RTR Interview with Senator Sue Lines

By Senator Sue Lines

17 August 2020


SUBJECTS: JobSeeker snapback; WA retail job losses.
DANAE GIBSON, HOST: Good morning and welcome back to RTR FM Senator.
SENATOR SUE LINES: Thanks very much Danae and thanks for having me back.
GIBSON: What kind of difference did the change to the old Newstart rate make to the people who lived on it?
LINES: Well it certainly put more money into our economy and that’s really important and Labor has made the point all along that if we pay people on benefits an adequate living wage then that also stimulates our economy and potentially provides jobs. So we were fairly happy with the government, though last time I spoke with you, we talked about particularly JobKeeper and that it didn’t apply to casuals and international students and visa workers and that is still our concern. And we hear today that the Government is going to trial bringing 300 new international students into South Australia and that’s good, we’ve got to trial these steps. But if they can’t get jobs, they will be in exactly the same situation as other international students, and that is without employment and potentially being looked after by our agencies in the community who provide meals and so on and so forth and we’ve seen that. And with hindsight now we know what’s needed and clearly JobKeeper still needs to be extended out but we’re now really concerned, and it’s a shame that the government keeps doing this in an ad hoc, not making announcements that gives people some hope and some security. We understand and we know that the current rate of JobSeeker for those millions of Australians who have lost their jobs is going to be cut in just a few weeks in September and then it will be cut again, it will be cut by half in September, just under half. And then in December it’s just going to stop altogether. Now what that means in WA, social security recipients currently spend substantial parts of their income in the retail sector – in Woolies, in Coles, buying socks and undies, those sorts of things. So most of their benefit is spent living week to week. Now the Bureau of Statistics have given us some figures on what they spend and we’ve looked at those, if the government continues on its current course, which is to stop those payments altogether and people will go back to the poverty rate of $40 a day for job seekers, that could equate to 40,000 retail jobs in WA because obviously if there’s less money being spent in the economy, particularly the retail sector, we will have more people lose their jobs. And we just think this is ridiculous, these are not figures made up by the Labor Party, these are Bureau of Statistics figures based on how current recipients, those people getting the JobSeeker payments with the Corona Virus Supplement are spending their benefit.
GIBSON: Is there a difference in different states? Is that part of the reason why the ad hoc nature of making these announcements, of making changes to the programs, is it because we’re doing better in WA and Queensland than we are in Victoria and Tasmania?
LINES: We are doing better in WA in relation to infections, and particularly community infections. And that’s because Mark McGowan as our premier has taken a hard line, it’s very clear where we’re heading. West Australians almost unanimously support the border closures. But we also have very large unemployment, and we have very large youth unemployment, and many of our young people do work across retail and hospitality jobs. So while yes, we are doing better and we don’t have that community spread and we have very low infections from people who are coming home to WA or quarantining here, our job numbers are very bleak and the federal government is going to potentially add to those unemployed numbers if we continue along with JobSeeker snapping back to the $40 a day rate. We already know that rate is too low, I think even the government has acknowledged the rate is too low, of $40 a day. To have many, many people on that rate, I just can’t imagine the kind of consequences that will make, not only on people’s wellbeing but to our economy as a whole.
GIBSON: And where are we at with decisions to be made, JobSeeker can’t go back, but it could. Where are we at in parliament and what is the likelihood of us having a clearer idea in September or October about what might lie ahead in the first quarter of 2021?
LINES: Well that’s absolutely the issue Danae, we just don’t know. And even if the government wanted to wait a while and see what happens in Victoria and as you say, the states and the territories are at different levels in terms of getting life back to normal and infection rates and so on, they should give us some certainty by saying “we will make a decision by October” or whatever, to give people certainty. I can’t imagine the additional worry that’s being created in our communities by this indecision on benefits which are absolutely in the control of the Morrison government, such as JobSeeker and JobKeeper. To suggest that it’s just going to drop back to $40 a day on December 31 is just ludicrous. We have millions of Australians unemployed, and all of us still remember the horrific queues around the Centrelink office. These are not the sort of images we expect to see in Australia, we are a wealthy country and we do need to support those people who need help at this time and that’s many, many Australians.
GIBSON: And the benefit of making some decisions and communicating clearly in the next few weeks, I suspect, would mean that people who are holding on to what they have right now, or accessing money in other ways, drawing down on superannuation and other things, could generate some more spending, some more work, more work for retail and hospitality sector. And especially for those young people who are impacted by what has been a fairly difficult 2020.
LINES: You’re absolutely right. I mean, if people have got certainty, it doesn’t mean they’re not going to look for jobs. At the moment the vacancy rates are very low, I think we’ve got on average at least 14 people applying for one vacancy. So this image that Australians don’t want to work is a nonsense, most people are looking for work, most people want to be employed and look after their own personal funds and their families. If we can give people certainty now around JobSeeker it gives them, well they’ll feel better for a start because it gives them some certainty, they can plan for the future. We’ve got Christmas coming up, which is a time when families get together. Why would we, as a community, want to put additional stress on people when they know that after a week or so after Christmas that’s it, they’ll revert to this unliveable $40 a day. It is a long time for this government to just give some certainty. Now you know, if things magically change, this snapback that the government keeps talking about, well then you can review then and people are in a positive frame and would expect it to be reviewed. But when people are doing it so tough, when there’s no end in sight, when there are just no jobs available at this point, this is the worst thing a government can do to people on a benefit.
GIBSON: Senator Sue Lines, thanks for chatting with us on the record this morning.
LINES: Thanks Danae.