House debates

Thursday, 4 February 2021

Matters of Public Importance

Workplace Relations

3:14 pm

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

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

The need for secure jobs and secure pay.

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

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

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

This week we have seen the competing priorities of Labor and the coalition on full display—a coalition obsessed with politics, a coalition obsessed with looking after its mates, and a Labor Party that is on the side of the Australian people. We have raised issues which will impact every Australian worker: the cuts to JobKeeper, the cuts to JobSeeker, the cuts to wages, the cuts to superannuation. Labor is focused on ensuring that we don't just try to fix some of the things that have been destroyed by the pandemic but also emerge stronger and more secure. How do we reconcile the fact that, just as the pandemic has shown the strength of Australian society and Australian values, Australians have looked after each other, looked after their neighbours, looked after their communities and looked after people they've never met and will never meet, with the fact that the government continued to just look after their mates. Just as we have seen that strength in our society, we seen some of the weaknesses that are in our economy: the fact that vulnerable workers were the first to be put off, that whole segments missed out on any support and that Australia's figures for deaths of people in aged care as a proportion of fatalities that have occurred during the pandemic are the worst in the world. Seventy-five per cent of those who lost their lives were aged-care residents. That is worse than anywhere in the world, and this government is in charge of aged care. Of course, we've seen this week how they walk away from their responsibilities.

Today they walked away from responsibility for their own legislation. We asked very specific questions about the clauses there that will get rid of the better off overall test. If you get rid of or suspend the need for workers to be better off overall, what do you think is going to happen? What's the whole objective there? The minister stood up and pretended that clauses that are there across a full page in the legislation aren't there. He said, 'It just says "Insert"', and then didn't read all the clauses that are there, which include, of course, the provision that any business that can say it was impacted by COVID-19 can benefit from these provisions. Guess what? Every business has been impacted by COVID-19. Every citizen in the world has been impacted by COVID-19. But they can't even lie straight over there. Disingenuous, duplicitous, devious: that's what characterises them. They're not economic managers. They're just economic with the truth. We on this side are on the side of Australian workers when it comes to job security. We will be saying to the Australian people: 'We're on your side when it comes to dealing with rising inequality. We're on your side when it comes to dealing with childcare costs. We're on your side when it comes to dealing with opportunity. We're on your side when it comes to dealing with the challenge of climate change.'

Those opposite are led by a man who is characterised by his avoidance of responsibility. He's not on the side of Australians when it gets tough. He goes missing in action. He went missing during the bushfires. Remember that quote: 'I don't hold a hose, mate'? That's what he said. It's the same approach that he's had to the pandemic, when it comes to things that he is specifically responsible for such as aged care and our international borders. Forty thousand Australians remain stranded overseas in spite of the fact they were promised they'd be home by Christmas. On aged care, they still don't have a plan. The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety says that.

The Prime Minister is not on Australians' side when it comes to the cost of living. Childcare costs are due to increase this year by four per cent under the design of the system that the Prime Minister created when he was in charge of that area. And we know that working Australians are particularly in the gun. They speak about things like casual employment. Someone who wants to make themselves a permanent employee can't go to the Fair Work Commission. They have to go to the Federal Court. You can imagine it, can't you: your casual employee out there—classified as casual, being in an irregular job due to the very nature of it—thinking, 'I'll go lawyer-up and go down to the Federal Court.' I mean, these people opposite are so out of touch!

Of course, with their wage cuts they want to hit you in the present. With their war on super they want to hit you in the future. We know that from the former finance minister Mathias Cormann, who says low wages growth is 'a deliberate feature of our economic architecture'. You can see whose side they're on if you compare their attitude towards the former finance minister, who's after a job overseas—we hope he gets it; we on this side back Australians—and has been flying around Europe in a RAAF jet.

An opposition member: With 40,000 stranded!

With 40,000 Australians who can't get home. They say they care about Australian jobs. Ninety thousand jobs in manufacturing have disappeared on their watch—90,000! They dared the car industry to leave—dared it to leave! And when you look at whose side they're on—something this Prime Minister used to talk about—just have a look at the way they deal with vulnerable Australians, who have been hit-up for robodebts and have had to pay back $1.2 billion. If you overestimated how much Centrelink should pay you, you got letters threatening you with jail. You got followed up. Compare that with JobKeeper. If you're a business that overestimates the drop in your income and your profits go up, guess what happens? You can keep the money.

An opposition member: Pocket it!

You can keep the money—you can pocket it—and you can give it as bonuses to executives. In other parts of the world this doesn't happen. Robodebt, or similar things, have happened overseas. The Dutch government resigned just recently over this sort of scandal. The Reserve Bank yesterday spoke about JobSeeker and how we should lift it beyond $40 a day. They said it was 'a matter of fairness'. What did those opposite do? They sent out 'freedom boy' to attack the Reserve Bank and say it wasn't their responsibility.

