House debates

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Matters of Public Importance


3:18 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 failure to provide economic and employment security to workers during the worst recession since the Great Depression.

I call upon those honourable 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

We certainly are facing some very significant economic challenges in this country. From the outset, when the global pandemic hit, Labor has been seeking to work with the government to provide the best response to the economic challenges ahead, and not just the economic challenges but the health challenges ahead. If you look at the way in which we've presented suggestions and ideas to the government to make sure that they get the policies and the support right, I think it's fair to say, by way of contrast, that we have acted as a responsible opposition, which is very different from the way in which those opposite responded during the time of the global financial crisis. At all times our suggestions, our proposals, our ideas that come to this place and are put to the government are put in good faith. It was only eight months ago, in the face of the pandemic, that we were suggesting the government entertain the idea of introducing a wage subsidy as other countries were doing to support their economies, support their businesses and support their workforce.

It's really important to remember the initial response by the Prime Minister to the question that they should be considering a wage subsidy, because the answer to that question eight months ago was that there was no need for a wage subsidy. Then the government closed the parliament, and it was to be closed for just over five months. I'm assuming they returned to their electorates and saw the very long queues outside Centrelink offices as thousands upon thousands of workers were losing their jobs. Then we reconvened the parliament and, we're happy to say—we welcomed it—the government changed its mind and accepted the proposition that a wage subsidy was absolutely critical to save our economy, to save thousands upon thousands of businesses and to support millions of jobs. And we say to the government that they did the right thing there. It might have been afterthought, but we were putting that proposition in good faith, and the government accepted that.

Today, unfortunately, again a suggestion by the Labor leader to the Prime Minister and to the government that we make sure that we safeguard workers in the hiring credit initiative was not accepted. Then again, I guess I could imagine that, given that they failed to accept the initial proposition in March, it may take longer for the government to understand that if you're going to introduce a scheme that's to add additional jobs to the labour market then you must prevent loopholes to allow rogue employers to displace, dismiss or reduce hours of their existing workforce. That's all we're seeking to do today and that's why we implore the government to take seriously the suggestions made by federal Labor, because all along we have been seeking to work constructively with the government to look after workers.

Let's remember the position we are in. We are in a recession for the first time in 30 years. Most Australians in the workforce don't remember the recession in the early 1990s. And so many Australians never recovered in that recession. As a result of losing their job, they did not find their way back into the workforce. That is why it is so important that, when we decide to deploy taxpayers' money to look after businesses and to look after workers, we safeguard the interests of those workers. If we can stop them being disconnected—that is, losing their jobs—then it's much more likely that they will get through the recession in a way that will be much more beneficial to them and their families. There is no doubt: once you are retrenched, it is much harder to find work and, if you do find work, it's much harder to find permanent, full-time work: So the government should take seriously what we're putting.

We have nearly one million Australians who are currently unemployed. There are 1.5 million additional Australians who are underemployed. We're getting close to 20 per cent of the labour market that's underutilised. 'Underutilised'—what an economics term. For all of those 2.5 million Australians, what it means is they are struggling to make ends meet. Each one of those in that 2.5 million underemployed or unemployed are struggling to pay the bills. They're struggling to look after their families. It might be a single mum who's lost her job and who now cannot pay the rent. It's as simple as that. It may well be a family that is trying to pay the mortgage or to pay the rent and to look after their kids in the face of great economic challenges. There is just one case after another. In fact, we heard today, in question time, about a series of people—these are not abstract terms. There were Felicity, Elizabeth, Adam, Mark and others who are not going to get sufficient support from this government.

The government puts to us, 'Well, what do you think we should do instead?' We said, 'Firstly, you should have a wage subsidy.' They belatedly introduced that in the form of JobKeeper. It wasn't broad enough to protect everyone; in fact, it excluded a million workers. But certainly it did protect a lot of workers and it protected and supported a lot of businesses. It was brought in late, it was too narrow and now it's being cut too soon and abolished too early. That's what should be in place. When the Treasurer or the Prime Minister stand up and says, 'We're looking after young workers,' well, frankly, they should've maintained JobKeeper for longer, which would have provided support for workers of all ages in the time of the Morrison recession. We could have ensured that we extended that initiative for longer and made sure that those workers and those businesses would be protected.

The problem with the scheme that's being introduced, apart from obviously not providing safeguards to workers, is that many businesses will not be provided support through hiring credits. To meet the test to receive a cent under the JobMaker hiring credit scheme, they have to add to the headcount in their workforce. They cannot be provided with any JobKeeper support at the same time. Many businesses that are struggling to recover from the close-downs that occurred for legitimate health reasons will have JobKeeper ripped away, so they will have no support there. And now they're supposed to not only maintain the workers that were subsidised by JobKeeper but also find extra money to add to their headcount in order to get one extra cent from the government. That will mean that many, many businesses that have not fully recovered will not be getting any support under the hiring credit.

