Wednesday, 7 October 2020
Matters of Public Importance
I rise to speak in this MPI debate in the context of, having read the MPI, wanting to add my welcome to the welcome of other senators to Senator Thorpe and saying to her that it's very fortunate. Some of us have been here for more than 12 months and not got an MPI up. She's got an MPI up in her first week, and that's a very good thing.
This MPI goes to the centrality of economic equality to any sense of social justice and the deep disappointment that most Australians will have in the failure of the budget to deal in any meaningful way with the context of the deepest recession since the Great Depression. The Morrison recession is deeper and will go on for longer because of the policy failure of this government to deal with the challenges that the coronavirus pandemic has presented for our economy. The test for this budget must be what it does for jobs, and for good jobs, for Australians in our cities and our regions. It fails that test completely. The myth created by those on the other side of some coalition capacity to manage the economy is surely now gone forever. There was the silliness of the Back in Black mugs they put around last year, which, strangely, you can't find. I tried to buy one late last year; they are just gone. Claiming a budget surplus before you deliver it is surely one of the silliest things that a Treasurer and a Prime Minister have done in Australian political history.
Up close, I've got to say that, over the last 12 months, I've realised how fragile is this myth of coalition economic capacity. Senator Cormann isn't going to be here for much longer, and his side rely upon him to continue that myth of economic credibility. But it's really only maintained by bluster and slogans. If you follow the bouncing ball of the logic of the of the coalition's claim to some economic credibility, it's all about debt. Well, if they had a debt truck in 2013 because there was $160 billion worth of Commonwealth debt following the global financial crisis, they would have needed a B-double at the end of last year and a road train wouldn't hold the slogan.
The point about debt is not how big it is; it's: what did you do with it? What did you achieve? We're in a position where much more than a trillion dollars of net debt, at its peak, will be in the economy, and what has been achieved? Today we have the highest number of Australians unemployed in our history. If you believe the government's own modelling, there are 160,000 more Australians to go who will lose their jobs between now and Christmas—if you believe that; we'll see what happens. The budget package is an utter failure. What is it going to deliver? How many people are going to go into good jobs because of this government's package?
The average Australian taxpayer is a 38-year-old woman with two kids. What's in the budget for her? If she's part of the million who are now unemployed, in December she can look forward to the JobSeeker package going back to $40 a day. If she isn't in the million people who have lost their jobs, is she going to be in the next 160,000—or, if you believe the Treasury estimates, 400,000—people who will lose their jobs between now and Christmas? If she has lost her job, some of the people who have lost their jobs because of the Morrison government's mismanagement of this recession face the prospect—according to the government's own estimates—of four long years of unemployment before they get a job.
If that 38-year-old woman with two kids wants to get back into work and if she was looking to this budget to deliver anything for her in terms of improvements to the childcare framework for Australian women and families, this budget has a big fat zero in it for her on childcare. If, like hundreds of thousands of other Australian women, she works in aged care, child care, retail or any of those other occupations that are highly feminised, there is nothing in the budget for her, just a legacy of wage stagnation and neglect in those sectors. Because she's 38 and the government's delivering precious little in terms of new job creation, what she faces is an incentive system that incentivises employers to employ anybody but her. She's got to face up to that additional challenge in the labour market.
We know what's worked. When Labor came here to the Senate and the House of Representatives demanding a wage subsidy program, those on the other side of this chamber, including the leader in the Senate, laughed the idea out of the place. Two weeks later, they launched JobKeeper and JobSeeker. We know those programs have worked to maintain a relationship between some workers and their businesses, more than three million of them, and they've kept hundreds of thousands of businesses afloat. But both the programs are going to be cut. Despite what Senator Hume says, they will go on for a bit longer but the rate is going to be reduced and it's going to have a catastrophic effect. The only recovery that's going to happen over this year is a liquidator led recovery, because of your cuts to the JobKeeper program that will send many businesses to the wall.
This recession is a pure product of absolute mismanagement. It is the Morrison recession. Your cuts mean hundred of thousands more Australians will lose their jobs. Tens of thousands of Australian businesses will close because you don't understand your responsibility, as a government, to manage the economy. Australians have got precious little for their $1 trillion worth of extra debt. Mr Frydenberg and the Prime Minister would have us believe that the economy is in good shape, that we were in a good financial position as we approached the end of 2019. But what have we had? We have had flatlining growth. For most Australians, wages have been falling. We have had a long period of wage stagnation. In the record books, ordinary Australians could not get ahead. Unemployment and underemployment are steadily working their way up. There are 1.8 million Australians unemployed or underemployed. You are proud of that legacy. There are 1.8 million Australians without a job or without enough work. The RBA is doing all of the heavy lifting in the economy. Interest rates are at historic lows because this lot couldn't do their job and productivity is declining. They're just not very good at economic management. The verdict on their economic management will be the same as the royal commission's verdict on their management of the aged-care system: neglect and failure.