House debates

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Matters of Public Importance

COVID-19: Economy

3:35 pm

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

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

The Government's mismanagement of the economic crisis and its lack of a comprehensive plan for the recovery.

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—

3:34 pm

Photo of Jim ChalmersJim Chalmers (Rankin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

This month Australians learned that we as a nation are in recession for the first time in almost three decades, and this week the Morrison government showed its true colours. This was the moment when the Prime Minister and the Treasurer snapped back from 'we're all in this together' to 'you're on your own' when those opposite reverted to type—to the stale, failed policy of tough luck and cold charity, to the unfair and un-Australian notion that if you fall behind you get left behind.

Every member of this side of the House understands that recessions aren't about spreadsheets on a computer screen or some abstract technical jargon; they're about people, their jobs and their living standards. They're about whether people can afford to pay their rent or their mortgage or put food on the table or school shoes on their kids. They're about whether or not as a nation we can avoid the long-term unemployment which can turn into long-term, entrenched disadvantage and which risks cascading down through the generations in communities like the one I represent and those represented by this side of the House.

These are serious times, and people are understandably anxious. Hundreds of thousands of people have already lost their jobs. Just today, in the new data, we learnt that 750,000 jobs have already disappeared and that the impact of those job losses has been felt disproportionately by women, by younger workers and by people employed in industries dominated by casual and insecure work. Faced with this avalanche of reality about what this recession means for real people in real communities, those opposite are leaving those workers behind. They're leaving those workers in the lurch. They're leaving them hanging when it comes to important updates and reviews of the JobKeeper program and the budget update, which was promised for June but now, all of a sudden, has been pushed back beyond the Eden-Monaro by-election in July.

Three decades of continuous economic growth, which began under Labor and was defended by Labor when it was last most at risk, has now come to an end under those opposite because of this pandemic. On this side of the House we have always acknowledged the devastating economic consequences of this diabolical health crisis. We know that the pandemic arrived without warning, but the truth is that weakness in the economy did not. And, with us having acknowledged the role of this pandemic in ending that remarkable period of continuous economic growth, it's now time for those opposite to acknowledge three things. One is that we entered this crisis from a position of weakness because of seven years of incompetence, inaction and ineptitude which saw slowing growth and stagnant wages, business investment going backwards, productivity flatlining, record household debt and record public debt. We came into this crisis from a position of weakness. We weren't as strong as we needed to be in confronting something as serious as this. That's the first thing.

The second thing that they need to acknowledge is that stupendous errors have been made in the implementation of programs that should be doing more good in our economy than they are—and I'll come back to that. The third thing for them to acknowledge is that as it stands today, despite all the speeches and all the slogans, there is still no comprehensive plan for jobs and the recovery and the future of this country. Australians can't afford for those opposite—having bumbled the economy before, having botched the response—to bumble the recovery as well. Every Australian needs the government to do a much better job of managing this crisis and this recovery than they were doing managing the economy in the lead-up to this pandemic.

Perhaps the defining debacle of all of this has been the JobKeeper program. I'm referring in part, but not wholly, to the biggest-ever error made in any budget by any Treasurer in the history of the Commonwealth—the Treasurer's $60 billion JobKeeper blunder. That matters, because they turned people away on the basis the program was full only to cough up late on a Friday that it was actually three million workers short.

But that's not the only error those opposite have made with the JobKeeper program. They've left too many people out of it, and that means they've left too many Australians behind. They introduced it too late and it was too narrow, and now they risk withdrawing it too soon and too bluntly. The tragedy of this is that the JobKeeper wage subsidies could have been such an important part of dealing with this crisis.

The government actually started with the right instinct, which was to try and keep as many people connected to their employer as possible, and we supported that. We support it now. But what they showed is that you can't trust a bad government with a good idea. It's a good idea but badly implemented and badly communicated, and Australians are paying the price for it. And that's why even the Reserve Bank, including today in their minutes, have said multiple times that the economy is going to be weak for some time, so don't withdraw the support too soon. All that will do will mean that we've spent all of this money turning an April-May problem into a September-October problem so that people are in strife later in the year instead of earlier in the year.

In question time this week, we asked the government why, if the JobKeeper enrolments were down, they wouldn't admit that the jobseeker enrolments were up. We learned the answer from the committee chaired by Senator Gallagher, the shadow finance minister. Those opposite are all of a sudden pretending that JobKeeper and jobseeker are one and the same. The truth is, on the side of the House, we'd prefer people in work if they wanted to be in work. We'd rather people maintain that connection. The original instinct of this program was right; it's just been bungled in its implementation. We want people in work, and we prefer people in work.

When asked today about how many people would be sacrificed in September to this snapback that the Prime Minister is clinging to, all those opposite wanted to do was to talk about the Labor Party. It wasn't that long ago that this Prime Minister was saying, 'In this country, if you have a go, you get a go.' And now he's saying: 'You had a go. Off you go to Centrelink.'