Let's remember the Treasurer's exaggerations and boasts about the scale of this initiative. On every occasion that the Treasurer gets up in this place he pretends that there will be 450,000 jobs created by the JobMaker hiring credit scheme, which is completely and utterly untrue. Treasury belled the cat during estimates and confirmed there would be, at best, 45,000 additional jobs in the labour market as a result of that scheme—10 per cent of what the Treasurer is suggesting in this place. He stands up and, in an absolutely arrogant manner, suggests something that is completely fanciful and untrue. He should not continue to do that when it's been made very clear by his department that there will not be such support.

We say to the government again that there are amendments that should be debated. The bill has gone back to the Senate, and no doubt debates will ensue on the amendments. We say to the government that we support the scheme. It is modest. It isn't as big as it should be. It's not as big as the Treasurer says it is, but it's still something Labor will support. But, in supporting this scheme, we want to make sure that the workers who currently have jobs are not going to be exposed to dismissal or losing their hours of work, to be replaced by subsidised workers. If the government don't think that will happen, then there would be no reason for them to not support that amendment. The amendment just provides that safeguard. And why would a government not want to support those safeguards in order to ensure there have to be additional employees in a time of the worst recession since the Great Depression?

3:28 pm

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party, Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

One thing I agree with the member for Gorton on, and as mentioned earlier in question time, is that Australians, indeed the whole globe, have had an exceptionally challenging year on many levels. I was at the War Memorial today for Remembrance Day, and in the address given there it was mentioned that this time last year, in many parts of Australia, we'd had the debilitating effects of drought and the debilitating effects of the fires, and in some cases, including in my region, we went from a drought to floods. These have been very challenging times, indeed. Then, obviously, a month or two after they went away, we had the onset of a global pandemic, which has been very challenging for many Australians.

We might not all agree on what all the solutions have been, but I think we all in this chamber certainly understand that Australians were very concerned with the onset of the epidemic, were very worried, and had, in many cases, fear about what the future held for them—their jobs, their livelihoods, their businesses, their health. As a government, obviously, in many ways, we've done everything we can. If you look at the statistics internationally, Australia, relative to many other countries in the world, on the health front, we've done very well, albeit there have been some tragic deaths and illnesses.

If you look at the fall in GDP, we went into recession in the second quarter of this year. But compared to many other recessions worldwide, ours has been more shallow, which is great, but we've had more people lose their jobs. Every job loss in this country is a tragedy, but we have done a lot as a government to help try and protect those jobs, businesses, and people's health. Deputy Speaker, I'm sure you would be aware of it, but there has been an unprecedented $507 billion in economic support for people's jobs and people's businesses in this country, including $250-odd billion of it direct.

What does that direct support look like? It looks like the JobKeeper program at $10 billion a month, just for that program alone. It was initially announced as going to go through to September; obviously, we are always trying to be optimistic. Then later on in the year we could see that this pandemic was going to go longer, that there would not be a cure, that businesses would not necessarily be able to open up and, through no fault of their own, many businesses had to remain closed for longer and that put people's job security at risk. Just that one program is a $10 billion-a month-program, a lot of government support. We use the word 'unprecedented', but there has been unprecedented economic support by this government for people's businesses and people's jobs.

Our economy contracted by seven per cent in the June quarter whereas the contractions for comparable countries were: New Zealand, 12 per cent; Canada, 11 per cent; France, over 13 per cent; United Kingdom, nearly 20 per cent. A lot of Australia's success, obviously, was the result of the economic stimulus that we provided. Every job lost has been a tragedy, but our unemployment rate is officially at 6.9 per cent. Again, countries like Spain have a rate of 16 per cent. Canada, Sweden, Italy, just to name a few, are countries that have higher unemployment rates.

I do want to go to what was a bit of a theme at question time—the JobMaker hiring credit. As you would know, Deputy Speaker, this is a subsidy. As the Treasurer said a number of times, if you look historically at any recession in this country, the people who get hit hardest, the people who get hit more than any other sector, are the young, our youth. This program is unashamedly targeted at them. The Treasurer has provided many statistics of how 10 years after the recession that hit the nineties, the unemployment rate for youth was higher and it stayed higher for longer. The JobMaker program is unashamedly targeted at them, with $200 a week if you hire someone between the ages of 16 and 29, and $100 a week for someone aged between 30 and 35.

I want to go through some of the claims that the opposition made earlier today in question time. An employer cannot sack someone and then employ someone in that age group to replace them so they can take advantage of the situation. Through the Fair Work Act and through many other things, that just can't happen. It is only available for additional jobs. You cannot reduce your current workforce and then get someone in. There is no double-barrel disability criteria. It protects both the headcount and the payroll of the business. Hours can't be reduced. That claim just simply isn't true. In every recession, and this one as well, the young are hit hardest, so it is unashamedly targeted towards them.

