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Wednesday, 7 October 2020
Page: 6958

Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (19:44): When the MYEFO was released in December last year, few if any among us could have predicted the economic, environmental and health impacts of 2020. Bushfires, drought, COVID-19 and the recession have all contributed to the $213 billion budget deficit announced last night, a figure so large that it seems beyond comprehension. But I do not want to focus on the billions; I want to focus on the approximately 13,000 small businesses in my electorate. Hospitality, tourism, agriculture and retail all feature prominently in my electorate and all have taken a hit because of the events of this year. But I have reason to hope.

Last week I spent time at Melba's chocolate factory in Woodside, an area impacted by the Adelaide Hills bushfires. In fact, the fire went right up to the back of the factory. I spoke with Tom, the owner. He explained to me how his business has taken advantage of the instant asset write-off scheme to purchase new equipment, and they were able to retain valued and skilled staff members through the JobKeeper program. My statements should not be viewed as unequivocal support for the JobKeeper program. I appreciate the scheme was and still is not without its flaws, but I acknowledge that JobKeeper has helped and is still helping many small businesses and their employees to see their way through the uncertainty of the stages of this pandemic.

It is my hope that the JobMaker Hiring Credit scheme will in turn incentivise those businesses to take on new staff. The credit scheme will give $200 a week to employers who hire JobSeeker recipients aged 16 to 30 and $100 a week for any worker aged 30 to 35, provided they can offer 20 hours of work each week. This is the kind of youth unemployment program that our country needs. Many parts of Australia have stubbornly high youth unemployment, and that's pre COVID. I would say to government, though, that a similar credit scheme for older Australians, aged over 50, who are struggling to find employment would be equally welcome.

While I support the continuation of JobKeeper and the introduction of the JobMaker Hiring Credit scheme, I believe the government has missed an opportunity to harness one of my electorate's most valued resources, and that is volunteering. Volunteering Australia estimates that the annual contribution of volunteering to our national economic and social wellbeing is $290 billion, and that is a conservative estimate and a figure that was determined many years ago. I was therefore disappointed by the lack of funding. Ten million dollars is what Volunteering Australia was seeking in order to develop a national youth volunteering initiative. We need to get young people out volunteering. Across my community, at any event where there's volunteering, it's predominantly older people. At a time when paid jobs are scarce, this initiative could mitigate poor mental health outcomes for young unemployed people and support pathways to paid employment while also supporting their own communities.

Those who have already left the workforce or who are unable to participate by reason of disability or impairment are not immune from the combined impacts of the pandemic and the recession, and I welcome the two cash payments of $250, coming before Christmas and then in March next year. The payments will also go to anyone who is receiving the family tax benefit. This is really welcome for families.

Throughout 2020, we have seen a paired economic and health response, and I'm pleased to see a one-year extension for the public adult dental health program, but I still encourage government to consider dental vouchers for older pensioners. We have this for people who receive the family tax benefit, people who have young children. I think we need to do this for our older citizens as well. I'm pleased to see the expansion of Medicare to cover psychology visits, up from 10 sessions to 20 sessions, and the continuation of teleservices as well as the allocation of 23,000 home-care packages over four years. We all know this is welcome, but we also know that there's a waiting list of over 100,000 older Australians who are needing assistance.

It has been a very difficult time, I think, in every electorate. In my electorate, in the last year, we've had fires and we've had COVID, and in many parts of my electorate we are also drought-declared. The budget will hopefully be a chance for our nation to rebuild again. We have much work to do, collectively, in this place and outside in our community, and I look forward to the days ahead. Thank you.