The fact is that what we see from their side is that they're consistently looking after their mates: sports rorts; Paladin contract; $78 million to Webster Ltd, more than double the valuation for buying up water; the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, $444 million; the Leppington Triangle, $30 million; Helloworld, the scandal that we saw today. We see funding given to the Liberal Party's pollsters to do research—private research—that the government then hide from the Australian people. We see trillion-dollar debt with no legacy from it. We hear a whole lot of announcements but see very little delivery. It is all smirk and mirrors from those opposite, Mr Speaker.

What we need in Australia is a government as good as the Australian people themselves, a government that is truly on the side of working people, that's on the side of families who are dealing with the cost of child care, that's on the side of Australian communities that need appropriate infrastructure and investment, that's on the side of Australians who want to lift their standard of living. In the alternative that we'll be presenting in the lead-up to the next election we'll be doing just that. We'll be saying to Australians: you need a government that is on your side, not a government that's on its own side.

3:24 pm

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

I say to the Leader of the Opposition: if you want to be on the side of the Australian people during this global pandemic, you should support our legislation that will help more people into work, reduce underemployment and reduce casualisation. Australians can have confidence in the Morrison government. We have a plan. As we've shown through the pandemic, with the support of the Australian people we have been able to regrow jobs, boost wages and enhance productivity. We have supported secure jobs and secure pay so that Australians can buy their first home, can raise their families and can plan for their retirement. Today I was talking to one of the staff in this building. She is right now buying her first home. I am so pleased for her. That's what we want to see for all young Australians—more people getting into their own place, having secure jobs and not being reliant on government. We've heard the fear campaign from the Labor opposition right through question time this week, during this very tough time not only around the world but in Australia.

In the same way Australians have so successfully approached the pandemic, it is a fact—and the early signs are encouraging—that, over the last seven months, 748,500 jobs have returned to the economy. That is just fantastic. I thank all those employers who employed those almost 750,000 people. I believe we can do a lot more. There's more to be done. The unemployment rate is down from 7½ per cent in July last year to 6.6 per cent in December. Employment has increased by 50,000 people and the participation rate is at a record high. More people are wanting to participate in the workplace right now.

With wage subsidies and the Morrison government's JobKeeper, the government kept over 3.8 million Australians in work and a further 117,000 people in training. But of course there is more to do. The government are constructive and pragmatic, and when it comes to industrial relations policy we will continue to work together to bring people together and not divide them, like those opposite. When I was a small business owner I had never had a government job or worked in any form of government. I had always worked in small business. I understand how businesses and their employees are being turned upside down.

Opposition Member:

An opposition member interjecting

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

I say to the member opposite: when we're talking about employment one of the benefits of having been a small business owner is that it gives you a good understanding of what those employers want. I'm confident that we know what the problems are. By listening to Australians, not just in my electorate but in all of our electorates, it gives us a much better understanding of what Australians want.

The government's IR reform, as the Attorney-General outlined today, does address a lot of the issues that we're seeing in our economy right now and in the industrial relations system that the Labor government put in through the Fair Work Act. The reforms will not only support wages growth and help to regrow jobs lost in the pandemic but tackle the broader issues like underemployment, job security and underpayment of wages. I want on the record that these are the things that those opposite say that they care about but won't even vote to support in this legislation. We'll remind the Australian people. The Leader of the Opposition says, 'Leading into the next election we'll put forward our platform.' We'll remind the Australian people what the opposition are doing—not supporting job security and not dealing with underemployment and the underpayment of wages. These are things that the opposition say they care about. Labor's enterprise bargaining system has failed to drive wages and productivity growth.

We had hoped that in 2021 we would see the Leader of the Opposition and the Labor Party adopt a more mature approach to industrial relations, but, by opposing the government's IR reform bill, Labor are against stamping out wage theft. They're against it. They're going to vote against it. They're against supporting vulnerable workers getting their money back quickly when underpayment occurs. They are against a quicker enterprise agreement approval process to help deliver pay rises more quickly. This is important stuff. This is what I and the Minister for Education and Youth, who is here, will be talking about with people in my electorate and right around the country as we talk to people as we recover from this pandemic. Sadly, the outright lies from those opposite about the government's industrial relations reforms show they remain hopelessly fixated on playing politics. The crossbench often like to talk about donors and so forth—here's a great example of those opposite receiving cash from donors and just basically listening to what they want them to do. Just oppose it—oppose everything we want to do, because you don't think it's right. But what we're actually seeing here, from talking to people, are some issues in the industrial relations system that could be improved, which will help so many more people into work in Tasmania, in Queensland and in New South Wales.

In my own electorate of Petrie, throughout the crisis, I've been out there talking to local businesses—people like the INTERSPORT franchise at Peninsula Fair Shopping Centre, which is owned by Martin and Sarah—and listening to their concerns and how they can employ more people. That's why, as Australia recovers from COVID-19, the Morrison government is working in an extensive consultation process together with industry and unions to find solutions and to provide certainty for business—pathways to full-time and part-time employment, not just casual employment, because the way the industrial relations system is right now encourages small businesses to keep putting on casuals. They pay a flat hourly rate—yes, it's with a 20 per cent loading, but if you've got someone in permanent part-time and they're doing 20 hours, Monday to Friday, in businesses, and the employer says, 'Can you do an extra five hours this week?', under Labor's system, if they're on $30 an hour, you've got to pay them $45 an hour. No wonder they're saying, 'Look, it's easier just to leave them on casual rates.' This will actually help underemployment and reduce casualisation. The Leader of the Opposition and members opposite talk about this, but there's no action.

