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Speech: Retain the Rate of Youth Allowance & JobSeeker

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 13 May 2020

I rise to support the call to retain the rate of the jobseeker and youth allowance payments. A return to the old rate of the jobseeker and youth allowance payments, below the poverty line, would be a colossal moral failing. The Liberals must be forced to confront the fact that they are considering thrusting hundreds of thousands of Australians back below the poverty line in the middle of a crisis. This must not be allowed to happen. We must retain the rate.

I particularly want to focus on students and young people. Before the rate was raised, successive Liberal and Labor governments had abandoned students, leaving them to face the high cost of living and extreme stress on their own. Instead of focusing on studying they were struggling to get by, with many working multiple jobs to survive because of inadequate support. Last year research found that a quarter of students were experiencing food insecurity, and 15 per cent reported experiencing hunger or not eating because there wasn't enough money for food.

The fundamental principle is simple: full-time university and vocational and training students should have income support that enables them to focus primarily on their studies. While not perfect and certainly lacking on the eligibility front, the current payments are much closer to that goal than they were before.

Retaining the rate is made all the more urgent by the outsized impact of this crisis on young people. In the month from mid-March, 7½ per cent of jobs were lost to truly devastating consequences for people around the country. But for young people it was even worse. Nearly 12 per cent of jobs held by people aged between 20 and 30 were lost during that period, and an enormous 20 per cent of jobs held by people under 20 disappeared. Those figures are only expected to get worse. A recent Grattan Institute report found that about 30 per cent of workers in their 20s will be made unemployed by this crisis. Even once the depths of this crisis pass, young people will bear the consequences for years to come as they are confronted with decades of student debt to pay off, pay cuts on top of already flat wages and degraded workplace rights.

As well as retaining the rate, we have to make sure that access to income support is fair. For students, that means putting the nonsensical independence test behind us and expanding youth allowance eligibility to all students. That means ensuring eligibility for Austudy is expanded to all postgraduate students. That means including international students in income support, just as New Zealand, Canada and other countries have done. Only by retaining the rate and expanding eligibility for income support can we keep people out of poverty and rebuild as a more socially and economically just society after this crisis.

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