Mr HAYES (Fowler — Chief Opposition Whip) (19:49): I’d like to use my time to talk about what is likely to occur with the end of JobSeeker payments later this month, particularly the impact it will have on an area such as mine, where disadvantage is over-represented. As I have previously discussed in this House, Fowler has been found to be one of the most disadvantaged electorates in the nation. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, that is borne out when applying the socioeconomic index, an index which takes into account several factors, including education levels, type of work, rent, English competency, disability and family status.
I’m proud of my electorate. I’m proud of the colour and the vibrancy and, in particular, the cultural diversity, which does set us apart. But, sadly, my area is not a wealthy community. As a matter of fact, the average household income — and I mean household income, not individual income — is just over $60,000 a year. There are several reasons why Fowler is over-represented in disadvantage, but one factor is that my community accommodates the settlement of the largest number of migrants and refugees. We are a very welcoming community to that extent, and I’d like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the great work of various charities in my community, like St Vincent de Paul, the Salvation Army, Food Angel, Inspire Church, Liverpool Neighbourhood Connections, Meals on Wheels, Turbans 4 Australia, Community Action Services and the many private and church-run soup kitchens, which do an enormous amount of good in our community. They do a lot of the heavy lifting which would ordinarily be a government responsibility.
Last month, data was released by the Department of Social Services which puts in perspective the added strain that the end of JobKeeper payments will have on my community. The data was analysed by The Guardian Australia, and it shows that the hardest hit areas will be working-class suburbs and regional communities. In fact, Fowler was found to be the third-worst affected area, with my community set to lose $3½ million in assistance. For many, the JobSeeker payment has been a lifeline. The removal of the remaining coronavirus supplement by the end of the month will add further hardship and strain to an already struggling community. Its removal at such a critical time is, I think, unconscionable. We have people who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads and put basic food on the table, and this government thinks that an increase of $50 a fortnight to the Newstart allowance does the job. This increase is insufficient and quite frankly it is an insult to those who are struggling on a day-to-day basis.
Economists and social service groups have warned that returning those who are now relying on JobSeeker payments essentially back to the Newstart level will not only hurt Australians but be harmful to our economy. Economist Nicki Hutley highlights the gravity of the decision when she notes that the economy is already feeling the effects of the withdrawal of the initial $550 coronavirus supplement, which was applied in the early period of the pandemic. As she puts it, it is the final nail in the coffin and it will have a massive impact on spending. If this government is serious about giving people some sort of dignity, there must be a willingness to legislate a permanent appropriate increase to the Newstart rate. A rise of $50 a fortnight simply won’t cut it, particularly in communities like mine, and it is not going to lift people out of poverty.
Dr Cassandra Goldie, the Chief Executive of the Australian Council of Social Service, knows that there are clear economic reasons for ensuring that people have enough to cover the basics. The most important is that this is a matter of basic human need. The removal of the supplement by the end of the month will put basics rights at risk for many Australians, particularly impacting on those in my community. We are a wealthy nation, and it is unacceptable for any Australian to live in poverty.