I was today also talking to Ben from Plungie pools, a brilliant Brisbane manufacturer. Plungie pools is manufacturing in Queensland, and they are doing well. They're a pool-manufacturing business in the heart of Queensland, where it's warm and all families and individuals love to swim. They are award winning in the modern manufacturing process and in making pools affordable for all Australians because, rather than concrete pools which take three months to build, the pools are all premanufactured and they can be delivered on the back of a truck. Their innovation has led to them exporting to New Zealand. It's led to them exporting to Japan and the Pacific islands. They employed just over two people two years ago, and now they have 25-plus staff and, as well as being a pool company, they are partners with Wagners concrete, to help make the pools. They also employ some 50 other people indirectly, through subcontractors and builders. They're actually hiring six new people right now. If you're looking for work, go to

The Morrison government's programs have supported Queensland to having the strongest employment of all states and territories. And, through the Morrison government's $74 billion JobMaker plan, we are putting skills and jobs front and centre of our economic recovery. It builds on the significant first steps to reform our training system that we have already taken.

I'd say to all members in this place that we have a responsibility this year to get out and sell what the Australian government is doing if it's helping individuals in our own electorates. That doesn't just include government members; it includes crossbench and opposition members. This JobMaker plan will help so many young people, and we know that, if they do not get back into work, if they're on welfare for a few years, they can often be on it for life. Now is the time to promote what the Australian government is doing, and, in a bipartisan way, members opposite can do that. The JobTrainer fund and the JobMaker hiring credit are both good incentives for people. HomeBuilder, of course, has been a big success to date as well.

I was talking to another manufacturer in Brisbane today. They were telling me that manufacturing has been reshored to Australia in the last 12 months more quickly than in the previous five years. Australians are seeing a global disruption, and people do not want to experience this again. Businesses right here in Australia are now involved in advanced manufacturing. If there are teachers out there that have students, there is an opportunity to say to them, 'Why don't you consider a career in manufacturing?' For students that are, perhaps, great at arts, there are jobs there in industrial design and engineering as well, where they can get involved in the manufacturing process.

The Morrison government cares about Australians and, in the next 12 months, in the lead-up to the election in May 2022, will be reminding them about those opposite and their lack of support during this pandemic. (Time expired)

3:34 pm

Photo of Ed HusicEd Husic (Chifley, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Industry and Innovation) Share this | | Hansard source

One of the things that's very noticeable about this government is that every time there is an issue or a problem—something that needs to be sorted—the quickest thing they do is pull out a stat or a bunch of money that they just throw at the issue. They think that, by virtue of doing that, the problem is solved. It's millions of dollars here and millions of dollars there. Then we have this barrage of statistics that's delivered to us throughout every question time. The worst person is the Treasurer, who's like Siri after a sugar hit. It's constant, one stat after another stat after another stat, in the hope that that flurry of activity, in itself, will mean that the Australian public will think everything is sorted. But there's never any real moment when we can go beyond the shine and the sheen, look at the actual people who are affected and face the fact that there are these big problems that continue to persist in this country and that serious effort needs to be put into looking after the people who have been worst affected through the course of the pandemic.

Here is a stat: two million Australians are without work or are seriously underemployed. They don't have enough hours or get enough pay through their job to ensure that they can pay their bills. These are serious stats. As much as those opposite talk about how much they help people out, they turn their backs on one million casual workers in this country by refusing to extend JobKeeper to them. If you are someone who is well connected—like, maybe, someone in Premier Investments who can pick up the phone to a treasurer and complain about the need for assistance—you can get JobKeeper, then get an exec bonus after getting JobKeeper, have that bonus and refuse to pay it back. But a casual worker is denied that. A dnata worker is denied that. A council worker is denied that. All these Australians missed out. We have the minister for education here. There are 17,000 jobs in universities that have gone. They are gone because the government wouldn't provide support to universities through JobKeeper. Amongst young people there is 14 per cent unemployment. Youth unemployment is a massive issue, and people are still affected. Millions are working without paid leave.

The government like touting all those figures, but they have not dealt seriously with those people. After all the pressure that businesses and the people who work with them have faced, unemployed people are still suffering and waiting for some sort of support. But they're being told that JobKeeper, no matter what, gets cut in March and that we won't see JobSeeker lifted seriously, as so many people have been saying needs to happen. That's not happening. The only solution that this government can come up with is to pull the lever that they always pull, which is: you've got to cut someone's pay; you've got to cut someone's conditions. The deal from conservatives always says that if you want to survive you've got to lose; you have to cut back something that you rely upon so as to be able to make it through. Wrong! This is the typical conservative lever that says you have to lose your conditions, you have to lose your rights and you have to cop a pay cut. When we point it out and we demonstrate, through their own mechanisms, that that is happening, they come up with all sorts of bald-faced lies to say that that's not the case. It's just not right.

