Parliament – Appropriation Bill – JobKeeper, Aged Care, Young People

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

I’m very pleased to be able to speak on this Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-2021 and to raise a number of issues of great concern to my local community. I was back in my community on the weekend after sitting in parliament and, as I was talking to people at my shopping centre stall, there was a growing frustration about this federal government that is focused all on announcements and always wanting to be there for the photo-op or getting out a marketing slogan but really failing when it comes to delivery. There are many members of my community that are feeling frustrated in a range of different areas. I’m going to touch on a few of those today.

The first is people being left behind with the end of JobKeeper. We hear this government say that there is just no problem, that there are jobs out there for people. Well, I’ve been speaking to people employed by small businesses that are staring down the prospect, at the end of JobKeeper, of losing their jobs. That is absolutely the case. Next week, when we see the end of JobKeeper, which has been an important lifeline for many small businesses in my electorate of Kingston, we will see some of those wondering how they are going to survive. Throughout the pandemic, I continued to visit and reach out to countless local businesses. It was heartbreaking to speak to business owners who had been running successful, longstanding, well-established business for many years, some for over 10 years, and last year they were faced with the prospect of closing their doors due to events completely out of their control.

It’s also been devastating to speak to those business owners who had only recently taken the leap to start their own business and were then hit, as their business was taking off, with some of the issues that have come from the pandemic. These were Australians who had developed and pursued a good idea, taken a risk and gone out on their own. Again, through no fault of their own, their livelihoods were suddenly thrown into disarray with the pandemic and recession. JobKeeper, something that those on this side of the House had called for, ended up being really important to many of my local businesses in keeping them afloat and allowing them to support their staff and their families.

That is why Labor really did call on the government to introduce wage subsidies at the start of the pandemic. We knew that, without the support, countless small businesses as well as those workers in many businesses across Australia would lose work and those small businesses would collapse. Thankfully, in 2021, a lot of businesses have started to recover, but there are many industries that are still struggling and need this government’s support. These are industries that have not felt the economic bounce-back that the government keeps bragging about. This government is now going to pull the rug out for these hardworking Australian businesses when it cuts JobKeeper next week. In doing so, it will be putting local jobs, livelihoods and small business at risk.

Many of the struggling industries have been widely reported on—tourism, entertainment, the arts and hospitality. But one that hasn’t really been spoken about much is the events and party industry. I have spoken to a number of local businesses in the events and party industry and it is clear that they have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic and are still feeling the impact of ongoing social distancing requirements and COVID-19 restrictions. I spoke to Tina, who is the owner of Eco Party Box in Moana, a small family owned and run business that has been operating for over 10 years. Tina runs the business from a shed at home. She supplies environmentally friendly party supplies, things like compostable plates, napkins and cutlery. It’s a clever and successful business idea at a time when people are starting to really care about minimising their environmental footprint. Tina told me at the start of COVID virtually all orders stopped and her business was at a standstill. JobKeeper was a lifeline for Tina’s business and helped her to look after her four kids and kept food on the family’s dinner table. Eco Party Box is still struggling with the ongoing impact of COVID-19 restrictions on parties and social gatherings. Many people still aren’t hosting parties, and those parties that are happening are usually smaller and scaled back due to restrictions on the number of people at gatherings. For businesses like Tina’s, this means their bottom line is still taking a huge hit. When I spoke to Tina at the start of March, she said her business was only just starting to recover. She said that February was the first time since the pandemic began a year ago that she had more than a couple of orders on her books for the week. Tina told me she wishes that JobKeeper could continue for at least a few more months while her business is still getting back on its feet.

Another local business is Down South Party Hire at Lonsdale—once again, a family-owned business, which has been operating for 16 years. They do an amazing job of providing party supplies and hiring out party equipment, like audiovisual equipment, lights and gazebos. They’ve told me that, in 2020, they experienced a 98 per cent drop in their business and they had to rely on JobKeeper to get through. They told me that bookings are still not back to normal yet. The uncertainty around the regularly changing COVID-19 restrictions means that people aren’t planning ahead for parties and events. Many of the bookings they are receiving are only being made a week or even a few days out from the event. This lack of certainty about income is making it incredibly hard for them to plan ahead and run their business effectively. The scaled-down nature of the parties that go ahead means they aren’t seeing bookings for items like marquees and gazebos. Even at the best of times, winter is a quiet time for the events and party industry. These businesses rely on the revenue from the busier spring and summer seasons to make it through. Without any reserves from last year, winter is quickly approaching and JobKeeper is ending. Many event and party businesses don’t know what’s going to come next.

