Greens push for jobseekers to be allowed to earn more without penalty as MPs return to Canberra | Australian politics


The Greens will seek to amend the government’s pensioner workforce incentives bill to allow those on jobseeker payments to earn more in wages before their allowance is reduced, arguing the bonus should be extended if Labor won’t raise the unemployment benefit.

A packed legislative agenda awaits politicians returning to Canberra on Monday for the final sitting period of 2022, with the government seeking to progress several key and complex election commitments before year’s end as the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, returns from a nine-day diplomatic blitz.

A bill to give pensioners incentive to work extra hours by letting them earn more money before it affects their government payments will be considered by the Senate. The government said this had been a key point of agreement after September’s jobs and skills summit, with employer groups and seniors’ advocates saying older people were willing to work more as long as their pension wasn’t reduced.

The plan has been backed by the Coalition but Greens senator Janet Rice said she would move amendments to expand the work bonus to other income-support recipients, including those receiving jobseeker and disability support pension recipients.

“If parliament can enable those on the aged pension to earn more before losing their income support, then why can’t we do it for people on jobseeker and the DSP?” Rice told Guardian Australia.

“We all know the rate of income support is too low. If Labor isn’t going to raise it, the least they can do is allow people to work more before losing their income support.”

The Greens’ amendments also call for the age pension to be available from age 65, down from the current 67; to abolish mutual obligations to access government payments; and to boost income support to $88 a day – all major Greens election policies.

Rice said this would be the first vote in this parliament on whether to raise the government support payment rate. She pointed to comments from Labor ministers, including Jim Chalmers and Matt Keogh, who said in recent years that government benefits were too low.

“We’re in a cost of living crisis, extending the work bonus to everyone on income support will help to take some of the pressure off,” Rice said.

“The Greens are offering Labor the opportunity to make things right for the hundreds of thousands of Australians scraping by on payments well below the poverty line.”

Separately, the party will also on Monday move a disallowance motion to block $32m in commercial loans for the Golden Beach gas storage project in Victoria. The money was approved under the former Morrison Coalition government, but the Greens want the Senate to block the move.

Government sources said the parliament would debate Labor’s cheaper childcare policies, the new Disaster Ready Fund for mitigation and cleanup work, the Nacc bill and the “Secure Jobs Better Pay” IR bill in the coming fortnight.

On Sunday the government said it also hoped parliament would pass the free-trade agreements with India and the UK this sitting period, after Albanese met the leaders of those countries at international summits last week.

Both agreements were signed under the previous Coalition government, but will be formally passed by this parliament.

Albanese told a press conference in Bali on Wednesday that he discussed the UK free trade agreement with the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, at the G20, and hoped it would “come into force in the first quarter of next year”.

Other measures around electric vehicles and defence home ownership will also be considered by the Senate.

Albanese and Chalmers both flagged on Sunday the possibility of extending parliament’s sitting calendar beyond its currently scheduled last day of 1 December, in order to deal with the IR bill and other legislation. The government is still negotiating with the Senate crossbench for support.

“We know there are always those who say that any improvement in workers’ pay, any improvement in the status quo, will see the sky fall in. They say it every time, they are wrong every time,” Albanese will tell the International Trade Union Confederation in Melbourne on Monday.

“And we will push ahead like we do, every time. We know fairness has to be fought for, we know progress has to be earned.”

Albanese will say the workplace bill is a response to “new challenges to the rights and dignity and security of working people”, seemingly digging in on the commitment to pass the legislation by year’s end.

“We know fairness has to be fought for, we know progress has to be earned,” he is expected to tell the conference.

“Most of all we know it’s worth it – we know the difference that it makes to people’s lives is worth it.”

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