House debates

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Matters of Public Importance

COVID-19: Employment

3:17 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable member for Gorton proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The Government's ineffective responses to the problems in the labour market and failure to protect jobs, before, during, and after the COVID-19 crisis.

I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Employment and Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

It is indeed a very difficult day for many, many Australians. The ABS has reported that, as of today—reflecting back, of course, to the first fortnight of last month—we've seen almost 600,000 jobs disappear from the labour market. The headline figure of 6.2 per cent sounds relatively modest in this climate, but the ABS itself has said:

Had the increase in the number of people who were not in the labour force (489,900) been a further increase in unemployment (that is, if they had been actively looking for work and been available to work) then the number of unemployed people would have increased to around 1.3 million people, and an unemployment rate would have increased to around 9.6%.

In effect, that's the real unemployment rate. It's the labour market of a month ago that we're dealing with. That's why Labor has been prosecuting the argument that we need to do better insofar as the JobKeeper package is concerned.

Let's be very clear. Let's remember exactly what happened. On 23 March, on behalf of Labor, I asked the Prime Minister why the government were not going to introduce a wage subsidy package, and the Prime Minister effectively said it wasn't necessary. Then they proceeded to close the parliament until August. It was only a week or so until they saw the long unemployment queues around every Centrelink office across the land, which had them bringing parliament back together. They convened the parliament two weeks later to introduce the JobKeeper package. When they announced the introduction of the JobKeeper package, we welcomed the announcement. We welcomed the change of heart and the change of mind. But we said then, and we say now, that there are design faults with the package which have left hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Australians worse off and indeed not protected. That's one of the reasons why we see such a very significant spike in job losses today when we look at the data reflecting on early April. That's why we'll continue to say to the government that they need to include many other classes of employees that have been completely and utterly left to their own devices and left really unsupported. That's why we say, for example, that there is a need to include casual employees in the labour market.

The situation is that we have sectors of our economy devastated by the pandemic. In many circumstances businesses were asked, of course quite rightly, to shut down for health purposes, and we support the decisions of governments to do that. But sectors where there is a very high proportion of casual employment are not getting the support they need. The fact is that sectors which have higher numbers of casuals are getting the least support, and they're the ones that need the most support. That effectively is a design flaw. Had you listened to the Treasurer and the Prime Minister today you would have thought that everything was fine. They effectively were suggesting that everything they've done is good enough and that, really, 600,000 job losses is, well, pretty good in the circumstances. Frankly, that is not good enough. That's not what the Australian public expect of their government. The fact is, we do not have to push people onto unemployment benefits. We do not have to push people out of the labour market.

The other concern that Labor has is the misunderstanding of the Treasurer, the Prime Minister and this government of what this wage subsidy means. It doesn't just mean supporting those workers; it means supporting those businesses. It's not good enough to say, 'We're providing jobseeker money to unemployed Australians,' instead of providing support for those workers. The fact is that, if you don't provide JobKeeper support and you don't provide wage subsidies for the workers in those industries most affected, the businesses collapse as well. We've got a situation where more businesses are hitting the wall because of a failure to support those workers. That's going to continue to happen, and they will not be able to get to the point where they survive the next few months as a result of the misunderstanding that the wage subsidy was to subsidise the workers and the businesses. Of course, jobseeker does none of that, so we have some grave concerns about the next few months. Already we're seeing so many people left out of the labour market. That's the other point: the fact that it's going to be much harder for people to return to employment, to return to the labour market, if they are unattached. That's quite tragic.

We've had a number of questions of the government today. Why is it that people in the arts community have been completely abandoned? Why is it that casual workers have been left without proper protection? Why is it that, therefore, the government hasn't been seeking to provide better support for those workers?

One of the other points that we've made is that this is not just something as a result of the pandemic. It is clear to say that this global pandemic has been devastating for many, many countries and it has certainly hit our economy, but we had the highest rate of underemployed Australians prior to the pandemic. In fact, if you look at the March figures you'd see that there was the highest number of underemployed Australians ever at 1.2 million. That figure of 1.2 million underemployed Australians has now gone up to 1.8 million. That's the highest increase we've seen since records have been brought together by the ABS. And we've seen a very significant fall in the participation rate—the biggest, again, since data has been collected. We think a lot of this could be avoided if they would take the suggestions of the opposition, of Labor, and include those workers in the package. That's what we continue to say, because this is only the beginning of what are going to be escalating increases in the unemployment rate. If you think about it, the rate that we're using at the moment is reflecting the labour market of the first fortnight of April. When we are looking at the job numbers in a month's time, I'm afraid to say, unless the government starts to properly consider Labor's concerns and proposals, we're going to see these numbers continue to rise throughout the next few months.

