THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
SPEECH ON THE CORONAVIRUS ECONOMIC RESPONSE PACKAGE (PAYMENTS AND BENEFITS) BILL 2020
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
WEDNESDAY, 8 APRIL 2020
***CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY***
Labor welcomes this legislation and the introduction of wage subsidies for Australian workers.
We argued for them before the Government’s announcement – and we support them now in the Parliament.
With so many businesses shutting their doors, with so many others losing turnover, with so many Australian jobs on the line, people need this financial support – and they need it now.
From the start, Labor promised to be practical and constructive in our response to this crisis. It’s a pledge we’ve taken seriously.
We know that people are worried about their rent or their mortgage; about keeping their family safe and secure.
I hope these payments can give Australians some peace of mind in a stressful time, as much as that’s possible.
As I said, Labor won’t oppose policy for the sake of opposition.
But we won’t stop fighting for people who are not getting the support they need.
It’s what happened when we campaigned for the inclusion of people on Youth Allowance, Austudy and Abstudy in the Coronavirus Supplement payment – an amendment we negotiated successfully with the Government.
That’s our job – and it will help produce better results in the long run.
As it stands, this policy does have some significant holes in it.
In my shadow portfolio, education, Labor is urging the Government to provide better support for casual staff in schools, TAFEs, and universities affected by this crisis.
We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of workers here: teachers, academics, admin staff, library staff, catering staff, grounds staff, and cleaners. All with families, all concerned about the future of their jobs.
The majority of these people will not be eligible for this JobKeeper payment – either because they don’t meet the requirement of being employed on a regular basis for more than twelve months, or because few schools or universities meet the fall in revenue required to qualify.
On Sunday, the Treasurer announced that ‘all registered charities’ would be eligible for the Jobkeeper payment at a lower rate of turnover decline: a 15% fall, rather than 30%.
Within a day, the Government walked back this decision by excluding non-government schools and universities, even though most are registered as charities.
Leaving schools and universities to fend for themselves is a big mistake – and we’re starting to see the consequences.
School systems have already began standing down casual employees.
More than 300 casual teachers on the New South Wales Central Coast were told this week that no shifts would be available for the foreseeable future.
A school in regional Queensland has stood down more than 100 staff.
Many of these workers have contacted my office, asking for help. People are desperate.
One woman told me how, after a 10-year teaching career and then a break for maternity leave, she had recently returned to school as a casual.
Now all that work has dried up. She doesn’t know how she will support her family and young child.
This teacher said that she feels like a ‘sacrificial lamb’ for her country – and deeply undervalued as a professional.
These are the same people who kept teaching our kids – who stood in crowded classrooms as the virus was spreading in our community.
They were there for us – and we should be there for them.
We can’t call teachers heroes one week and then ignore them the next.
If the Government doesn’t believe the JobKeeper payment is appropriate for schools, it should explain why – and the Prime Minister should tell Australians what he will do to support casual teachers instead.
It is true that state and territory governments have an important role to play here too.
But to solve this problem nationally – and to give casual staff the security they deserve – the Government needs to sit down urgently with school employees to see what works best for them.
It needs to sit down with TAFE staff and have the same conversations. There are thousands of livelihoods on the line here.
Labor is approaching the problem with an open mind – and we’ll support any sensible plan to fix it.
I also want to note the extremely worrying situation facing our universities right now.
Higher education in Australia is under immense financial pressure.
For years, our universities have relied on international students to help fund their other operations, such as world leading research and teaching.
The COVD-19 pandemic, and the global travel restrictions that followed it, have led to a crisis in funding – with income from international students plummeting over recent months.
Universities are worried that both international and local student numbers will continue to fall before the second semester.
There are now genuine fears that, without federal government support, some universities may collapse.
This would be a catastrophe.
If we don’t act now, if we drag our feet and allow universities to fail, we’ll see vital research cut, thousands of jobs lost, and students left hanging in the middle of degrees.
Higher education is our third biggest export industry.
The source of 260,000 equivalent full-time jobs.
It contributes $41 billion a year to the Australian economy.
It’s the cornerstone of many regional economies – and a provider of 14,000 reliable jobs across regional Australia.
The University of New England, based in Armidale, employs more than 1000 staff. The University of Tasmania’s Launceston and Burnie campuses employ hundreds.
We’ve got campuses in Geelong, Bathurst, Rockhampton, Wagga Wagga, and Townsville.
Universities are absolutely critical to dealing with this urgent health crisis – and they’re going to be just as critical to our recovery in the years to come.
Not only do universities employ the researchers who develop new treatments and cures – they also educate our doctors, nurses, and health experts.
Across Australia, universities are lending their skill and resources to the fight against Coronavirus – to find a vaccine and new treatments.
The University of New South Wales has established a Rapid Research Fund to address the diagnostic, therapeutic and containment challenges of COVI9-19 – as well as its long term social and economic consequences.
Other universities are working with the health system to fast track final year medicine and nursing students into our hospitals.
Universities tell us that access to JobKeeper payments on the same terms as other not-for-profits would be a big help.
If the Government doesn’t believe the JobKeeper payment is appropriate for universities, it should explain why – and the Prime Minister should tell Australians what he will do to support universities instead.
It also needs to consider the students falling through the gaps of the support system – particularly international students.
I know that universities are doing what they can to help these people, including a hardship fund. The Government should work with them on this.
It’s not ethical to allow these people to become destitute, but it also compromises the safety of our community if international students are forced to work through sickness.
Whether on schools or unis – all the Government has really done so far is tell us what they won’t do.
We can do better than that. We want to work with the Government to find solutions and save jobs.
That’s Labor’s message today: we want to help.
We want the Government’s policies to succeed – and we want Australia to survive the crisis as healthy, united and secure as possible.
To do this, we need to support our public institutions so they reach the other side in the world class state they were coming into the crisis.
And we need to make sure that no one – student or worker – gets left behind in the process.