Livelihoods under threat

Thousands of pharmacy and other retail jobs at risk from Jobseeker cuts as businesses and employees are set to suffer financially, MPs tell Parliament

Federal parliamentarians have debated the impact that the looming end of the jobseeker payment will have on pharmacy profitability and the income of pharmacy staff.

Earlier this week, the Senate debated the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020, which extends the coronavirus supplement from 1 January 2021 to 31 March 2021, but at a rate reduced by $150 per fortnight.

Senator Helen Polly (ALP, Tas) said “There is an abundance of evidence and information out there which shows that this is not an adequate amount to live on and actually entrenches welfare dependency”.

“Forty dollars a day is not enough to cover the basic expenses of food, housing, transportation and health care, let alone if you get sick and need to buy medication or have to go to the dentist, get prescription glasses or attend specialist appointments”. 

Senator Polley said social security recipients spend an estimated 58% of their payments on retail goods or services at pharmacies, supermarkets, convenience stores, essential merchandise stores and other small businesses.

“It is projected that the scheduled end of the JobSeeker payment will take the equivalent of $8½ billion per year from the retail sector. The equivalent of 130,000 Australian retail jobs are also on the line
if we return the rate of the JobSeeker payment to its old base rate. 

Even before COVID there were strong arguments for making a permanent increase in the JobSeeker
payment. What COVID has done is give us a strong evidence base for thinking and realising—and for the
government to come to terms with—that we need to make it a permanent increase, without it having significant adverse effects on the incentive to find work”.

In the House of Representatives, pharmacist Emma McBride (ALP), MP for Dobell, NSW,  also discussed the impact of federal government changes. In this case, “the Prime Minister’s new workplace laws”, which she said would see a pharmacy assistant, working a 38-hour week, lose around $6,000 a year.

“Why is the government’s Christmas thankyou to frontline workers a cut to their take-home pay?” Ms McBride asked.

In response, Christian Porter, Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations said “why would the Leader of the Opposition be sending out his backbenchers to ask questions solely designed to scare people unnecessarily before Christmas?”


Why would
you do that? How desperate do you have to be to send out your backbenchers to ask questions based on totally
false assertions and premises? Totally false, completely wrong, raising impossible scenarios—how desperate
would you have to be to do that, when the only conceivable reason is to scare people unnecessarily, unfairly and

Meanwhile, the Therapeutic Goods Amendment (2020 Measures No. 2) Bill 2020 had its second reading in the House of Representatives this week.

Trevor Evans, (LNP, Brisbane), the Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management, introduced the bill saying it removed “a potential impediment to the Australian government’s
response to the COVID-19 pandemic in relation to the importation and supply of COVID-19 vaccines in

The bill also supported continued access to prescription medicines during a serious scarcity of such medicines in Australia and improved access to therapeutic goods, he said.

He also highlighted its extension of pharmacist substitution of medicines, continuing measures originally introduced to combat last summer’s bushfires, and subsequently expanded and extended due to the pandemic.

“In particular, the bill allows pharmacists to substitute a medicine for which there is a serious scarcity with a suitable alternative medicine, to avoid the risk of disruption to treatment for Australians that may be caused by a medicine shortage and the major impact that can have on patient health.

Pharmacists will be able to substitute medicines without prior authority from a prescriber, but only where it is safe and appropriate to do so”.


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