Michael Sukkar MP

Federal Member for Deakin
Shadow Minister for Social Services
Shadow Minister for the NDIS
Shadow Minister for Housing
Shadow Minister for Homelessness
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Transcript – Doorstop, Mural Hall, Parliament House ACT





Topic: Incentivising Jobseekers to enter the workforce


Monday, 31 July 2023

Michael Sukkar: Well, good morning, everybody. This week, the Coalition will be moving amendments in the Senate to put affect to our announcement in budget reply, which was to help Australians looking for work, helping Australians who are predominantly on JobSeeker to earn more money before the very punitive taper rates kick in and reduce their entitlement to JobSeeker.
We’ll be moving amendments to increase that income free area by $150, giving those people an entitlement to earn $150 more per fortnight before it eats into their JobSeeker and other payments, including Abstudy and Youth Allowance. There are 430,000 job vacancies in Australia as we speak. There are large parts of the economy with crippling labour shortages. We also think that the best thing for Australians and the best thing for any person is to be involved in the workforce to further their own skills and removing some of the barriers, the punitive barriers, in the welfare system to get back into the workforce is another motivating part of these amendments.
So, we’ll be calling on the Senate to support our amendments, which will be reversing out the Government’s announced increase to JobSeeker, but providing an additional $150 amount for the income free area. That will mean those on JobSeeker, for example, will be better off each fortnight if they utilise that additional income free area as opposed to the Government’s proposal.
In the end, our view in the Coalition is with nearly half a million job vacancies, that we should be encouraging Australians to get back into the workforce, to remove the barriers of getting back into the workforce, rather than asking Australians who are paying their taxes to increase those payments for people not to work. This measure represents a saving of some $2.9 billion over the forward estimates if the Senate was to agree to these amendments. So sure, there’ll be a budget benefit, but we think most importantly it will give people on JobSeeker more money in their pocket at the end of every fortnight. It will help alleviate the labour shortages that we’re seeing around this country and we hope will start to fill some of the 430,000 job vacancies that are currently there at the moment.

Journalist: Mr Sukkar, I suppose the Government will say that that idea that you’re proposing isn’t practical because some of the people that are currently on JobSeeker, a lot of them are long term unemployed or they’ve got other issues like you might have mental health issues or they’re not well, and there’s reasons why they can’t get into the work, into the workforce. What do you say to that?

Michael Sukkar: Well, I don’t think we should wave the white flag on people who have been out of the workforce for a long time. I think the worst thing we can do and I think the worst thing the government can do is wave the white flag and say, we’re giving up on you and we accept that you can never re-enter the workforce.
There are very punitive taper rates throughout our welfare system, particularly here with JobSeeker. We think removing those very punitive barriers will encourage certainly a portion of those people to re-enter the workforce. And in the end, the more people we can get back into the workforce at this stage will mean perhaps in a few years time we’re talking about fewer long term unemployed because we’ve broken that nexus.
And I don’t think we should give up on those people and we’re certainly not giving up on them in the Coalition.

Journalist: So the government is saying that this will fail. The safety net legislation does need to pass the sitting, so these increases will be up the sides JobSeeker do need to start flowing from the 20th of September. Will the opposition stand in the way if your amendments don’t get through?

Michael Sukkar: No, we will move our amendments and we’ll be working our hardest to try and convince the Senate to agree to the amendments that we’ll put forward. We think they’re far superior. We think they’re better for the economy, they’re better for individuals, better for the budget, obviously. But in the end, we won’t stand in the way of this legislation, but we will be doing everything we can to get our amendments up because they’re so much better for Australians.

Journalist: Jacqui Lambie this morning said that she would welcome an increase to JobSeeker for $40. And I know that the Government is now saying it is 56, but she’s saying if there was an increase, let’s say a $40 a fortnight to JobSeeker plus the ability to earn a bit more money without your benefits being affected, is that something that you would consider maybe not the 56 increase but might be $40?

Michael Sukkar: Well, let’s see what negotiations can occur in the Senate. We’ll put forward our amendments in good faith. They’ll be, I suspect, a lot of discussions that happen with our Senate leadership and the crossbenchers and potentially the Greens. So I think we’ll wait and see on that. But our view at first instance is to do everything we can to get our amendments going.

