29 October, 2020
I thank the member for Barton for moving this amendment to the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Coronavirus and Other Measures) Bill 2020, and I echo some of the sentiments that have been made in this place. I do believe this is an amendment moved in good faith. We as parliamentarians do have a duty to offer as much security or reassurance to those more vulnerable in our society as we possibly can. This has been an incredible year. 2020 has been incredibly challenging for so many people in the population. These support payments and measures—and I have congratulated the government on having done JobKeeper and JobSeeker—have made such a difference for those more vulnerable and for people who have found themselves without employment.
But we need to be very focused. Those on JobSeeker are incredibly vulnerable. We can't have a situation of going back to the previous rate. During the 2019 election, I supported the Raise the Rate campaign. It was supported by many in this place. I feel that it is really an obstinate reluctance to acknowledge the inevitable to not give security and some reassurance to those who desperately need to hear it by extending JobSeeker and the supplement and having a permanent recognition of where that rate needs to be so people can meaningfully bridge the gap between employment opportunities.
If we want people to go from having lost their employment to new employment, they need to be in a position where they actually can get themselves on transport to job interviews. They need to be able to be dressed for job interviews. They need to have a home to live in before going to job interviews. You can't have a situation where they are pushed into such levels of desperation and of not being able to make ends meet that they have no ability to get to job interviews and find employment. That has to be the ideal and the goal that we have in this place—assisting people in our community needing to find employment.
We have to be very real about the people we are talking about. It's often misrepresented, I would say. We used to have, I believe, under Prime Minister Howard, a whole campaign around 'dole bludgers'. This is not at all what we are talking about. It is insulting to those people. We know women over 55 have the highest rate of homelessness. They are the people in our population who have the highest rate of needing to rely on support—JobSeeker or Newstart, as it was—to get from one situation of employment to the next. Unfortunately, that period is not just a matter of a couple of months. It is sadly a longer period than that. They need to have support that is actually liveable in the meantime. If not, what we are doing and what we are condoning is pushing people into poverty and homelessness, and that is surely not the Australia that we all want to stand for.
So I thank the member for this amendment. I urge the government to hear it. You have taken the right steps during this pandemic. It is time to give some reassurance to those who are desperate to know how they are going to make ends meet. Please consider extending the additional economic support payments in relation to the JobSeeker and coronavirus payments. As is indicated in this amendment, those vulnerable people need our support. I urge the government to do this. It is the right thing to do. Put political games aside and focus on the more-vulnerable.