Australia news live: ACTU says $50 jobseeker raise is 'inadequate'; Facebook to restore Australian news pages

5 days ago

Paul Karp

The Rationalist Society (a humanist group) has surfaced an interview Liberal MP Kevin Andrews gave to the conservative FamilyVoice Australia group suggesting the religious freedom legislation could be about to make a comeback.

The attorney general Christian Porter produced a second draft of this bill in December 2019 and was preparing to introduce it to parliament in early 2020 before the coronavirus overtook all government business.

The issue was raised at the Coalition party room last week, and Scott Morrison reiterated the Coalition’s commitment to the bill. No precise timeframe was put on it - and the government has missed its own deadlines in the past.

Andrews said:

My understanding is that the attorney now has a bill ready to present to the parliament. And my hope is that this bill will be presented shortly because there’s only most of the year in this parliament to go ...

It’s a compromise in some regards because there are people with various issues and concerns but I think overall It is. If enacted, it would be a huge step in terms of protecting freedom of religion in Australia compared with where we are at the present time.”

We contacted Porter to ask if the bill will make a comeback.
Porter replied:

The government’s immediate priorities are protecting the health of all Australians and addressing the unprecedented economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

The government will revisit its legislative program as the situation develops, and bring the religious discrimination bill forward at an appropriate time.”

Daniel Hurst

Bringing you up to speed with an important but less prominent development this afternoon:

An attempt in the Senate to overturn the government’s increase in migration-related court fees has failed because the vote was tied 30-all.

The Centre Alliance senator for South Australia, Stirling Griff, had attempted to gather support in the Senate to strike down the regulation that the government had used to increase the fees. But with the Coalition and One Nation voting against Griff’s motion, the attempt narrowly failed (motions to disallow government regulations need a majority to succeed).

The Law Council of Australia has previously been one of the most outspoken critics of the federal government’s increases in federal circuit court fees for migration cases.

In November, the council’s president, Pauline Wright, said the jump from $690 to $3,330 would pose “a severe threat to access to justice for migrants” and was “unconscionable”. Wright described it as “objectionable particularly when many refugee applicants and temporary visa holders receive no government support and, in some cases, have no access to work rights during the appeal process”.

At the time, a spokesperson for the attorney general, Christian Porter, told Guardian Australia all revenue from the change would be directly reinvested in the federal circuit court, and that a full fee exemption would be maintained for applicants experiencing financial hardship.

Just to revisit what Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil said earlier about the hotline the Morrison government has announced for employers to report people who refuse job offers.

O’Neil warned it will give unemployed Australians even less power in a dynamic already skewed against them, especially if an employer treats an applicant poorly during an interview.

O’Neil appeared to suggest it could lead women into accepting jobs they feel unsafe in, referencing the multiple workplace sexual assault allegations that have dominated political discussion over the past week.

Just think about what we’ve all been talking about for the last week and a bit. I mean, imagine a circumstance where someone is treated badly at the interview, where they’re harassed, or perhaps sleazy propositions put to them at the point where they’re going for a job. Then you’re saying that employer can dob in that unemployed woman for the fact that she’s knocked back a job?

This is dangerous territory to give power to employers to further punish people who are simply looking for work.

O’Neil noted there are already “harsh” obligations in place for jobseeker recipients to prove they’re looking for work, or risk losing their payment. She said she wanted the government to reveal what evidence it had relied on to justify the establishment of the hotline.

This is unnecessary and it’s punitive, and it can backfire badly.

Updated at 1.56am EST

As if there hadn’t been enough Craig Kelly news today.

Speaking to Sky News from his office this afternoon, the former Liberal MP attacked Labor MP Josh Burns, over a speech Burns gave in parliament last night.

Burns, who is Jewish, accused Kelly of making antisemitic comments when he described a man whose controversial coronavirus views he was spruiking as having a “long Jewish beard”.

Kelly lashed out at Burns (while forgetting his name) in an interview with Sky News, saying Burns’ accusation of antisemitism “was an absolute abuse of parliamentary privilege”.

That was an absolute bloody disgrace. And I am absolutely livid about that..I’ve asked my Jewish friends and they said there’s nothing antisemitic about saying someone has a long Jewish beard.

