MPI – Pensions and Benefits

Thursday, 11 June 2020

Mr PITT: To those opposite: the minister who spoke earlier has outlined a lot of these issues and what the government is doing to address them. The Prime Minister, in question time, addressed a number of these issues and made particular statements which have been asked for many times.

But the reason that not only this debate but the debate around our social services policy is so important is quite simply that governments of all stripes, regardless of which side of the chamber they are currently on, do take serious responsibility for upholding the integrity of Australia’s welfare system. We are serious about holding up the integrity of the welfare system. One of the reasons for that is quite simply that this is $180 billion, every single year, to support Australia’s social safety net, and we know that there are over 950,000 Australians that have 1.6 million social welfare debts that total $5.3 billion. This is and has been a very significant part of every budget of every government of every stripe, for many, many years. In fact, the average Australian makes a contribution of some $7,610 of their income to our welfare system. That’s just over nine per cent of their earnings, so it is significant. So there must be oversight, and there is oversight, and Australians expect that oversight to continue.

Mr Deputy Speaker O’Brien, I know that you know, as my neighbour, as the member for Wide Bay, that our region does it tough. The average income in our region is approximately $33,000 per year. It really is not that high. So one of the important parts of this debate, in my view, is that we outline what the government is doing to ensure that as many people as possible do not need Australia’s social welfare system and that we can keep as many people as possible in jobs, particularly in our regional areas, where jobs are difficult to find—and even more so now in the current corona world.

There was a story today from Matt Killoran in The Courier-Mail where he outlines the government’s JobKeeper program in a lot of areas in Queensland, including our area, Mr Deputy Speaker. In Bundaberg we currently have 1,604 businesses on JobKeeper, and there are 1,361 in Hervey Bay, 167 in Childers, nine in Torbanlea and 63 in Burrum, for a total of 3,204 businesses on the government’s JobKeeper program. This is keeping Australians in work and providing them with an opportunity. Those individuals who are not eligible or otherwise are not getting the JobKeeper payment have the jobseeker payment available. They have that opportunity as well. So this government is doing everything it can in these very difficult circumstances to ensure Australians have the dignity of being able to pay their bills and maintain what they need to, until they can find a job or their business comes back to life in a post-corona environment.

I note that the Treasurer also announced in recent days an extension of the instant asset write-off. I want to congratulate the member for Flynn, Ken O’Dowd. He rang me and he rang the Treasurer and every other minister that I know of, talking about this particular program, because it’s important for the businesses in his region. It gives them cash in their pockets. They can write down assets of up to $150,000 that they’ve purchased, and what that means is that they can help keep more people employed. So this government is doing everything it can in the current corona pandemic to keep Australians employed, engaged and connected to their workplaces. We will come through this. In my own portfolio, we know the resources sector has been a shining light in the economy. It will continue to be that. It will continue to employ Australians. It will continue to grow.

Just in response to those opposite, I say once again that all governments of every stripe have oversight on what is the biggest single area of expenditure for federal governments. It is a significant contribution. It will continue to be so. We are proud, as all individuals in this House are, that we provide a safety net for Australians, but it does need to have oversight. It does need to be monitored.

We continue to make tough decisions. That is going to be the reality of life as we move forward in a post-corona environment. We will continue to create jobs through JobMaker, as the Prime Minister announced at the National Press Club address. Why is JobMaker so important? Why should the Australian people trust us? Because we have done it before. We have made commitments about how many jobs will be delivered by this government, and we have delivered them. We made commitments in 2013, and we have delivered them, and we will continue to do that.

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