The other concern we have—and we're really asking the government to consider this—is: what is the government going to do with respect to the economy after 30 September? We've seen the Prime Minister walk away from his earlier phrase of 'snapback'. He effectively suggested some time ago that the economy was going to return to normal after a five-month period. Well that is not what leading economists believe. Nobody is forecasting a return to normal, and certainly no-one is seeing that economic likelihood. In fact, it would appear that this is going to be a very, very long challenge for this nation. The government has to start thinking about medium- and long-term ideas about protecting business, protecting the economy and protecting workers. But, to date, we have not heard one thing. In other words, there's going to be the complete contraction of public expenditure from 30 September—completely taken out of the economy—and somehow the economy is just going to survive without any form of support by public expenditure. That does not ring true.

We are concerned about a series of things which the government has to consider. Namely, broadening out the package to provide more support for workers. Indeed, it would have been better—of course, it's too late now—if the money had got to those workers and businesses earlier. It was too narrow. It has been too slow. Without more support for those workers who have been excluded, we're going to see these numbers continue to rise in June, July and August without any real guarantee that we're going to see some form of recovery. Labor are thinking about those things.

Labor are thinking about what we need to do during this crisis and what we'll need to do beyond the immediate challenges that we have. We have yet to hear any strategic plan by the government—a government that was not going to have a wages subsidy and a government that closed down the parliament until August but has had to bring us back. Now we have sittings for June as well, which we welcome, but the fact is that this government has been wrong footed on a number of occasions when it has come to responding to the needs of the economy. In this instance, they're still living down many, many Australians by not including them in the wage subsidy package. This is something they can fix.

The Treasurer has the power to broaden out the eligibility of the JobKeeper package, and that's what he should be doing today so that next month, when we see the job figures come out, we don't see another doubling of the losses that we've seen already in the first fortnight of April.

3:27 pm

Photo of Keith PittKeith Pitt (Hinkler, National Party, Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

Can I say to the shadow minister, I'll start with what we agree on. What we agree on is that this is going to be a long-term challenge. There is no doubt about that. But the government is very conscious of just how extraordinary this situation is from a health perspective and of course in terms of the economic shock, which all Australians recognised and many have felt directly.

We have acted in a determined manner. We have acted quickly, and we are doing our best to not only be decisive but work towards a recovery. We've put forward a staged plan on how that should happen. On the economic front, this is quite straightforward. In a three-week period we announced three separate support packages, each complementary and each building on each other. Combined, they're the largest fiscal response in Australia's history. It's quite extraordinary what has had to be done, but it was necessary.

I acknowledge a number of the points made by the shadow minister, but, in life, if you wait for perfect, you'll wait forever. We have had to make some extraordinary decisions in a very short period of time. We could have, quite simply, waited for a year and got the response almost bang on perfect, but the reality was that we needed to act. The Australian people needed us to act, and act we did. It has been the largest and fastest injection of economic support our nation has ever seen. We are in extraordinary and exceptional circumstances.

Economic measures fall into three categories. It's support for households, support for business and employment, and support for the financial system. There is a level of uncertainty out there, and I know that you know, Mr Deputy Speaker O'Brien, just how difficult it is for the people in your electorate, as it is for mine, who find themselves in a situation that some weeks or months ago they would never have dreamt would occur to them. We are there to support them in what they want to do, and what they want to do is to be back at work. They want our economy on the move. They want opportunity to be returned, and we're doing everything we can to ensure that happens in a staged way, given the health situation that the country—and many other nations—finds itself in.

We have effectively doubled the unemployment benefit—doubled it!—with the introduction of the temporary $550 coronavirus supplement for jobseekers. We have waived the waiting period, we have adjusted mutual obligation requirements and we have expanded the partner income test. We're doing everything we possibly can to provide support for Australians in their time of need, and their time of need is now. There is no doubt about that.

We've announced two $750 cash payments, with the first payment, totalling $5.2 billion, going out from 31 March to more than seven million income support recipients, including pensioners, carers, veterans, those receiving family tax benefits and Commonwealth Seniors Health Card holders. We have worked with the banks and the prudential regulator, and we're trying to ensure that householders can get as much temporary relief from loan repayments as possible.

