Senate debates

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Matters of Public Importance


4:14 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

The evidence presented to the 2020-21 budget estimates hearing confirmed that the Morrison government is always there for the photo op and never there for the follow-up and that, despite delivering a budget that racks up a trillion dollars of debt, the budget still does not create the jobs that Australians need. This budget is full of flashy headlines that are great for the photo opportunity, but there is no guarantee that the Morrison government can deliver or will deliver on those promises.

The government has a legacy of running away from responsibility and ducking away from accountability, and the budget is no exception to that. This means that millions of Australians will now face further adversity in what has already been a tough year for all of us. Regardless of the state of our economy, the government has begun to withdraw support from it. However, there remains a high degree of uncertainty and varying degrees of social distancing requirements throughout Australia. These requirements are in place for our health and safety and as a great line of defence against COVID-19, but they continue to be detrimental to business activities.

Our economic recovery is pinned on the idea that we can control this virus. While there are still cases of transmission throughout our community, although the numbers are low, there should be support for businesses and employees who face altered conditions and cannot operate at their full capacity. This government has sat on the legislation, for instance, on the national integrity commission for two years. After finally revealing their plan, they are prepared to establish a toothless commission that won't stop any corruption. It also won't be ready until the next election, at the earliest. In the meantime, rort after rort has been uncovered. There's the sports rorts scandal, the suspicious payment of $30 million at Sydney's new airport for land that was worth a 10th of that, the fiasco of Minister Taylor using forged documents, subsidising billionaire Clive Palmer, and the Cartier watches.

It's crucial that this government is held to account. At Senate estimates it was uncovered that the amount of money spent on consultants and contractors had blown out. These are the jobs that can be performed by the Australian Public Service, yet the Morrison government are happy to expend an exorbitant amount of taxpayer money on high-level executives and managers and to look after their mates. These jobs could be funded and that money spent on APS employees and their work. The Morrison government are very good at making announcements, but they lack transparency and accountability.

Today Mr Morrison made another announcement that will extend JobSeeker at a reduced rate until March, but he refuses to answer any questions about permanently increasing the rate of this supplement. There needs to be more certainty and a comprehensive plan to get people back into work. Simply announcing that there's been an increase in job advertisements will not do that. In the middle of the worst recession in almost a century, it makes no sense for the Morrison government to be withdrawing support from the economy without a comprehensive jobs plan to replace it. We have called on this government for some months now and still we have seen no jobs plan.

As payments get wound back, as the money from early access to superannuation dries up and as the suite of mortgage and rent deferrals ends, they will remove substantial support and it will mean that struggling Australians will begin to feel the real sting of this recession. This will come at the worst possible time for many workers and their families, our communities and our businesses, just as we are heading into the Christmas period. Even before the pandemic these were always times of concern for too many Australians, and now, with what we've experienced over the last eight or nine months, it's going to be a tough Christmas for too many Australian families, too many small businesses and too many people in our communities.

The latest figures from the ABS have shown a fall in jobs and wages in every state and territory in the first full fortnight after the Morrison government's premature cut to JobKeeper. A further 30,000 jobs were lost in the fortnight to 17 October, 470,000 jobs have been lost since the virus outbreak began and 160,000 more Australians are expected to be in the unemployment queue before Christmas. Since the beginning of this crisis, jobs in accommodation and food services have decreased by 18 per cent. Arts and recreational services jobs have fallen by 15 per cent. Australians deserve a government that chases jobs, not just headlines.

The Prime Minister has been slow to act during this crisis, and his government's deliberate decision to exclude Australians from support means that the lasting legacy of this crisis could be higher unemployment for longer and trillions of dollars in debt. According to research undertaken by the Grattan Institute, our recovery should be occurring much quicker, as, unlike previous recessions, this recession was brought on by government restrictions, not financial crashes or conflict. Labor wholeheartedly believes active labour market programs should be created and sustained through economic recovery. Labor has a proud history of using active labour market programs, such as Working Nation during the recession of the early nineties.

Australia is at the crossroads. We are at a pivotal point in our recovery. We can rebuild our nation and ensure a more resilient and robust economy into the future. But all this budget is doing is handing down a one-year, short-sighted response with no real guarantee of reform. This budget will put us $1 trillion in debt—this is a remarkable amount of money—but it doesn't offer any guarantee of ensuring a stronger economic future for Australia. What Australians are looking for now is real leadership. There were too many Australians being left behind before this pandemic. In my home state of Tasmania there were too many families needing assistance. There was such a strong demand on our charitable organisations to give a helping hand to too many Tasmanians—and that was happening across the country. So, at this time, more so than any other in recent memory, we need leadership from the Prime Minister. We are certainly in unprecedented times.

As many countries begin to experience a second wave of the pandemic I'm thankful for our swift response to COVID-19, which has meant that we have performed relatively well. But there are still many challenges ahead. I want to put on record my thanks to the Tasmanian community, who have been there supporting one another and supporting small businesses. They have been excellent in their response to trying to keep the Tasmanian economy moving. But we are experiencing additional challenges, with growing trade tensions with China and with many industries facing uncertainty over their future.

We need leadership from this government. Tasmanian industries and Tasmanian businesses need certainty going forward. What we really need from this government is fewer catchy headlines from the marketing manager and more follow-through. We need leadership. We need to ensure that people don't become complacent about COVID-19, but we need to ensure that we're working together to keep our economy turning. We need to ensure that fewer than 160,000 additional Australians are going to end up unemployed before Christmas. That means we need real action, and we need that action now. We need fewer photo opportunities. We need the Prime Minister to step up and follow through.


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