Thursday, 3 September 2020
Questions without Notice
I thank the member for Wentworth for his question and acknowledge his experience as a distinguished diplomat for Australia abroad as our ambassador to Israel before coming to this place. The national account numbers yesterday revealed the real devastation COVID-19 is having on the Australian economy. We had a seven per cent fall in GDP for the June quarter. That is the single largest fall that Australia has ever recorded. The single biggest contributor to that fall in GDP over the June quarter was the fall in consumption. We saw a reduction in consumption on transport services of 80 per cent. We saw a reduction in consumption at hotels, cafes and restaurants of 60 per cent. The reason behind this fall was the health restrictions that were put in place as a result of COVID-19. The Australian way of life was effectively put on hold through the June quarter. This is the impact of a once-in-a-century pandemic on our national economy.
In response to COVID-19, we put in place a comprehensive range of measures, some $314 billion of support—from the JobKeeper program; to the cash flow boost; to the $750 payments to millions of Australians who are on income support; to the $550 coronavirus supplement; to billions of dollars of incentives to businesses to invest in plant, machinery and other equipment to help them be more productive as businesses and indeed to help us be more productive as a nation.
The fact that we went into this crisis from a position of economic strength gave us the financial firepower to respond. But the impact of our $340 billion worth of measures has also seen 700,000 jobs being saved. The advice of Treasury is that the unemployment rate would be five percentage points higher today but for the economic support that we have provided as a country and also that, as a result of this economic support, the severity in the fall in GDP that we saw yesterday was not as great as was seen in other countries. But the road ahead will be hard, the road ahead will be long. But there is hope for the future. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and the Morrison government is absolutely committed to getting Australians back to work.
My question is to the Prime Minister. Australians are going through the toughest period of their working lives. One million are unemployed and another 400,000 will join them before Christmas, and thousands of businesses are on the verge of collapse. Why is the Prime Minister cutting JobKeeper, cutting JobSeeker and cutting wages, at the very time that Australia has plunged into the worst recession in almost a century?
The government has committed to and already provided unprecedented, record support to ensure that we keep as many Australians in jobs as possible, keep as many businesses open as possible and ensure that, as we go through this terrible crisis, we are training more Australians, particularly in the skills areas, with the JobTrainer program, a billion dollar partnership with the states and territories, pulled together in a matter of weeks, that will see 340,000 additional training places available not just to young Australians but to Australians who have found themselves working in some sectors that they know, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will be under great strain for some period. That's why those who are working in the aviation industry as flight attendants are now training to be aged-care workers. As we speak, people are changing sectors, changing industries, getting trained, adjusting for the COVID-19 pandemic, so that they can get the best support of all, and that is the support that comes directly from their own efforts, their own initiative and their own enterprise. That is what our plan is based on.
Our plan for the economy, which we're putting in place—whether it's ensuring our workplaces are cooperative and flexible, ensuring that the infrastructure program enables $10 billion to be brought forward, or ensuring that our manufacturing industries have access to the affordable, reliable energy they need, as we've seen wholesale prices on gas and other things fall, all of these plans are based on the enterprise and the efforts and the initiative of Australians. And those Australians are looking forward to an economy that doesn't require JobKeeper and other income supports to sustain it. That's why JobKeeper will be necessary now, but in the future it is not our plan for it to be required. And that is why the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Treasurer and others made the point—
Opposition members interjecting—
that it is important that our economy transitions away from JobKeeper and the higher levels of welfare support that have been necessary. But we must be sure that the supports we put in place to get Australians through don't become a barrier to them and don't become a barrier to those businesses to be able to attract employees, whether it is in regional areas or metropolitan areas or other parts of the country. We will continue to provide those supports. We are extending JobKeeper for a further six months, ensuring that the JobSeeker payment, with the COVID supplement, is at record levels, as it continues to be, out through the end of this month. Then it will go through the next phase and then there will be further phases. Those opposite see the COVID pandemic as some sort of opportunity to lock in endless income support. And that is not a responsible thing. Their position— (Time expired)