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Thursday, 10 December 2020
Page: 7565

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (20:19): This legislation, we know, is important. But it's also important that the minister is provided with the measures that may be necessary to deal with what we still don't know may happen. We aren't out of this pandemic yet, and those of our fellow Australians who are doing it tough at the moment certainly aren't out of trouble. We're still suffering from a recession. This is the very least the government can do. We aren't out of this pandemic yet, and those of our fellow Australians who are doing it tough at the moment certainly aren't out of trouble. We're still suffering from a recession. This is the very least the government can do.

They won't raise the JobSeeker payment. They keep saying, 'Oh, let's wait to see what's happening with an economic recovery.' You don't actually need to know what's happening there, because we already know the JobSeeker payment is not adequate, and the government knows that. Those who were listening earlier would have heard the government tie themselves in knots trying to explain why they brought in the coronavirus supplement while denying that the JobSeeker payment of $40 a day was inadequate. They refused to acknowledge that. They know very well that the JobSeeker payment is inadequate. There is absolutely no excuse not to raise it now. If you need to do a top-up, do a top-up later on, in case something happens down the line. But we know we are never going to come to a situation in this country where 40 bucks a day is enough. It simply is not. So what this amendment did was ensure, just in case. But no. The government wouldn't do that, because apparently the government are always right. Well, no, you're not. You're not right on the cashless debit card, and you're not right on this.

I'll remind everybody that this bill actually cuts the supplement. Do you think I want to support a bill that cuts the supplement? Not really. I moved an amendment to keep it where it was, at $550 a fortnight. But we're supporting it because we don't want to see people going into Christmas and New Year having to survive on 40 bucks a day. So I'm sucking it up, as are the Australian Greens, when what I'd like to do is knock it back into the ballpark and make you come back with some better payments. That's what we want. We want a permanent increase to JobSeeker.

So it breaks my heart that we're having to sit here to support a bill that I know will make people live in poverty if they're trying to survive on this. We know it's dropping people down to below the poverty line as we come up to Christmas. Happy Christmas! We know that the January period is one of those periods when essential services, emergency relief and financial counselling are in demand, yet the government are cutting the supplement. They dress it up in fancy words: 'No, we're extending it, because it was going to run out.' No. Australians know that, come 1 January, the money in their pockets will be reduced by another 100 bucks. As we run up to March, when people are going to start not being able to pay their rent and they're going to start having to default, we are going to have a problem here. We still don't know what's going to happen with the pandemic. We still don't know what's happening with the vaccine. We don't know the future, which is the point the government's made. Yet what you're doing is cutting off an option to give the minister the power to deal with a situation that may arise.

The government knows that we are not going to deny people money in the run-up to Christmas and into next year. We can't possibly. It's inconceivable that we would not support at least some money going to those people in Australia doing it tough. This is an appalling way to treat this Senate. It was a very reasonable amendment. We supported it because it was a reasonable amendment, and it's appalling for the other place to just kick it back. The Prime Minister has effectively kicked sand in our faces—that's what it's about—while they do over so many Australians by dropping them into poverty. Australians who are trying to survive on it will be thinking about that over Christmas: 'How are we going to make our rent payments? How are we going to pay the mortgage? How are we going to continue to put food on the table?' They'll start going without medications and skipping meals again, like they used to on the 40 bucks a week that JobSeeker was. People will be living in poverty. Over a million children will be dropped into poverty or further into poverty.

Opposition senators interjecting

The TEMPORARY CHAIR ( Senator McGrath ): Order on the left!

Senator SIEWERT: This is not good legislation, but we have to support it because we don't want to see people literally go hungry.