Then, when we refuse to back the hack of wages that we're seeing, they suddenly say, 'But what about all the stuff we want to do on wage theft or all the stuff we want to do on casualisation?' How long have we been saying that wage theft has to be dealt with and taken seriously in this country? What do they do? At the point at which it should be dealt with, they tuck behind it stuff that they should have done ages ago. They should have dealt with wage theft. They should have dealt with casualisation. Then the only way to get anything done on those issues is by seeing a pay cut or a cut to conditions. No! We're not trading one thing for another. We're not trading off protections against wage theft. We're not paying for them by cutting someone's wages or cutting someone's conditions. This is not the deal we are signing up to.

Australians need a genuine government with a PM that genuinely cares about them. They deserve a secure job and a pay rise, not a wage cut. They don't need the same old conservative play that cuts wages and cuts jobs.

3:40 pm

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

When the pandemic hit not just Australia but the globe 12 months ago, we were going into uncharted waters. A lot has happened over the last 12 months with the stimulus spending the government's done. It is quite interesting how things have evolved and how things have been different in different countries and certainly different regions of the country. I am pleasantly surprised that one of the major issues facing my community and many communities in regions around the country is we don't have enough workers. I see the member for Mallee and I know this is an issue for her as well. There are many small businesses in my community—hospitality, retail, tradies, the ag sector—that just can't get enough workers into our region. That is a pleasant surprise. As I said, at the start of the pandemic, we didn't know how this would roll out.

I speak to a lot of my regional colleagues. I can't talk as confidently about cities, but the biggest issue we have at the moment in a lot of regions is our workforce and the fact that we need more workers. Part of it has been that there's been an unprecedented flood—I don't think it is just in Australia but around the world—of people leaving cities and going to regional areas. We desperately need more workers across all sectors because more people have moved there and an increased demand has been seen in housing prices and rentals. People have been flowing to regional areas and there has been unprecedented demand. Deloitte said three or four weeks ago that, both on the health front and the economic front, there is no better place to be in the world right now than Australia. It is because we have done well on the health front, so the pandemic has affected us less than other countries around the world. The shutdowns and what have you have been less in Australia than in other countries. That has flowed through and meant that the economic front and jobs front have been more secure here in Australia than elsewhere.

On the economic front, the government have done an unprecedented stimulus spend. We did that unashamedly. Around the whole country for that first five or six weeks, around the month of April, there were many businesses forced to shut down. People could not go to work, through no fault of their own. That was when we did a lot of stimulus spending—the JobKeeper plan—and a lot of other things. On every statistic since then—we had a lot of forecasts from the Treasury and RBA—we should be celebrating because of the Australian public adhering to social distancing and hand hygiene and everything else we asked. Because the Australian public has done so well, every economic forecast or health forecast that we had back then we have bettered. The unemployment rate never rose to the levels that were forecast. The growth in employment, the growth in consumer confidence and the growth in everything that you want have actually been better than we've forecast, and that is all down to the wonderful effort of the Australian public. But it hasn't happened by accident. This has not happened by mistake. It has happened because of the parameters that we have set as a government. I know there were statistics spoken about back in the budget. You'll never hear a lot of this from the other side, but eight out of 10 jobs are in the private sector, so everything we had in the budget was to help them. Those opposite often aren't happy with tax cuts. A tax cut is a wage increase. A tax cut is more money in your pocket. A tax cut is the same as a wage increase. We have cut taxes to millions of Australians, and you know what? That's a wage increase. Tax cuts are a wage increase.

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Members on my left.

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

I don't think those opposite understand it. We gave 11.5 million Australians last year in the budget a wage increase by giving them a tax cut. That is what we were focused on.

The other thing we did was introduce the JobMaker Hiring Credit. We want small businesses to have the confidence to go out and employ people, especially young people, and that is why we brought in the JobMaker Hiring Credit. The other thing we did was introduce the tax incentive and instant tax write-off to encourage private business, who employ eight out of 10 Australians, to feel more confident to invest, and that again has been a huge hit. I thank the Australian public and I thank Australian businesses. We are doing much better than we thought we would—one by government policy and one by what businesses are doing in Australia.

3:44 pm

Photo of Julie CollinsJulie Collins (Franklin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture) Share this | | Hansard source

What a defence of the government and their lack of action on jobs in Australia today. We had four minutes attacking the Labor Party and one minute talking about what the government might actually be doing. Perhaps it's because the government is doing so little that that's the way the member opposite decided to go. When you've got over two million Australians currently unemployed or underemployed, surely the government needs to do more than it is doing. Surely the government is saying, 'What else can we do to build our economy, to grow the pie, to help Australians get out of what was a recession? How are we going to do that post pandemic? I know—the answer is a pay cut, clearly, for all those workers that are already in low-paid jobs that actually helped us get through the pandemic: the retail workers, the aged-care workers and the childcare workers.' To the people on the frontline that were doing the hard work during the pandemic, you're saying, 'It's all okay now; now's the time for a wage cut.' It's not okay. It's not okay for those Australian workers. We say to those Australian workers that, when it comes to cutting wages, we're on the side of the workers, while the government can stay on the side of the big businesses and the people that want to cut workers' wages. That's where they've always been. Every time they're in government they take every opportunity to try and sneak in a wage cut to workers. Every opportunity, they try and find a way: 'Here we are—why waste a pandemic? Let's see if we can get workers' wages again.' They keep doing it. Every time they're in government they find an excuse to do it.

