Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (19:55): Let me say from the outset, before the member leaves the chamber: I’m sure I’m speaking on behalf of all of us in this place when we wish her all the very best with the rest of her pregnancy and the upcoming birth. All the best with that.
What I wanted to speak about this evening is that so much of life is in shades of grey, rather than matters of black and white, or of balance, if you like. Yesterday seems a long time ago already, but yesterday the government announced its reforms around JobSeeker and the extra compliance which will go to those people on that particular allowance. I’m on the record, from part of a former inquiry, of actually expressing the view that the rate of JobSeeker needed to rise. But I have been tested over recent weeks and months, I must say, when we had the JobSeeker COVID bonus but, on the other hand, I never had so many businesses within my electorate contacting me and saying that they couldn’t get workers. So I’ve been a little tested, and almost shattered, by the fact that at least some have not sought to rejoin the workforce since the worst of the COVID crisis. We’ve all wondered just how big a part that extra payment has been playing in that disincentive.
For instance, there’s a small town not very far away from where I live. It has a population of about a thousand. There are jobs there for more than 20 people at the moment. As of last week, the pub has not opened on Friday nights because there aren’t enough workers. That really strikes at the heart of what it is to be Australian, I think! They’re doing takeaway food and takeaway alcohol, but you can’t actually go into the pub and have a drink.
I was contacted by a businessman in the upper Spencer Gulf. He has a number of accommodation cabins—quite a number. He’s looking for 15 cleaners. These jobs are for 15 to 25 hours a week at 26 bucks an hour and he can’t get any starters. The McDonald’s there is trading on restricted hours—it doesn’t trade 24 hours a day and this is in an area of high unemployment. So it has been a difficult balance to strike, I think, for the government on this new rate.
I have to say that I think we probably have it about right. It’s now two working days since we made these announcements and I’ve had about eight contacts about it to my office. There are 120,000 voters in Grey, or more than that, and probably about 170,000 who live in the electorate. My experience in my time in this place would tell me that’s probably a fairly benign reaction. That indicates to me we probably got it about right.
The new rate of course is $620 for JobSeeker. I’ll make the point that we often say there are other payments, so that $620 is the basic payment. Of course, there’s family tax benefit part A, which might pay between $190 and $246 a week for each child. There’s family tax benefit part B; if you reach that category, it might pay between $112 and $161. And there’s rent assistance, which might pay between $93 and $140. So while I don’t really want to live on that amount of $620, and I hope that the people who are on that payment don’t want to live on it as well—I hope they actually want to get back into the workforce—I think it’s not a bad performance by the country for those people who need it. Of course, the payment is for them to prepare themselves and hopefully get themselves into the workforce. That’s why we’ve increased the income-free area to $150 a fortnight. We know that if people actually get a toehold into employment then they’ve got a good chance—a higher chance—of actually getting off that payment altogether.
It’s the biggest increase in that payment for 34 years. There has been a bit of conjecture coming from the other side of the chamber, and so I did a quick calculation. In that 34 years, the coalition has been in power for 18 years and Labor for 16, so they’ve certainly had their opportunities to make a significant change to that payment if they so wished in that 34 years, but they did not see fit in that time. So I think it’s pretty good. I congratulate the minister and the government. We’ll get on with the job.