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Wednesday, 26 August 2020
Page: 5702

Mr MORTON (TangneyAssistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet) (18:45): Firstly, I'd like to thank those members who have contributed to this debate. The Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Jobkeeper Payments) Amendment Bill 2020 extends financial support and provides continued operational flexibility to businesses and workers as they manage and recover from the economic effects of the coronavirus.

Schedule 1 to the bill extends the prescribed period of the coronavirus payment framework for the JobKeeper payment until 28 March 2021 and amends information-sharing arrangements to enable the ATO to share JobKeeper payment information with Commonwealth, state and territory government agencies to assist them in their efforts to address the impacts of coronavirus. The extension and better targeting of the JobKeeper payment for an additional six months will provide support to those businesses that remain heavily affected by the health restrictions, including as new outbreaks occur. The introduction of a tiered system rate will reduce instances where JobKeeper payments are in excess of usual income, better aligning incomes to those who work part-time hours. The two-tiered JobKeeper payment will encourage businesses and employees to adjust to the new environment, supporting a gradual transition to economic recovery while ensuring that those who most need support continue to receive it.

When the JobKeeper payment scheme was introduced, it was accompanied by temporary changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 to allow those employers qualifying for JobKeeper greater flexibility in operating their business so as to respond to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and assist their employees to remain in employment and connected to their workplaces. The government has heard from stakeholders and directly from employers that these provisions have been vital in keeping their businesses operational and keeping their employees in jobs. Survey results show that around three in four JobKeeper employers use the flexibilities in the provisions. Almost all of the employers surveyed that use the provisions said they were rated important to essential for the continued operation of their business and for employees to keep their jobs. Schedule 2 of the bill supports the continued operation of the JobKeeper scheme by extending the temporary JobKeeper provisions in part 6-4C of the Fair Work Act, except for those relating to annual leave, beyond their original end date of 28 September 2020 until 28 March 2021, in line with the extended end date of the JobKeeper scheme. From 28 September 2020, employers who are eligible for JobKeeper payments after this date will retain access to the full range of remaining flexibility measures in part 6-4C in relation to employees for whom they are claiming the payment.

Legacy employers, being employers who have previously received the JobKeeper wage subsidy but who do not qualify after 28 September 2020, will be able to access a modified version of the JobKeeper provisions in relation to employees for whom they previously received JobKeeper payments. To do so, legacy employers will be required to make sure they satisfy a 10-per-cent-decline-in-turnover test in the previous quarter before they can use these provisions and again for each following quarter to have the flexibilities remain in place. They will do this by obtaining a simple declaration from an eligible financial service provider, called a 10-per-cent-decline-in-turnover certificate, that relates to the specified employer and states that, in the eligible financial service provider's opinion, the employer satisfies the 10-per-cent-decline-in-turnover test for the designated quarter, applicable at a specified time.

This certificate is a simple and streamlined mechanism to ensure that employers are able to meet the evidentiary requirements. The certificate operates exclusively for the purpose of the Fair Work Act, and there are strong penalties for employers who knowingly give false or misleading information to an eligible financial service provider in connection with the issue of the certificate. Of course, small businesses also retain the flexibility to choose whether to instead rely on a statutory declaration that they have suffered the 10 per cent downturn. Under these changes, legacy employers will not be able to use a JobKeeper-enabling standdown direction to direct an eligible employee to work less than 60 per cent of their pre-coronavirus ordinary hours and cannot require an employee to work less than two hours in a day that they perform work.

The JobKeeper provisions provide greater operational flexibility for businesses in the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic than the more rigid terms and conditions under awards and enterprise agreements, and support the effective continuation of the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme until March 2021. The measures will provide continued access to flexibilities under the temporary JobKeeper provisions at a time when businesses are still in distress or are still recovering from the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Ensuring the viability of businesses will help preserve Australian jobs and will assist employees to remain connected to their workplaces, resulting in minimised job losses and lower levels of unemployment. I commend the bill to the House.

The SPEAKER: The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Rankin has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.