I note that the member for Rankin is in the room. I would say to the member for Rankin, as I say to others, that if you come from small business you get how this works. These are very difficult circumstances—you must rely on your line of credit, you must rely what cash you have in the bank and you must rely on the opportunities provided, particularly by the federal and state governments. Quite simply, we want every single business we can possibly manage to get through the current crisis, because it is they who will draw our economy forward, it is they who will provide jobs and it is they who will provide opportunities. And the best thing we can do for all businesses across this country is to provide confidence, and that is exactly what we're trying to do with the $130 billion JobKeeper program.

It provides a fortnightly payment of $1,500 to part-time and full-time employees, long-term casuals, sole traders and those working in the not-for-profit sector. Just how important is that? I'll give some examples from my local electorate. Bundaberg Travel Centre: clearly, someone involved in tourism, and we know that the tourism sector has found itself in an incredibly difficult situation, where it has lost international tourism. The people in my electorate, and I'm sure in your electorate, Mr Deputy Speaker O'Brien, know exactly how important this sector is. Without the JobKeeper payment they simply cannot maintain their employees.

Red Shed Seafood—Tony and Marguerite Mills—is retail and wholesale seafood. Some of the best in our country and in the world come from our electorates, Mr Deputy Speaker—from the regions on the east coast of Queensland. Most of them have found themselves overstocked. Their freezers are full, and I have reports of trawlers in rivers burning diesel simply to keep their freezers running. So while I'm on my feet and have the opportunity: if you want good Australian seafood get online, order it and have it delivered. Get it down to your house—take the opportunity; it'll never be cheaper than it is now. There is plenty of it, and each and every one of you should take that opportunity.

Staff at Hervey Bay Neighbourhood Centre provide local community services, whether for homelessness, with youth or in other community services. They're taking the option of the JobKeeper payment program to keep their employees out there, helping people in their time of need. I think that is absolutely critical. Tanya and the team are doing a great job.

What are other people saying? There is ACOSS—those great supporters of the coalition; they're always very much on our side! On 30 March Cassandra Goldie, the CEO of the Australian Council of Social Services, said:

We are particularly pleased to see the decision to extend the subsidy widely to all employers, including community sector and not for profit organisations that experience a sharp drop in revenue, …

Jennifer Westacott of the Business Council of Australia said on 31 March:

I think this is one of these country saving moments.

I'll go back to my answer from before: this is the green-and-gold tracksuit time. This is the time to get the crest on your chest and to support our nation in its time of need. We also have additional comments from the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry:

Today’s announcement demonstrates that Prime Minister Morrison and Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg are listening and acting to keep business in business and people in jobs.

Business in business and people in jobs. That has to be our focus. Sarah Davies from Philanthropy Australia said: 'Thank you, Josh Frydenberg, Zed Seselja and Scott Morrison. More support for job seekers, pensioners and the economically vulnerable. Great leadership today.'

These are some of the leaders in our community. We've heard from them and we know what it does for opportunities in our local businesses—particularly our small businesses. We know that the payment is 70 per cent of the median wage and that it's allowing people to maintain a base standard of living and to survive through this period of time—to get to the point where they can recover. It has been critical in terms of the activity of the government. There are now more than 835,000 businesses employing more than 5.5 million workers who are formally enrolled in the program—5½ million

I know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you and others, and many in this chamber, have been horrified by the sight of people lined up at Centrelink in long queues in terrible circumstances—in difficult circumstances. We need to provide support for them, and we will continue to do that. There are over 450,000 small- and medium-sized businesses which have received over $8 billion under our cashflow boost program, and we have introduced a separate 50 per cent wage subsidy for 117,000 apprentices, helping to keep the local apprentice baker and hairdresser in work. As a former apprentice, I say, 'Hear, hear!' to that, but we need to do more. One of the great needs in our nation, moving forward, is to improve the level of skills and the availability of skilled workers in this country because, quite simply, we'll need them. Quite frankly, we will need them. We will need to work our way out of the current pandemic situation, for that's the only option we have. There is no magic bullet—there quite simply isn't. We'll need Australians to work hard and to improve their skills to have opportunities in jobs and to provide more projects and move ourselves forward.

