Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP on the extension of the Jobkeeper subsidy scheme

26 August, 2020


 I welcome the extension of the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme. I know that for the many businesses, especially in Warringah, that are still suffering from the impact of the restrictions and the downturn in economic activity, this was an extremely welcome announcement. The bill we are discussing today, Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Jobkeeper Payments) Amendment Bill 2020, will be a lifeline for many businesses and their employees over the months to come, from October to March. I've been meeting with many businesses around the electorate, as well as with the Manly and Warringah chambers of commerce, to hear their concerns. Warringah has over 17,000 small businesses and sole traders. There are some businesses that, even with this extended lifeline, will struggle to survive, and I urge the government to consider targeted interventions to support those faced with near-complete shutdowns, such as travel agents and those in the events, arts and entertainment sectors.

The JobKeeper amendments extend the income subsidy from the end of September this year through to March next year. Very much welcomed is the change in flexibility in relation to the two tiers of payment under the new scheme—one tier for full-time workers and one for those working less than 20 hours per week. This is a good development to better tailor the response to the need. There's no doubt that small businesses are hurting. I've heard from many employers in my electorate that they are struggling with the disruption to their business and need all the flexibility that they can get to remain viable. These businesses range from physiotherapists to brewers. They're shifting their business models, they are innovating, they are adapting and they need their staff to come along with them.

The introduction of the category of legacy businesses, those that formerly qualified for JobKeeper but have now recovered sufficiently not to require the financial assistance, is a significant development. But there is some concern in relation to the ability to keep the Fair Work flexibility provisions, in that that may lead to a reduction of work and income for employees, which would have a significant impact. I urge the government to consider inserting minimum wage impact provisions, in addition to the cap on the number of hours that can be reduced.

This bill is important to prevent the much-touted economic cliff that is arriving in September. In Warringah alone there are over 7,500 businesses on the current version of JobKeeper. It has been a lifeline for these businesses and I'm pleased to see it continue. But there are certain issues that have been highlighted by my constituents and advocates, such as clarifications regarding the eligibility of start-ups and sole traders; the future eligibility of early education workers for JobKeeper; the need to consider the role of women and youth in our economic stimulus packages; and the need to develop industry-specific packages for those hit most severely by the restrictions imposed on business operations. I have had many sole traders approach me because they were initially deemed eligible for JobKeeper and received assistance for a couple of months but then had it pulled away again. The changes have caused significant concern for those people, and I would urge the government to clarify the requirements. I was contacted by Andrea, a sole trader, and she is not alone. An estimated 9,000 new businesses are in the same situation. The heads of nine accounting bodies, including CPA Australia, and Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, issued a warning to the government in June in relation to clarity in relation to the GST integrity rule for new businesses. I don't believe there has been a response.

In my electorate, there are many who share concerns about support for start-ups. These are businesses that we will be relying on, and we need people to create more opportunities. These are businesses like Johan Eksteen, who runs a clothing and branding business in Brookvale, or Andrew Gillespie, who has had to escalate his case to the AAT, or Yvonne Bowyer, who fell through the cracks of both JobSeeker and JobKeeper. So I urge the government to clarify the provisions. We need to support start-up businesses, risk-takers, innovators. We need their businesses to survive and to prosper to the other side.

Of course, child care requires clarification. Early childhood educators were the first group to be taken off JobKeeper. The government announced the end of JobKeeper for childcare workers when they also announced the other support package for the industry to offset the loss of JobKeeper. But we've now seen no new announcements from the government regarding what support will be available to this industry post September. The Parenthood group have been calling for childcare centres to return to eligibility for JobKeeper, and I support that call, especially as the majority of people working in those industries are women, and they are the hardest-hit in terms of job losses. The childcare sector is vital as well for supporting women to transition back into the workforce. We can't afford to let that sector collapse.

The government needs to have a specific focus on their support for Australian women to recover their employment opportunities. To date, a number of packages have been very much focused on male dominated industries, and we haven't seen the same attention given to female dominated industries, especially when it comes to the early education sector, casual employment, tertiary education, and arts and entertainment. All these sectors have higher levels of female employment. They have a higher impact of COVID and backdowns, and they have lower levels of eligibility for JobKeeper. So I urge the government to take this on notice and do something about it.

Similarly, our young people have taken the brunt of this pandemic. Youth unemployment in Warringah is at 13 per cent—more than three times higher than the overall unemployment rate. Although they have been impacted the least by the disease itself, youth have been hit the hardest by the economic consequences now and there is no doubt they will bear the brunt of the recovery. I urge the government to consider new approaches to support this generation now and into their uncertain future. We know that, in times of recession, youth are invariably the hardest hit, the last to recover and the least considered in recovery packages.

I must also mention that we need some industry-specific packages, especially when it comes to the travel industry. They've been devastated by border closures both international and domestic. We've had a lot of attention on airlines. Travel agents have received less attention from the media but their situation is arguably more acute. They're continuing to work to secure refunds for their customers but that doesn't bring them any income. I've met with many travel agents, including the CEO of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents. They really need a sector-specific recovery package. They were the first to shut down and, undoubtedly, they will be the last to reopen. Our events industry has been decimated by restrictions. I have heard from several events and event support companies in Warringah who, despite JobKeeper, will struggle to stay afloat. Great Big Events is a local company that specialises in high-profile international events. Their business is gone. Exhibit Systems has been operating in Warringah for over 20 years. Nick, the owner of Exhibit Systems, has had zero income since 13 March this year and employs 46 staff. He has very tough decisions ahead.

Of course, the offer of the 50 per cent business loan and the government guarantee is not of much assistance when the bank cannot approve any loans because there is simply no business plan in the future with their industry completely shut down. So there clearly needs to be some certainty. Countries like the UK and Germany are addressing these industries with specific strategies. I'd urge the government to look at implementing some of those. Many in the arts sector have been found ineligible for JobKeeper and are not able to have the assistance of JobSeeker. So this is an area where I would urge the government to do more. Thousands who work in the arts and entertainment industry are suffering—musicians, dancers, artists, comedians, camera men and women, sound engineers, roadies, editors, producers and event staff at theatres. The ripple effect is endless, and my electorate office has been inundated with stories of people who are really struggling.

I welcome the continuation of JobKeeper and the consultative approach to the refinements of the Fair Work Act provisions. I urge the government to consider further measures to address issues like rent relief and the code of conduct. I encourage the government to develop tailored packages for the industries most affected by the restrictions on operations. The government must consider approaches to supporting industries while they get back up and running.

On top of having a vaccine, we must develop a sustainable way of operating in a COVID-safe way in the future. For industries like travel, events, entertainment and many in the arts, this is more than a recession; this is a near 100 per cent shutdown of their business. So we must find plans. Thank you.