An opposition member: It's in their DNA.

It's absolutely in their DNA; it always has been in their DNA.

When it comes to my home state, we know that JobKeeper ending is going to have a big impact. We know that industries in my home state are still struggling. They're not getting the international visitors and they're not going to for some time. We know there are fewer interstate visitors than there could be because of people's uncertainty about travel in Australia today. Indeed, just this week the tourism sector said that the parts of the tourism sector most reliant on international travel, such as tour companies, conference and convention centres, and those geared towards business travel are continuing to struggle. They are concerned about JobKeeper ending in March, and so they should be. There are thousands of Tasmanians still reliant on JobKeeper today.

David Peach from the Launceston Chamber of Commerce said: 'This is our new normal There's a possibility, a case, for selective and tested continuation of JobKeeper for some industries.' Perhaps the government should listen. Perhaps there is a need for some assistance to go to some of those industries that are still struggling. They are struggling in my home state of Tasmania and they are struggling in other parts of the country, particularly in the regions. The minister comes in here and says, 'The biggest issue in regional Australia is workers—we can't get enough of them.' Perhaps the government should have done something about the Seasonal Worker Program and stopped the fruit from rotting on the farms in Australia today. To date, $42 million of fruit and produce is rotting on farms because they didn't do their job. They knew for a year. When this pandemic started, they knew that this would be an issue. They are in charge of quarantine; they are in charge of the Seasonal Worker Program. What bit of the equation doesn't add up? Their lack of action—that is the only thing that has stopped the Seasonal Worker Program and got fruit and produce rotting on people's farms today. It is because of them.

Then we get to JobSeeker—the thing that is supporting low-income and vulnerable Australians. We had the RBA say yesterday that it needs to be lifted because it's a matter of fairness. What we saw during the pandemic, after we put a lot of pressure on the government, was some support for those people on JobSeeker—some initial support and some substantive support on top of that payment. That's slowly being taken away, and that will finish at the end of March too. The government have been very clear that they have no intention of extending this. We have heard from people about how it's going to impact. Everybody in Australia today—everybody except the government—says that that payment needs to be increased from its base level. It's going to impact in communities like mine in Tasmania and it's going to impact the industries that we were just talking about that are still reliant on JobKeeper. The thing about people on JobSeeker is that they spend every single cent they get, because they have no choice. They have to spend it just to survive. They cannot survive without the additional support that the current payment is providing to them. We've had even the member for Bass and the member for Braddon agree with us. The member for Bass has been out there and she's actually said that the JobSeeker payment is too low and needs to increase. (Time expired)

3:50 pm

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this matter of public importance. I have to say I was quite surprised when I saw the topic, because, yet again, it's the opposition kicking an own goal. Before I start really getting into this, I do want to send a huge shout-out to my youngest daughter, Sarah, who did her first day of work today. She started her first job today. Well done, Sarah—really, very good. We're very proud of you.

An honourable member interjecting

No, that's not right. There are green shoots in our economy that we are experiencing right now. I listened to the Governor of the Reserve Bank's speech to the National Press Club yesterday and I could hear from my parliamentary office the collective groan from all those opposite when the Reserve Bank governor was talking about how we are starting to get on top of this economic crisis that we've been in—that things are getting better. All those opposite wanted to say, 'Oh no, we don't want to hear that good news.' They just want to keep talking down the economy. That's all they want to do and they'll keep doing it.

Since the pandemic hit, we have seen 785,000 jobs return. Ninety per cent of people who were unemployed, or who had their hours reduced to zero—90 per cent—are back at work. This is exactly why those opposite continue to kick own goals. I know it hasn't been a particularly good week for them. I know it hasn't been a particularly good month for them. They can't even get points of order in question time ruled as in order. These are exciting times, difficult times, but we are seeing some definite green shoots in our economy. We've seen Australian job advertisements, measured by the ANZ, rise by 9.2 per cent in December. That's 4.1 per cent above pre-pandemic levels in February. We don't hear those opposite make any mention of that. We don't hear any mention of that, and it's a real shame.

