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Monday, 23 March 2020
Page: 1815

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (19:57): I rise to speak to the coronavirus economic response package stimulus bills. This is of course a time of great anxiety, fear and uncertainty for people. In times like this, we are bound together by our collective humanity and compassion for each other. While we have all seen reports of some people acting without care or consideration for others, it's important that we celebrate the too-rarely reported stories of community strength and solidarity in these times. Around the country, neighbours have banded together to support each other. Whether it's a grocery run, a home-cooked meal or a chat, every gesture is a reminder of the caring attitude that will get us through this crisis.

We are all anxious and dealing with the changes needed for our new, isolated way of life. I've had more than a few sleepless nights this month, as I'm sure many others here and around the country have had. I'm worried about my loved ones, family and friends, who are scattered all over the world—in Pakistan, the US and the UK. I do want to acknowledge the incredible stress that social distancing, separation and travel bans place on families. No amount of video calling could beat having my kids and my mum at home with me now. But, like so many other families, FaceTime and Skype will have to do while we get through these times.

These are trying times for all of us. They are particularly difficult times for the more than three million people in Australia without secure jobs. These are people in precarious work, on contracts and in casual employment. Many have already lost their jobs and their incomes. Many more face losing their jobs in the weeks and months to come. For them, it is a matter of survival. This crisis has brought into focus how capitalism has not built, and fundamentally cannot build, a just and decent life for all. The 'no holds barred' system of profit and wealth accumulation, at the expense of people and the planet, has made workers and all ordinary people vulnerable to the health and economic consequences of the coronavirus. The reality of capitalism's failure to care for people and communities is rendered so stark by this crisis that even the Liberals' stimulus package amounts to a tacit acknowledgement of the truth that economies stand on the backs of workers, not cashed up CEOs. It has exposed the horrific consequences of governments around the world rabidly endearing to the neoliberal dogma of privatisation and small government that has led to the erosion of services and health care, harming so many right now.

Our economy has worked for the benefit of big businesses and their profits for far too long. The test today is whether the package before us finally puts people, the planet and the community ahead of profits. Vulnerable and at-risk people must be at the centre of everything we do in these crucial months. Unfortunately, parts of the stimulus package before us serve to further prop up multibillion-dollar corporations, their overpaid executives and their bonuses. A stimulus without the necessary care for workers to retain their wages and jobs, without conditions that ensure that big corporations who make billions in profits don't beg for public money again and again, is no stimulus at all.

This crisis has provided the government with the right motive, and means, to make a serious commitment to public ownership of public services. This is our opportunity to renationalise, to bring essential services such as airlines back into public hands where they belong. The wealth gap in Australia has become a chasm between those who can afford to adapt to a crisis like COVID-19 and those who are left to bear the brunt. This is the time to correct these historic wrongs of the gross mistreatment of people and nature at the hands of the violent and unregulated neoliberal extractivism and consumerism that has left people destitute and unable to cope with emergencies.

A stimulus that does not have at its heart a green new deal for all does not come close to passing the humanity test. We do not get a shot at resetting the economy very often and we need to get it right. But to do that we'll have to learn from past mistakes. We know that big business bailouts didn't work in the GFC. Corporate responsibility is just a buzzword that pops up every now and then but holds no real meaning. If the government is serious about having a sustainable and just economy for all of us, the stimulus is our chance to do it. The choices this government makes can and should set us on course for a better future where the hallmark of our society is not greed or profit but recognition of our collective strengths.

The stimulus must be used to set up ourselves and our society for a future that is fair. It must be tied to conditions such as secure work and fair wages for all. We know the lengths to which the wealthy and powerful will go—and, frankly, the Venn diagram of these two groups is usually a circle—to get public subsidies and taxpayer funded bailouts. They have the ear of the government. But those in precarious work and casual employment, those already on the brink with no workers benefits, don't. These are the people the government needs to look out for now.

Let us never again think that the economy is built by big corporations. It is built on the back of workers, not executives. It is built on the hard work and dedication of our essential frontline workers—our nurses, doctors, teachers, educators, emergency responders and carers. As the Greens spokesperson for education, I want to particularly thank our schoolteachers and staff who are working incredibly hard right now under a lot of pressure. We support you in fighting for all the extra support and resources you need, including paid leave for all and work-from-home provisions for vulnerable workers in our schools. Society is being literally held together right now, as always, by jobs that are often wrongly considered unskilled—grocery store workers, cashiers, home food delivery drivers, cleaners and those working in the supply chains that we rely on. These jobs are more often than not kept casual and insecure, underpaid and undervalued. I want to acknowledge and thank each and every worker keeping the wheels turning right now. You are essential and you deserve to be recognised and paid as such. It's not right that these bills allow businesses and banks to decide where most of the money, ostensibly for workers, goes. In particular, there is no requirement for businesses who receive government support to keep employing staff. What we need is a jobs and wages guarantee. On this front, we are failing on international comparisons. The UK has guaranteed 80 per cent wages support, while Australia is providing an equivalent of only 15 per cent support.