What do those opposite say to all of those Australians who've been left behind by the incompetence and ineptitude of those opposite and sacrificed to their cold and cruel ideology? They say to the Australian people: 'Don't worry. I know you've lost your job, but our recession is not as bad as America's.' Their main defence—and we know what's going on in the United States—is: 'Don't worry. It's not as bad as what's happening in the US or Italy.' They say: 'Don't worry. We know you've lost your job, but it's not quite as bad as we originally feared.' It is for that family. It is for that breadwinner. It is for that community. Their defence that it's not as bad as the US or not as bad as they feared is cold comfort if you're one of the hundreds of thousands of Australians who headed off to lengthen the unemployment queues.

Just as having no plan before the crisis was a recipe for economic weakness, it is so too a recipe afterwards. The Prime Minister gave a speech yesterday which tried to do two things at once. It tried to argue this crisis will be with us for longer but that the support should be drawn out sooner. You can't have it both ways. He's got to pick which of his comments is true. It makes no economic sense for him to be talking up austerity at the same time he's pretending he's game for growth.

In serious times like this, we need a Treasurer who's up for the task as well. Instead, we get the butterfingers of Australian politics—the Treasurer who will always have his name on the first recession in three decades, the Treasurer who will always have his name on the biggest blunder ever made in a Commonwealth budget since Federation and the Treasurer who printed the mugs saying we are 'back in black' only to deliver the biggest ever deficits in the history of this nation. We need those opposite to do better.

The Leader of the Opposition has said rightly that Australians have a choice. The choice before all of us is whether we want to snap back to the worst elements of the economy before this crisis—all the insecure work, stagnant wages, flatlining living standards and record household debt—or whether we can go forward to something better, and that is the question before this parliament. We won't get anything better if those opposite continue to bungle JobKeeper, or if they fail to understand that this recession, on their watch, is about real people in real communities. We won't get there without a plan or without leadership, and those opposite are providing neither. (Time expired)

3:44 pm

Photo of Luke HowarthLuke Howarth (Petrie, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Community Housing, Homelessness and Community Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I've been overwhelmed by the number of calls that I've received to my electorate office in response to the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. I'm sure that the member for Grey has had the same number, and the members for North Sydney, Chisholm and O'Connor have all experienced it. And I suspect some of those on the other side of the House have also had calls from people about how pleased they are with the government's performance and about how the Prime Minister has handled this in a very statesmanlike manner by calling the national cabinet together—Australia's first national cabinet. Australians desperately want leadership. They won't get it from this shadow Treasurer and they won't get it from this Leader of the Opposition, but they will get it from this Prime Minister.

When the Prime Minister spoke about our JobMaker plan in question time today, it was really inspiring to hear what he had to say—to hear that he understands Australians need and rely on the services that we deliver. We want to ensure that revenues are restored, that people get back to work, that the Queensland borders are opened, that tourism is flourishing, and that the services that people rely on are delivered. We know that getting people back to work pays for all the services that people rely on, whether it's the $31 billion in additional funding that we pumped into hospitals, including the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, or the almost $20 billion that's been forecast for schools funding. When I was elected, we were spending something like $14 billion a year on schools. It's currently $21 billion a year. Fantastic! And those services can be delivered to our children because of the economy that we're in. We want to make sure that the economy is up and running again as quickly as possible.

But what we hear from those opposite and what we just heard from the shadow Treasurer is a whole lot of negativity. He actually used the words: 'sacrificed in September'. Those are the words of the shadow Treasurer. We heard nothing from him about jobseeker and the doubling of jobseeker, for those important people who are living in public housing or are looking for work or are doing it a bit tough—nothing from the opposition acknowledging the help that is being provided to those people. We heard nothing about the emergency relief funding that's being rolled out around the country or about the JobKeeper payment that is helping so many Australians and the many small businesses who have called us and said, 'Thank you for what you're doing and the plan that you have in place.' Deputy Speaker, do you know that the stimulus that the federal government has delivered is almost ten times larger than the states' combined? It's unbelievable what the Australian government has been able to roll out to help so many people.

Those opposite don't have a plan. The member opposite, the shadow Treasurer, just criticised the Prime Minister's speech to CEDA yesterday. The opposition leader didn't even do a speech, and he has criticised JobKeeper because the forecast was wrong. If those opposite had been in government it wouldn't have been an underspend, I can tell you that, Deputy Speaker. It would have been a big overspend. So I do find it appalling that this opposition come in here at this time and try to talk down the economy—'sacrifice in September' is the sort of language that the shadow Treasurer brings to this place to inspire people.

