Parramatta goes over the JobKeeper cliff

By Julie Owens

30 March 2021

Last week there were 10,000 workers and almost 5,000 businesses in Parramatta relying on JobKeeper. 

On Sunday, they all went over the ‘JobKeeper cliff’ when the Morrison Government ended the scheme. 

I fear this means that many workers will lose their jobs, and many local businesses will close. 

Tomorrow our community faces another cliff, when the Morrison Government cuts the coronavirus supplement ‘top-up’ to unemployment payments like JobSeeeker 

While the Government hasunder intense pressureagreed to a permanent increase of $50 a fortnight, over 10,000 people in Parramatta will have their payments cut by $100 a fortnight to just $44 a day. 

These cuts come at a time when there are 7 people on JobSeeker for every job advertised and unemployment in Parramatta has risen to 8.3% - 17.8% among young people. 

Altogether, the cuts will rip as much as $6 million dollars out of our local economy every fortnight – an economy that has been forced to contend with the construction of the Parramatta Light Rail on top of COVID. 

When we talk in numbers, sometimes we lose the fact that we’re talking about people’s lives. You or someone you love might be one of the tens of thousands of people in Parramatta who have been, or will be, directly affected by these cuts. And our whole community will feel the impact. 

If you’re worried about how you are going to make ends meet, there are a lot of local services that can help. Click here for links to information about emergency relief including food banks, financial counselling, crisis accommodation and bill help. You’ll also find information about mental health support that can help you navigate this stressful time. 

Many of the organisations providing this help are local community organisations that receive little or no government funding. They have worked tirelessly to support vulnerable people during the pandemic, including temporary migrants and asylum seekers who received no support from the governmentand many people who’ve never had to seek this kind of support in their lives. 

They do an amazing job, but they’re not set up to provide continuous support to people the government has left behind – nor should they be expected to. 

I’ll keep speaking up on behalf of people in my community who are missing out. If there’s anything my office can do to help during these tough times, please get in touch. 

Responsible lending laws face the axe

By Julie Owens

23 March 2021

Last week the Morrison Governments legislation to axe Australia’s responsible lending laws passed the House of Reps.  

Why does that matter?  Well according to CHOICE, the Australian Financial Complaints Authority has received a whopping 31,000 complaints about credit products such as housing finance, consumer loans and credit cards since the Royal Commission concluded its hearings in late 2018. 

Terrigal on the NSW Central Coast had the highest number of complaints in the country.  But Parramatta postcode came second with 729.  To put it in perspective, for every 100 households in the 2150 postcode, 7 made a complaint.  That’s a lot of people in trouble. 

So what are these Responsible Lending Laws?  Well they were introduced in the wake of the global financial crisis to stop banks making loans to people who could never repay them – seems obvious. 

They impose two basic requirements on banks when they offer someone a loan: the bank needs to make sure the loan is appropriate for a person’s circumstances and secondly, that they can afford it. 

These laws pre-date the Royal Commission into the financial services sector, which revealed widespread misconduct, including banks charging customers fees for no service; charging fees to deceased customers; and approving loans with falsified documents. 

When the Royal Commission handed down its final report they made 76 recommendations. The first was simple – keep responsible lending laws as they are. 

Two years laterin spite of promising to implement all recommendations, the Government has ignored 50 calling for action. Now, oddly, they’re pushing through changes that fly in the face of the only recommendation that asked them to do nothing. 

The Morrison Government says its all about getting credit flowing through the economy again – even though mortgage lending is at record highs and interest rates are at record lows 

The Banking Royal Commission received 10,000 submissions from people around Australia. The fact at the heart of all of these stories is that banks and their customers have an unequal relationship and when the relationship sours, the consequences can be tragic and life-changing. 

Our responsible lending laws go some of the way towards levelling the playing field.  

In the face of mounting pressure from Labor and more than 125 community organisations, the government has deferred further debate on the Bill until at least May. 

