‘More than a million locked out from Jobkeeper’

The plight of jobless Australians and those who have missed out on wage subsidies will be the focus for senators scrutinising the government's response to the coronavirus crisis.

The Senate committee will hear from Treasury head Steven Kennedy for the second time on Thursday.

Chair Katy Gallagher said her Labor colleagues would focus on asking him about the real state of the Australian labour market beyond the headline figures. Nearly 600,000 Australians lost their jobs between March and April, driving the jobless rate up to 6.2 per cent.

But the record fall in people with jobs was accompanied by a rise in the number of people neither in work or looking for it, who aren't officially counted as unemployed.

There are also more than 6.1 million people receiving the JobKeeper wage subsidy, and those among them who have been stood down but kept attached to their employer are also not counted as unemployed.

Underemployment also jumped significantly in April to a record high of 13.7 per cent.

The Reserve Bank has estimated the number of hours worked in Australia will fall by a fifth in the June quarter.

The committee will also question the Attorney-General's Department and officials from the Fair Work Commission and the Fair Work Ombudsman about the design of the JobKeeper scheme.

"More than a million Australians still remain locked out from JobKeeper and are no wiser as to why," Senator Gallagher told AAP.

Short-term casuals, university staff, people who work for government-owned entities like local pools, and those on temporary visas are not eligible for the scheme.



"We will be asking government industrial relations officials about what role they played in the design of the scheme and why the Morrison government ended up excluding these workers forcing them onto the unemployment queue."

Everyday Australians have given the federal government's Jobkeeper subsidy a big tick of approval, with many saying they would support it being extended after its current expiry date.

Exactly half of the respondents to an online survey conducted by personal finance app Humaniti over the weekend said they would support an extension of the scheme beyond September 28.

Of the 978 people who participated in the survey, 50 per cent were in favour, 28 per cent were opposed and 31 per cent were unsure.

There was similar support for government-mandated deferrals of commercial rents to be extended beyond September.

Forty-nine per cent of respondents were in support of deferrals being extended, while 21 per cent were opposed and 31 per cent were unsure.

National Retailers Association CEO Dominique Lamb told News Corp a taper period for the Jobkeeper subsidy would be welcome news for many struggling businesses.

"Retailers right now don't need another hit. If you give them something like Jobkeeper and then take it away immediately, it would be problematic. But a gradual reduction would certainly give them time to manage their cash flow," she said.


National Retail Association CEO Dominique Lamb. Picture: Mark Cranitch
National Retail Association CEO Dominique Lamb. Picture: Mark Cranitch


The federal government's rental freeze was still not activated in WA, Queensland and the NT, and had only just become operational in SA and the ACT, causing issues for many businesses, Ms Lamb said.

"What that means is that there are retailers who haven't seen the benefit of that mandated code so far. Basically people are waiting for these regulations so they can make a choice as to what they're doing. It's definitely causing delays for many retailers who are tenants," she said.

The NRA has estimated that between 50 and 60 per cent of member businesses are currently trading.

Just as concerning, Ms Lamb said, was recent ABS data that showed discretionary spending was down 26 per cent.

"That figure is just extraordinary; so to think that (retailers) are going to come back in under a month is just really unlikely," she said.

Danielle Wood, the incoming CEO of public policy think tank the Grattan Institute, said there were strong arguments in favour of extending Jobkeeper.


Danielle Wood, CEO of the Grattan Institute. Picture: Supplied
Danielle Wood, CEO of the Grattan Institute. Picture: Supplied


"I'm extremely worried about the situation where a whole lot of government support in the economy is going to cut out at once," she told News Corp.

"You'll go from a world where the government's putting about $120 billion into the economy in the September quarter, 25 per cent of GDP, to a world where that drops to zero. That's going to be an incredibly dangerous time for the economy," she said.

"It won't be business as usual by September, so taking a path that allows you to transition off the Jobkeeper payment makes a lot of sense."

Ms Wood suggested a three-month extension of the Jobkeeper scheme after September was appropriate, but specified that all businesses should be reassessed for their eligibility.



She downplayed concerns that schemes such as Jobkeeper could entrench a welfare mindset in Australian business.

"This is an extraordinary economic circumstance. It's big in terms of its scale, and it's unprecedented in terms of the speed with which it has hit. This is a once-in-a-century event. I wouldn't read too much into it in terms of long term support for business," she said.

The Humaniti survey also showed mixed levels of support for local small businesses during the lockdown period.

Asked if they had spent more money with local businesses to support them over the past couple of months, almost a quarter of respondents (23 per cent) said they had.

Twenty-nine per cent of respondents had actually spent less, 43 per cent had spent about the same amount and 5 per cent were unsure.

Originally published as 'More than a million locked out from Jobkeeper'