We're talking about jobs, and one of the things I was before I came into this place was a carpenter and joiner and a builder. This government has overseen a tremendous program called HomeBuilder. HomeBuilder has not only presented the opportunity for tens of thousands of Australians to buy their own first home but saved the jobs of hundreds of thousands of men and women working in the building and construction sector in this country. Those opposite don't give a hoot about men and women working in the building and construction sector, particularly the residential sector because there are no unions operating in the residential sector. But HomeBuilder has saved the building industry. The work done by the Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Housing has saved hundreds of thousands of jobs and the families of those workers. What did those opposite say when HomeBuilder was first announced? 'It'll never work. That won't work'. They sat there and talked in question time, day after day, about how HomeBuilder was going to be a flop; it was never going to work. HomeBuilder has been a stunning success, and all congratulations go to the Treasurer, and particularly the Assistant Treasurer for the work that he has done. The work that he has done has saved livelihoods and, quite frankly, saved a lot of my old mates in the building industry—yes, my old mates in the building industry. That's the building industry that those opposite would have no idea about, the residential sector, because the unions aren't involved in the residential sector. You're only interested in sectors where there are unions.

An honourable member: You've got no idea!

Well, you just wait and see. The unions are operating in sectors, like the industrial and commercial building sector. The same CFMMEU that pays $5 million a year to the Labor Party— (Time expired)

3:55 pm

Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very pleased to make a contribution after a somewhat unedifying contribution from the member opposite, who's normally, I must say, very polite. Without a doubt, the Australian government's most important economic responsibility is to improve the living standards of its citizens. Indeed, the members gathered behind me here are very proud to come from a political party where that is our central goal. We are here, all of us in this parliament, because we have electorates of people who desire to live a better life in this country. Our job, our reason for being as members of parliament, is to give them the tools and resources they need to create opportunities for their families and improve their living standards.

Our record is something that we, as Labor people, are so incredibly proud of. If we look at the period of time between when Bob Hawke was elected as Prime Minister in 1983 and when Julia Gillard left office in 2013, the average living standards of Australians more than doubled. One of the things that we are most proud of about that period of growth in our country is that that happened across the income spectrum. So, yes, wealthy people in Australia improved their wealth over that period, but, most importantly, the poorest people in our country doubled their living standards. Now, that is a Labor legacy that everyone on this side of the House is very proud of.

I want to talk a little bit about the contrast with the last eight years. What we hear every day in this parliament from those on the other side is hubris and spurts of anger and enthusiasm about economic issues and what brilliant economic managers they regard themselves to be. But what do the facts tell us about this? The Australian Bureau of Statistics collects data every two years that tells us about the disposable income of Australians across the income spectrum. What that shows, very sadly for the member for Aston, is that, over the last eight years in this country, the living standards of the average Australian family have gone backwards. After all the talk that Australians have heard about how brilliant these people are at managing the economy, we've had a growing economy where ordinary people are going backwards. I ask you: what is the point of economic growth if the families that we represent are actually becoming worse off over time? But that is exactly what is happening.

Why are we seeing this change in how our economy's going? We hear a lot about jobs, jobs, jobs in this parliament from both political parties—and that's a very important part of economic growth—but what we don't hear enough about is work, work, work and wages, wages, wages. This is the fundamental problem facing our country and our country's economy. If you go back to the time of Hawke and Keating, the problem was jobs. Once you were in a job, things were going to be okay for you and your family. But the truth is that today there are all sorts of ways that employment has changed that mean that someone in our community, in our electorate, can have a job and are still not able to put food on the table for their families.

This is not a small problem that affects just a few people here and there in our electorates; there are two million Australians who either have no work at all or are working but do not have a job that supports their family's livelihood. Those more than a million people in Australia who are underemployed are not just looking for an hour or two of work here or there. On average, those people are searching for 15 hours more work a week. What we're seeing is millions of Australian households falling short by hundreds of dollars a week to buy school shoes and books for their children, to put food on their table and to get insurance for their home—and all those other essential things that we, as members of parliament, are responsible for ensuring our constituents are able to do.

One of the facets of this very important problem is that employers in this country have found some very dodgy ways to get away with not abiding with conditions that workers in Australia have fought for, for many years. One of the examples I want to point to is the gig economy. We hear nothing on the other side of the House about the changes in employment and how they're affecting people's lives. But I wonder if those opposite realise that there are a million Australians today who are getting all or part of their income from the gig economy. The way those arrangements are structured means that many of them are not making minimum wage; they don't have proper insurance; they pay for their own uniform and for their own equipment. All these things that the union movement fought—for decades and, sometimes, for more than a hundred years—to secure for workers have been just dispensed with, because these companies find it, perhaps, an irritation to pay their employees properly. Well, this is the sort of thing that Labor is focusing on, because we are on the side of these people who we know are struggling out there.

On the other hand, we have a government that, instead of trying to fix the problem for people, is actually trying to cut their wages. So that's the difference you've got: they want to cut wages; we want to stand with ordinary Australians in helping them to a better life.

4:00 pm

Photo of Anne WebsterAnne Webster (Mallee, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, we have been through a year like no other, and Australians have experienced vulnerability in a time that has never occurred before. The need for secure jobs is a matter of great importance, which is why I'm happy to rise today to speak to the Morrison-McCormack government's outstanding track record in securing jobs for Australians, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. As things return to normal, albeit COVID-normal, the federal government is focused on economic recovery through job creation. Several measures announced in the 2020 Commonwealth budget aim to create jobs and to get Australians back into work, and recent figures demonstrate our recovery is well underway.