Local businesses in the events and party industry like Eco Party Box and Down South Party Hire are just two of many, many businesses out there that have been hit hard by the pandemic and are still feeling the impact, and none of the government’s packages are helping these businesses. Both of these businesses say they would still be eligible for JobKeeper if the current criteria were to continue past 31 March. The pandemic isn’t ending on 31 March. With the vaccine rollout delays and chaos, which have caused people to become increasingly frustrated with this federal government, events based businesses will continue to feel the impact of COVID-19 restrictions. The fact is that more than one million Australian workers will still be on JobKeeper on 31 March but won’t get anything the next day. That’s 10 per cent of the workforce. With a week to go, there is still no real plan from this government to replace JobKeeper for many, many of those businesses and workers. Not all sectors, industries and communities have shared in the recovery, and it is time that this government looked comprehensively at how they can support businesses which, through no fault of their own, are going to struggle when JobKeeper ends, many of which have been very successful for a long time.

Another issue that has very much got the attention of many people in my electorate is the failings of this government in aged care. On 26 February, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety handed down its final report. This report made clear what we have known for some time: the aged-care sector is in crisis. Funding cuts and neglect by the Morrison Liberal government have had devastating repercussions on the sector. The final report outlined the true extent of the neglect of the Morrison Liberal government and highlighted its horrific effect on older Australians. It is appalling that, under this government and under this Prime Minister, 68 per cent of residents of aged-care facilities are malnourished. One in three are receiving substandard care in the home and in aged care. The report outlined countless horrific cases of abuse that have taken place in our aged-care system. There were reported instances of residents being left with maggots in open wounds and residents being left lying in their own excrement due to the lack of staff and resources. The state of the aged-care system is terrifying for those who are in the system already. It is also terrifying for those faced with going into the system in the future; I hear that time and time again. I have people say to me, ‘If I look like I’m going into an aged-care facility, I want it to end.’ That is just not good enough. Our aged Australians should be enjoying their twilight years, but they have a fear of going into an aged-care facility.

Many families of older Australians are terrified at the prospect of their older Australians not being treated with dignity and respect. I regularly hear from children, partners, siblings—those who are dreading the prospect of working with their loved ones to move them into aged care and are deeply concerned about their loved ones already in residential aged care. Every Australian deserves the comfort of knowing that either they or their loved ones will be safe and looked after in aged-care facilities. No Australian should have to feel scared about entering residential aged care. When an older person needs to enter aged care we must ensure that they can enter quickly. Unfortunately, at the moment, the wait time to enter care is close to 200 days. The crisis in aged care can be directly brought home to this government’s mismanagement and underfunding.

One of the central issues is that aged-care workers are overworked, are underpaid and lack the support they need. Many staff are responsible for too many residents, and, as a result, cannot offer the standard of service that is required or that they want to provide. I have heard from aged-care workers who say they work in the industry because they love looking after older Australians. They get a sense of pride and purpose when they do this. They themselves are desperately upset when they are not allowed to sit with an elderly person feeling upset or angry; they may be experiencing some sort of memory loss and want some comfort. Our aged-care workers are telling me that they’re not even able to pause for a moment to provide that comfort and support—the reason they wanted to get into aged care in the first place. It is for many of these reasons that Labor repeatedly called on the government to mandate minimum staff ratios to ensure each resident receives the care and attention they deserve. Unfortunately, older Australians and their loved ones say, when they talk with me, that they have lost faith in this government.

In October 2019 the Morrison Liberal government was told by the interim report that one of the things it could address immediately was the waitlist for home-care packages. Nearly two years later the waitlist is still a staggering 100,000 people. Over three years 30,000 older Australians have died waiting for in-home care—and this is care that’s already been approved. In southern Adelaide there are over 1,500 people who have been approved but have not been offered the correct package. Too many older Australians have nowhere to turn, and the Prime Minister cannot sweep this crisis under the carpet any longer. This government has now received 22 reports about the broken aged-care system since 2013. Each time they’ve chosen spin over substance, neglect over action. Enough is enough. Older Australians deserve better.

Finally, I want to quickly touch on the other end of the age spectrum—that is, young Australians, who have also been left behind during this pandemic but in a different way. Young Australians have felt the brunt of the COVID pandemic, with many working in casual and insecure work in industries that have been hit hard, like hospitality and the arts. Many young people have been the first to lose work since the pandemic started. Youth unemployment is still at 12.9 per cent and underemployment is at 19.4 per cent.

I hope that we will see real action from this government in terms of a youth recovery strategy. At the moment the youth portfolio, from what I can tell, has no resources attributed to it. I want to see a proper recovery strategy that brings in young people and ensures that their needs are looked after as we recover from the COVID pandemic. At the moment there’s meant to be a report on the minister’s desk. We don’t know what’s in it, we don’t know if it’ll ever be released and we don’t know what resources will go along with it. I look forward to seeing that report made public, because young people deserve transparency and direction from this government.

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