Besides the JobMaker program, the government has unashamedly targeted apprenticeships, again, at young people. There will be 100,000 new apprenticeships through a $1.2 billion boost in an apprenticeship commencement wage subsidy. If you put on an apprentice, the government will pay a very healthy percentage of the salary of the apprentice in early years. Why are we doing this? We are doing this exactly because of what this topic is about. We are doing this to protect people's jobs and we are doing this to encourage the private sector because we will get out of this. We will grow our way out of this not because of the government; we will grow our way out of this and we will get unemployment back to where it was if the private sector is incentivised to employ people and to grow. Eight out of 10 jobs are in the private sector. Ninety per cent of the spending proposals that we have in the budget will hit the ground within the next two years. The vulnerability of people's businesses and the vulnerability of people's jobs is right now. So we have unashamedly targeted and given a lot of incentives to the private sector to employ people and to employ them now.

I want to go a bit more broadly to people's jobs, their livelihoods and their business and touch on a few of the things that we did in the budget. We gave tax cuts to 11½ million people. Again, that was unashamedly targeted to happen right now. In fact, it was backdated. We want Australians to have more money in their own pocket. That's going to facilitate stimulus to the economy. We unashamedly brought these tax cuts forward because we need them to hit now. The JobMaker hiring credit of 200 bucks is unashamedly targeted at young people because they are the ones that are the hardest hit.

There is the incentive for business to invest, with the instant asset write-off. I remember when this was introduced about four or five years ago, and I think at the time it was for businesses with a turnover of up to $20,000, which was quite low. I remember people in my community, especially small business, saying, 'This is a bonanza—people are starting to come in and order things because of that incentive.' We've obviously put that on steroids, and I think it's one of the great things in the budget, because what we want, unashamedly, is for the private sector to have the confidence to invest. I think the instant asset write-off was one of the highlights of the budget. Small businesses and, in fact, large businesses in my community were thrilled to see that change. The loss carryback changes are a real incentive and a real help for small business.

But it went beyond that. There was also direct stimulus spending from the government into certain sectors. We had a $2 billion investment in R&D. Also announced in the budget was the $1.3 billion Modern Manufacturing Initiative, targeting six areas. The other thing that COVID has done is show us that we want and need to be a more self-reliant country. We produce a lot and we manufacture a lot, but we can always do better. The six areas we're targeting are defence, space, medicine, food, resources technology, and recycling and clean energy. The minister sitting behind me is a great minister in the defence area, and a lot of this is going to be about local procurement and producing local jobs.

Deputy Speaker O'Brien, I know that you are also a regional MP. The regions have had their own challenges throughout the COVID pandemic. In the budget there was a $350 million tourism package. Tourism has been very deeply affected throughout the pandemic. Deputy Speaker, the programs that you and I love—the BBRF, the regional roads programs and the regional bridge programs—were all funded again, and we are looking for projects that are shovel-ready. This isn't about an idea for something you might do in three or four years time. If you have a project ready to go now, let's do it, because we want shovels in the ground and jobs on the ground.

Beyond all that—and it is often missed, because there was so much in the budget—we are putting record amounts of money and resources into aged care, schools and hospitals, with across-the-board assistance. There was $1.9 billion for supporting lower-emissions and renewable technologies. There was extra money for the environment as well, particularly to address plastics in the oceans.

We do face great challenges. People's livelihoods and jobs are at great risk and very vulnerable due to the global pandemic. I am proud to be a part of this government, which has given record support for local jobs.

3:39 pm

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

You can tell that the government hadn't thought this through when their only defence from the member for Page, who we just heard, or from the Treasurer during question time is to say: 'It must be okay, because we're spending a lot of money. It must be okay, because we're spending all this money, so how could anyone complain?' Well, if you're spending enough money to hurtle us towards a trillion dollars of debt and you're still leaving this many people behind, you're probably not spending a lot of it that smartly, and that's what became clear today, because, when we raised the problem with how they've designed the hiring credit, the arguments that came from the government were just breathtakingly weird.

First of all, let's just remember the order of what happened. When the amendments were first put, the government opposed them in the Senate. Then, when they had to deal with the bill as a whole in its amended form, they voted for it. So yesterday every member of the government, even though the bill wasn't in exactly the form that they'd thought of, was willing to vote yes for this legislation. Overnight, the Prime Minister has decided, 'Well, we can't agree to something that was someone else's idea,' even though most of the items on that list from the previous speaker were suggestions from Labor or previous policies that Labor had that the government abolished and then brought back. Overnight, the Prime Minister decided that the Senate must have made a mistake when they voted for the bill in the amended form and the government had to change its position.

They've ended up wanting to deny something that is obviously true: workers who get a wage subsidy will be preferred over workers who do not. Of course that's going to happen. Of course it's going to happen that workers who get a wage subsidy will receive a preference over those who do not. The concept from the Minister for Industrial Relations is, 'Well, they can just notify a dispute with the Fair Work Commission; that'll fix it.' Do they have any understanding of how the real world of rostering works? This isn't only if people are dismissed; it's also if they have their hours cut. Do they actually think that, in the real world, when someone gets their hours cut because the employer is favouring new people who get the wage subsidy, every worker's going to say, 'Well, I'm not going to stand for that, and I'll notify a dispute with the commission'? Among those who are in unions, some will, but a whole lot, even of those who are in trade unions, will think: 'Look, I'd rather not cause a problem. I don't want to rock the boat. They'll come at me another way.'