Journalist: Do you do you believe that the JobSeeker rate should increase?

Michael Sukkar: Well, I think it’s always about choices. And here, as we’ve outlined, there’s a significant cost involved with increasing the income free area from 100, $150. That’s quite a significant cost, nearly one and a half billion dollars. So we have put forward a policy that costs the budget quite a significant amount, but we think the benefit of that is worth it in the form of getting more people back into the workforce, alleviating some of the labour shortages and eating into that 430,000 job vacancies that are sitting at the moment. So we think that’s the best use of that money. We think it’s far superior to what the Government’s proposing and that’s why we’ve gone down that path as opposed to the other.

Journalist: Just clarify, you’re willing to go to the next election. Vowing to cut payments of people who are in the workforce.

Michael Sukkar: No, that’s not what I said. So the answer to the previous question is we wouldn’t stand in the way of the legislation ultimately. So we’ll move our amendments. We want to get our amendments up. And that’s the reality. Obviously, what occurs at the next election will be outlined then, but I can’t envisage a circumstance where we would seek to wind back a legislated increase. That’s not going to happen. We think this is a much better path to take now and that’s why we’re going to move these amendments now to try and help those people who are facing those very punitive taper rates, help those employers who are struggling with labour shortages as opposed to the proposals that the Labor Party’s taken.

Journalist: So just to clarify on that point, so if the Coalition’s amendments don’t go through, you will support the increase that is being proposed. But in the lead up to the next election, you won’t seem to be winding back that increase. You’ll be looking at potentially allowing people to work more hours.

Michael Sukkar: I can’t envisage a circumstance where we would do that. So I can give that assurance. What we do in addition to that will be a matter for our pre-election announcements and whether that includes additional income for area in addition to what’s already legislated. I think that’s really going to be a matter for what we announce then. At the moment we’re saying the increase to the income free area is in substitution for what the Government is proposing. But if it passes, you know, again, I can’t see a circumstance where it would we we would seek to do that. Let’s be frank. I can’t envisage any future Parliament doing that anyway. So we would look at a suite of other options and opportunities again to try and help with those hundreds of thousands of job vacancies, those employers who are crying out for employers who can’t get people to fill shifts. And you know, that will be, I think, the matter for pre-election announcements.

Journalist: And just come all the way on housing, the Government’s going to introduce its $10 billion housing fund bill into the Parliament. Again, obviously the Greens and the Coalition’s already said they’re not going to back. It does offer that double dissolution trigger. Do you think that between when the legislation is introduced to when it’s voted in October that Labor and the Greens may be able to come to some sort of a compromise?

Michael Sukkar: Look, your guess is as good as mine. I think a couple of observations, the sort of hectoring and lecturing and nastiness that’s come from the Government towards particularly the Greens housing spokesman I don’t think has been very dignified. I don’t think it’s been very becoming of the government, particularly the very personal and nasty attacks on the Greens Housing Spokesman, so I suspect that doesn’t help. In the end, the Greens and the Labor Party are in a political alliance. A majority of Labor members get elected on Greens preferences. So I think, you know, my working assumption has been at some point in time that political alliance might be able to come to some agreement. We are steadfast in our Opposition to this money go round to the housing fund that doesn’t guarantee $1 for social and affordable housing. That has been contrived and designed for one reason to keep it off the budget bottom line. And for that reason alone, we could never support it and what the Greens choose to do is ultimately matter for them. But given the political alliance between the Greens and the Labor Party, you know, I think it’s clearly a possibility.

Journalist: What do you make of the government’s threat of a double dissolution?

Michael Sukkar: Well, look, if the government wants to have an election that’s essentially a referendum on their failed housing policies, I think that would be very courageous. And I think on every single measure, whether it’s first home buyers being down, whether it’s new home starts being down, whether it’s rents being up, every housing measure is showing failure under this government. So I think they would be quite brave to go to an election essentially making it a referendum on housing. And if they chose to do that, we would we would take that up enthusiastically. But that’s ultimately going to be a matter for the government. Thanks for coming down, guys.