Gaps remain in JobKeeper plan - Speech, House of Representatives

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 8 APRIL 2020

When parliament met 16 days ago, Britain, New Zealand, Ireland and Sweden were among the countries that had implemented significant wage subsidies to save jobs. Labor said at the time that Australia should do the same, and we're very pleased that, as a result of significant pressure from Labor, the business community and the union movement, the government has announced a $130 billion wage subsidy scheme.

This reflects Labor's fundamental view—like it says on the tin—we're Labor: we believe in the dignity and the purpose that comes with the job. We believe that it is important to minimise the unemployment tragedy that flows from the coronavirus crisis. One private-sector forecaster estimated that without this package unemployment would have gone to 17 per cent and that with it, it will peak at nine per cent. An eight per cent reduction in unemployment is worth the significant debt that the government will accrue as a result of this package. Total support will now be more in the order of 10 per cent of GDP than the three per cent of GDP it was beforehand.

But there are gaps remaining. There are a million casuals and two million temporary migrants. There are university workers and the 45,000 council workers that the member for Blaxland just referred to. And there are 1.3 million workers in the charities sector. Charities are facing a perfect storm right now. They've seen a collapse in their donations, and that's unlikely to get better. Leading right through to Christmas, it's likely that donations will be down. Philanthropic foundations are getting less, because their share market returns are lower. Yet we need charities more than ever before. Charities are helping out on the frontline: on domestic violence and substance abuse; suicide prevention and mental wellbeing; assisting the homeless; and helping out in Indigenous communities. Charitable medical research institutes are hunting for a cure and treatments for coronavirus, and many charities are still engaged in bushfire and drought relief.

I commend the Treasurer and Senator Seselja for their engagement with the charity sector and with me over improvements to this bill. The announcement on Sunday that charities would face a 15 per cent threshold rather than a 30 per cent threshold is welcome, and some charities will now qualify for the JobKeeper payment that did not before. But many charities have told me that unless tied grants are excluded from the calculation of income they will be excluded. They have said that, unlike businesses, they can't simply move money around. They've said that it's ironic that if they were receiving grants to do bushfire and drought relief—or, indeed, to help with the coronavirus crisis—that that should disqualify them. They've seen op-shop revenue and early childhood revenue fall by 80 to 90 per cent. If that was all they did they'd qualify. But because they have diversified operations, in many cases charities such as Oxfam, Anglicare, Uniting Care, Fred Hollows, Samaritans, St Vincent de Paul, Wesley Mission Queensland and many of our medical research institutes fear that they won't qualify for the JobKeeper payment. That includes Uniting Care Australia, which engages 50,000 staff and 30,000 volunteers. It includes Anglicare, which has 20,000 staff and 9,000 volunteers. Each of these charities supports over one million Australians annually.

To a specific example: Uniting NSW.ACT are a not-for-profit running 56 services for 4,598 young children, with 850 employees. They won't qualify because they haven't seen a reduction in revenue of 15 per cent or more. That's just because of the relative size of the early learning service compared to Uniting NSW.ACT's other services. They have projected that their early learning services will make a $2.7 million loss every quarter, and they don't see how they can keep their centres open.

In the Prime Minister's own electorate of Cook, Uniting early learning has three services that will be ineligible for the JobKeeper payment. They operate services in thin markets like Orange, Grafton and Murwillumbah that might have to close. They point out that they can't run their early learning services on 50 per cent funding and that if they closed them then that would take away early childhood services from front line healthcare workers.

Wesley Mission Queensland says that they might need to close childcare centres in Chermside, The Gap and Toowong, which provide support for healthcare workers. They've said that their suicide prevention program and their national Auslan interpreting service are under threat.

St Vincent de Paul Canberra/Goulburn has distributed millions of dollars in financial grants to bushfire impacted households across south-east New South Wales. The grants have to be used for their stated purpose. They can't be used to offset losses, and St Vincent de Paul fear that they will be unable to access the JobKeeper payment.

The Australian Council of Social Service conducted a survey of members on Monday and found that many of them are anticipating that they might have to shed staff. That survey found that 37 per cent of anticipated job losses would occur in organisations whose overall revenue loss would be less than 15 per cent. That would involve cuts to youth mental health and youth disability support services, disability services, domestic and family violence services, and aged-care services.

Finally, there are the medical research institutes. The Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes has warned that, because about half the money comes from government grants and can only be expended on medical research programs, the collapse in philanthropic donations might mean that many of their members won't be able to access the JobKeeper payment. That includes the Burnet Institute, the Garvan Institute, the Kirby Institute, the Menzies Institute, the George institute for Global Health and the Doherty institute that did the modelling on coronavirus that was released yesterday. It is simply unimaginable that we would exclude medical research institutes from the JobKeeper package.

I urge the government to do to right thing.

ENDS

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.


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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | Andrew.Leigh.MP@aph.gov.au | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.