If you set the incentives this way, the outcomes will follow. Businesses will act commercially rationally. If you tell them, 'The best thing for your business, the way to reduce your wages bill, is to shift your roster in favour of people who are cheaper,' then they will do it, working against new employees who are over 35 and against anyone who is in the existing workforce. Some of those people themselves will be under 35, but of course they'll be competing with people who get the wage subsidy. This can be fixed. This is fixable. It's not the only problem that the government has with the way it's designed this program, but I'll tell you: it's a big one; it's a really big one.

The people who have been spoken about are real. We heard from the member for Sydney, the shadow minister for education, about the example of Felicity, an admin worker at a university. What chance does she have on the next job when the other people she's competing with all get a wage subsidy and she doesn't, having been deliberately excluded by this government from JobKeeper? Brian, a dnata worker who I had a long conversation with and whose real-life experience I listened to, lives in the seat of Banks, in Lugarno. What did the government have to say in response to his case? They went through a whole lot of other examples and said, 'Oh, well, we're spending a whole lot of money.' These people are real, the damage that is going to be inflicted is real, and as we head into Christmas this government is allowing an attack on job security to occur by the direct design of this legislation.

3:44 pm

Photo of Dave SharmaDave Sharma (Wentworth, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the government's various policy measures to support workers during what has been a global economic shock. Undoubtedly the biggest threat to face the world and Australia this year has been the emergence of COVID-19, the global pandemic. It has threatened the lives and livelihoods of people everywhere. In terms of its impact on health, there have been over 51 million cases worldwide. In a normal year, malaria would kill 600,000 people, HIV/AIDS would kill 950,000 people, and over 800,000 people would lose their lives to suicide. This year so far—there are still a few months to go—COVID-19 has caused the loss of 1.25 million lives.

The economic shock of COVID-19 has been equally profound. It has been the biggest economic shock to hit the globe since the Second World War. The IMF expects the global economy to contract by around 4.4 per cent over 2020, and the major economies are all set to contract—the US economy by between four per cent and five per cent, Japan's by five per cent, the Euro area by around eight per cent, the UK economy by 10 per cent and Canada's by around six per cent. In fact, the only major economy that's forecast to grow through 2020 is China's.

In Australia, rightly, we have prioritised the protection of health. Our death rate is only 33 per million—every death nonetheless a tragedy here in Australia. In France the death rate is around 14 times that, in the United States it is 17 times that and in the United Kingdom it is 18 times that. Our early border restrictions helped stop the entry of the virus. Our testing regime is one of the best in the world. Other measures, like social distancing, investments in testing and contact tracing regimes, ICU capacity, ventilators and personal protective equipment have all played a big part. In total the health response has been more than $18½ billion. The Medical Journal of Australia published in September that they expected that more than 16,000 people would have died in Australia if our outbreak had been as widespread as it has been in the United Kingdom.

This is the important point: by protecting our health, we have helped to cushion the economic blow of the virus. The 2020-21 budget contains a number of other measures to help cushion the blow, to accelerate the recovery and to rebuild our economy more in the future. It builds on previous support measures announced before the budget, such as JobKeeper, JobSeeker, cashflow relief for small business and early access to superannuation. All up, these measures—both those in the budget and those beforehand—amount to some $507 billion in government fiscal support since the onset of the pandemic, one of the biggest fiscal stimuluses ever delivered by a federal government.

This is having an impact. Of the 1.3 million Australians who lost their jobs or had their hours reduced to zero in April, over half are now back at work. In the last four months we have seen 446,000 jobs created. Consumer confidence is up. This month, consumer sentiment lifted by 2½ per cent to 107.7, which means that the index is now at the highest level since November 2013. The 'time to buy a dwelling' index, an indication of confidence in the housing market, jumped eight per cent, making it the highest reading since November 2013. Whilst the Australian economy is expected or forecast to contract by 3.75 per cent in calendar year 2020, it is forecast to recover in 2021 and grow by 4.25 per cent. Unemployment is expected to peak at around eight per cent in December and then begin to come down. These are sobering figures, but it is estimated that without direct government support unemployment would have reached 12 percentage points and stayed there for considerably longer.

We have been able to do all this because we entered this crisis in a strong fiscal position, having restored the budget to balance. Even with this additional spending, our net debt-to-GDP ratio will remain low by world standards. We have had our AAA credit rating reaffirmed. We will manage this debt burden by restoring jobs, by growing the economy and by positioning Australia for future industries.

The budget has important measures to support household income, bringing forward stage 2 the of our income tax relief and increasing the low-income tax offset. The budget's also helping job creation, with a new JobMaker hiring credit to encourage businesses to hire younger Australians. I know those opposite have made a point about this, but I would just point out that the unemployment rate for those aged 15 to 34 is considerably higher than the national average. At the moment it is 10.2 per cent, whereas for those aged 35to 54 the unemployment rate is 4.7 per cent, and the national unemployment rate is 6.9 per cent. So these young people aged 15 to 34 are particularly worthy and deserving of support. As past recessions tell us, if we don't help these young people find a job, we are looking at, potentially, a generation of lost opportunities.

