Rate of JobSeeker

By Matt Keogh MP

17 March 2021

Watch Matt's speech here

The average rent in Perth is $393 a week. The average weekly grocery bill is $130. I'd go on about the cost of other basic expenses, but we've already hit negative territory when it comes to somebody who is relying on JobSeeker. This is the reality for so many individuals who will still be reliant on this payment at the end of March.

Should the legislation before us pass, we will see the JobSeeker payment climb to $615 a fortnight, or $44 a day. The Social Services Legislation Amendment (Strengthening Income Support) Bill 2021 will increase the base rate for working-age payments by $50 a fortnight from the end of March. While a rise is certainly welcome, in practice, for so many people who are relying on that benefit payment, it will be a pay cut. In practical terms, people who are relying on social security will face a $100-a-fortnight cut to their household budgets. This is because the coronavirus supplement, which is currently $150 a fortnight, will come to an end at the same time. Labor, of course, will not stand in the way of an increase, even if it is a pitiful one, and we won't play cruel political games, giving jobseekers hope of a greater increase, as much as we would like to see that, when the reality is that only the government can increase expenditure and set unemployment payments at a higher rate.

Good social policy is good economic policy and vice versa. They are two sides of the same coin. This government fails to understand that, when you give people more money, there is a significant social and economic benefit that comes with it, not just for the recipients and their families but for the whole community. To be clear on who we're talking about, these are people who will only be receiving the equivalent of 41.2 per cent of the minimum wage, when it was 50 per cent in 1996. They will be receiving only a 70 per cent equivalent of where the poverty line is. Better living standards, health standards, job prospects: the list of the benefits goes on. Research shows that more income for those who receive the least is spent in local economies and improves the quality of life for everyone in those communities, not just the recipients of the payments. As we have seen in our communities through the COVID-19 pandemic, while life hasn't been easy, the greater rate of government support payments has improved outcomes in every facet of life—health, education, crime, and the economic flows into local businesses and across the community. In order to change the budget and this payment in any significant way, though, you have to change the government. So, until then, we will agree to this increase in payment but continue to advocate for it to increase further.

Living in poverty or getting by on very little is incredibly tough. I often reach out, visiting members of my community. I go out doorknocking, but let me tell you that it's incredibly difficult to doorknock when some people don't even have a front door. That is the reality for some of the people in my community and, indeed, across the country. Australia is a wealthy nation. We call ourselves the lucky country. There should be absolutely no excuse for allowing people to live anywhere near poverty, let alone the situation that many people find themselves in and will find themselves in again when, in real terms, the rate of JobSeeker is reduced. However, those on the other side of the House like to throw around terms like 'dole bludgers' and 'laziness' and say that this is stopping people from going to work. Let me tell you, members of the government: nobody aspires to poverty. The sheer reality is that, as we recover from the COVID pandemic, there are not enough jobs in Australia for everyone who needs one. The statistics don't lie. There are almost double the number of people relying on unemployment benefits today than there were at the beginning of the pandemic.

The latest figures from February show that there are 192,000 job vacancies, while there are 1.35 million people relying on unemployment benefits. That's seven unemployed people for every job out there. In Western Australia, it's 6.7 people for every job available in Western Australia, and that number doubles in some other jurisdictions around the country. That's not even taking into consideration the number of people who will be joining those jobless queues when the JobKeeper payment comes to an end in just 11 days time. Treasury's own figures suggest that 100,000 people will lose their jobs when the JobKeeper payment comes to an end on 28 March. Other economists say that the number of people who will become unemployed when JobKeeper comes to an end is more likely to be around 250,000. That means an additional 250,000 people will be relying on a payment of just $614 a fortnight. That is a significant drop from the current rate of JobKeeper of $1,000 per fortnight—all while COVID still rages, and businesses across the country are still suffering.

The transition from the COVID payments to the new normal under this government will be incredibly difficult for Australian families around the country. They'll need to go back to juggling, going without meals, having sleepless nights, feeling stress, not being able to provide what their kids need to go to school. Businesses will now have fewer customers as JobSeeker recipients will no longer be able to afford their goods and services.

In this parliament, Labor have stood up for those on social security and we will continue to do so, but you can't change the nation unless you change the government. A Labor government will approach issues of equity, poverty and social security very differently from this government. We will have compassion. We will balance our approach to ensure that health, jobs and education are proportionate to these payment rates. But, until we're in government, I'm sorry to say that we can only talk about what we would like to see happen, rather than take the real action that is required of government. This legislation is not remotely good enough, but, unfortunately, it is still better than nothing.

So I will make this commitment to my community now: I won't stop fighting for a better deal for you; I won't stop fighting for a fairer deal for you. I've seen the benefit of these higher payments during COVID, and the difference they've made to the communities of Armadale and Gosnells and in the surrounding areas—not only to the standard of living for these individuals but also to our local economies, to the small businesses, to our social support system and to our healthcare system. It turns out that you can go a long way towards solving poverty by throwing more money at it; you just have to do it the right way. Investing in social support measures goes beyond cash payments to individuals. It's about investing in education and training, job creation here in Australia, a healthcare system, mental health supports and good, solid, secure and available housing. But a higher rate of JobSeeker is needed, too, because, as I said, good social policy is good economic policy. Our entire community benefits if we get this right.