Hitting back, Burns stood by his criticisms of Kelly, telling Sky News later in the afternoon:

You don’t need to describe someone’s beard as being a Jewish beard. I mean, it’s stereotyping. It’s unnecessary, sort of categorising someone based on their religion, and many Jewish people don’t have beards, including myself. And I just say it’s an unnecessary and inappropriate way to describe a situation.

Over the past few months, Mr Kelly has engaged in consistently inappropriate behaviour. The first thing he did was he attacked the Victorian health authorities, and he compared them with Nazi Germany ... it was deeply offensive to families who have suffered in the Holocaust.

I don’t need to go into all of the sort of reasons why it’s absurd and offensive. The other thing he’s been doing has been appearing on podcasts with figures who have been spouting far-right, extremist, antisemitic conspiracy theories, neo-Nazi imagery.

It’s been this sort of consistent pattern of behaviour that sort of culminated last week when he did this interview, and he stereotypically described someone’s Jewish beard. Now, it was sloppy at best and stereotypical at worst.

Updated at 1.57am EST

Facebook will restore news to Australian pages in the next few days after the government agreed to change its landmark media bargaining code that would force the social network and Google to pay for displaying news content.

Last week, Facebook blocked all news on its platform in Australia, and inadvertently blocked information and government pages, including health and emergency services.

The ban on news created shockwaves, with the action viewed as a direct message to the rest of the world against embarking on similar regulation of the technology giant.

Read more my colleagues Amanda Meade, Josh Taylor and Daniel Hurst:

Joyce is also asked about the changes to the jobseeker payment today. He says:

Everything is going on the credit card. I wanted to see an increase in jobseeker. We’ve got an increase in jobseeker. It’s $9bn over the forward estimates. We’ve now got a record debt, a record deficit, by reason of the support payments that people desired in regards Covid. Now you can’t just keep putting things on the credit card.

I think the saving that could be made is by having proper oversight over people who basically just don’t want to work because, as I said, they are not unemployed if they’re offered a job and don’t do it. They are lazy.

This is the final question of the interview, and when Karvelas says she would have challenged him on using the word “lazy” if she had more time, Joyce says he deliberately waited until the end of the interview to say it, and laughs.

Updated at 1.09am EST

The Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce says he visited Craig Kelly’s office after he resigned earlier today “as a mate” and “to look after him”.

However, when asked by the ABC’s Patricia Karvelas if he wants Kelly to join the National party, Joyce says he does, but not as a way of helping him gain support for a leadership push against Michael McCormack.

That is not the motivation at all.

Of course any time to make the National party bigger, I’m going to grab it with both hands. That’s what you do. But that’s entirely a question for Craig. Craig may stay as an independent. Craig is his own boss.

My job first and foremost is to give him space and be his mate but if someone wants to join the Nationals, I tell you what, I’m the last person to talk them out of it.

If someone left because a family member died or they got sick and if a by-election was held and we lost, you can find ourselves in opposition. Any insurance you can take out of that, you should accept is not a bad outcome.

Updated at 1.07am EST

ACTU boss says $50 a fortnight jobseeker rise 'manifestly inadequate'

Michele O’Neil, the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, is scathing about the government’s jobseeker changes announced today.

Speaking to ABC TV, she says the $50 a fortnight increase to the jobseeker unemployment payment is “a manifestly inadequate increase”:

Given we have 6.4% of workers in Australia who are unemployed at the moment, millions of people in a situation where they either don’t have enough work or no work at all, two million people.

This will leave people seeing a cut in terms of what they’re currently getting because it will be $100 a fortnight less than what they’ve been getting (with the coronavirus supplement). If you go back to the beginning of the pandemic, it is $500 less a fortnight.

We’re talking about $44 a day. It is not enough to live with dignity. It is not enough to pay the rent. It’s not enough to properly feed your family. It doesn’t put you in a position where you can look for work and have what you need in your life to be actively looking for work.

I’m thinking of those people in Australia who are out of work, many of whom went through an incredibly difficult time, as we all did, in the last 12 months. They used up their annual leave, long service leave, sick leave. They lost jobs, lost hours. And this is how we’re treating people? A lot doing essential work during the pandemic to keep us safe and keep us fed.

Part of the reason the economic crisis was not as bad as we thought was because we gave money to the people who needed it. This is not the time to rip it away.

O’Neil also says she wants the government to reveal what evidence it is relying on to justify the establishment of a hotline for employers to dob in unemployed Australians who refuse jobs.