Other measures include a $500 million loan facility to support exporters recapturing their market share, and the $1 billion COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Fund, with over $500 million already committed. We've had more than 80 regulatory changes and we're looking to plan and work our way out of the current restrictions. We have a clear plan, we have a clear framework and we are working with the states—whether that is through the national cabinet or otherwise—to try to move our economy forward.

There is a great risk, and everyone in this place knows what that risk is. It is that we have further breakouts of the pandemic—that we have a second wave. We're doing everything we can in terms of the health response to make sure we are prepared and that we can act quickly—that we can test extensively and provide the opportunity to shut down those breakouts when they occur. Quite frankly, they will occur. There is no doubt that they will occur in the future. But, as I said earlier, never, ever underestimate the ability of the Australian people to adapt. If we set the framework for them to be successful then they will make their decisions and the changes necessary for their businesses to move forward and to get themselves back to work.

A great example is the local barber in Bundaberg, who has been closed for some weeks. He has a very small facility. He has one chair and a couple of people inside. I went past last week and there were three guys sitting out the front. They were appropriately distanced. They were sitting in the sun. They had two inside and one in the chair. He has overcome, he has adapted and he has found a way. Many Australian businesses will do that because that is in their nature. It is the Australian way to deliver in times of toughness. They are resilient and they will continue to be so. We will continue to support them.

3:37 pm

Photo of Ms Catherine KingMs Catherine King (Ballarat, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

The Morrison government's approach to aviation has been nothing short of inconsistent, as we saw in question time today, and absolutely chaotic. What that means is that it is costing thousands of Australians their jobs and putting at risk our nation's future recovery from the crisis, because it relies on a strong, two-airline aviation sector. Our nation's aviation industry has been brought to its knees because of the necessary travel restrictions imposed by governments in Australia and around the world to limit the spread of COVID-19. The crisis is no fault of workers, and they need government assistance. Labor has taken a bipartisan approach throughout the crisis, but bipartisanship does not mean staying silent when we think the government has got it wrong. When it comes to aviation jobs, the government has got it very wrong. The government needs a comprehensive plan for aviation to ensure the best outcome for both the travelling public and the thousands of workers whose jobs depend on a vibrant aviation industry. But, instead of saving the jobs of thousands of Australian workers in need, the government has, frankly, taken its hands off the wheel. It's saying, 'It is not a problem for us; the market's going to sort all this out.'

The aviation sector plays a critical role in the life of every Australian. Forty-five thousand Australians work directly for airlines in Australia and hundreds of thousands more work in related industries, including aviation and tourism. For years, our strong airline industry, underpinned by two major players in Qantas and Virgin Australia, has delivered affordable services that regularly reach all Australians. The government is allowing that to collapse. Last month, the Morrison government preferred to let Virgin Australia fall into administration rather than offer them assistance. Virgin Australia were not asking for a handout; they weren't after a bailout. They were asking the government either to guarantee a line of credit or to take an equity stake in the airline. Their last ask, just before going into administration, was for $100 million. When you consider that 16,000 direct jobs are on the line, not including the many thousands of workers along the supply chain that depend on Virgin, that wasn't a huge amount to ask for.

When Rex faced similar difficulties, the Morrison government stepped up to secure their cash flow, saving a thousand jobs. We don't begrudge that at all—1,000 jobs are incredibly important. But we saw in question time that the Deputy Prime Minister—the Prime Minister was not prepared to answer the question—has been prepared to give $54 million in an untied grant, no strings attached to it, in order to assist Rex airlines. That is on top of the $13 million they've received in fee relief and route subsidisation to ensure that they survive. Yet when Virgin, responsible for 16,000 workers, needed help, the government preferred to sit back and say it's not their problem and let Virgin and their workers go to the wall. For 1,000 Rex workers the government were prepared to help, but they've told the 16,000 Virgin workers, 'Under this government, frankly, you are on your own.'

