Manage the Economy in the Interests of ALL Australians - 12/05/2020

12 May 2020



Today in his statement the Treasurer pronounced the pandemic to be 'a health and economic shock the likes of which the world has never seen'. He is, of course, right. So why, in the face of this catastrophic economic and health outlook, is he refusing to protect everyone in Australia? Why is he planning to cut back supports for everyone else on 24 September?

We have seen a good response from the government, and I absolutely acknowledge that response. Introducing the JobKeeper wage subsidy, that Labor and the union movement had advocated for from day one, was absolutely a good thing. People needed to keep their jobs and be supported to do so through this crisis. Doubling the rate of jobseeker, formerly Newstart, is also a very good move, but it shouldn't take a pandemic to realise that people can't live on $40 a day. There are significant gaps in the package. This government has left behind students and young people; arts and entertainment workers; disability support workers; temporary visa holders, including recently arrived refugees; international students; childcare centres, and the parents who rely on them—if you're going to have free childcare you have to support the centres to actually deliver it—councils, and the communities who rely on them; and universities, and the students who rely on them.

Today would have been budget day. We had the Treasurer's speech this morning, which was devoid of a vision for what comes next as we rebuild after this crisis. He ended his speech by invoking the 'fighting Australian spirit'. What is the fighting Australian spirit, Treasurer? Are you saying that people are literally going to have to fight to survive when you turn off support for the almost seven million Australians who will access jobseeker or JobKeeper in the next few months? We have a government returning to their tired old playbook, calling on working people to bear the brunt of COVID-19 through lower wages and poorer conditions. We have a government that talks about aspiration but has cut out people from jobseeker for having the aspiration to change their job in the last 12 months—one million casual employees. We have a government asking people to pay for their own assistance by compromising their superannuation, their retirement savings.

This is a government that will snap back to their tired, old conservative ways after this crisis. In fact, they have already committed to snap back to inadequate assistance for jobseekers from 24 September. The coronavirus has demonstrated just how important a strong social security system is. It has demonstrated its power to alleviate poverty and to stabilise the economy. This, throughout our history, alongside decent wages and conditions provided through our tradition of arbitration, has been so important to making us the society we are today.

This crisis presents an opportunity for us to address inadequacies in the current system by building on its strengths. By doubling the jobseeker rate with the temporary coronavirus supplement the Morrison government has acknowledged that people cannot live on $40 a day. This is about a choice. We can build an economy and a society that supports all of us to have an opportunity based on decent wages, decent working conditions and decent social security for all of us when we're out of work.

Yesterday the opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, outlined a vision for rebuilding after this crisis, a vision based on egalitarian values, on listening to science and on an inclusive economy. We have a once-in-a-century opportunity to rethink and review, to really rebuild. Government has a real role in building that, not only in crisis, and in delivering a society that enables all of us to have happy, healthy and fulfilled lives.

As the shadow Treasurer said this morning, the Australian economy wasn't strong before the pandemic; we on this side of the chamber have been saying that on a daily basis in this place. It was like speaking to a stone wall. This government would not acknowledge the serious problems with the economy before the crisis. We've had seven years and three treasurers. The pandemic arrived without warning, but the economic downturn certainly did not. What we are likely to see from this government after this is a double-down on trickle-down, an agenda of austerity and deregulation. The snapback is a fallacy, and the long reel of stats provided by the Treasurer today makes that clear. The government will snap back to usual—no plan, just a tired, conservative agenda.