I heard the Prime Minister speak today about the JobMaker plan. People are inspired by that, and I know they are because people have been calling my electorate office. There's also a plan for manufacturing—making it, for the agriculture sector—growing it, and for the resource sector—mining it, and there are infrastructure projects being rolled out around the country—servicing it.

In relation to manufacturing, the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology has spoken about the Manufacturing Modernisation Fund, which is a really good opportunity to help all Australians support manufacturing. This government has supported over 200 job-creating projects, investing over $215 million; that's over $1 million on average per project. We're also investing in homegrown companies like Kestrel Manufacturing and Clets Linen—both in Labor-held electorates, I might say. They're manufacturing personal protective equipment and looking for opportunities to export. Under this minister, we've also set up service hubs and new cybersecurity hubs. In my own electorate, the Dolphins leagues club were recently hacked by someone and they've had to strengthen their own cybersecurity, but we've set up hubs in Brisbane, Townsville and the Sunshine Coast. We've also set up SME export hubs in Boothby in South Australia and in Melbourne to work with businesses and help businesses gain access to international markets.

In the agriculture sector, we are doing a lot to help grow the economy. We're making sure the agriculture sector has the workers it needs, and we're making sure that the freight assistance to support that is also in place. There's a lot happening in agriculture. The resources minister, Minister Pitt, spoke about mining yesterday. He said that the Australian resources sector has contributed around nine per cent to Australia's GDP and 25 per cent growth of all our exports have been coming into the economy in this sector in the last couple of years—some $100 billion in the iron ore industry and $50 billion in liquid natural gas. We've got a lot of plans in place in the resources sector and in agriculture, and what do we get from the Queensland Labor Party? We get roadblocks at every opportunity. That's why we need a new government come October in Queensland. There are good women up there who understand that we need to get rid of the red tape and the roadblocks that others are putting up—LNP candidates like Amanda Cooper in Aspley; Kerri-Anne Dooley in Redcliffe; Yvonne Barlow in Murrumba; and Kara Thomas in Pine Rivers. We would love to see them elected.

It is nice, by the way, that the federal government is investing in Victoria as well. We are investing in both of those hubs in Jagajaga and Scullin. Unlike the Victorian Labor Party—and unlike what is happening with Adem Somyurek at the moment—at least we are actually looking after Victoria.

In relation to infrastructure projects, we've just seen $1.8 billion invested in councils right around the country to make sure that councils can get jobs happening right now. That involves projects in my own electorate to upgrade places like the Clontarf Beach Scout Group and a road upgrade at Bonnet Parade and Mango Hill Boulevard, where we've invested $555 million. These projects, relying on councils, are happening right around Australia.

The JobKeeper wage subsidy program has been really helpful to people. The cash flow incentives for small and medium businesses have been essential. Some small-business owners told me the other day that they received a $50,000 rebate in PAYG. We've put in place a 50 per cent wage subsidy for apprenticeships and a safety net for companies facing financial stress. The instant asset write-off is really helping the economy: you can invest up to $150,000 and ensure that that item is written off straightaway.

I would say to the member opposite who raised this matter of public importance that what he's saying is false, because the calls that we are receiving are overwhelmingly supportive, right around the electorate. When I get out and talk to people, they're really happy with what the government is doing. There's more work to be done, but I believe that the Prime Minister is providing the leadership that this country needs and the plans—particularly our JobMaker plan—to ensure that, over the next five years, we continue to go from strength to strength.

Australia is the best place to live. I am proud to live here and to be a member of this House. I say to those opposite: don't talk negatively and try to scare people. Look at what you're doing and how you can contribute to a better Australia.

3:54 pm

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

The fact is Australia is in its first recession in 30 years, and ordinary people are worried about their jobs. In my electorate, those with a job are concerned if they are going to keep it. Those without a job don't know when they are going to get another one. These serious times mean we need a serious government. Sadly, we do not have one.

It's a fact that, before coronavirus, business investment was falling off a cliff. It is a fact that, before coronavirus, wages growth had flatlined. In fact, workers' share of national income was at its lowest level in decades. It is a fact that debt had exceeded $500 billion. It is also a fact that all of these problems haven't gone away; they have got worse. But we do not have a government with a plan to deal with them. In fact, we have a government which is seriously contemplating making each and every one of those problems even worse.

It's a lamentable fact that, come October, a million Australians are going to get an income cut as a direct result of the decisions of this government. We are told that somehow $40 a day was insufficient for those one million and more Australian workers who lost their jobs at the commencement of the coronavirus. It was insufficient in March, but somehow it is going to be just enough in September when all of those workers on JobKeeper, many of whom are in industries which are still being affected by the restrictions, are going to have their support slashed, and business support is slashed as well.