The workers at Virgin Australia need help to get them through the process of administration, and the government's failings will do long-term damage to our country, as will the government's denial of assistance to those so many dnata workers. Dnata's 5,500 workers provide crucial ground handling, charter handling, cargo and logistics, and catering services to our aviation sector. All of these workers have skills and security clearances that ensure our aviation industry is able to function. But the government is denying them access to the JobKeeper payment, costing them their jobs. These workers were only excluded because the government made changes to the regulations that would have made them eligible. The government took this decision based not on the workers but on the ownership structure of dnata itself, and the way in which it has done that is an absolute absurdity. These are Australian workers, they live in Australia, they pay tax in Australia and they're Australian citizens. Every cent of JobKeeper that went to these Australian workers would go to their families and their communities. Not a cent would go to the company they work for. JobKeeper is supposed to be about making sure Australian workers can keep that connection with their job and we can get them out of this crisis and straight back into work. The average worker has no say over the ownership structure of dnata. The government and the Treasurer need to fix this now for the 5,500 dnata workers and their families that are relying on the government to do so. (Time expired)

3:42 pm

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have to say I find it absolutely unbelievable that we live in a time where we're comparing our economic circumstances and our economic challenges to the Great Depression. The fact is that if you turn on the news or read a newspaper people will say this is the greatest whatever-it-might-be since the Great Depression—the greatest drop in economic activity and the greatest drop in people's confidence and outlook. Merely two months ago we could never have possibly imagined that two months later we would be in this circumstance.

This coming Monday, on 18 May, is the one-year anniversary of the 2019 election. I never could have imagined as a new member of this parliament that, within the first year of serving in this parliament, we would have a challenge of the scale that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to this country and particularly this government. It is almost impossible to imagine how the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the cabinet have been able to mount an unbelievable health response of the scale that was required to deal with the health challenges and an economic response of the scale that was required to deal with the economic challenges.

My electorate has the highest number of people of Italian heritage in the country. I remember looking a few months ago at the awful situation in Italy, a country much like others in Western Europe and North America that we compare our own country to as being a similarly advanced economy with an excellent health system and all that goes with that.

What could have come to this country, from a health point of view, was there to be seen, as we saw some of the other First World countries across the planet having this unbelievable health challenge come upon them. In many cases the response, from a health point of view, that they had to undertake was the complete lockdown of the economy. Thankfully, in this country, we were able to avoid having to go that far. Next door in New Zealand, they made the decision to go into full lockdown. There was a lot of gratuitous advice from all kinds of people saying we needed to go all the way to lockdown, to stage 4, as well. We were able to contain the health challenges that would have been brought about on our system without having to undertake complete economic shutdown of our economy. And when the history is written of this coronavirus and the way in which Australia rose to the challenge—the way we dealt with the health challenges but equally ensured that we put our economy in the best spot possible to recover—I think you'll find, when you compare us to our peers, that history will be very, very kind to Scott Morrison and the Liberal government for the leadership that we've provided.

The minister outlined the extent of the economic response of the government and how rapid it was. At the centre of that was the JobKeeper payment scheme. In my time in politics—not just as a member of parliament; in many ways I've been involved in politics my entire adult life—I've never had an experience where a government policy position has been so ubiquitously welcomed across the ideological divide, frankly. In my own electorate, and many other members would have had similar experiences talking to people in their communities, the number of people who were just so grateful for that policy decision and the certainty that it provided them, their livelihood, their business, was something that I've never experienced in public policy in my adult life. Again, when you compare that policy measure to the way in which other nations and our peers have made their economic decisions and responses, I think JobKeeper will be seen by history as one of the great economic responses to one of the greatest economic challenges in my life time, in our life time.

As I said when I commenced my remarks, it is phenomenal to live in a time when we're talking about comparing our current circumstance to the Great Depression. When I was a young boy and I talked to my grandparents, they'd talk about the Second World War. You'd think about these major events as if they were never going to occur in your life time—far from it. We have had an enormous challenge health wise, an enormous challenge economically. Our response has been exactly what was needed to provide confidence to the private sector and the economy of this country, and I'm very proud to be part of a government that's made those important decisions for our future.

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.

3:52 pm

Photo of Angie BellAngie Bell (Moncrieff, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's my privilege to speak on today's matter of extreme public importance focused on the government's economic response to the coronavirus to protect Australian jobs. The coronavirus outbreak impacts personal health and the health systems of countries around the world and it's also having profound economic implications, particularly in my central Gold Coast electorate of Moncrieff. The government's three economic support packages have provided timely assistance to affected workers, businesses and the broader community and has kept Australians in work and businesses in business. The measures have put a floor under the economy and laid the foundation for a strong economic recovery.

As the coronavirus curve is flattened the government is focused on reopening and rebuilding. We need to get businesses back open to enable Australians to go back to work and to ensure consumers and business have the confidence to return to normal activities. Like rest of Australia, the blow to the Gold Coast economy has been devastating as tourism, education, events and hospitality are all key pillars in our city. This is why I have established the City Heart Task Force to engage with key industry sectors to build inner city strategies as we foster the economic road to recovery. It gives me the opportunity to hear updates directly from small business, tourism, hospitality, education and real estate to ensure I can continue the fight for the good people of Moncrieff here in this place.

