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Wednesday, 17 March 2021
Page: 16

Dr MARTIN (Reid) (10:34): The first priority of every member in this place should be to those who sent us here. It's our solemn duty to support them in realising their aspirations. It was around this time one year ago that COVID took the world by storm and the future seemed uncertain. 'Will I have a job tomorrow? Can I pay my electricity bills? Can I feed my kids?' These were the questions which faced many. This government stepped in to answer these calls, and the answer was yes. In response to the economic crisis, the Morrison government committed unprecedented support to save lives, cushion the blow and help Australians remain in jobs. The coronavirus supplement provided extra support for those on JobSeeker. This was in addition to JobKeeper, wage subsidies and support for small businesses, which kept the economy moving. We must recognise that we were only able to be in this position because of the Morrison government's strong economic position before COVID. Maintaining our AAA credit rating has meant that the Australian government has been able to provide this economic lifeline.

Many other highly advanced liberal democracies around the world have not been so successful in either managing the health crisis or providing the level of economic support that we have. However, we know the objective must be to keep getting people back to work, and 90 per cent of the 1.3 million Australians who either lost their jobs or saw their working hours reduced to zero are now back at work. We know that there is no money tree. A fiscally responsible government cannot keep spending such large amounts forever. With that, as the coronavirus supplement comes to an end, the government is implementing a permanent increase to JobSeeker—1.95 million Australians currently accessing working-age payments will see a permanent $50-per-fortnight increase in the rate of payment. This is the single biggest year-on-year increase to the rate of unemployment benefits since 1986—an increase of 9.7 per cent. In addition, we are also permanently increasing the amount of money jobseekers can earn before they lose a cent of payment, to $150 per fortnight. We are also temporarily extending the waiver of the ordinary one-week waiting period for certain payments for a further three months, to 30 June 2021, and we will be temporarily extending the expanded eligibility criteria for the JobSeeker payment and youth allowance for those required to self-isolate on the basis of directions from health authorities or care for others as a result of COVID-19, until 30 June 2021. This is a $9 billion spend across the forwards, which equates to about a 10 per cent increase on the government's typical annual spend on JobSeeker, and it is the largest-ever budget measure for working-age payments.

With the commencement of the vaccination program, Australia is confidently moving into the next phase of how we fight this pandemic and battle to secure the livelihoods and lives of Australians. As we come to the next chapter, the government believes it is important that we show faith once again in our social safety net. At the beginning of the pandemic, we put in place a series of emergency measures designed to protect Australian lives and livelihoods. The coronavirus supplement, which was our first initiative, helped ensure that we strengthened the safety net upon which Australians would rely. At this time, we said it had to be targeted, scalable and time-limited, and we have lived up to our word. As the impact of the pandemic continued, we extended but scaled back the supplement. Now that our vaccine rollout is underway, it is time to move from short-term emergency measures to long-term arrangements that people can rely on should they find themselves out of work. But it is important to note that JobSeeker is a hand up, not a handout. It is not a wage subsidy but an incentive to work. The pandemic caused a once-in-a-lifetime disruption to the labour market, and our comprehensive welfare system was able to provide emergency support to Australians who found themselves unemployed. During the pandemic we have stood with all Australians, side by side. These new payment arrangements continue to make good on our commitment to supporting Australians as they look for work.