The government says in response to these criticisms that Australian workers do not want a handout. Well, isn't it remarkable that that is exactly what this government's decisions are going to leave millions of workers doing? I'm referring to the fact that it has encouraged two million workers to raid their retirement savings. These workers are going to be more reliant, not less reliant, on pensions come their retirement because, for every $20,000 that is withdrawn, it's probably going to cost them in excess of $100,000 in retirement. The well-off people on the other side might yawn and say, 'That's nothing,' but if you are a low-wage worker in an electorate such as mine that is probably the majority of your retirement savings. The government think it's nothing that these workers cleaned out their retirement savings accounts.

Because this government was so slow and so sluggish at putting in place support for businesses and support for workers, many of those workers had no choice but to raid their superannuation. Because of the misadministration of this scheme, we've had workers' savings exposed to frauds and rip-offs. It has been a honeypot for fraudsters.

Mr Howarth interjecting

The assistant minister says, 'Turn it up.' He asks, 'How many have there been?' I might ask the assistant minister: how many have there been? We know of 150 cases they will admit to. Where there are 150 cases they will admit to, hundreds more red flags and concerns will have been raised.

Mr Howarth interjecting

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

The assistant minister will cease interjecting across the table.

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

The assistant minister thinks this is nothing, but these are the retirement savings of ordinary Australians through the scheme that the government have put together. So, at a time when Australians need a government with serious plans and proposal, they are getting nothing but big promises and no delivery and big slogans and no substance. They are leaving people behind, and their one big plan is to wait for the economic tide from the rest of the world to somehow wash upon our shores and ensure that the growth that is driven from elsewhere lifts the Australian economy. Well, we need more than that. Australians deserve and need more than that. They need more than the slogans and hopeless plans of this assistant minister and this government. These are serious times, and they need a serious government with a serious plan, not this hopeless mob.

3:59 pm

Photo of Gladys LiuGladys Liu (Chisholm, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We live in a strange time, but I am proud of our government's strong economic response in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. This has not been an easy task. The current crisis we find ourselves in is unprecedented. But, thankfully, the coalition government's strong economic policies have put us in a good position to bounce back. Without the coalition government's decisive economic response, we would not be in the position we are in now.

The impact of COVID-19 has been severe, not only for our health system but for the economy as well. While those on the other side might try to attack us for our mismanagement of the economic crisis, it would be important for them to note that we are in a global crisis. The average fall in GDP across OECD countries in the March quarter was six times that of Australia. Our economy has only contracted by 0.3 per cent, which is negligible in comparison to countries which experienced the full extent of the outbreak at the same time as us—including COVID-19 successes, such as Germany, which had its economy shrink by 2.2 per cent in the same period.

Government initiatives like JobKeeper have helped 7,000 organisations in my electorate of Chisholm. These organisations have been able to keep people on the books and off an already strained welfare system. Without this program, unemployment was projected to rise to 15 per cent instead of the worst-case scenario of 10 per cent that is currently predicted. In what universe is this not a success in economic management? Additionally, the coronavirus supplement paid along with the jobseeker payment has effectively doubled the payment for those who have lost their jobs and are doing it tough. This has stopped Australians from having to default on their loans, which could have led to a wider collapse of the banking and financial systems. That could have had wide-reaching consequences for the economy. I'm glad we have managed to avoid that possibility through the coalition's measured and well-considered policies. Of course, these measures can only be temporary. We, the government, are committed to ensuring that our economy can fully recover from the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. This is of incredible importance for Australia as a whole and cannot be rushed, and I wish those on the other side could understand that.

Unlike those opposite, we do have a comprehensive plan for Australia's economic recovery, based on growing the economy and creating jobs. We have already begun to unveil parts of this, such as the JobMaker program, which aims to fast-track infrastructure projects around Australia, creating jobs and promoting growth. We are committing a further $1.5 billion to immediately start work on small priority projects identified by the states and territories. This is on top of the $7.8 billion of projects we have already brought forward since November last year.

Our economy is slowly reopening, with restaurants, cafes, bars and other non-essential services gradually beginning to serve customers again across Australia. This is a great help to those businesses that have been struggling through these difficult times. We should continue to work together to make sure that our hard work does not go to waste. We live in strange times, but I am glad we have a strong coalition government with a proven record of sound and strong economic management to lead us out of this challenging time.

4:04 pm

Photo of Fiona PhillipsFiona Phillips (Gilmore, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This government wants to talk about economic recovery. They want to pat themselves on the back for a job well done. Well, from where I'm standing nothing could be further from the truth. This government has no idea what regional areas like my electorate of Gilmore on the New South Wales South Coast need. They have no plan to help us recover from this year from hell. We suffered from drought, bushfires and floods, all well before coronavirus.