I would like to commend all those businesses in Moncrieff who have adapted during this tough time to keep their doors open and our people in jobs. It's been such an inspiration to see. I have just a couple of examples for you. Goldsteins Bakery on Chevron Island has moved online, so they have adapted their business right now. Allstar Plastics in Southport have started manufacturing safety screens and aerosol boxes. The Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre in Broadbeach are using their tech facilities to assist schools and they're using their kitchen to cook meals for those who need a bit of extra support at the moment.

The government has taken decisive action to address the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. The Morrison government has provided a historic wage subsidy of $1,500 per fortnight before tax. The $130 billion JobKeeper payment is helping six billion Australians and their employers to keep their staff in jobs and keep their businesses open. I commend the government's JobKeeper program, as do all business groups in my electorate of Moncrieff. There was an audible sigh of relief in the streets when it was announced.

An example of the flow-on effects can be seen at the Southport Yacht Club. I recently caught up with the general manager, Brett James, who said that JobKeeper has enabled him to keep his staff on. The yacht club has a lot of senior members who have needed to isolate for their own safety. The JobKeeper program enabled Brett's team to call and check in on their senior citizen membership. I commend Brett and his team on their touching initiative. Further to this, international superyachts will be able to sail into the Gold Coast seaway, via Southport Yacht Club, permanently in a coup for the Gold Coast boating and tourism industries, as the city starts to look towards the road to recovery, as soon as our borders reopen and the superyacht berth is built.

I am pleased to have worked with Minister Dutton to deliver the permanent border clearing station, which is a vote of confidence for our city during these tough times. A single superyacht is worth thousands of dollars to the Gold Coast economy per day. This is one more step in building the Gold Coast as one of the world's greatest superyacht destinations, boosting our tourism industry and creating local jobs.

Gold Coast theme parks will receive a funding lifeline with the Morrison government unveiling a nationwide $94.6 million support package to help them get through the COVID-19 crisis. This funding will assist exhibiting zoos and aquariums with the fixed operational costs associated with caring for their animals. It will also help to ensure they can remain viable and ready to welcome visitors once restrictions are eased. This is a lifeline for the Gold Coast theme parks, such as Sea World in my electorate, where revenue has dried up as a result of the impacts of COVID.

At the beginning of the crisis I held a meeting with Village Roadshow, Dreamworld and the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Simon Birmingham, to discuss how best to support our tourism icons during this time to ensure they can bounce back once restrictions ease. Our theme parks are a major drawcard for our region and deliver huge positive flow-on effects to our local economy. Families from around Australia love them and we look forward to welcoming them back on the road ahead. They bring thousands of visitors to the Gold Coast who spend millions of dollars visiting other attractions, staying in local hotels and dining in our fantastic local restaurants. It's a big win for our city and the tourism industry on our road to recovery.

There is no doubt today's unemployment figures are devastating, however, they are not unexpected— (Time expired)

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.

4:02 pm

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to refute this matter of public importance that the opposition has put—that we have not put jobs at the centre of our economy. The $130 billion JobKeeper program is unbelievably unprecedented and unique. I can't emphasise enough how their argument is absolutely flawed. For the whole of Australia this has been an unbelievably positive program going forward. That's not to say that there are not aspects of it such that some people may miss out. But we haven't just provided a JobKeeper lifeline; we've also provided a JobSeeker lifeline. So, we are now looking at supporting almost 50 per cent of the adult working population. That is unbelievable, and it is because we have recognised two clear crises.

There are people in this parliament who have thought and argued strongly that we should only be looking at this as a health crisis. It has been very clear that this government has had both aspects of this crisis clearly front and centre from the very start. If you look at the messages that have come through very clearly from the Prime Minister, they have been about a bipartisan approach. Firstly, forming the National Cabinet: I think Australians around the country have been thrilled by the bipartisan support of the federal, state and territory governments working together. Secondly, we've been very clear that the health of all Australians comes first, and we have been very clear about making sure that we have done the most that we can to flatten the curve and prepare our healthcare system. But equally, at the same time and at speed, we have managed to put together an amazing package that is the envy of the world—I'm really sorry, I just have to say that. I've spoken to colleagues around the world. Our package is unique and clever in its construction, and that is because it has put a Liberal philosophy at its very heart. We understand the strong economic approach—that business is at the heart of our economy.