The changes still need to pass the Senate, where Labor will vote against them. If this matters to you, I encourage you to write to the crossbench Senators who will have the final say.  

If you want more information about how these changes could affect you and your loved ones, please contact my office. 

Our visa system is broken – and it’s tearing families apart

By Julie Owens

16 March 2021

At some point today, someone will call my office with a heartbreaking story of a family torn apart for years. 

The reason? Not divorce, war, illness, disaster or incarceration, but Australia’s broken family and partner visa system. 

Right now, there are nearly 100,000 Australians waiting for a partner visa, some waiting up to nearly two and a half years for their visa.  

That means at least 200,000 people – not including any children – are waiting around two years to be reunited with their loved ones.  

Anyone who has been separated from their family for an extended period of time – as many of us were during COVID – will know how hard it is to endure this separation, and the long-lasting effects it can have on your mental health. 

Families face this separation not knowing when their application will be processed, so they put their lives on hold. They don’t put down roots, get jobs, buy homes or build communities.  

And when nearly 100,000 people put their lives on hold, this has a profound impact on our society – especially in multicultural places like Parramatta. 

The worst part of all of this is that it doesn’t need to happen. When Labor was last in government, the average processing time for partner visas was 9 months.  

Since then the Coalition Government has cut jobs and funding from the Department of Home Affairs, which is tasked with processing the applications, while more than doubling the application fee for partner visas to almost $8,000.  

In the face of a Labor campaign and mounting criticism the Morrison Government has made some announcements about increasing the number of partner visas that will be granted this year – when by law there should be no limit – and suspending a requirement forcing applicants to fly overseas in the middle of a pandemic to have their visas granted.  

The family that will call my office today doesn’t need another announcement – they need the Morrison Government to act. 

Last month Labor successfully called for a Senate inquiry into the family and partner visa system, which will investigate concerns including fairness, processing times, efficacy and cost. 

If this is affecting you or someone your care about, I encourage you to make a submission to the inquiry. 

You can make your submission in writing online or by post until 30 April here

If you need help to make a submission, or with a partner or family visa issue, please contact my office. 

Local seniors struggling to access aged care

By Julie Owens

09 March 2021

Look around.  More than half of all Australian women you see, and about a third of the men will end up in residential aged care and they’ll stay there for an average of 2-3 years. That means in your lifetime you will most likely either live in aged care or love someone who does. 

So we should all be concerned at the findings of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, which handed down its final report at the end of last month.  

The Royal Commission has made it absolutely clear that our aged care system is in crisis, with tragic outcomes including aged care residents with maggots in open wounds and up to half of all aged care residents being malnourished. 

It also shone a light on the barriers older Australians face when they try to access aged care, including the long, “cruel and discriminatory” wait for home care packages, which are designed to help older Australians continue living at home. 

When the Royal Commission was called 100,000 older Australians were on this waiting list. Years later 100,000 older Australians are still waiting, and those needing the highest level of home care are now waiting more than two years for care that has already been approved.   

I recently heard from a local 93 year old who’s been told he’ll have to wait 12 months to have his home care package upgraded so he can access care he needs now. 

The Royal Commission uncovered extra barriers to care for seniors from different cultural backgrounds, who struggle to find aged care services that meet their cultural and language needs.  

A recent report by Seva and UTS found there are only two service providers offering culturally appropriate aged care for the South Asian community in the Cumberland, Parramatta and Blacktown regions – where this community makes up 14% of the population and 1 in 10 of its members are over 65. 

The great tragedy of the Royal Commission is that hardly any of this is new information. The Federal Government has received 21 other reports on the aged care system since 2013, yet they failed to act and, during Scott Morrison’s time as Treasurer, cut aged care funding by $1.7 billion. 

The Morrison Government will be measured on its response to the Royal Commission’s final report. It’s clear that Australians need a government that can deliver – and not simply announce – systemic change.