House debates

Wednesday, 24 February 2021


COVID-19: Economy

7:30 pm

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

It's a privilege to follow my colleague the member for Whitlam, who understands, as do the member for Burt and the member for Lalor, that these are very uncertain and anxious times for the people that we represent, particularly in the labour market and in the economy more broadly. As Australians emerge together from the deepest, most damaging recession in almost a hundred years, there have been some welcome positive signs in the economy. The credit for those signs belongs to all of those Australians who stuck together and did the right thing by each other so that we could perform better than many of the countries that we compare ourselves to. When it comes to limiting the spread of this diabolical virus, the credit belongs to Australians.

While we acknowledge that Australia is emerging from that recession, we equally need to acknowledge that not everybody is emerging from the recession at the same pace. Many people are still struggling. Many people are still battling. Many people are still counting on the decisions made in this parliament to support them so that they can, in turn, support the people who they love. We need to acknowledge that there is a lot of uncertainty in the economy, and that flows through to the men and women of middle Australia and their families. There's uncertainty about subsequent outbreaks, uncertainty about the rollout of the vaccine, uncertainty about the global situation and uncertainty about the consequences of a mismanaged relationship with China. There's uncertainty about people's job security and what that means for family finances. Particularly, there is uncertainty about the consequences of the government's plan to withdraw support from the economy and pull the rug out from under people before the recovery can even gather pace. I'm talking here about next month's cuts to JobKeeper.

Today the Treasurer gave a speech to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. It was a big, long love letter to himself, a big self-congratulation, which failed to recognise that you can't give people a hand up if you're always patting yourself on the back. The Treasurer didn't mention this in his speech, but we remember that when we proposed wage subsidies those opposite said they were dangerous. Then they adopted them. That was a good thing. Then the Treasurer was $60 billion out in his sums. Now he says that JobKeeper is not fit for purpose. That's what he said today in his speech. He seems to forget that there are a million Australians still relying on JobKeeper. He forgot to mention in his speech that Treasury thinks there are a hundred thousand of those who will most likely lose their jobs when he cuts JobKeeper next month. In question time he again forgot those basic facts.

He says there's no blank cheque to extend JobKeeper to the struggling regions, whether it's Cairns—I've spent a bit of time there—or other parts of the economy that are struggling. Workers, small businesses, industries and communities—there's no blank cheque for them, the Treasurer says, and we understand that. But there has been a blank cheque for others, for mates, in a budget which is riddled with rorts. It's a raft of rorts which is part of this trillion dollars of debt. There's a blank cheque for sports rorts and dodgy land deals and taxpayer-funded executive bonuses, but there's not a blank cheque when it comes to supporting the workers who still need it in parts of this country.

He says there'll be a targeted package of support. We know how they roll on that side of the House when it comes to big announcements and not actually getting that support out the door. He says they've got a program called JobMaker, but the Treasury FOI showed that it is more like 'JobTaker'. It doesn't just leave out workers over 35, as the member for Whitlam has been talking about so powerfully, but singles them out and sacrifices them. We had wages data today which showed that annual wages growth is still at historic lows. We had jobs data last week which showed that the official unemployment rate is higher here than in the US, with all of their problems.

There's never a good time to come after people's wages, their super or their job security or to have a budget riddled with rorts, but there has never been a worse time than now to cut people's pay and come after their retirement incomes or to waste that money on rorts, rip-offs and taxpayer-funded executive bonuses. Those opposite are proposing a recipe to go back to all of those things that defined the economy before COVID: the wage stagnation, the job insecurity and the flatlining living standards—all of the things that have been the defining feature of the economy under those opposite.

The kinds of jobs we create together in this recovery will determine the nature of the recovery itself. Those jobs need to be secure and well paid, with fair conditions, and we're on the side of people who want to work hard and get ahead.