At every opportunity I have stood here and asked those opposite to do more, to actually look at what areas like the New South Wales South Coast need for our economy. Even before the unprecedented threats of this year, I begged those opposite to invest in local jobs on the South Coast. We have the highest youth unemployment rate in New South Wales. Our youth unemployment rate before COVID, before bushfires, was 18.7 per cent. In the December quarter last year alone Nowra's unemployment rate was 17½ per cent. They have had no plan to address this. They have done nothing.

I have asked the government to invest in projects like the Princes Highway, affordable housing projects in Bomaderry and east Nowra—now there's a great idea: affordable housing—the East Arterial Road, Currarong Road, the Mogo adventure trail, the Eurobodalla hospital. The list goes on. That is without even considering the bushfire recovery. But what has the government done instead? They have given $25,000 so that people in city areas can renovate their homes. Apparently this will save our economy. We have people still living in caravans waiting for their homes that were destroyed by bushfire in December to be cleaned up. But this lot are more worried about home renos. How out of touch can this government be?

Only last week we discovered the truth about the bushfire clean-up. Less than one in three destroyed and damaged properties in my electorate have been cleared. In the Shoalhaven 280 out of 772 destroyed properties have been cleared. In the Eurobodalla the story is even worse with 331 out of 1,195—absolutely appalling. All the government knows how to do is make flashy announcements and false promises. They don't know how to follow through. They leave people out time and time again. There was one tiny project under the Building Better Regions Fund and one tiny project under the Manufacturing Modernising Fund. People are still ineligible for the Drought Communities Program Extension. Job opportunities have been squandered and there's no plan to help communities on the South Coast.

How about bushfire-proofing our emergency evacuation centres? When the bushfires came so many communities were cut off with only one road in and one road out. Then the power and the telecommunications failed. People were left with nothing. Ulladulla Civic Centre was lucky. The circus was in town and they kept the lights on. But what about elsewhere? People were left scared and frightened. Those opposite could listen to Lana, who said this on my Facebook page only yesterday:

About evacuation centres: they should be made accessible. So many elderly people and those with mobility issues could not access the centres we had during this summer. I know people who were in motorised wheelchairs rolling around with a garden hose because there was no point evacuating to somewhere they couldn't access.

This is outrageous. It should never happen anywhere. But where is the government's plan to fix it?

We need to also make sure every region has a fit for purpose emergency operations centre. When the Currowan fire was split in two, the Eurobodalla emergency operations centre was run out of a community hall, complete with fold-up tables from Bunnings. The staff there did an amazing job, but why should they have had to do it in those conditions?

The next tragedy might not be on the New South Wales South Coast, but you can bet it will be somewhere. So why is the government focusing on renovations that most people can't afford anyway? This is just too little too late for people impacted by bushfire. As Mirren said:

Plenty of us would have qualified to help us rebuild, but we've already signed with builders, thus making us ineligible…It's a slap in the face.

Indeed it is. Those opposite aren't listening.

4:09 pm

Photo of Pat ConaghanPat Conaghan (Cowper, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Having listened to the member for Rankin for 10 minutes, I'm somewhat bemused at the framing of the MPI. The member for Rankin spoke almost entirely on the government's intention to remove JobKeeper at some stage later this year. If more intellectual honesty had been put into the MPI, perhaps he might garner some support from this side of the floor, particularly from regional and rural representatives. But that's not what he did. What he did was put a fairytale as the first section of an MPI that was in two parts—firstly, 'the government's mismanagement of the economic crisis' and, secondly, a 'lack of a comprehensive plan for the recovery'.

But for this government, but for the plans of this government through JobKeeper and jobseeker, Australia would be in a world of hurt. Labor's constituents and many of the people who voted for Labor—hundreds and thousands of them—engaged in those programs. Why? It was because they were needed. Why? It was because it was good policy. As the member for Rankin said, it put food on the table. As my colleague said, it paid the rent. How can that side of the floor criticise this government for making good policy and keeping people in contact with their employers so that, when we get through this, there will be jobs for them? And that is exactly what has happened. There are many companies and businesses out there who are now saying: 'We don't need JobKeeper. Thank you for it, but we don't need it.' I have been out there. I have spoken to businesses. I have spoken to people on the street. I have received emails from the people of those opposite, saying: 'I don't normally vote for your side of politics, but thank you. Thank you for putting out JobKeeper. Thank you for putting out jobseeker.' For the Labor Party to sit on their side and criticise, it is just fanciful. In the first sentence of the storybook, Chicken Little walks outside and starting telling everybody that the sky is falling.

Now, in addition, what we have is a policy to go forward. How can the Labor Party say that there is no planning for the future? We have $9 billion of infrastructure, $1.5 billion of which came out this week alone. There is JobMaker. We are putting jobs back out there. We are creating the environment for that. Politicians don't make jobs. They create the environment for jobs to be made, and that is what this government is doing. It is investing $9 billion to bring forward infrastructure projects through my electorate—

Photo of Pat ConaghanPat Conaghan (Cowper, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

And through your electorate! You cannot deny that the money will go into all your electorates. That is why we have a plan for the future. This government has provided sensible advice and sensible policy to go forward. That is why the Australian people voted for us on 18 May last year, and they will continue to vote for us because Labor have no plan. The only plan they had last time was $370 billion in taxes, and there was not one word of a plan for our country to go forward.

