“What we’ve seen in the migration committee is in the agricultural context, before the coronavirus supplement was put onto JobSeeker and before JobKeeper came in, there were Australians who were wanting to do some of that work,” said Julian Leeser, a Liberal MP and chair of the parliamentary joint standing committee on migration.
“The anecdotal evidence is when those measures came in, the inquiries from Australians disappeared.”
Mr Leeser said the government needed to be careful not to keep these supports too high for too long, citing studies showing people were less likely to return to work the longer they were on welfare.
Queensland Liberal National senator Gerard Rennick said outside the agriculture sector, he had heard from regional motels, bakers and tradesmen who were struggling to recruit workers. “I accept it’s different in Sydney and Melbourne,” Senator Rennick said. “There’s a two-speed economy.”
Fellow Queensland senators Susan McDonald and Paul Scarr echoed his concerns but said they would wait to see the impact of reductions in JobKeeper and JobSeeker later this month before deciding whether the government should do more to encourage people back to work.
Senator Rennick suggested one option might be to cut back JobKeeper in states and industries with few coronavirus cases or restrictions.
Victoria Burakowski, director of Sydney recruitment agency IN2 Staffing Solutions, said she had struggled to find enough applicants for roles. “We’re begging them to apply,” said Ms Burakowski, who ran as a federal Liberal candidate in 1996.
But Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus said it was vital to keep both payments at their full level.
“We are in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime public health and economic crisis and there are more than a dozen unemployed people for every available job,” Ms McManus said. “JobKeeper and JobSeeker are essential supports for working people and millions would be in desperate financial distress without them.”
If the programs were reduced to prod people into applying for work, Ms McManus said it would hurt local businesses and the economy at large.
Ai Group’s chief policy adviser, Peter Burn, said the JobKeeper wage subsidy could prevent people applying for new jobs even if they had been stood down because it did not transfer over to new employment. It also acted as a disincentive to hiring new staff because only workers employed as of July 1 were eligible in its revised form, he said.
Dr Burn said the elevated rate of JobSeeker, which will drop to about $800 a fortnight later this month from $1100, was also a deterrent for some people to work.
Nick Bonyhady is industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based between Sydney and Parliament House in Canberra.