Thursday, 22 October 2020
Fraser Electorate: COVID-19, Budget
[by video link] I rise to speak tonight to thank the frontline workers who have given so much to the community of the electorate of Fraser during the pandemic. Thank you to the incredibly talented and dedicated health workers right across Melbourne's west. I acknowledge the GPs, nurses and allied health staff across Fraser who are making sure that our primary health system continues to serve the community. Many have worked tirelessly at testing centres helping to identify the location of the virus and restrict its spread. I thank the extraordinary team at Western Health, including those at the Sunshine Hospital and the Joan Kirner Women's and Children's Hospital. The healthcare workers in Melbourne's west have made telehealth function smoothly and enabled outstanding patient care. They've worked often in cumbersome PPE and have needed to isolate from work and family at short notice, sometimes for long periods. Nineteen new research studies into COVID are already up and running at Western Health, with many more to come. These will add to our understanding of this disease and our ability to confront it.
I also want to thank our essential retail workers, who have been on the front line every day throughout this pandemic. Unfortunately, this has been often at a cost to themselves. Even before this pandemic, 85 per cent of retail and fast-food workers reported experiencing abuse while they were at work. This included swearing, yelling, spitting and threatening behaviour. This is obviously a small minority of customers, but it's still very confronting for retail workers at the best of times. There's no excuse for the increasing amount of physical and verbal abuse that has been experienced by retail workers during this pandemic. No-one deserves a serve at work.
Can I also just observe that the difficult conditions experienced by retail workers have been compounded by the cuts to their pay and conditions that have been inflicted on them by this government. In the middle of this pandemic, retail workers' weekend pay was cut again. For years the government and its special interest groups have claimed that slashing retail workers' wages and those of workers in related industries, such as hospitality, would magically create more jobs. After three years of cuts to wages and conditions, not a single extra job had been created before COVID struck.
I will finish by making observations about the budget more generally and its impact on the workforce. This budget has left too many people behind, particularly those worst affected by this recession. In the 1920s it was said that there is 'a tendency in many armies to spend the peacetime studying how to fight the last war'. Well, this government is fighting recessions of times gone by, imagining that the economy is exactly as it was decades ago. As the Grattan Institute said recently, in a piece titled 'High-viz, narrow vision':
The Morrison government seems to think economic stimulus is all about high-viz vests and hard hats. It's a narrow and dated view of the world of work.
It's also a misreading of the current recession. Of course we support measures that have been put in place to support construction and related industries, but there have been too many sectors of this economy left behind, particularly sectors in which women are the predominant employees. Women were already faring badly before COVID. In Melbourne's west, the underutilisation rate of women was nearly 20 per cent in 2019. That's one in five women who couldn't find a job or get enough hours, and that was before COVID. Across Australia, female youth underutilisation had risen to 30 per cent by 2019. We all know that the worst-hit industries during this recession are typically female dominated: retail, hospitality, the arts and many parts of education and training. This is a services recession, and it needs a vision broad enough to cater for a recovery that includes key services sectors.
Fundamentally, this budget is lazy. It is based on a premise of a static economy. It assumes that today's economy is the same as that of previous recessions. It isn't. It assumes that the right strategy is to return the economy to where it was before the recession. It isn't. Worst of all, it assumes that there's no place for reform; that it's okay to take on a trillion dollars in debt with nothing to show for it—no reform of child care, no energy policy and no vision. That's the biggest gap of all, and it's a deficit that this country can't afford.
House adjourned at 17:00