a boost to income support has allowed them to make ends meet, while social distancing.

The social security response to the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into stark relief this Governments usual handling of anything that relates to our social safety net.

With half a million more Australians expected to be accessing support payments by September, the Government cannot continue to demonise and punish those forced to seek out the comfort provided by an adequate social safety net.

It cannot just expect hundreds of thousands of Australians to just cop being forced on to a Cashless Debit Card to access income support payments, to having their money quarantined because they cant be trusted how to spend it.

It cannot expect Territorians on income support to just roll over and accept the Cashless Debit Card, with no evidence that it works to do anything but punish recipients.

Thankfully the Minister for Indigenous Australians pressed pause on breaching CDP participants who did not comply with job seeker compliance actions.

Many providers have been unable to send trainers and staff out bush to conduct face-to-face activities.

The Minister also said he had put in place arrangements to lift any existing suspensions and penalties for CDP job seekers.

So madam acting deputy president, it goes to show this can be done.

Labor has stood in the Senate time after time after time in relation to CDP and those breaching penalties that further put people into poverty, entrenching people into poverty.

But we have seen in these last few months just how the Government knows it can move, and when it does move, it does improve the lives of those people who are in our regional and remote Australian communities.

There does not need to be a system that punishes and controls people who, facing hardship, receive income support.

What we do need is what Labor has been advocating for: a system that actually provides jobs and economic development in remote areas, instead of a system that has failed to do either and unfairly penalises participants

The COVID-19 response has also highlighted the difficulties remote community residents face in accessing and affording healthy foods and other goods.

With communities in lockdown, the weaknesses in supply chains have been exposed.

Ironically, with families now actually more able to afford to purchase healthy food options, there have actually been less options available to them.

It is not good enough that the Government still wants to snapback to its old ways, to pursuing policies that punish Australians who are already facing hardship.

We cannot afford to revert to the old ways, to assigning a value judgement to those receiving income support.

This pandemic has been a timely reminder to all of us about the randomness of hardship.

How quickly and dramatically personal and business circumstances can change.

And when their circumstances do change, Australians should have the peace of mind knowing there is a strong and adequate social safety net to catch us.