Senate debates

Thursday, 18 June 2020



5:02 pm

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I'll take that interjection, Minister, and perhaps you can tell me what happens to a person whose business returns to profitability in July. Do they keep getting JobKeeper in August and September? I haven't heard an answer to that from the other side.

Very clearly there is work going on. It's probably not as collegial as we would like. That's fine. You can take your victories and take your losses, but if you drive the economy into recession further and harder than is necessary then you will ultimately pay a price for that. But, more particularly, Australians will pay a price for that. It will be Australian workers who will be without jobs. It will be Australian workers who will have their houses repossessed or the wherewithall to provide for their families taken from them. We want to see a clear, upfront, stated national plan to take us forward into the future. We're not seeing any of that. As I surmised in a contribution I made when I came back here a short while ago, once the rosy period is over, economics will come to the fore. We'll throw things at the government; the government will throw things back at us. But the awful reality is that people in the economy will suffer.

We know now, as we speak, that all of those workers in dnata have already had the back of the axe. They've got nothing. Dnata workers are being told to go and find themselves a way to get onto jobseeker. They're not deemed as the same kinds of workers as Qantas or Virgin workers, and yet they work at the same airports; they do the same jobs. Because of the foreign entity decision, they didn't get JobKeeper. When those airports come back together, a lot of those workers may have wandered off all over the economy, as is their legitimate right, but there is a practical effect of that. It takes a bit of time to get an aviation security identification card, an ASIC. You have to have proper vetting to work in an airport. If a big employer like dnata loses a substantial number of people, then you'll have a backlog, because the security checks will have to be done before people can go airside. You actually constrain a business.

We all know that the airline industry has become very competitive over the last three decades, say. But what could possibly happen here, without a coherent economic plan, is that we could be handing Qantas and Jetstar a monopoly. I accept—and I'll probably get vehement agreement from the other side—that competition is good. If you hand Qantas and Jetstar a monopoly over the 60-odd million domestic passenger trips that are taken in Australia each year, it's not going to be a good outcome for the economy. We're going to pay higher fares. We're going to get long queues. Profitability for Qantas and Jetstar will go up—fine; I've got nothing against profitability—but there won't be the level of competition.

At the moment, the lack of a plan in the aviation sector indicates to me that we're going to do exactly what we did when Ansett collapsed, and that was let Qantas win. Qantas won, and it took decades to get that competition back in. I was around in the airline industry when Virgin came to Australia. With $53 million they started an airline. I think Brett Godfrey's quote at the time was: 'I didn't know that $53 million would only buy me a bunch of coconuts.' But he formed Virgin with a very small amount of money, and it became a competitive force in this country. If the lack of a coherent national economic plan and a coherent aviation plan allows Mr Joyce and Qantas and Jetstar to ramp up their prices, tell people when they're going to travel, say where they're going to go or not go, without competitive influence, that's a bad thing, and it'll be a drain on the economy. It'll be a drain on the economy, because we know—and I'm sure the other side agree—that competition is good.

The airline industry is a really stark area where it's going to take a number of months, if not years, to recover. International flights are probably well on the back burner, and domestically we're going to see a period of time before recovery. There is no greater indicator of inequality in Australia than regions versus cities. Regional areas of South Australia or the Northern Territory or Queensland or Victoria or anywhere are going to suffer, because Qantas is not, out of the goodness of its heart, going to say, 'I'm going to zip a plane down here and zip a plane over there.' Everything will be done in the absence of competition.

So the first of the two most important sectors that I see the government really failing in is clearly aviation. The other area that they don't appear to have a coherent plan for is the education sector, particularly in regional Australia. If you don't want to support those trainers and those colleges out in regional Victoria or regional Queensland, the impact it can have if they collapse, and we lose lecturers and lose courses, is that we have a lower-skilled regional workforce. I remember this contribution from a casual lecturer at a regional university. He said: 'It's not about me. I will survive this pandemic. I think the government is doing a pretty good job. But what I've got to tell you is, in the 20 years I've been at this university, I have seen the blue-collar workforce skills increase exponentially. That's been good for the workers and the employers, and the universities, or the VET providers, have made some money out of it.' So it has been an all-round good effort, and people in regional areas have benefited. The educational standards in regional areas have gone up. That is a remarkably good thing. It helps to underpin the productivity of our nation.

If you haven't got a plan for aviation, if you haven't got a plan for regional areas in respect of universities and the like, I think you need to go and revisit. Or, if you've got a plan, please tell people. Please get on the front foot and get out there and do it. My fear is that areas which struggled economically prior to the pandemic are going to catastrophically impacted in a recession. If we had 29 years of economic growth and we still had pockets of inequality in Australia, then we're going to lose the growth and we'll lose the ability to address those pockets of inequality, and they'll get deeper. Those who do well will get further away from those who don't do so well. That's not the kind of Australia that the Australian Labor Party wants to see. We don't want to see more insecure work. We don't want to see one million-plus casuals who, once the restaurants were closed, have nothing—no work to go to. We don't want to see that. We want to see people educated, trained and enjoying good, productive jobs.

Clearly this government is doing some work. There's no doubt about that. The challenge or the question for them is: are they prepared to advance an economic plan that can be tested in the court of public opinion, that can be tested in this chamber, and, dare I say, even improved? This is a one-in-100-year event. I don't think we should be playing politics about it. If we can contribute something that's going to put things on a better pathway, I'm not sure you should just dismiss it out of hand. If we do get to that, that'll be an awful tragedy.

But I do detect that the tone in the chamber has changed back to the good old order, the good old bad days, I'll say, where, 'If you lot were in charge, things would be 10 times worse.' Well, we're not in charge, clearly. You're in charge. The future needs to be laid out in a clear economic pathway and plan for the various sectors that have been dramatically affected by this, where clearly they cannot bounce back. There is going to be no snapback in aviation. There'll be no snapback in some of the tertiary sectors. There'll be no snapback in some of the regional centres of Australia, and people are very cautious at the moment. They're not likely to just dive into their pockets and start spending—although I hope they do, and, if they do, that will be a great thing for the economy. This government needs to lay out a coherent economic plan for the future of Australia and try and take as many people, politically and in the community, with it.


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