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Further amendments: Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Jobkeeper Payments) Amendment Bill 2020

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 1 Sep 2020

(12:10): by leave—I move Greens requests for amendments (1) and (5) on sheet 1009 together:

That the House of Representatives be requested to make the following amendments:

(1) Clause 2 , page 2 (at the end of the table), add:

10. Schedule 5

The day after this Act receives the Royal Assent.

 

     

(5) Page 33 (after line 21) , at the end of the Bill, add:

Schedule 5 — Extension of jobkeeper scheme to casual employees

Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Act 2020

1 At the end of section 7

Add:

Requirements relating to casual employees

(8) In determining the entitlement of an entity to a payment for an employee of the entity, the rules must provide that the types of employee that an entity is entitled to receive a payment in respect of include an employee of the entity who satisfies the requirements in subsection (9), regardless of the period of time that the individual has been employed by the entity.

(9) The requirements are that:

(a) the individual was a casual employee of the entity on 1 July 2020; and

(b) it is reasonable to assume that the individual would have continued to be an employee of the entity if the entity had not been directly or indirectly affected by the Coronavirus known as COVID-19.

Statement pursuant to the order of the Senate of 26 June 2000

Amendments (5), (6), (7) and (8)

Amendments (5), (6), (7) and (8) are framed as requests because they amend the bill in a way that is intended to direct funding under the jobkeeper scheme to additional persons.

Amendments (5), (6) and (8) would require the Treasurer to make rules which include additional classes of employees when assessing an entity's entitlement to receive a payment under the scheme amended by the bill. Specifically, the effect of these amendments would be to include certain casual employees and temporary visa holders as eligible employees when assessing an entity's eligibility for payments from the Commonwealth under the rules. Eligibility would also be extended to approved providers of approved child care services.

Amendment (7) would require the Treasurer to make rules which do not apply differently to, or disproportionally affect the eligibility of, higher education providers to receive a payment under the jobkeeper scheme amended by the bill. Specifically, the effect of the amendment would be to ensure higher education providers are eligible entities for payments from the Commonwealth under the rules.

As the amendments would increase the number of employees for whom employers would be eligible to receive payments, the amendments will increase the amount of expenditure under the standing appropriation in section 16 of the Taxation Administration Act 1953 .

Amendments (1), (2), (3), and (4)

Amendments (1), (2), (3) and (4) are consequential to amendments (5), (6), (7) and (8).

Statement by the Clerk of the Senate pursuant to the order of the Senate of 26 June 2000

Amendments (5), (6), (7) and (8)

If the effect of the amendments is to increase expenditure under the standing appropriation in section 16 of the Taxation Administration Act 1953 then it is in accordance with the precedents of the Senate that the amendments be moved as requests.

Amendments (1), (2), (3) and (4)

These amendments are consequential on the requests. It is the practice of the Senate that an amendment that is consequential on an amendment framed as a request may also be framed as a request.

If the government were serious about keeping jobs they would have listened to workers, they would have listened to unions, they would have listened to academics, they would have listened to the Greens and they would have listened to the countless organisations that have been calling for the expansion of JobKeeper to all casual workers, temporary visa holders, university workers and childcare workers. Instead, the government are overseeing a wage subsidy called JobKeeper that has allowed millions of workers to lose their jobs and be forced into unemployment. It is a job keeper in name only, I have to say. The scheme is leaving millions of workers behind and the scheme is still $44 billion under budget even with a six-month extension. There is absolutely no excuse for leaving these workers behind. We should be expanding the payment to all workers who need it, not cutting it.

I'm moving a series of amendments about this. The first ones are (1) and (5). These amendments will expand eligibility for JobKeeper payments to casual workers who have been employed for less than 12 months. The government continues to deny over one million casual workers access to JobKeeper. The majority of these workers are under 24 years old and work in the industries which have been hardest hit in this pandemic, such as retail, hospitality, arts, tourism, accommodation and education. So, by ignoring the calls from workers, unions, the Greens and businesses to expand JobKeeper, the government is forcing workers into unemployment and really forcing struggling businesses to the brink. I commend the amendments to the Senate.

HANSARD LINK

(12:27): by leave—I move Greens amendments (2) and (6) on sheet 1009 together:

(2) Clause 2, page 2 (at the end of the table), add:

11. Schedule 6

The day after this Act receives the Royal Assent.

(6) Page 33, at the end of the Bill, after proposed Schedule 5, add:

Schedule 6 — Extension of jobkeeper scheme to temporary visa holders

Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Act 2020

1 At the end of section 7

Add:

Requirements relating to temporary visa holders

(10) In determining the entitlement of an entity to a payment for an employee of the entity, the rules must provide that the types of employee that an entity is entitled to receive a payment in respect of include an individual that on 1 July 2020 was an employee of the entity and was the holder of a temporary visa within the meaning of the Migration Act 1958 .