I'll just give some jobs data. At the onset of the pandemic, the effective unemployment rate rose to 14.9 per cent. The unemployment rate now is 6.6 per cent. Around 90 per cent of the 1.3 million people who lost their job or were stood down on zero hours in April are now back at work. Seventy-one per cent of the increase in employment this month was in full-time jobs—35,700 of them—with the remaining 29 per cent part-time: 14,000 jobs. In total, 784,000 jobs have been created since May, recovering 90 per cent of the 872,000 jobs lost between March and May. Fifty-four per cent of the total increase in employment has been for females. Youth employment has risen by 240,000 persons, making up 31 per cent of the total increase in employment since May. Employment increased for the third consecutive month in Victoria, and employment in the state is now at its highest level since March.

Employment opportunities are also growing in Mallee, I'm pleased to say. Data from the education, skills and employment department known as the Internet Vacancy Index displays vacancies for jobs on popular employment websites. It shows that, prior to COVID-19, there was an average of 600 jobs posted online; that dropped to 418 by the month of May. In November 2020, there were 757 jobs advertised online—and seasonal workforce vacancies and needs are not part of that number.

Young people remain the most heavily impacted cohort, with employment for this group at 4.7 per cent lower than in March 2020. We know from previous recessions in Australia that it takes a long time for young people to move off the unemployment queue and back into work, up to 15 years from the last recession.

These points demonstrate why getting young people back into work is so important—hence the JobMaker hiring credit for jobseekers. Two hundred dollars a week is available to each employer and eligible additional employee aged 16 to 29 years, and $100 a week for eligible additional employees aged 30 to 35, and that's why those ages have been chosen. One billion dollars in the JobTrainer Fund will be focused on assisting people to retrain and reskill in the face of expanding labour markets. It aims to rapidly provide more Australians free or low-cost training places and courses in areas of identified need.

$1.2 billion has been invested by this government to subsidise apprentices and trainees, and it's called Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements: 50 per cent wage subsidies for all businesses to take on new apprentices and trainees between 5 October 2020 and 30 September 2021. I'm really pleased to say that many businesses in Mallee are making use of this subsidy, including the Mildura Truck Centre, who were able to take on several new apprentices, thanks to the subsidy.

I've also recently heard from Robin Kuhne from Workforce Partners Australia about this fantastic program. Workforce Partners Australia partners with businesses in Mallee to assist them to employ new apprentices. They employ apprentices who are contracted out to other employers to provide agile support to industry. Workforce Partners Australia has supported the commencement of 65 new apprentices that will be eligible for the wage subsidy. That's 65 young people getting a start in their career, and numerous businesses growing as a result. Workforce Partners Australia covers three of the biggest towns in Mallee and the three where the skills are most needed: Mildura, Swan Hill and Horsham. Robin said the fantastic thing about the subsidy is that employers are looking to employ two apprentices instead of one, because of the subsidy. (Time expired)

4:05 pm

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

There is nothing so dangerous as a government so convinced that they've got the next election in the bag that they've stopped listening. They've stopped caring. They're running around slapping themselves on the back. In fact, they're so busy slapping themselves on the back that to the average worker it feels more like a slap in the face. They're so happy with themselves that they can't see what's going on. Two million Australians are either out of work or looking for more work, because the number of hours they're getting is not enough to put food on the table. Casualisation is at record highs. One in five Australian workers is in insecure work. And didn't we see the consequence of this in the midst of the pandemic! We saw workers without rights, without job security and without support from this government. They're so happy with themselves, so blind to the circumstances affecting one in five Australians, that they have absolutely no answers to their predicament.

If the only tool you have, as the cliche goes, is a hammer, then every problem in the world looks like a nail. The problem with this government is that every worker, as far as they're concerned, is a cost, and therefore the only way to increase employment is to cut costs—to cut wages. That is literally what their plan for a post-pandemic recovery looks like: 'Somehow, if we cut workers' wages, we'll create more jobs.'

We look at workers differently. We look at workers as having families and bills to pay. We look at a worker as somebody with aspirations for a better life. We understand that if you cut that worker's wages then everybody is worse off. We think that the answer to this economic malaise that we are in is a wage boost, not a wage cut.

If there is one group of workers that sits firmly inside the blind spot of this government, it's older workers—those workers aged between 55 and 65. They were doing it tough before the pandemic. Life has got worse under this government. If they have a job, it's less secure. If they're out of work and on unemployment benefits, their payments are about to get cut. This government has no answer for older workers. In fact, every single one of their policies seems to be aimed at making their situation worse: their rights at work cut, their jobs more insecure. They thought they had till age 65 to put away retirement savings. This government is going to cut their super, making it harder for them to provide self-sufficiency in their retirement. One in five Australians—

Mr Falinski interjecting

This bloke over here laughs; he thinks it's funny that one in five Australians—

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Mackellar.