I go back to my original point. But for this government, there would be no jobseeker payment. There would be hundreds of thousands of people out of work and without support payments, because the Labor Party would only tax us. Because of our strong budget, we were in a financial position to be able to put these policies and these schemes in place. The people who are on the age pension received $750 each in two payments. There are emails from them thanking the coalition government for their considered judgement and for their financial management of this country. That is something that the member for Rankin should take into account. (Time expired)

4:15 pm

Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Maybe if the member stopped praising himself and actually came up with an economic plan this country wouldn't be in such trouble from the mismanagement of the economy under this mob. I am very pleased to stand up to support the member for Rankin on this MPI because, if the member for Rankin were the Treasurer, he would have acted months before the coronavirus. There could be certainty and stimulus in this economy. Instead we've had mugs, we've had recession and we've had the largest deficit in our country's history. We didn't get back in the black; we got the largest deficit in our country's history.

I am very proud to represent the electorate of Macnamara. It is one of the great electorates, if not the greatest electorate, in this country.

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am hearing a lot of support on this side of the House! But, in all seriousness, in Macnamara there are some of the hardest hit areas in the economy in the country. Elwood is the hardest hit suburb in Victoria. St Kilda, St Kilda East, Elsternwick, Port Melbourne, South Melbourne, Southbank and Windsor are some of the hardest hit suburbs in the country because they are filled with casual workers. They are filled with people who work in hospitality, in retail and especially in our arts and entertainment industry, which is absolutely doing it extremely tough in this very difficult time. Sadly, many people in my electorate have been left behind by the Morrison government—left behind by this government that is all spin and no action, that doesn't have a plan to get our economy moving.

This Prime Minister is very good on announcements but not so good on the follow-through. The government are happy to just sit there and watch industries fade away. They're happy sitting and watching the arts and entertainment industry fade away, just like they were happy to sit there and watch the car industry fade away to go offshore. I remember the Treasurer at the time stood in this place, goading the car industry to leave, and that is exactly what happened. And jobs in my electorate, in Port Melbourne, disappeared when that government didn't stand by the workers in this country, and we are seeing that once again.

At the moment, one of the key things we need in this economy is certainty. The Prime Minister himself promised that the JobKeeper supplement would be here at least until September. Well, it didn't take long for that promise to be broken. After only four days the Prime Minister took the JobKeeper payment away from some of the most underpaid and hardest working people in the economy in our childcare workers. They have done a stoic job, our childcare workers, and what did the Prime Minister do? He ripped the certainty away after only four days. But it's not surprising, because there has been a growing number of members on that side of the House who have been desperate to take away the support measures that we have been calling for for months. And I can quote. David Crowe of a Nine newspaper reported on 11 May:

Liberal MPs are calling for a pathway out of the mammoth job assistance programs that are supporting more than 5 million workers …

Those numbers have been revised subsequently.

"The longer we wait the harder it's going to get, and the more damage it's going to do to the economy," said one Liberal MP.

The member for Mackellar, not usually one for bright ideas, came out and said that JobKeeper should be cut off as soon as possible.

Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I withdraw. The member for Mackellar came out and said:

I think we should turn off JobKeeper as soon as possible. As soon as the schools are back then it should go.

The member for Hughes also backed changes and was reported to have told the coalition party room that withdrawing JobKeeper from businesses that recover sooner would help expand its eligibility for sectors that suffer longer. They've obviously ignored the member for Hughes, but they haven't ignored the call to rip JobKeeper away, and we know that that's coming only moments after the Eden-Monaro by-election. Only moments after the Eden-Monaro by-election is over, this government is going to rip JobKeeper away from vulnerable businesses and businesses on the brink.

Finally, the Minister for Housing and the assistant minister for housing, who led this debate for the government—well, it says a lot about that minister that, through his 10 minutes of whatever he ended up saying, he didn't mention his portfolio once. His portfolio is one of the most neglected portfolios. The government is letting down Australians by failing to invest in housing, failing to invest in the economy and failing to support Australian jobs.

4:20 pm

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's my lucky day today, not only to be able to contribute to this debate on the member for Rankin's matter of public importance but also to follow the member for Macnamara, who's made a couple of extraordinary statements through his contribution, one of them being that the member for Rankin, had he been the Treasurer, would have acted months before the coronavirus. Well, we'll never know whether the member for Rankin had some sort of crystal ball, but we do know that he would have been busy implementing his $370 billion worth of new taxes. That's what he would have been doing. We know that. We know he would have been dismantling negative gearing. Imagine how that would be impacting the construction industry at the moment. So we do know a couple of things that the member for Rankin might have been doing, had the disaster occurred of a Labor government being elected last 18 May. But fortunately that didn't happen.