These amendments will expand eligibility for JobKeeper payments to workers on temporary visas. It is a real shame that this government has created this arbitrary division between temporary visa holders and permanent citizens, as if the virus discriminates based on visas. People are in the same terrible situation in the pandemic and they need all the support that this government can provide them. It is our job to support people who are in Australia. There is report after report of international students who are basically being left destitute. The minister did say that the states were providing some support packages for them, and good on them! But they not nearly enough. International students and higher education are the responsibility of the federal government, and they are abrogating their responsibility by not providing support to students who are finding it hard to put food on the table and have roofs over their heads at the time when they need it most. The government has watched as thousands of temporary visa holders have lost their jobs and stood by as hundreds have resorted to lining up at food banks because they have denied them access to the financial support that they deserve and need.

They are not even being transparent in actually telling us if they ever considered such support. The door was shut on my OPD to actually get some documents, which we know that the government has. There was a big debate happening on government transparency and accountability yesterday, and many senators on this side of the chamber spoke very eloquently about the government hiding everything in the dark. At a time when we need to be more transparent, you won't even tell us if you ever considered supporting international students, let alone providing them with any support. Migrant communities, unions and support organisations have been raising concerns since the beginning of this pandemic, but the government yet again has ignored their calls.

This humanitarian crisis is unfolding here in our own country, which is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Surely the government can find it in their hearts, in their budgets, in their coffers to provide enough support to international students for them to live above the poverty line during this pandemic. I commend the amendments to the Senate.

HANSARD LINK

(12:37): by leave—I move Greens amendments (3) and (7) on sheet 1009 together:

(3) Clause 2, page 2 (at the end of the table), add:

13. Schedule 8

The day after this Act receives the Royal Assent.

   

(7) Page 33, at the end of the Bill, after proposed Schedule 6, add:

Schedule 8 — Extension of jobkeeper scheme to higher education providers

Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Act 2020

1 In the appropriate position

Insert:

7B Requirements for rules that provide for jobkeeper payments scheme—payments to higher education providers

(1) If the rules provide for a kind of payment that is intended to assist businesses affected by the Coronavirus to cover the cost of wages of their employees (whether known as a jobkeeper payment or otherwise), the rules relating to that kind of payment (the jobkeeper scheme rules) must comply with the requirements in subsection (2).

(2) The jobkeeper scheme rules, in providing for the classes of entities to which payments in respect of employees are to be made, must comply with the following requirements in respect of entities that are higher education providers:

(a) the rules must not have eligibility requirements:

(i) that apply only to higher education providers; or

(ii) that apply thresholds to higher education providers that are different from the thresholds applied to other similar entities; or

(iii) that are substantially different in their application to higher education providers compared with other entities;

with the effect of making it impractical or unlikely that higher education providers will be able to satisfy the eligibility requirements;

(b) the eligibility requirements must not have the effect, whether directly or indirectly, of excluding all or substantially all higher education providers from the jobkeeper scheme.

I did expect the government to have no sympathy for casual workers and those on temporary visas, but it is pretty sad to see the Labor Party sitting again and again with the Liberals, working with them against the interests of workers. That is a very sad situation and a very sad scene to see.

These amendments are about reinstating JobKeeper for early education workers. It's quite inexplicable, and it really boggles my mind, that child care became the first and only sector to be kicked off JobKeeper. There's been report after report, day after day, telling us of the importance of that sector for children, for parents, for families, for women in particular—and for our society and economy—yet JobKeeper was taken away from them in July and the government keeps saying it will not be reinstated.

Everyone in the community knows that childcare support is a vital part of our response to the pandemic. Childcare workers have been on the front line providing essential support while also being on the front line for these horrible cuts. We know that axing JobKeeper for childcare workers will predominantly impact women. There's discussion after discussion about the pink recession that we are having—how women already make up the vast majority of the low-paid workforce; the gender pay gap that persists year in, year out; and how women have been left to pick up the bulk of childcare responsibilities at home, while juggling work, while this pandemic is happening.

We are in this for a while. The government keeps saying we're in this together, but obviously we're not in this together, because there are so many people who are being left behind and left out of support. The government should immediately reinstate JobKeeper for early education workers. I commend the amendments to the Senate.

HANSARD LINK

(12:47): by leave—I move Greens amendments (4) and (8) on sheet 1009 together:

(4) Clause 2, page 2 (at the end of the table), add:

14. Schedule 9

The day after this Act receives the Royal Assent.

(8) Page 33, at the end of the Bill, after proposed Schedule 8, add:

Schedule 9 — Extension of jobkeeper scheme to child care providers

Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Act 2020

1 In the appropriate position

   Insert:

7C Requirements for rules that provide for jobkeeper payments scheme—payments to child care providers

   (1) If the rules provide for a kind of payment that is intended to assist businesses affected by the Coronavirus to cover the cost of wages of their employees (whether known as a jobkeeper payment or otherwise), the rules relating to that kind of payment (the jobkeeper scheme rules) must comply with the requirements in subsection (2).

   (2) The jobkeeper scheme rules must ensure that payments are able to be made to entities that are approved providers (within the meaning of the A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Act 1999) of one or more approved child care services (within the meaning of that Act), including in respect of:

(a) employees whose ordinary duties relate principally to the operation of one or more of those services; and

(b) individuals who are not employees but who are actively engaged in the business carried on by the approved provider.