Let us not forget that COVID-19 is a gendered crisis. Nurses, nurse aids, teachers, child carers and early childhood educators, aged-care workers and cleaners are mostly women. They are on the frontline of this public health crisis and carry a disproportionate risk of being exposed to the virus. Let's also not forget that not all homes are safe places. Quarantine or self-isolation at home will put women and children at risk. Women's advocates and domestic violence experts are warning us that domestic abuse increases during times of crisis, and I'm terribly worried that these warnings have not been heeded by this government that has long resisted adequate funding for the needed resources and refuges.

To leave one of us behind is to leave our humanity behind. Regrettably, the government's package leaves students, carers and those living with a disability well behind those it assists. The Greens will continue our fight, including with our proposed amendments today, to ensure that everybody is included. Health care is a human right. Housing is a human right. Secure work is a human right. The stimulus should ensure that people are not evicted from their homes, that people can get treatment and that a jobs and wages guarantee protects workers and prevents businesses from taking advantage of these funds during a time of crisis.

Students on youth allowance, Austudy and Abstudy are excluded from this package. They are already losing hours and work while their education is up in the air. They are as exposed to the horrors of this crisis as anyone and deserve the same boost in income support. I've been inundated with messages from students, many of whom have lost their jobs and feel they will be forced to abandon their studies to become eligible for the coronavirus supplement to make ends meet. Surely this perverse outcome is not what the government intends. The Greens support the students' calls and will be moving amendments to include students and those payments, as they should.

As well as including students, we need to ensure the raises to income support, including Newstart, are ongoing once the stimulus package expires. The emergency changes to the childcare subsidy and the additional childcare subsidy made this week are welcome, and I will be watching carefully to make sure that the sector that educates, cares for and supports so many children and families receives the support it needs to make it through this crisis.

On the note of child care, I want to reiterate my call for the activity test to be scrapped immediately and properly subsidised child care made available to more families, not fewer. As workplaces suspend operations and cut shifts, families become unable to meet the activity test and may lose access to subsidised child care. Those who currently are meeting the activity test through volunteering or education will also lose out in the wake of the virus as these opportunities are cancelled. We must not let this happen. Not one person should be forced onto the streets by this crisis. It's that simple. To make sure that this doesn't leave people without a roof over their heads, we need action right now, and that will require going much further than the measures before us today. We need an immediate ban on rental evictions; we need rental and mortgage holidays; and we need an increase to rent assistance and urgent funding for crisis housing and services.

In terms of this package that we are debating today, it actually authorises the government to invest $15 billion in debt securities. We know from the announcement last Thursday that this investment will be primarily in residential mortgage-backed securities. In other words, this is government insurance for the derivatives market, which will be particularly beneficial to non-bank lenders, including private equity and hedge funds that provide bank finance for mortgages. These so-called shadow banks are not regulated by APRA and don't have to meet the same capital holding requirements that conventional banks do. This $15 billion amounts to a bailout that will likely go towards some of the riskiest lenders, including subprime loans. This should not happen. I will be moving a second reading amendment to make it clear that, in respect of mortgages, the primary task for governments at this time should be to ensure that COVID-19 doesn't result in families losing their homes, by putting a temporary ban on mortgage foreclosures for homeowners.

What we have here in front of us is a crisis, but it is also an opportunity that we meet the needs of the crisis and go beyond that. We need to look beyond the next six months and commit to rebuilding our society so that no-one can be left behind. To do that we need a stimulus package much bigger and fairer than the one before us today. We need a package that looks to industries of the future. We need a package that kickstarts a manufacturing revolution. We need a package that delivers a green new deal, that values life-making, caring work and that puts people before profit in all that we do. I move:

At the end of the motion, add:

", but the Senate is of the opinion that the Government should:

(a) seek to ensure that the economic impacts of COVID 19 do not result in homeowners losing their homes or the major banks taking a larger share of the market; and

(b) introduce a temporary ban on mortgage foreclosures for homeowners;

(c) provide government insurance of mortgage repayments for homeowners who have a loan with a non major bank; and

(d) ensure that, where governments cover mortgage repayments for homeowners, the amount covered by the Government be held as a debt against the property, and that this debt have priority over all other debts held against the property".