Like his federal counterparts in the region, and most Australians, Shortland MP Pat Conroy concedes 2020 “was a year like no other”.
And, even though the local member hopes the situation will improve over the next 12 months, he’s also determined to fight for his Hunter-based constituents, who are still doing it tough.
In fact, while others enjoyed a break over Christmas and New Year, he remained vigilant, raising concerns about the recent changes to the Coronavirus Supplement and JobKeeper payments.
With an eye on 2021, Mr Conroy shared his thoughts with the Newcastle Weekly on what lays ahead.
As we enter 2021, millions of Australians including those in the Shortland electorate are still coming to grips with the year’s events.
While 2020 was extremely challenging, I hope there are lessons learned that we can all bring into the New Year.
One of the main reasons Australia has done so well from a health perspective during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to other nations is because we listened to the experts’ advice.
I hope that continues when it comes to our country’s economic recovery.
The recession we are currently experiencing is a very unusual one in that while many people feel like their lives are almost back to normal, there’s a significant portion of our population who are suffering.
As well as those who have lost their jobs and have not been able to find new employment through no fault of their own, there’s also those like travel agents who are working in industries that will continue to struggle with the impacts of this crisis for the foreseeable future.
It’s my goal in 2021 to be there for them, be their voice, and ensure they are not left behind in the economic recovery.
In the Shortland electorate alone, there are an estimated 17,000 residents on JobKeeper (which the government is ending on 28 March) and more than 12,000 residents receiving the Coronavirus Supplement (ending on 1 April).
These payments were cut earlier this month despite the fact there are currently 2.2 million Australians looking for work or more work and, according to the government’s own forecasts, 90,000 more are expected to join unemployment queues by March.
What is going to happen to these vulnerable people when this crucial economic support is removed in the coming months?
Unfortunately, it is likely they’ll be forced to live off the old Newstart rate of $40 a day.
I’ll continue fighting to ensure this does not happen.
Business, economists, experts and those assisting people who have lost their jobs are all calling for a permanent increase to the base rate of unemployment payments.
This must not be ignored.
I’ve heard first-hand how important this economic support has been during this pandemic.
Late last year I visited a number of local food banks in my electorate.
Their managers all told me the same thing: they’d seen a significant spike in demand for their services after the cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker in September, people were struggling more now than they were at the peak of the COVID-19 crisis, and they held grave concerns for how people would cope in this year when this economic support was further cut and then removed entirely.
So, as we enter 2021, one of my main priorities will be fighting to ensure no one is left behind in our nation’s recovery from this pandemic.
That includes continuing my calls for the government to extend crucial financial support until the economy has recovered and business confidence has returned.
- Pat Conroy is the MP for the federal seat of Shortland