These amendments are about expanding eligibility for JobKeeper to the workers who have been left behind by the government in this pandemic, and I want to talk about universities now.

Tens of thousands of workers in the universities have already lost their jobs and there are tens of thousands who are going to lose their jobs even before the end of the year—all during this pandemic. The government changed the JobKeeper rules three times to make sure that no public university was left eligible for JobKeeper. The government were warned that this was going to happen and that they could actually stop this from happening, but they didn't. Even worse than that, today, in the other place, the government brought forward a bill that will further cut funding from universities, hike fees for students and decimate our higher education sector. There is no shame at all in this government. They don't hide their hatred for universities at all; they have just accelerated their attacks on universities during the pandemic. Following years of funding cuts which we have seen in the sector under various governments of both colours, now they have denied this vital wage subsidy and are further punishing universities.

This is the time to actually invest in education. This is the time to fully and publicly fund universities, so that staff and teachers can educate our young people—our students—to the highest of quality standards, while also having job security. This is the time to make higher education, universities and TAFE fee-free so students can train and retrain in what the future of our country and the world needs. But what this government is doing is leaving universities completely abandoned, completely high and dry, with thousands of jobs being lost and little funding for research. There is nothing in this package that is being debated in the other place today that improves the situation for any university, or for any student or any staff member. It's an attack on universities and it must be stopped. I commend the amendments to the Senate.

HANSARD LINK

(12:54): by leave—I move Greens amendments (1) and (2) on sheet 1011 together:

(1) Clause 2, page 2 (at the end of the table), add:

12. Schedule 7

The day after this Act receives the Royal Assent.

   

(2) Page 33 (after line 21), at the end of the Bill, add:

Schedule 7—Preventing tiered jobkeeper payments

Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Act 2020

1 After section 7

   Insert:

7A Requirement for rules that provide for jobkeeper payments scheme—no tiered jobkeeper payments

   (1) If the rules provide for a kind of payment that is intended to assist businesses affected by the Coronavirus to cover the cost of wages of their employees (whether known as a jobkeeper payment or otherwise), the rules relating to that kind of payment (the jobkeeper scheme rules) must comply with the requirement in subsection (2).

   (2) The jobkeeper scheme rules, in providing for the amount of the payment under the jobkeeper scheme, must not provide for there to be different amounts payable in relation to employees.

This amends the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Act 2020 to prevent the minister from establishing a tiered payment system. While the JobKeeper bill doesn't deal specifically with tiered payments, it does extend the rule-making power which allows the minister to establish tiers. The amendment will insert a new section that specifies that the minister must not create rules for different rates of pay for different employees.

On 21 July, the government foreshadowed a number of changes to the JobKeeper program, including the introduction of tiered payments from 28 September 2020. Under the changes announced by the government, the hours worked in the four weeks prior to 1 March 2020 or 1 July 2020 will determine what level of payment workers will receive—specifically, whether they worked more or fewer than 20 hours. This is despite the high unemployment rate during those times.

In March, the underemployment rate was eight per cent—10.6 per cent for women compared to 7.2 per cent for men. It was 19.1 per cent for young people aged between 15 and 24 years old. In July, the underemployment rate soared to 11.2 per cent. It was 12.2 per cent for women and 19.6 per cent for young people aged between 15 and 24 years old. This government intends to slash payments for underemployed low-income workers in insecure jobs, predominately impacting women and young people, and this sends one resounding message—that the government won't hesitate to kick workers when they're down and throw vulnerable workers off a financial cliff in the midst of a recession in the midst of a pandemic.

Also of concern is the impact that tiered payments will have on workers who work more than 20 hours across multiple jobs. Someone who works 38 hours a week across two jobs—that's 19 hours in each—will still see their JobKeeper payments slashed. The Greens, of course, support the extension of JobKeeper but not at the expense of low-paid workers in the midst of a recession. I commend the amendment to the Senate.

HANSARD LINK

(13:09): The Greens do agree in principle with what this amendment is trying to achieve. The Greens first raised concerns about this in April, during a COVID-19 committee hearing, when Senator Whish-Wilson asked Treasury secretary Steven Kennedy whether the JobKeeper review would consider changing the eligibility criteria for businesses recording profits and paying increased dividends. Disappointingly, it was not considered in that review. Senator Whish-Wilson also wrote to Secretary Kennedy last month proposing that eligibility criteria be changed for companies paying dividends. Unfortunately the government has not acted to address this loophole.

And I'm afraid the amendment was circulated only a little while ago. The Greens really have not had enough time to review fully the amendment and its consequences, and from the short time we have had to look at it we are concerned that, under section 9 of the enabling payments and benefits legislation, workers of these companies would be liable to repay the amount. I don't think that's what Senator Patrick has intended, but that is how it appears at face value. So, we are concerned that there may be other unintended consequences. The Greens definitely support the principle of what Senator Patrick is trying to achieve, but unfortunately the Greens can't support this amendment at this time, and we hope we get another opportunity to address this important issue.

HANSARD LINK

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