I know it's still tough out there for many Australians. These are tough economic times, but there are not many other places you'd rather be than in Australia. We will continue to look after Australians, provide support to the economy and help get Australians back to work.

3:49 pm

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

When you comb through the spin and the smug self-satisfaction and all of the slogans that we hear from the Prime Minister and the Treasurer during question time, one thing becomes abundantly crystal clear: those opposite don't have the faintest understanding of what this recession means for real people in real communities. They just can't grasp that recessions are about whether or not the people of this country can put food on the table and school shoes on their kids' feet, whether or not they can pay the rent or pay off the mortgage, and whether or not their kids get the opportunities that a First World, first-rate country like ours promises to provide. That means recessions are about jobs. And for a million Australians, for 2½ million people who are looking for work or looking for more work, for 160,000 people who are expected to join the unemployment queues between now and the end of the year, for everyone worried about losing their jobs or being asked to work many fewer hours, this is a jobs crisis. For the local people spoken about in this House today, this is a jobs crisis. This is a job's crisis for Elizabeth from Diamond Creek in the member for Jagajaga's electorate; for Mark from Carrum Downs in the member for Dunkley's electorate; for Adam from Lethbridge Park in the member for Chifley's electorate; for Mark and Felicity in Geelong; and for Brian from Lugarno. For all of these Australians who want do the right thing and provide for the people they love, this is a full-blown jobs crisis.

If only those opposite stood up for workers as our members have today in question time, if only they understood and acted on the legitimate anxiety that exists in all of our neighbourhoods right around Australia, and if only they grasped that, in a recession as deep and damaging as this one, this House's first responsibility is to ensure that nobody is left out and left behind by government. Our responsibility is to try and step in and to provide some job security, while the private sector is not yet galloping as we'd like it to, and ensure that we don't sacrifice people to this recession by allowing this spike in unemployment to solidify and to concentrate in communities like mine and many others, and to cascade down through the generations. But that's precisely what this government is inviting by getting JobKeeper wrong by cutting it while unemployment's rising; by getting JobSeeker wrong by cutting it before the economy is ready; and now by getting JobMaker hiring credits wrong as well.

It says everything that you need to know about those opposite that they are digging in now to prevent us ensuring that employers don't sack workers over 35 in order to replace them with younger and cheaper workers. They didn't dig in on pandemic leave and they didn't dig in on all these things that would have been crucial during this pandemic, but they'll dig in to make sure that there is an incentive to sack workers and they won't step in to prevent that happening. As the member for Gorton said in his contribution, all along we've tried to be open minded about hiring credits for younger workers. We've tried to be constructive. We've tried to help the government get it right. We've been conscious all along that, on earlier occasions—the Restart Program for workers who are over 50, for example—they've got some of these labour market programs horribly wrong, and we genuinely want to prevent that happening. The Restart Program was horribly undersubscribed, and people were out of work three months after they participated in the scheme. We want to avoid that.

We've said all along that we've got at least three concerns with this. We've said that more like 45,000 workers will be supported rather than the 450,000 the Treasurer wrongly claimed again today. We've said that 928,000 workers on unemployment benefits over 35 are excluded from this program, while not getting the tax cuts and having JobKeeper cut—all of these things at once. And we haven't been convinced that enough has been done to prevent the sacking of those workers who are over 35 years old. What the government's refusal to accept those sensible amendments that we have moved really means is that this is no longer an accidental consequence of this legislation; this is a deliberate consequence of this legislation. No spin or marketing can obscure that fact or this fact: that this government mouths focus group platitudes about job security while the decisions that they take actually undermine job security. They say again and again that this government has people's back. Today they say to the workers who are over 35 in this country that they are going to stab them in the back with this refusal to support our amendments. We will fight for those workers, their family and their jobs. We are the party of those who work, those who want to work and those who are left out and left behind in this recession.

3:54 pm

Photo of Jason FalinskiJason Falinski (Mackellar, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a matter of regret that the shadow Treasurer believes that we are somehow being smug or not humble about what is occurring in Australia today, because the fact of the matter is that there are members of the community I represent who are worse off today than they've ever been. They're not that way because of anything that this parliament did; they are that way because of a global pandemic. All of us, I think, come to this place with members of our community who are now struggling—as the shadow Treasurer points out—to put food on the table, to pay the mortgage and to ensure that their kids are looked after when they go to school and that none of them are disadvantaged in the way that sometimes children can be when their parents' income has been cut. This parliament has done much to try and ensure that those in communities like mine and, undoubtedly, those in the communities of all members in this chamber have been looked after during this pandemic.

