Politics

Josh Frydenberg Says He’s Worried About People’s Mental Health As He Cuts Unemployment Support

He didn't seem too concerned when he cut JobSeeker.

Josh Frydenberg and Greg Hunt want Victoria's lockdowns to end because of mental health, ignoring their government's JobSeeker cuts are hurting people

Finance minister Josh Frydenberg is leading the Federal government’s pressure on the Victorian government to end lockdown restrictions, citing a mental health crisis in the state — something he didn’t seem too concerned about when deciding to rescind JobSeeker payments while Victoria remained in lockdown.

As Victoria struggles to reach the 14-day average of 5 or less new COVID-19 cases a day that premier Dan Andrews set for the state’s reopening, both Frydenberg and Health Minister Greg Hunt are pushing for the Labor premier to open the state regardless.

Both have cited Victoria’s plummeting mental health, with Hunt pointing towards a Commonwealth study which shows a 30 percent spike in Victorians accessing mental health treatments between September and October, as compared to the same period last year.

350,884 Victorians accessed or made moves to access Medicare-funded psychology, psychiatry and counselling services — three times higher than the national average.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Frydenberg made a case for opening the state up, citing how Victorians are currently accessing Beyond Blue’s hotline at 77 percent more than the rest of the country.

“It’s clear lockdowns & harsh restrictions are having an adverse impact on people’s mental health, particularly in Victoria,” he wrote on Twitter. “It’s time the Victorian Government gave Victorians their freedom back this weekend.”

He later followed it up with a “message” to Andrews, aking the premier “give the people of Victoria back their freedoms this weekend”.

Andrews is set to announce future lockdown plans this Sunday, but has tempered expectations, saying it will be ‘significant’ but not ‘as far and fast as we’d hoped’.

Meanwhile, Frydenberg has been called a hypocrite, given he is responsible for cutting JobSeeker significantly in September.

The supplement rose the previous Newstart payment instantly after years of campaigns to ‘Raise The Rate’, given people were expected to live on $40 a day. For a single person with no dependents, the JobSeeker supplement offered around $1115 a fortnight, adding $550 a week on top to the previous rate.

Now, that addition’s been slashed by more than half to $250 — leaving the average recipient with a $58 per day budget. That’s $21,170 a year, which is well-and-truly below the poverty line.

On Twitter, many are pointing out to Frydenberg that while lockdowns certainly aren’t helping anyone’s mental health, the financial squeeze is pushing people to the brink.

(Plus, it’s not as if the Federal government previously stepped in with their Robodebt scheme, which saw several people take their own lives after they were incorrectly told they owed the government thousands of dollars. Or showed any concern for the mental health of refugees detained in detention centres across Australia.)

It’s almost as if this new line about Victoria’s mental health pulls from a need for political point-scoring, rather than genuine concern.

To the Federal Government’s credit, their 2020 Budget included a two-year extension of an increase to Medicare-subsidised mental health plans.

In August, Victorians and other Australians affected by the secondary COVID-19 wave were able to access an additional 10 subsidised sessions. Now, that has been extended nationally, meaning Australians can access 20 Medicare-subsidised sessions with a mental health professional a year.