I think it's worth taking a moment to reflect on those very dark days at the end of March, when the national cabinet were meeting at least every couple of days and the Prime Minister was holding a press conference at the end of those meetings to inform the nation of the decisions that were being made. We heard of businesses being forced to close and the job losses that were coming. Obviously the health crisis was paramount at that point in time, but the Prime Minister also made it very clear that, at the same time, we had an economic crisis coming towards us.

One of the things that gave me and, I'm sure, many Australians who were watching those early press conferences great heart and confidence was that, when the Prime Minister was asked about what he considered was an essential job, he said, 'Every job's an essential job.' Every job is an essential job. I've spoken in this place previously to acknowledge and thank some of the people who kept working through those dark days—the people who work in supermarkets, serving customers and stacking the shelves, and the truckies delivering those goods. Through those dark days, they were still turning up to work. They were fronting the public and taking the risk, and they deserve enormous credit for that.

As that economic crisis started to unfold, the government announced the JobKeeper program, and immediately afterwards I had a phone call from a very good friend of mine who owns a car dealership and employs 61 people, including six apprentices. She said to me: 'This is a lifesaver. This is going to save my business and it's going to save those 61 jobs.' And that was repeated 4,100 times across the electorate of O'Connor—4,100 businesses and individuals accessed that support. I happen to know that that dealership is now back on its feet and, if not running at full capacity, then certainly, in the lead-up to the end of the financial year, getting a lot of interest in new vehicles. That's partly because of the $150,000 instant asset write-off—another initiative of the government to boost the economy and part of our plan to get businesses back on their feet and people back in jobs.

So that's the impact of the JobKeeper program. As part of the government's plan to reinvigorate the economy, we stand firm for the electorate of O'Connor. And the mining sector across my electorate never faltered. Every year it produces over $10 billion of income for our nation—it was $11.4 billion in the past financial year. And there are plenty of projects that are ready to go that just need their approvals. I note that the assistant minister who is assisting the Prime Minister with deregulation is here in the chamber this afternoon, and I know that part of the government's agenda and its plan going forward is to make those approvals quicker and simpler so that we can get those projects up and running and producing income for this nation.

The other sector across my electorate which hasn't faltered, is standing firm and will produce income and revenue for this nation going forward is the agriculture sector. Our grain exports, our meat exports and our wool exports will carry this nation forward. I've got to say, I was very, very pleased to hear today that the live export ship the Al Kuwait is loading at the moment and will be on its way to Kuwait shortly. (Time expired)

4:25 pm

Photo of Peta MurphyPeta Murphy (Dunkley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Prime Minister and the Liberals now preside over the biggest blunder in Australia's history, the $60 billion JobKeeper blunder, the first recession in decades, record debts and hundreds of thousands of Australians unemployed or left behind, and they don't have a comprehensive plan to get us out of it. In fact, with the only plan they have had, really—the JobKeeper plan—the member for Farrer appeared to call it a 'handout' in question time today. That's the attitude that this government has towards supporting people to get through this recession.

The Grattan Institute recently analysed job losses. My electorate of Dunkley was estimated to have lost 7.9 per cent of jobs since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the third worst hit electorate in Victoria, after Wannon and Mallee. We need a plan. Yet the JobKeeper wage subsidy isn't reaching all of the people in my electorate who need it. There are the casuals. There are the local government employees at PARC, for whom we've been fighting week after week after week, and the Treasurer says, 'Just go and lobby someone else; I'm not interested in helping them.' There are the employees at Monash University's Peninsula Campus. They are not covered by JobKeeper, and it's not good enough. The governor of the Reserve Bank has warned the federal government that the JobKeeper Program may need to be kept going beyond September to avoid the Australian economy falling off a cliff.

There is not a comprehensive plan for the recovery. Too many Australians are going to be left out when the Prime Minister tries to enact his snapback. Do you know who most of those Australians are going to be? It's women—who, apparently, are the essential workers at the frontline: childcare workers, hospitality workers, retail workers and those supermarket workers that the speaker before me mentioned. Women have been hardest hit during this pandemic. We don't care about them, apparently—that's from the government. The Minister representing the Minister for Women, in answering a question in question time today about how great this government has apparently been for women, called JobKeeper a 'handout'. That's their comprehensive plan to get us out of this recession, but 325,000 women have lost their jobs during the pandemic. Half of all JobKeeper payments are going to female workers. Where's the plan for women? Payroll jobs for women declined by eight per cent, while male payroll jobs rose by 6.3 per cent.