It is unfortunate; it is more than unfortunate. It is a place where we are: when you compare this pandemic in its economic effect to that of the global financial crisis, it is 45 times worse. It is not something that any of us in this chamber have ever witnessed. Indeed, you need to go back to one of the two world wars to come up with a similar economic downturn to what we are experiencing today. None of us, I think, were prepared for this to come out this year the way that it has. But this government had three very key strategic purposes when it became apparent how great this virus and its spread throughout the world would be.

The first strategic purpose we had was to keep Australians safe. I know that there are some people who try to say that this is a choice between the health outcome and the economic outcome. The data is pretty clear—and, in fact, it makes a lot of sense; you don't have to think that long—that the health outcome and the economic outcome are absolutely and completely entwined. If you have a situation where there are people dying, then it will have a material impact on the economic wellbeing of your community. But it was always the strategic purpose of this government to ensure that all Australians—regardless of where they come from; regardless of who represents them—were kept safe. As the member for Wentworth pointed out, there are 16,000 fewer deaths in Australia than there are in other parts of the world due to the actions that this parliament took to ensure the health and safety of Australians. That is not something that this government takes credit for; that is something that all of us in this place should take credit for. It is something that has made a material difference to the lives of people, who are still alive today because of decisions that we took.

The second purpose that we had was to get people through this pandemic, in an economic and welfare sense. This parliament voted on record levels of support for all Australians, regardless of where they came from. It's over $200 billion in JobSeeker, JobMaker, JobKeeper—to universities and R&Ds. The third strategic purpose of this government is to actually get back to the job of this parliament, which is to create economic hope and opportunity for all Australians. To that effect, we brought down a budget which those opposite voted for three days later. We brought a budget into this House, and, in record time, it was approved. It was about ensuring that the core things, the core foundations, of our economy were improved and were there for all Australians at the end of this, whether it was in education funding, whether it was record funding in aged care and health, whether it was changing our research and development grants scheme and our intellectual property framework to ensure that Australian businesses could take a risk and innovate and know that that would be rewarded, or whether it was bringing forward tax cuts to incentivise people to have a go. It's not a radical idea that if you want to drive the economic prosperity of a nation, you need to do so by getting people to take a risk. (Time expired)

3:59 pm

Photo of Kate ThwaitesKate Thwaites (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll begin today by saying that it is good to be able to be back in this chamber and talking in this chamber. But, while I've been participating remotely in debate in this place, it's been clear to me that this government has had very little idea about what is actually going on in our communities during this pandemic and this recession. All of the families in our communities are facing vastly different circumstances: the people who have lost their jobs, the people who are getting less work than they used to and the people who have picked up caring responsibilities in a way they never have before. Their lives have changed. All we hear from this government in this place is smug, self-satisfied rhetoric about how they've done all they can and people have got it better it than others and they should just be happy with that.

That's just not the reality of what's going on out there. Even during the height of this pandemic, this government was already leaving people behind. I'm speaking of people like the chef at one of my RSLs who was left wondering how he was going to support his family through this pandemic because being from New Zealand made him ineligible for JobKeeper. Then there are the hundreds and hundreds of workers at La Trobe University who have been ineligible for JobKeeper throughout this crisis, and I was amazed to hear the relevant minister talk in question time about how this government had stood up for universities when they deliberately changed the legislation to exclude them from JobKeeper. And, of course, there are the childcare workers who were cut off from JobKeeper at the time when, in my electorate, centres were shutting down. I cannot tell you how many distressed childcare workers and their families I heard from who were told: 'There's no money and there are no shifts. You'll have to just tough it out.' That was the response from this government at the height of the pandemic.

Now we have a job creation scheme which actually leaves workers at risk. I've been contacted by unemployed workers in my electorate who are already worried about what this scheme means for them. If they're not eligible for this scheme, what's left to them? As I said in question time, they've already seen the job ads that specify criteria that preferably make employees eligible for the JobMaker hiring credit scheme. What a disincentive to apply for work. What a disincentive to try and get back out there in this tough job market when, in fact, you are seeing ads that say, 'We'd prefer you not to even apply'.

I raised this today during question time. The Prime Minister wouldn't look at me when I raised it. He wouldn't answer my question. In fact, the Attorney-General gave me some rhetoric which doesn't seem to stand up, because we know from evidence from the relevant Senate inquiry that Treasury itself said that exemptions in the Age Discrimination Act could protect employers who tell older workers not to apply for jobs they intend to create with JobMaker. So we know that workers who have been made unemployed through no fault of their own during this pandemic and during this recession are often the people finding it hardest to re-enter the workforce. Now we know that this government is making it more difficult for them to stay in the workforce. They're putting more people at risk of losing their jobs and of losing hours because of a poorly designed scheme.

As we've heard from my fellow members today, Labor has always supported wage subsidies in times of economic difficulty. But, given that we've got nearly one million Australians unemployed and the government itself is predicting a further 160,000 by Christmas, it just makes absolutely no sense that this government will not adopt Labor's sensible amendments to put in place protections for existing workers. Failing to have these protections won't create new jobs. It won't help those people in my electorate who are looking for work. It won't help those people in my electorate who are feeling stressed about what Christmas might hold for them, about how the rest of the year and into next year will pan out for their family. But it will risk existing jobs. So all we are asking is that there's a safeguard for existing workers. If the government is so confident that this scheme is a job maker and not a job taker, surely they can support existing employees. Surely they can see the reality of what is happening in our community—how people are suffering and the fear they're feeling—and respond appropriately. This shouldn't be about politics. It shouldn't be about you taking a stand; it should be about you doing the right thing.