Small businesses, medium-sized businesses and large businesses are the heartbeat of the Australian economy. By providing JobKeeper to businesses to soften the blow and to allow them to support their employees, it has meant that we have provided the dignity of work to Australians. Six million Australians are being supported by JobKeeper—six million people who may otherwise not have had that support have been supported, and 800,000 businesses are now able to continue to provide support and dignity to an amazing number of people in this country. That is not something to be sneezed at.

On top of that, by providing that support to these businesses for their employees, it means that they can therefore be more generous to those who may not meet that JobKeeper criterion, if they do fall through the jobseeker category. So we've got to remember that we have provided this massive amount of support. It is unprecedented in our history, and it is the right solution at the right time. It is a temporary measure to cushion the economy and get us to the other side. It is truly a Liberal philosophy that has taken us to this point. I have to say, the response from the community has been extraordinary.

In the electorate of Higgins, which I am the member for, I've had dozens if not hundreds of emails about JobKeeper and how enthusiastic people are in supporting JobKeeper—I've had retailers, I've had cafes and restaurants, I've had financial services and I've had new businesses that have just started up in the last three or four years who've been faced with closing their doors. I've had letters from people saying that they were expecting to shed 80 per cent of their jobs in the early weeks of February. They were so amazingly relieved that we had offered them this support so that they could keep their businesses going so we can be ready on the other side to get to a new COVID response where Australians can pick up and move forward.

I would like to really congratulate the very proactive response that our government has taken to develop the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission, headed by Mr Neville Power. We are already on the front foot, prepared and ready to go forward as Australians together with businesses, with employers and with employees to get to a COVID-safe world on the other side.

4:08 pm

Photo of Anika WellsAnika Wells (Lilley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have never been more proud to be a northsider or to be the person elected to represent northsiders here in the federal parliament. In the words of the great Bruce Springsteen, 'We take care of our own.' I only wish that I had the time in the chamber today to acknowledge and pay tribute to all the acts of kindness that have been bestowed upon others across the northside during the past couple of months. But I am here as the voice of the people of Lilley, and they have sent me here with messages for the parliament. On today's topic, I will talk about the messages of improvement that they want to see in the JobKeeper package.

The Treasurer bestowed upon himself great ministerial power. He gave himself discretion to amend the JobKeeper package where issues with the scheme were exposed. I call upon the Treasurer to demonstrate some humility and now attend to that work with us in the parliament here this week. He needs to do that because there are people falling through the cracks and there are people who are being treated unfairly by this scheme—people like Steve, who lives in McDowall.

Steve has worked for Q Catering for 22 years. For most of that time, Steve has worked for Q Catering under the ultimate employer of Qantas. In 2018, Qantas sold Q Catering to dnata. Steve had no hand in that. Steve played no part in that. This government played a part in that; they signed off on the sale. But now Steve finds himself hung out to dry by that same government because he is not eligible for JobKeeper. He was stood down on 30 March. He was told he'd be stood down for three months, but not to worry because JobKeeper was coming. Last week Steve was told that actually, no, that same government who approved the sale, that same government who had a hand in the change of his employer was now denying him any support. People like Steve deserve an awful lot better than what they're getting from this Treasurer at the moment.

We need to step in and amend JobKeeper for people like Paul and Simone. Paul and Simone opened up a cafe and wellness centre in Brighton in the past 12 months. They poured their heart, their savings and their time into setting up this new business. They employed three local casual workers. As the weeks have gone on, times have got tougher. They've had to sack those three local workers. They are not eligible for JobKeeper because of the criteria. Despite doing absolutely everything that this government seeks of people—small business people having a go—they are now facing the very real prospect of handing the keys back to the bank. What about people like Paul and Simone?

People like Kylie from Sandgate deserve better than what they are receiving from the Treasurer at the moment. Kylie is a relief teacher. She teaches at St Pat's up at Shorncliffe. Kylie was stood down on 27 March and has not received any further bookings as a relief teacher. She's not eligible for JobKeeper; she's a casual worker. At a time when we are talking about the role of teachers and how important their work is in our community, relief teachers like Kylie have been hung out to dry by this government.

