House debates

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Matters of Public Importance

COVID-19: Employment

3:47 pm

Photo of Fiona PhillipsFiona Phillips (Gilmore, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

This won't be the first time I've stood in this place to talk about the government's failure to address unemployment in my region. This has been a problem for years, and those opposite have done nothing to address it. Well before coronavirus and even before bushfires, my electorate of Gilmore on the New South Wales South Coast had the lowest workforce participation rate in Australia. We had the highest youth unemployment in New South Wales and third-highest in the country.

But what has the government been doing to address this? Absolutely nothing. They have slashed penalty rates for Sundays and public holidays—something my predecessor told young people was 'a gift'. Well, two years after that gift, the Australia Institute found that employment growth in retail and hospitality has been far slower than in other parts of the economy where penalty rates remain constant. They found that jobs growth in these two sectors actually slowed by more than half after penalty rates began to fall. What a gift!

Let's explore some local examples of this. In the December quarter last year, before our raging bushfires, Nowra had an unemployment rate of 17.5 per cent. Ulladulla's unemployment rate was 9.3 per cent and Batemans Bay was 9.9 per cent. And what has the government done? Time after time those opposite stand in front of the cameras and make flashy announcements. They talk about all the ways they are helping country Australia. They talk about how they care and how they are listening, and then we find out there is nothing. There is nothing for the South Coast in drought package after drought package. There is nothing for Gilmore. Stimulus packages that sound promising won't be delivered for months, or even years.

During the bushfires I called for the government to do something to protect local jobs. I warned those opposite in early January about the unfolding economic crisis on the New South Wales South Coast. I told the stories of Rob from Robs Bait and Tackle, Simon from the Ulladulla Surf School, and Katrina from Caterina in Kangaroo Valley. They're just three small examples of the dozens I have. Each one told me, in the days and weeks following the bushfires, that they would go under without urgent help. They couldn't survive the lost income without the tourists and with no business. They would have to put off staff; they wouldn't be hiring, and they might not again.

I stood in this place on so many occasions to tell these stories and ask the government for help. It took until March, after months of them ignoring my calls, after months of saying there would be no cash injection, no direct help for businesses that had lost income. Finally, they took up my suggestion and provided $10,000 to those eligible businesses. But how many jobs were lost because this government didn't listen to what we were saying for months?

When coronavirus first started to take hold, Labor called for a wage subsidy. Those opposite said no. When they finally realised again that we were right, there was another sting in the tail for the South Coast. The JobKeeper payment will not be paid if you have been employed less than 12 months. In a seasonal economy like ours, ravaged by bushfires, that is totally inappropriate. Again, hundreds of locals miss out.

Only a fortnight ago, the government had another golden opportunity to boost our economy. The $50 million Manufacturing Modernisation Fund was announced by the Prime Minister in Gilmore, at NowChem, during the election campaign. Fantastic! But how much did Gilmore get? Only one small project for Nowchem—one project, when we already have some of the highest rates of unemployment in the country and have been hit so hard this year. Local companies missed out because the government chose to give only two per cent of funds under this program.

The government needs to get serious about creating local jobs on the New South Wales South Coast. There are projects that could start today, like the Kiama Arts Precinct which is approved and ready to go. The same is true for the Mogo Adventure Trail Hub. We could start working on the Milton Ulladulla bypass and the new the Eurobodalla hospital, complete with inpatient mental health beds and a training facility. Our businesses are innovative and ready to grow, if only they could get a look in from this government that is more interested in flashy announcements than creating jobs for the people of the South Coast.


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