4:04 pm

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

I would like to say that the MPI today, proposed by the member for Gorton, suggesting that the Morrison government is not providing outstanding economic and employment security to Australians is a testament to the pointlessly obstructionist and damaging nature of the Labor Party. The Morrison government continues to back all Australians throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We demonstrated our support before the budget with programs like JobKeeper, designed to keep businesses and their employees linked even if the business could not remain open, and we've continued to show our support for Australian workers with the latest budget. One of the principles that I wholeheartedly support is lowering taxes. My colleagues and I, unlike the Labor Party, understand that Australian workers are in the best position to know how to spend their money, so we are putting that money back into their pockets. The coalition government is lowering taxes by more than $50 billion over the forward estimates, including $9 billion in 2020-21 and $32 billion in 2021-22. This is estimated to create 100,000 new jobs for Australians in Australia by the end of 2021-22. And 11.9 million Australians will also experience lower personal income taxes compared with their 2017-18 tax settings. This means they will have more money in their back pocket, which they can spend however they like.

The Morrison government's support for Australian workers doesn't stop there. Getting Australians back into jobs is a priority of the government, something the Treasurer made very clear on budget night. Now, it's possible that members of the Labor Party didn't get the chance to hear the Treasurer of Australia announce how this government is focused on getting all Australians back into the workforce, so I will remind them. The Morrison government has designed the $4 billion JobMaker hiring credit, which will provide businesses with an incentive to take on additional employees. This will support around 450,000 positions. This government is focused on lifting Australians up by supporting education and training as well. This means investing $1.2 billion through the Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements wage subsidy. Estimates suggest this will support 100,000 new Australian apprentices and trainees. On par with blue-collar training, this government emphasises investing in higher education to support those Australians who want to upskill and take the next step up in their careers. In doing so, we have invested $252 million over two years to support the delivery of 50,000 higher-education short courses in areas including teaching, health, IT, science and agriculture. We are also supporting the delivery of 30,000 additional university places in 2021, which means that more Australians will be able to get a university degree.

The Morrison government is working for all Australians. We've supported Australian workers through what will be remembered as one of the toughest times in modern history, and we will continue to support Australians long after COVID-19. This government will always back Australians. We will create jobs. We will lower taxes, and that's what the coalition government, the Morrison government, will do for all Australians.

4:09 pm

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The speakers from the government side have demonstrated why this matter of public importance is so important. They demonstrated that the government doesn't actually understand the economic reality of what is happening because of the pandemic. We all accept that there's been a pandemic. It is now the responsibility of this government to help address the economic fallout of that pandemic, and they're failing.

All of the programs that they've been putting forward are little and quite often too late, and they will not deliver the reform that backs up their rhetoric. Take, for example, the one that we're talking about today. The government boasts that it's going to create 450,000 jobs. Wrong! At Senate estimates, their own Treasury, their own department, revealed that it may create 45,000 jobs. And what we are now learning, through the work of the opposition and through many of the unions speaking out, is that many of those jobs could be existing jobs. There's a real problem in our labour market with labour hire—something this government has continued to ignore for the years that they've been in government. There's a real problem in our labour market with casualisation—another issue that this government continues to ignore. These are the workers most at risk of being stood down and losing their jobs and being replaced by these cheaper, subsidised workers. But the government says there's no problem.

I can't believe we had an IR minister stand up and say, 'That's okay. If any worker's stood down unfairly because of this measure, they can take out an unfair dismissal claim.' How can you do that if you're a casual worker? Fair Work won't even hear the case—it's thrown out. We have an IR minister that doesn't even understand how IR works in this country. It's rhetoric from this government, trying to suggest that they're creating jobs when they're not. They're doing it on the cheap. It's all about the election announcement. It's all about the photo op. It's all about pretending that you are doing something when you are not.

This government has form on wage subsidies. We know that their programs do not work, and we have seen that time and time again for the last seven years. There was the PaTH program—an absolute disaster! It created $4-an-hour internships for McDonald's—for big chains. It did not create genuine jobs. All it did was to say that the new generation of workers coming through could be subsidised. This government gave taxpayers' dollars that could have created real job opportunities to big multinationals. Are we surprised? No. But when we put forward changes in this legislation that could stop the rorts, that could help put in safeguards, they ignore it and say that we're playing politics.

It's not just the PaTH program. There's the Restart program for older workers, the ParentsNext program—and the list continues. This government is shocking when it comes to their employment programs. They simply do not understand how a labour market works. And it is such a dangerous time for them to not understand that, because right now is the time for governments to invest—to invest in people and in businesses and to make sure that the safeguards are there so nobody is left behind.