Last week, I had a community Zoom with people in the arts industry along with our shadow arts minister, Tony Burke. We've got a thriving hub in Lilley, but we also have 92,000 Queenslanders whose livelihoods depend upon the arts industry. They contribute $111 billion to our economy, and do you know what they got from this government? $27 million. The entire arts industry got $27 million from this government. They've been completely hung out to dry, yet day after day this week we've heard what a great job everybody in the government has been doing and how JobKeeper needs no further amendment. Why are we all here if not to do what the Treasurer gave himself the power to do and amend the package to improve the fairness of the scheme?

Last night I spoke with community organisations on another community Zoom. These are the people who have been keeping our vulnerable alive in the past couple of months. These are the people who are feeding meals to our most vulnerable, meal by meal. They've been keeping people off the streets. They've been giving them showers and then wiping them down themselves. And you know what they had to ask last night? They said: 'Anika, what is happening with JobKeeper? We're reading that there are backbenchers wanting the scheme closed early. We were told this money was granted until September. It's not even enough money to get us to September, and now we're hearing that it might not even last until then.' We should be working together to improve the inherent fairness of the scheme. Why recall parliament and spend all of the taxpayer money needed to do this if you will not listen to the people of our electorates, if you will not hear the unfairness of the scheme, if you will not acknowledge the people who are falling through the cracks and step in and fix it? We have time yet to do it today. The Treasurer should come into the chamber and fix it now.

4:13 pm

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The coalition government's record on employment is steady. At the start of this year, there were more than 1.4 million more Australians in work than when we came to office in 2013. During that time, wage growth was relatively stable, reflecting a low inflation and low interest rate environment in recent years. The wage price index grew by 2.1 per cent through the year to the March quarter 2020 up from 1.9 per cent from the previous June quarter.

Economic growth and job creation are being facilitated through a range of measures and policies including deregulation, small business tax cuts, free trade agreements, Vocational Education and Training and infrastructure investment. However, since the advent of the coronavirus, things have changed dramatically in the wake of the biggest economic downturn in modern history. More than 600,000 jobs have been lost in a month. The government's $320 billion economic support package, including the $130 billion JobKeeper payment scheme, contains measures to support Australians during the coronavirus outbreak. The government is supporting small business to retain apprentices and trainees with eligible businesses able to apply for a 50 per cent wage subsidy for up to nine months. The government is supporting small and medium-sized business entities and not-for-profit organisations to continue to employ workers, providing payments for a hundred per cent of the tax withheld on employees' salaries and wages. The payments will total a minimum of $20,000 and up to a maximum of $100,000.

The $130 billion JobKeeper payment is the most significant measure to protect jobs in our nation's history. In my home state of Western Australia, sectors of the labour market are still remaining strong, with thousands of mining workers adapting to COVID-safe work practices and keeping the mining industry operating through this economic crisis.

The coalition government has introduced a $7.5 billion employment service, jobactive. Jobactive provides eligible jobseekers with tailored help, from a jobactive organisation, based on their assessed needs. Jobactive providers have a strong understanding of local labour markets. They know where the jobs are, what to do to help jobseekers get ready for work, and how to match jobseekers to employer needs.

The issue of youth unemployment is important for our nation and my electorate of Moore. Last financial year, for the first time in our nation's history, more than 100,000 young Australians got a job. Youth unemployment is falling and is lower than it was under Labor, who left office with almost 55,000 fewer young people in work. The coalition is building on its track record by ensuring more young people get the skills and experience employers need, and is committed to improving skills training, including through the creation of 80,000 new apprenticeships in areas of skill shortages.

The Morrison government is providing additional support to school leavers and job seekers in regional areas by establishing 10 industry training hubs in regional areas with high youth unemployment. The training hubs will provide greater job opportunities for young people and strengthen local economies. This will be supported by 400 vocational education and training scholarships in those regions.

The government is investing $585 million to improve the vocational education and training sector. A strong VET sector equips young people with the skills to move into stable employment. The government has introduced an additional identified skills shortage payment to encourage 80,000 new apprentices to enter occupations facing skill shortages.

The government has commenced pilots of 10 training hubs in regional areas, which are fostering closer links between schools and industry and targeting high regional youth unemployment. Youth Jobs PaTH is a targeted initiative designed to support young people gain the skills and work experience they need to secure employment. PaTH internships help young people under 25 years of age become more competitive in the labour market, giving them the skills that employers want, opportunities for work experience, and the support to move from welfare to work.

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The discussion has concluded.