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

between the ages of 55 and 65 is on either an unemployment benefit, a carer's benefit or a disability benefit. If they're on the unemployment benefit, there's a one-in-three chance that they've been sacked—that is, they're not unemployed voluntarily; they have been sacked, and it takes twice as long for them to find their way back into the workforce, if at all. This mob over here looks at them and calls them shirkers. They think they're bludgers, sitting on the couch Netflixing. That's the way they see these workers. We see them as lost potential. We want to get them back into a decent job so they can work for the rest of their working lives. If they're on a disability pension, again, this mob sees them as shirkers. They've probably had a job their entire life. Working in manual work has its toll on the body—the back's gone, the knees are gone, perhaps they can't work outside because they've now got so many skin cancers their body is not up to it. This mob sees them as shirkers, with not an answer in the world for them. Perhaps it's a life tragedy—a partner gets injured, a child with a disability, a partner with a disability who is the carer for their partner. This mob? Not one answer for them. This is the situation, and they are blind to it—not an answer in the world. (Time expired)

4:10 pm

Photo of Terry YoungTerry Young (Longman, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you to the Leader of the Opposition for allowing me this opportunity to again talk about how the federal Liberal-National government has helped this great country bounce back from the devastating COVID-19 global pandemic. When the pandemic first took hold in early 2020, this government took action, putting the health and wellbeing of residents at the forefront of decisions. We also introduced a range of measures to minimise the impact of this global pandemic on local jobs, measures like the HomeBuilder grant and the JobSeeker and JobKeeper programs.

The pandemic has taken a toll on many businesses across the country and across the world. In my electorate of Longman, I've heard from employers whose incomes were wiped out overnight. As we continued to protect the lives of millions of Australians, jobs were lost. But the impact of those job losses would undoubtedly have been far worse than it would've without the federal government's JobKeeper program.

Fast forward to 2021, and the pandemic rages on around the world. In fact, it's much worse today than it was in early 2020. This is an important point to remember: the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging out of control around the world. Here in Australia, thanks to our geographic location, our international border restrictions and our world-leading contact tracing systems, we have been able to weather the storm better than many other countries.

We are indeed bouncing back from the devastating impact of the pandemic that still rages around the world. In fact, of the 1.3 million people who lost their job or were stood down on zero hours, 90 per cent are now back at work. I recently spoke with the owners of one of the fantastic local companies in my electorate of Longman, Allan Sandilands from Taipan Hydraulic Hose Systems, who told me that several of his staff members had recently purchased land and were building their first homes. Allan also told me that this would not have been possible if not for our government's HomeBuilder grants. This is proof that our government's initiatives have not only kept people in jobs but helped create the economic conditions so that young Australians like those at Taipan in Caboolture feel secure enough in their jobs that they would make the biggest investment in their lives—to buy their first home. This is why I'm so proud to be part of this Morrison government—when I hear stories like these in my electorate that demonstrate how we are making a positive difference in people's lives.

Across Australia, the labour market has continued to exceed expectations and even beat the RBA's upside scenario published in August 2020. Peak unemployment appears to be behind us, and the unemployment rate at the end of 2020 was 6.6 per cent. When the coalition came into government in 2013, the unemployment rate was 5.7 per cent and rising. In February last year, prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the unemployment rate was 5.1 per cent and falling. At the end of 2020, given everything this nation had weathered during the previous eight months or so, the unemployment rate was 6.6 per cent and falling. Employment had increased by 50,000 persons and the participation rate rose to a record high of 66.2 per cent. Seventy-one per cent of the increase in employment during December comprised full-time jobs, equating to around 35,000 jobs. The remaining 29 per cent were part time, around 14,300 jobs. Across Australia, 784,000 jobs have been created since last May, recovering 90 per cent of the 872,000 jobs lost between March and May. Though, when it comes to unemployment, my home state of Queensland is falling behind the rest of Australia. Just two weeks ago Queensland recorded Australia's highest unemployment rate, sitting at 7½ per cent for December. Nationally, as I've already stated, the unemployment rate in December was just 6.6 per cent.

In terms of our industrial relations policy, our measures are designed to regrow jobs, boost wages and enhance productivity. Our industrial relations reforms have been presented after extensive consultation with both employee and employer groups. Our reform package addresses known problems with our industrial relations systems and the Fair Work Act. These reforms will not only support wages growth and help regrow the jobs lost to the pandemic; they tackle underemployment, job security, underpayment of wages and enterprise bargaining in order to drive wages and productivity growth.

When it comes to this matter, when those opposite speak I can smell a lot of smoke. There seem to be a lot of pants on fire. The truth is these reforms will give businesses the confidence to invest more and create jobs. That is the bottom line. Unfortunately, many in this House have never been an employer or been on a minimum wage as an employee. I have been both. I can tell you from personal experience that the majority of small-business owners understand the value of their employees and go over and above to pay above any award. I personally received that as an employee, and I have employed this practice as an employer. Employers like Taipan hoses, which I spoke of earlier, employed an agreement manager who employed— (Time expired)

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

The discussion has concluded.