Maybe they think that 35 is old. I look at their benches and I think, 'Well, how could they? There are not too many young people on there. There are not too many Gen Ys. How is it that they've thrown all of their kids' generation under a bus? Why are they doing that?'

Another group that has been largely left behind is women. It's women who were the casual workers who were stood down, who lost their hours. Some have been re-engaged. But what the government also won't tell you when they boast about all the jobs created is that they're not full-time jobs the workers are coming back to; they're casual jobs; they're part-time jobs; they're insecure jobs. There are nowhere near the hours that there used to be. But maybe it's because of the lack of women on their side that they're not hearing that.

This is the most insular government we've had in a long time. They are so disconnected from reality. Talk about the Canberra bubble! I just wish they'd get out there and talk to real workers and find out what's going on.

Their cuts to JobKeeper are having an impact. People are now trying to survive on a lower rate of JobKeeper. I have a chef in my electorate who was forced to quit his job because of the cuts to JobKeeper and is now working at Hazeldene's chicken factory because he can get full-time work there. His business that he was working in is only back to four days a week of operation. They are slowly rebuilding after the pandemic. But this government, rather than being there to support them to get through to the other side, is cutting back subsidies.

This is a government that is out of touch with Australian workers. It is out of touch with Australian businesses. And it is out of touch with what is needed right now. We need economic leadership, not economic politics, not economic photo ops. (Time expired)

4:14 pm

Photo of Gavin PearceGavin Pearce (Braddon, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There's no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has been catastrophic—no doubt at all. The statistics are sobering, and on the ground in my region the impact on businesses and families across the north-west, the West Coast and King Island has often been heartbreaking. When the crisis first hit, the Morrison government was there for all Australians and provided the programs needed to cushion the blow. The response to the COVID-19 pandemic was swift, effective and centred around a comprehensive targeted strategy. Whether it was JobKeeper, JobSeeker or the $750 cash payment to householders and the cash flow boost, the government provided the lifeline that many businesses and individuals needed to keep them afloat when the pandemic first struck.

You'll often hear about these initiatives mentioned in simple dollar terms; however, in my region, the north-west, the West Coast and King Island, they have a very human face. I will pick up on what the member for Bendigo said, relating that to real people on the ground. I will tell you about real people on the ground. Here are a few examples. A bloke in Flowerdale named Dean Edwards runs a trucking operation. He has utilised the instant asset write-off to purchase a new B-double stock grate with a 55½ tonne capacity, 26m long. And a B-double has 34 tyres, which means those tyres come from local businesses, are fitted by local people with local jobs. They fill the trucks with local diesel, they stop at local shops and locals serve them. All of this in this circular economy provides business confidence and fallout into that business community.

Leigh Elphinstone from Sisters Creek has utilised the same program to purchase a brand new twin-row spud digger to harvest his potatoes, doubling his output efficiency and improving his bottom line. John De Bruyn, who operates one of the biggest transport companies in Tasmania, has now been able to bring his vehicle procurement program a full year forward. Not only will this provide an immediate capital injection into the local community, into those local dealers with the infrastructure to build those trailers for those particular vehicles, but it will provide him and those drivers with increased efficiencies. His drivers frequently traverse some of the most rugged roads on our West Coast of Tasmania.

These programs have done their job. Owning a couple of businesses myself, I understand that business confidence is most important. If one business loses its confidence then that spill-down effect, that trickle effect that I talked about earlier won't happen. Business confidence is important. That's why I'm pleased to announce that the NAB Survey for the 2020 quarter has confirmed that Tasmania is once again bucking the national trend, with our business confidence above the national average. Tasmania continues to be ranked first in the nation for business conditions, more than 20 points higher than the national average. This is great news for the north-west, the West Coast and King Island. It puts us in a strong position as we recover from the impacts of COVID-19, as we rebuild our economy through good local and small businesses.

The survey also indicated that Tasmania was one of two states to see positive business confidence. The Deloitte Access Economics business outlook report for the September quarter confirms that the government's strategies are working in Tasmania. Businesses are confident and they're wanting to move forward: They're not listening to the rhetoric about what's behind them. They're ready to move forward and confront the new challenges. The report indicated that, despite the pandemic, Tasmania's economy is forecast to grow strongly. Importantly, Tasmanians are starting to spend again, to the point that retail trade has bounced back to above pre-COVID levels.

On the jobs front, nearly 16,000 jobs have returned to the state since the height of the pandemic impact in May. These statistics are facts and are testament to the effective work of the government, both at a federal and state level in Tasmania. These are not examples of failure. This is nothing short of an economic and employment success story in the face of a one-in-100-year pandemic. But it is now time to move to the next phase. It is now time to shift the focus from crisis management to recovery, to supercharge job creation, to stimulate the economy that drives investment and to provide direct assistance to families to encourage them to spend in a circular economy. This government is providing our region with a range of programs and opportunities that support them, that stand by them, that recognise that our small businesses are the engine room of our economy because that's where the jobs are, and we'll be right there beside our great small business community.

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The discussion has concluded.