Updated at 1.04am EST

Thanks for taking us through the day so far Amy.

I’m Elias Visontay, and I’ll be taking you through the rest of the day.

If you see anything you think I should be aware of, you can get in touch with me via Twitter @EliasVisontay, via email at elias.visontay@theguardian.com, and Wickr at eliasvisontay.

I’m going to hand over to Elias Visontay for the evening. Thank you to everyone who joined me today.

I know it is frustrating not being able to comment – I miss your comments too – but given the issues we have been covering, legally it is better this way. I know there is a lot of rage and disbelief and anger out there, and I get it, but that also means we have to moderate comments to ensure we are all protected, legally – and that takes a lot of work from our moderating team, who are covering a lot of stories across the site.

But I promise you are not forgotten.

Thank you again for your messages and kind words – and for those who asked me questions, I will get back to you as soon as I can. You can always find me here if you have something pressing to say – it is a little easier to keep track of those messages at the moment, so that’s the place to drop me a line.

I’ll be back tomorrow morning – take care of you.

Updated at 12.52am EST

Anne Ruston is then asked about the allegations that have been raised by women staffers and says:

It is very concerning to hear the stories that these girls have put forward.

Nobody should feel unsafe in the workplace and nobody should feel unsupported. Clearly, these investigations that are under way at the moment, both the internal investigations in this parliament and the external independent investigations. Hopefully they can come back with findings to make sure that women are safe in this parliament.

Updated at 12.46am EST

Over on the ABC, Anne Ruston is asked about ‘narcseeker’ – the government program to have employers dob on jobseekers to turn down their jobs:

One of the things I’m sure you would have heard over the last 12 months has been a great concern, that people have been offered jobs and haven’t been taking them.

So what we are seeking to do by having a reporting line is to say to employers, if they are feeling frustrated that they have offered somebody a job and they don’t accept that, if they are capable of undertaking the task at hand or if they simply don’t turn up to work after being offered a job, they have an opportunity to say they were disappointed and allow either the job service provider with which that person resides [or the employment department] to follow up and find out from that person why they refused the job and didn’t turn up to work, because it’s really important that people who are receiving payments have a responsibility to undertake the job searches. We expect them to be looking for work.

How hard will the government try to verify the claims?

Ruston:

Well, clearly there are mutual obligations on both – from the employee or the potential employee, or the job seeker, as well as we have obligations and understandings with the job service providers.

So what we would say to a person who had been identified as potentially having refused a job, we’d go back and have a look if they put that job down as one of the jobs that met their mutual obligations, then we would seek from them as an explanation if the employer had said they’d offered them a job and they hadn’t taken it up, why they hadn’t taken it up.

Updated at 12.45am EST

Q: Do you think Craig Kelly’s betrayed the Liberal party?

Simon Birmingham:

Well, yes. Look, anybody who is elected on a platform as a representative of one party, goes to their electorate indicating strong support for that party, is a member of that party, is to some degree betraying the party and the voters who supported them when they step away. But I note that Craig has said he will continue to support the government. He was generous in his best wishes for Scott as prime minister and for the government’s continued success. And so, look, we will work with him as an independent, but take him at his word that he will continue to provide all of the certainty and stability of support in the House of Representatives that I would expect.

Updated at 12.41am EST

Simon Birmingham was on Sydney radio 2GB a short time ago, where he was asked about Craig Kelly:

Well, I was surprised. Craig stood up in a joint party meeting this morning where the Liberal Party and the National Party members and senators come together and informed the meeting. He had not provided any forewarning in that regard. But it was well known to me that the Prime Minister had been working with Craig to try to get him to address a number of issues of concern over recent weeks. And obviously, Craig had formed an opinion that he wasn’t going to comply with all of the prime minister’s wishes. And as a result, he thought that he would better serve as an independent. That’s disappointing that he refused to comply with the prime minister’s wishes.

But I respect the fact that he has indicated he will continue to support the government on budget measures, on supply measures, in relation to confidence motions and indeed around all policies that we took to the last election.

So it shouldn’t change the dynamic or the operation of the parliament terribly much. But it does obviously mean that there will be a new Liberal candidate for Hughes at the next federal election. And I would certainly encourage voters in Hughes to get behind a new Liberal candidate when that time comes.

Updated at 12.36am EST

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