RTR Radio Interview with Senator Sue Lines

By Senator Sue Lines

20 April 2020



SUBJECTS: Casual and temporary visa workers not eligible for JobKeeper; Arts and entertainment industry; Support for Australian aviation industry during Covid-19; Virgin Australia.

DANAE GIBSON, HOST: West Australian Senator Sue Lines is Deputy President of the Senate and Chair of Committees, she’s also worked very importantly in terms of this conversation, as a teacher and community organiser. And the Senator joins me now to talk about the way subsidy legislated by the Morrison government. Good morning Senator.

SENATOR SUE LINES: Good morning Danae.

HOST: And I know that you’re not in Canberra, because not many of the members of Parliament are in Canberra at the moment, are they?

LINES: No they’re not. I went across for both the sittings to pass the JobKeeper legislation and the omnibus legislation which was the first legislation that increased Newstart and that, because I have a specific role as Deputy President of the Senate. But it was strange to be over there, but I feel much happier to be home and stay fit and safe staying working from home. I’m very fortunate to be able to work from home, so it’s the best place to be for sure.

HOST: Absolutely. Tell me about your role as Deputy President of the Senate, what does that mean to us?

LINES: What it means is that when legislation is going through the Senate, the Senate has a really important role as the house of review and we will then examine the legislation in detail. So we have what’s called a Committee of the Whole stage which is where the whole Senate turns into a large committee and every senator has the right to question the government about its legislation, to ask questions and raise concerns and the government then responds. So it is an opportunity for the Senate to get greater understanding of the legislation and also put forward amendments. So when that session is running that’s my responsibility to chair that. Under our standing orders the President can’t chair that, only the Deputy can. So that’s a very important role in the legislation to chair that as it’s going through the Houses of Parliament.

HOST: Now your focus would have been on the JobKeeper package, could you explain what your reservations were about it?

LINES: Well Labor called for this sort of support for workers very, very early and initially the Prime Minister just poo-pooed it and said categorically no. He then came round to Labor’s way of thinking and brought forward this JobKeeper legislation but it doesn’t go far enough and I think as it unfolds, it’s open today for the first time officially, we’ll start to see gaps. But we already know for example that 1.1 million casual workers across Australia, despite overwhelmingly, 80% of Australian, believe it’s a fair thing for it to be applied to casuals. And the second thing, whether we like it or not, the Australian economy, particularly the service economy, is particularly reliant on temporary migrant visa workers and they’ve been denied access to the JobKeeper legislation. Now the Government’s response at this point is to say to those workers “Go home”. Well, most Australians know they can’t go home. We failed to bring Australians back to this country, Australians stuck in India and South America, all over the world. So how on earth can those same workers get back to their home countries? So we will continue to pressure the Government around those areas. The other areas that miss out is local government. Now local government are our absolute unsung heroes, they are doing an amazing job. They’re very close to all of us in the community and they’re well and truly looking after community. They’re looking at zero rate increases and whatever else they can do. Now they have also been denied access to the JobKeeper legislation, and quite frankly that doesn’t make any sense at all to not include local government. So those are the three areas we’ll continue to push. But I think as we see the JobKeeper scheme rolled out further likely there will be further loopholes and we’ll be watching very closely to make sure that all workers get access to a fair payment.

HOST: Senator Lines, there’s about 6000 local government workers, is that right?

LINES: No, that’s what the local government association believes have already been stood down. Now many have already stood down casuals because one of the first things that closed were our libraries and pools and gyms and so a lot of those are staffed by casuals so they’ve been stood down. And you know, councils want to get back up and operating. And also the other point that I think the Morrison Government is starting to take a point of, it will be local government who really lead the recovery. They will have the projects ready to go once we are over this really dangerous part of Covid-19 and they’ll be ready to go and they need a workforce that’s ready to go as well. So we’re still putting pressure on the Government to make sure JobKeeper is extended.

HOST: I learned over the weekend that were 300,000 Australians that came back home during these last few weeks. And I wonder how many visa the Government is expecting to go home. Do you know the number of how many visa workers we have?

