Thursday, 25 February 2021
Matters of Public Importance
The majority of people, even Labor voters, are saying that to us because at their hearts, their major interests right now and what is dear to them are the two things we have been talking about as a government for the last 12 months: the health of our country, of our population; and the jobs of our country, of our people. That's what people go home and think about. Their health and their livelihood are their major issues. We, on any international measurement that you want to have a look at, are doing well on the health front. Even though every fatality has been a tragedy, we've been one of the countries in the world with the lowest ratio on the fatality front. On the economic front we are doing better than just about any other country in the world.
Deloitte, an international accounting firm, said four or five weeks ago that there is no better country in the world to be in right now than Australia. Why is that the case? Some of it is the parameters the federal government has put into place. The Australian public has done a wonderful job, too, adhering to the education things we put out. We declared this a pandemic before the World Health Organization; that's how quickly we were on the front foot about this. We saw the dangers of the pandemic on the health front and on the economic front. It is because we've done so well on the health front that we're doing better than most on the economic front. We brought in restrictions. We did the whole education process about hand hygiene and social distancing, and the Australian people, God bless them, got on board. That has been one of the big reasons we've done so well. Our fatality rates are lower than just about any other country's, and our economy is doing better.
If people remember, it was about this time last year that around the globe we were all becoming aware of what we might be dealing with. The language back then was: 'You've got to flatten the curve. We can't have a situation where too many people want ventilators and they're not available, so the main thing you have to do is flatten the curve.' We went well beyond flattening the curve. There have been some hiccups. I don't want to be partisan about this, because we should all really be on the same team with this; I won't mention Victoria and Dan Andrews, and I won't mention some of the hiccups we've had. Generally we've done very well. We have flattened the curve. We have done better than flatten the curve. The worst-case scenarios that were modelled, that we were worried about and that we as a government had to deal with—we've done better than what any of those models predicted.
And what an exciting week this was! This is probably one of the first weeks that we've started to get on to the front foot in this pandemic, with the vaccine rollout. We're in phase 1a, with aged-care workers and quarantine workers, and all those who are highly exposed or highly at risk, getting the vaccine this week. It's a six-week rollout, which, as the health minister gave an update on this morning, is on time. This is a really exciting week. If we had known 12 months ago how we were going to manage this pandemic—yes, there have been some hiccups—how this country was going to manage this threat that we had, we would have been really happy that this was going to roll out the way it has.
We've spoken a little bit about health, but I want to touch on the economy as well. People are worried about their health, but they're worried about their jobs, too. We're not out of the woods—the globe isn't out of the woods. This virus could mutate, and there are a lot of unknowns about what could happen from here on in. We're certainly not out of the woods. One of the things the pandemic did that we were all very concerned about—we knew what we had to do on the health front, we knew we had to flatten the curve, we knew we had to have restrictions and we knew we had to close businesses temporarily to try and get everything under control—was that people just could not get enough staff; that was the unknown then. I had major concerns about what this might do to our economy, not just to our local economies but to our national economy and, indeed, to the global economy, because we faced great threats and still do. But even on the economic front, we have done exceptionally well.
I'm sure it's probably the same in your patch, Deputy Speaker, but one of the biggest issues that we have in my patch is that people can't get enough staff. And these aren't necessarily just jobs that people don't want. These are good jobs. People normally want these jobs. People would normally be falling over themselves to work in some of these trades or in some of these retail and hospitality jobs. And we just cannot get enough staff. But this hasn't happened by accident. We all hear and read reports from overseas. I've read reports just this week from the UK, Spain and South Africa. There are a lot of countries right now doing it really tough. So this hasn't happened by accident.
I go back to the budget. We brought down the budget later than normal last year because of the pandemic. What did we focus on in the budget? We focused on jobs. We did everything we could that we could think of that we thought would motivate small, medium-size and large businesses to employ people. And, touch wood, so far that's working.
We know that eight out of 10 jobs in this country are in the private sector. So what did we do? We have spent literally hundreds of billions of dollars, over $200 billion, in stimulus spending. We know JobKeeper was an exceptionally important thing we did right at the start, to make sure the employee had a relationship with their employer. That was very important. Some of these businesses, especially in April last year, had to shut down through no fault of their own. We knew it was very important to keep those relationships going and to keep that money spinning around the economy.
The other thing we did in the budget was the tax cuts. We talk about wanting wages to increase. A tax cut is a wage increase. We gave a tax cut to 11½ million people in the budget last year. We gave the JobMaker Hiring Credit. We gave a subsidy for businesses that are going to employ a new person, especially young people aged between 18 and 35, and that's worked. Then there is the instant asset write-off; I mention this one nearly every time I come into this chamber, because of how powerful it has been. It's a magnificent economic stimulus that we used quite a number of years ago, on a much smaller scale. We put that in the budget last year, and we put it on steroids. I've had numerous businesses around my electorate say: 'That works. Every time you announce that and it gets publicised, we see further spending.' Especially after the budget last year, there's been big stimulus spending on the back of that. So, again, we are focused on health, focused on keeping us safe and focused on jobs.
Here are some of the other highlights from this to keep the economy ticking over. We're doing a $2 billion investment in R&D, because what this pandemic has also done is to highlight that we talk about being a more self-reliant Australia, and we're certainly looking to do that. Yes, because of this we have seen some weaknesses in different supply chains that we need to correct, and we are doing so. Again in the budget, we brought out a manufacturing plan across six different areas: defence, space, medicine, food, resources, and recycling and clean energy. We realise that we are putting government assistance into those areas to make sure our supply chains are solid and that we can do anything that's really important to us.
The other exciting thing in the budget, I thought, was the apprenticeship scheme. Why? Because it was focused on jobs. There was special regional funding as well. It's created its challenges, but one of the quite pleasant and interesting spin-offs from this is that there has been movement of people from cities to regions. The regions, obviously, are doing very well. There's a lot of pressure on with people moving, with houses and rentals, but there are a lot of good things happening in the economy.