Thursday, 25 March 2021
Matters of Public Importance
When this government cuts JobKeeper this weekend it will mark its final transition from 'all in this together' to 'you're all on your own'. Those opposite see a moment in time when government was part of ensuring that we looked out for each other and looked after each other, and they see it as some kind of aberration—some kind of brief interlude and some kind of historical oddity—to be quickly forgotten. To those opposite, 'all in this together' was only ever a political platitude plucked from a poll, or from the pages of a focus group report, not the defining principle behind a country and a people who have done so much to stick by each other in the most difficult recent times. The problem is that this government is psychologically and temperamentally incapable of understanding the struggle of 1.1 million Australians who are still on JobKeeper, or the two million Australians who either can't find a job or can't find enough hours to support their loved ones. They have absolutely no idea what it's like for the 100,000 to 150,000 Australians who the Treasury has told the government it expects will lose their jobs when the Prime Minister and the Treasurer cut JobKeeper this weekend.
We know from reports out of the coalition party room that the Treasurer sees hundreds of thousands of Australians and their fears and anxieties about job losses as a political challenge to be managed—something to try to spin and grin away in this tsunami of self congratulation that the government engages in every day in this place. This is a government which is long on self regard and short on empathy; long on announcement and short on delivery. Each day when we ask the Treasurer about the Australians who are still doing it tough, we get a lecture about the Australians who have, in his words, 'graduated' from JobKeeper.
But we're not asking the Treasurer about the unemployment rate. We're not asking him about numbers on a page and we're not asking him about how many Australians are no longer on JobKeeper. We're asking him to understand that more than a million people are still on JobKeeper and when it's cut this has consequences for their ability to provide for their families. We're asking him to understand that every dollar wasted on companies that don't need JobKeeper means a dollar that can't go to the small businesses and workers who still need it. We're asking him to understand that this recession is not yet over for every single Australian.
But they don't understand the human consequences of cutting support for a million Australians and all those businesses which employ them, or the anxiety that comes from not knowing whether people's jobs will hit the fence. If announcements, press conferences and photo opportunities were jobs then we'd be fine. Instead, we have this weapons-grade incompetence which is threatening our recovery from recession. Only 609 jobs have been delivered out of the 450,000 that the Treasurer promised in his hiring credits program. There was a $60 billion error in the JobKeeper program and all this money was sprayed around to the Gerry Harveys of this world, who don't need it. We have a vaccination promise that is at least 90 per cent short of its target this month. One of the justifications for cutting JobKeeper was four million vaccinations that won't happen this month. They can't even get flood mitigation money out the door—two years after it was announced. This is a pattern of behaviour: the big announcement, the self-congratulation and the diabolical policy failure.
Yes, the economy's recovering; yes, we want jobs created; and, when they are, we say so. But the economy is hostage to a lot of uncertainty, and not just any recovery is befitting the sacrifices that Australians have made for each other. What kind of recovery matters to the small businesses, workers, families and communities of this country? We need better than more of the same wage stagnation that we had before. We need more than a recovery where the weakest are singled out and sacrificed, and the strongest are subsidised. We owe Australians more, and better, than this. We owe them an economy, a country, that is stronger after COVID than it was before—a future made in Australia, where we teach and train our people to keep up with technological change; cleaner and cheaper energy; cheaper and more accessible child care; and decent aged care for more of our older people. We owe them a recovery that is worthy of Australians and the sacrifices they have made in this recession and in its aftermath.