House debates

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Matters of Public Importance

COVID-19: Employment

3:57 pm

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

The latest unemployment figures paint a very grim picture with 600,000 jobs lost last month alone—40,000 in my state of South Australia. There are 700,000 fewer Australians in jobs today than there were a year ago. On the April figures 823,000 Australians are now unemployed, 13.7 per cent are underemployed, which totals over 2½ million people unemployed or underemployed. The Roy Morgan's research people would argue that that figure is understated and that the figure is indeed well over three million. The April figures don't reflect the full extent of the COVID-19 fallout. That will be exposed in the months ahead.

Added to that, I know that as a first step so many workers have been told to take annual leave or long service leave, have had their hours cut or face further cuts in the months ahead if things don't change. As we have heard from others, industry sectors such as tourism, hospitality and the airlines have already been devastated. Tourism alone employs over a million people in this country and for them there will be no snapback. It will be a long road ahead for them to get back on their feet. Many millions of Australians rely on those sectors. We have people right now who are being denied JobKeeper, people like dnata employees, casuals, students, people in the arts sector, people who work for the universities.

This is an unfair decision by the government to cut out people from what was a legitimate program that they should have been entitled to. South Australia is a particularly hard-hit state from all of this. South Australia has the highest unemployment rate in Australia right now—and has had for most of the last 12 months. Youth unemployment in my state is probably sitting at around 15 or 16 per cent right now, and I fear much worse figures in the months ahead as we see the true extent of COVID-19 exposed to us.

There are two areas where this government could have done more and could do more in the future. I'm referring to manufacturing and apprentices, which the minister at the table referred to earlier. We have seen manufacturing in this country fall from around 28 per cent of GDP in the fifties and sixties, and 28 per cent of employment, down to less than six per cent of GDP and around seven per cent of employment today. Again, South Australia has been particularly hard hit, and this government decided it was okay to drive out Holden and so many other manufacturing industries from Australia.

In addition to that, it has cut billions of dollars out of research and development, mainly because of research and development that was attached to the manufacturing sector, and it has cut billions of dollars from training and apprenticeships in this country. Indeed, in the last five years alone there has been about $900 million underspent in that sector alone. Again, we have seen 140,000 fewer apprentices in this country since this government came to office in 2013. Apprenticeships are skills that we need for the future, but they are also jobs. That's 140,000 jobs that we would have had and that would have been used to help with the productivity of our country as we move forward.

The reality is that the government cannot simply hide behind COVID-19 and say, 'Look, this was unforeseen, unexpected, and therefore no-one could have done better than what we have done.' If the government allows the current trend to continue and people face a situation in which they don't have income, the social consequences will cost far more than it would cost the government to do the right thing and provide JobKeeper payments to those people we know have already missed out. It is actually a foolish savings by the government to ignore those people right now—and, quite frankly, it's un-Australian and unfair.

I'll finish with this. The member for Sturt referred to the fact that Australia, by international comparisons, is doing pretty well. We might be—and I accept that we are. But the reality is that for those people who are unemployed, who don't have an income, who can't afford to pay their mortgage, who can't afford to put food on the table for their children, it is no consolation to know that Australia is doing better than other countries, when the government could be there helping them out.

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