November 30, 2020

Everyone agrees that we are managing the health impacts of the COVID-19 crisis well in Australia. However, it's a far different story when it comes to the economic recession we are in. If one just looks at the reports of a booming stock market and surging property prices, you could be fooled into thinking we are back to normal. Nothing could be further from the truth. For a significant and growing proportion of our community, their circumstances are very grim. They are much grimmer, in fact, than at the peak of the COVID-19 lockdown.

During the last fortnight, I've had the privilege to visit some wonderful organisations who are helping the growing number of vulnerable people in Shortland. Many of my constituents might be surprised that there are foodbanks and distribution centres in our community. I acknowledge and pay tribute to the wonderful volunteers at Belmont Community Kitchen, OzHarvest at Windale, Manor House, Survivor's R Us and Southlake Marketplace for the truly magnificent work they do in my community. At this time of year, particularly in this recession, many, many people are doing it tough, and these wonderful organisations supported by wonderful volunteers make an immeasurable impact and difference to the lives of so many people.

However, the feedback I receive from the foodbank managers was very disturbing. Their clients are facing a much more difficult situation than six months ago. This is due to the government's cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker. There are 1.6 million Australians relying on the JobSeeker unemployment support, with the government predicting another 200,000 will be added to that list by the end of the year. There are a further 1.5 million Australians on JobKeeper. Locally, we have about 8,000 JobSeeker recipients and an estimated 17,000 who depend upon JobKeeper.

Nearly 30 per cent of all Shortland residents aged between 15 and 65 depend upon one of these payments that the government has cut. Ann-Maria from Survivor's R Us at Cardiff told me that at the height of the lockdown they were providing food packages to around 150 families a week. They have seen a spike in demand since the government's cuts to JobSeeker and JobKeeper were implemented in late September. They are now providing packages to over 450 families per week. Just reflect upon that for a moment: demand from families in danger of starving tripled at exactly the same time this government cut JobKeeper and JobSeeker. This is no coincidence.

I received similar evidence from Christine from Southlake Marketplace at the southern end of Shortland. Christine was literally in tears as she explained the massive surge in demand for their food parcels. Southlake Marketplace were assisting 400 families at the height of the COVID lockdown. Immediately after the September cuts, this surged to around a thousand families in need of assistance to have enough food. In other words, the demand for help with the basics of life is at 250 per cent because of the government's cuts. Christine also made the point that they cannot currently meet the demand for Christmas hampers and toys for families and kids in our area. She was distraught at the thought of turning away families, meaning kids would not receive a Christmas present.

I've organised for my electorate office to be a drop-off point for toys, but so much more needs to be done. Families in my community are hurting because of the deliberate decisions of this Liberal National government. Let me repeat that: the cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker are a deliberate act of cruelty by this craven, out-of-touch government. This cruelty means thousands of families in my community will be at risk of starvation without the intervention of the charities I mentioned previously. I do not make this claim lightly, but the evidence is obvious. The cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker are a deliberate act of cruelty by this government. The government has chosen to cut JobKeeper and JobSeeker at the worst possible time. Removing much needed support to those who need it most is bad economics and disgusting social policy, and it is a damning indictment on this government.

To make matters worse, we're hearing stories of families being evicted from their homes. This is despite the eviction moratorium being officially extended by the New South Wales government. Loan deferrals have also been ended by many banks, meaning those families with mortgages are also facing grim circumstances. We are seeing a tsunami of housing stress coming down the road for so many Australians, and it's made much worse by the cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker. For many, not only are they struggling to put food on their table they are struggling to keep a roof over their head.

I call upon the government to stop these cuts, which will go deep in the New Year, to ensure that families in my electorate can have food on the table and a roof over their heads. One of the key lessons of this pandemic is that government has a fundamentally critical role to play in society, and they have the power to not only support citizens in tough times but to transform their lives for the better. This government should avoid those cuts.