Where's the plan for young people? Payroll jobs worked in by people under 20 decreased by 16½ per cent. Job losses have been concentrated in sectors with high concentrations of workers excluded from JobKeeper. One in three hospitality jobs have been lost. One in four arts and recreation sector jobs are gone. That is not a comprehensive plan for the future or to get us out of this and recover.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister was reported as saying that one of the ways to recovery is a modernisation of how Australia approaches the economy. They would be nice words if they weren't followed by, 'The plan for modernisation is simply deregulation.' How about an actual plan for modernisation of Australia's economy? Take the once in a lifetime chance. Have a triple bottom line accounting method. Let's have a look, actually, at every single policy for the future having an economic benefit, an environmental benefit and some social capital benefit. 'No. Let's just have deregulation.' Let's have an economy for the future that supports people, that protects the environment, that builds new jobs in new manufacturing areas and that supports women, rather than just cutting everyone off at the knees with JobKeeper in September.

My electorate has been so hard hit by job losses. Where's our investment? Where's our investment in our roads?

Where's bringing forward some Black Spot funding when we need it? Where's the business case for the electrification of the train line to Baxter? Where's the commitment to support the arts and the sports and the cultural hubs we have in Dunkley? We actually need a comprehensive plan to support people, to support institutions, and to grow our economy and leave no-one behind.

4:30 pm

Photo of Celia HammondCelia Hammond (Curtin, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Since this pandemic first came upon us, the government have made it quite clear that we had to tackle it on two fronts: on the health front and on the economic front. On the health front and because of the unified actions of all Australians, we have slowed the spread of the virus through quarantining, through social distancing and through social isolation through our border closures. It's been hard. I think the words 'challenging' and 'unprecedented' have never been used as much as in recent times. It has been hard, but Australians have sucked it up because it's been in the best interests of the country. It has also hit us on the economic front, and the government have always been very clear both that it was going to hit and now that it is hitting us. As a result of the measures we had to take, our economy has been severely impacted. Economic activity has slowed and businesses and households are facing uncertainty.

Like businesses everywhere across the country, many of the small and medium-sized businesses in my local community have been financially devastated by the measures put in place to protect our health and protect our safety in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through my contact with local businesses over the last couple of months, I have heard about the extent of their financial losses; their fear and concern for their livelihoods, their families and their future; and their fear and concern for those they employ and for those they trade with. Amidst the fear and the worry, I've also heard stories of the positive impact the various government support initiatives have had on many of these businesses. To many, JobKeeper, the measures boosting cash flow for employers and the expansion of the instant asset write-off have not just helped keep businesses in business and people in jobs; they have eased, to a certain degree, their anxiety and their fear.

Of the 26,000 small and medium-sized businesses in Curtin, approximately 6,000 have accessed JobKeeper. Jane from Barchetta cafe in Cottesloe had to close her cafe on the beachfront in Cottesloe in an absolutely beautiful location. When the pandemic set in, she had to close the cafe. She employs 14 people, who she describes as family members. Jane was able to access JobKeeper. She was able to keep all of those 14 employees in employment, and, when restrictions were eased in Western Australia recently, she was able to reopen Barchetta with all of those 14 staff members. She also used the instant asset write-off scheme to do a bit of a renovation during the closure. She had hoped that we would come back, and so she bought some new equipment and did up the kitchen. She said it was great to be back at the cafe on the first day of their opening, and the local community loved it.

Another example is Filament Coffee in Osborne Park. This is a new start-up that was hit by the pandemic within the first nine months of their operations. Filament Coffee is actually a cold brew coffee, and it's supplied on tap and in cans around Western Australia. I'd never tasted it before I went out to visit Filament Coffee. All I can say is that it's got a bit of a caffeine kick to it! Aaron at Filament Coffee was able to access JobKeeper. Once again, this meant that his business could retain the very small number of employees that they had and continue to go forward as a start-up. For people who were starting up businesses in the last 12 to 18 months, it is that start-up phase that is the greatest pressure point of any business. Aaron accessed JobKeeper. He also accessed the instant asset write-off to purchase two new tanks of some description to store and help process the cold brew. Many of the sole traders in Curtin—sole traders who feared at the outset that they'd be left behind but were included within JobKeeper, because of feedback and because the Treasurer and our government recognised the importance of sole traders—were able to access JobKeeper. Ginger B is a gift store in Wembley run by Bianca, and she said that JobKeeper helped her keep her doors open. The Painted Teapot in Subiaco is run by a lovely woman called Tory, and she told me directly: 'Without JobKeeper we would have lost the business entirely. The support gave us some hope, and that glimmer of hope is now turning into confidence for the future.' That is where this government is now focused: looking at the future, building that confidence, building on that hope and making Australia bounce back even harder and stronger.

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

The discussion has concluded.