LINES: I think it’s close to that of casuals, it’s up near the million mark, if you take into account international students and temporary visa workers. So suggesting they go home when many of the countries they come from have closed their borders, and as I said earlier, we’re having trouble getting Australians home, so it’s just impossible for those workers to go home and the Government is just saying point blank go home. The Prime Minister said it in the parliament a week or so ago, and it’s just a ridiculous assertion.

HOST: There’s a couple of key areas that I’m concerned about. The aged care workers and the arts and entertainment industry workers.

LINES: Yes, my apologies for not mentioning them. Well it’s very difficult, and you would know Danae, you’re in the arts and entertainment industry. It’s very difficult for, particularly artists and actors, to show that they’ve had this continuity of 12 months with employer, and this isn’t the nature of the work, of those who work in the arts industry. It’s gigs or small acting parts, it’s voice over commercials, all those sorts of things, not necessarily with the one employer. So that’s certainly an industry that we need to look at in a different way. And one of our concerns with JobKeeper, you can’t just take a blanket approach and say, right well unless you pass this test and this test, you’re not eligible. And we saw very early on, that anomaly between Goodstart Childcare, who are a not-for-profit organisation, not being eligible for JobKeeper and yet a big private for-profit company was. And the Government moved very quickly to make sure Goodstart was. And it just seems to be very reluctant to do this for the arts and entertainment area. Now you know it’s difficult, but nevertheless the arts industry, it enriches our community, it puts a smile on our face, it improves our wellbeing, and it’s a vital industry that we want to be there once we’re over this, so it also needs absolute support from the Government.

HOST: And it also employs more people than mining.

LINES: Yes, and when you look at all the layers, when you do a gig or put on a radio show, we don’t see all the people behind you. The technicians and all the other people doing the work, researchers and so on. And yes it’s a really layered industry, and not just the public face that we see or we hear. So it definitely needs help. The other area we’re really concerned about is Virgin Airways. At this point the Morrison Government has been quite irresponsible about how they’ve just left it to corporate raiders. And at this point that’s 16,000 Australians, and in Western Australia 1,600, and we know as West Australians how we all face such high airfares. We’ve all been there when we only had one airline, and we know that having a second airline absolutely makes a difference, not only to fares inter-state but also intrastate across WA as well. So for the Government at this point to wash its hands and take no responsibility for Virgin is really, really irresponsible. Particularly when we’ve had the deputy Prime Minister come out, just a week ago, and saying that having good, solid competition, having more than one aviation flyer on our networks is critical to Australia’s success. And the irony for me Danae, and I know a lot of people and some of your listeners will be saying, well this is a foreign owned company, why should we be putting Australian dollars into this. Well actually the JobKeeper scheme is going to all sorts of employers. Foreign-owned, Australian-owned, owned by temporary migrants, all sorts of businesses, companies that might not be paying the proper tax that most Australians would expect of this company. And yet we haven’t pointed the finger at them, so I don’t quite know why we’ve singled out Virgin and said it can fend for itself, because definitely we are all better off with competition in our skies and 16,000 jobs at stake, it’s too big to fail. The Government’s got to get behind it and we’re urging the Government to do that as well.

HOST: We’re all better off if as many people are supported, vulnerable especially, across this time. So what can we do and what’s next for making that the gaps in JobKeeper are not sustained?

LINES: We’ll keep pressing the point and one of the things that give me hope is that, when Labor came out very early on and said we need a scheme to protect jobs and the Government just point blank said no, they came around and got on board in the end. So I think once they start to see the ramifications of a JobKeeper scheme that doesn’t go far enough, and seriously are we going to have people on the streets begging, is that really what we want? And we’ve also seen the civil unrest in the US which is directly caused by their failure to provide an adequate social security system, and a very poor health system. And that isn’t who we are as a country, we are a country who care about each other and we want our Government to do the right thing and make sure the arts industry enable employees to keep in touch with their employer, and if that’s still the intention of the scheme then it needs to be provided universally not selectively.

HOST: Thank you for chatting with us on the record this morning Senator Lines.

LINES: My pleasure, thanks for the call Danae, and stay well and stay home when you can.