Thursday, 25 March 2021
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-2021, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2020-2021; Second Reading
by leave—I'll continue where I left off last night, when there was a division in the House of Representatives and the Federation Chamber was adjourned. I was talking about jobs and jobs creation, and the industrial relations bill from this government and how it would be detrimental to our economy. I say so because, as I said last night, to very quickly recap, it would make it harder for people to negotiate their EBAs at work; it would lower wages, in fact; and it would obviously give us a two-tier system.
This is not the way to go whilst we have the coronavirus crisis taking place, which has devastated the economy. What we need to do is ensure that we do get some wage growth and better productivity and that there is money in workers' pockets so they can spend. We know, when there's money available at the lower income end, that money goes straight back into the economy. We know, if you give someone who is on a very low wage an extra $30, $50 or $100, it will go into necessities that are required—for example, buying shoes, which you've put off doing for a long time because you can't afford it, or getting the washing machine that you need because your current one has broken down. This will grow the economy, and we should be looking at ways of putting money in the pockets of lower-end-income earners and those who perhaps can't afford the things that high-income earners can afford.
This particular budget was an experiment in subsidising big business to create demand. That was according to Michael Pascoe, who reported this in The New Daily. Of course we want businesses to thrive, of course we want them to succeed and grow, and I understand how vitally important they are to our economy. However, businesses cannot succeed if people do not have enough money in their pockets, after they've paid for the essentials, to spend on goods and services.
Australians deserve to have a government on their side, and they would get exactly that under Labor. We heard the Leader of the Opposition speak about a plan focusing on delivering jobs, good, secure jobs, with fair pay and conditions. And we on this side of the House certainly would not be cutting penalty rates or trying to introduce legislation that makes it easier for employers to keep their employees in precarious or casual employment, let alone making it harder for employees to take action against wage theft. Over the last few years, we've seen some horrendous stories of systematic wage theft by some of the biggest multinationals that operate in this country. There are things the government has tried to introduce through industrial relations legislation that make it harder to take action against wage theft and puts employees in precarious or casual employment.
We on this side of the House have a clear plan for secure, fairly paid jobs. We will make job security an object of the Fair Work Act of 2009 so that it becomes the core focus for the Fair Work Commission's decisions. The Leader of the Opposition also spoke about extending the powers of the Fair Work Commission to include employee-like forms of work, allowing it to better protect people in new forms of work, like app-based gig work, from exploitation and dangerous working conditions. We've seen an explosion of these jobs in the last few years, where they're paid very little. They barely make the minimum wage and they're put in dangerous situations—riding bikes in traffic et cetera. On this side, we will be legislating for a fair, objective test to determine when a worker can be classified as a casual so that people have a clearer pathway to permanent work, and also to limit the number of consecutive fixed term contracts an employer can offer for the same role with an overall cap of 24 months.
Fixed term contracts and casual work are to the detriment of the economy because, if you are a casual worker, it is difficult to get a loan; it is difficult to make arrangements for the future—even though some of these casual jobs are ongoing and contracts are renewed from three-monthly terms onwards. So we would look at ways of making those jobs permanent after a period of time. We'd also work with the state and territory governments, the unions and industry to develop portable entitlement schemes for annual leave, sick leave and long service leave for Australians in insecure work.
The government also has no plan to help working families and especially boost women's workforce participation. We do, though, through the working family childcare boost that was announced a few months ago by the member for Kingston and the Leader of the Opposition. The plan is to scrap the $10,560 childcare subsidy cap, which often sees women losing money from an extra day's work. We will also lift the maximum childcare subsidy rate to 90 per cent and increase childcare subsidy rates and taper them for every family earning less than $550,000. This will result in around 97 per cent of families in the system saving between $600 and $2,900 a year, with no family being worse off.
When you are in an economic crisis, one of the other areas of importance is infrastructure. Infrastructure is an important lever for the economy, and, as we saw in the global financial crisis, massive infrastructure ensured that we got the economy going. Yet my constituents in the western suburbs of my electorate will be facing another 15 years of uncertainty and delays before the South Road upgrade is completed.
Back in 2013, the then Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, pledged to upgrade South Road within a decade—and that was an election promise. Documents leaked last year by members of the state Liberal government in South Australia show that the South Road upgrade may not be completed until possibly 2035. We need that money to be pumped into infrastructure today, now, to create jobs and to get the infrastructure that's needed for the future. That leak that came from the state Liberal Party members in South Australia shows that this road will be completed over a decade later than was originally promised by the Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, in 2013. Not only does this mean continued uncertainty for businesses and residents along South Road, at a time when business confidence is at an all-time low, but also it delays the creation, as I said, of much-needed jobs and the input of money into the economy in South Australia, my own state, which has the highest unemployment rate in the country at the moment. So it's desperately needed that they start work on this infrastructure project as soon as possible, to keep the economy going and give certainty to those residents in those suburbs all along South Road—like Mile End, Thebarton and Torrensville—that need the infrastructure. We need these jobs now, not in 15 years, and we need the infrastructure now, not in 15 years.
We know that putting money into infrastructure creates jobs and helps the economy, and we're not doing enough of it. We are not seeing the projects that are required. For example, the Main North Road intersection in my electorate at Medindie is a bottleneck. Back in 2016 we were promised that this would be fixed, yet nothing has started, no plans are in place—there is absolutely no focus on when it will be done. I get calls every day in my electorate office about that intersection and the bottleneck that it causes. It can take anything up to 30 minutes just to get out of that particular bottleneck to reach the next stage, which is half a kilometre away. We need it fixed now. The residents of Adelaide—especially in the suburbs of Prospect, Medindie, Walkerville and Sefton Park—want it fixed immediately. We need this infrastructure. As I've said, the infrastructure that we create creates jobs, helps the economy and ensures that people have a smoother ride when they are driving their cars in traffic et cetera.