Tuesday, 22 November 2016
Matters of Public Importance
I inform the Senate that, at 8.30 am today, Senators Gallagher and Siewert each submitted letters in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot.
As a result, I inform the Senate that a letter has been received from Senator Gallacher:
Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:
The Turnbull Government's failure to ensure secure, well-paid, jobs for Australian workers.
Is the proposal supported?
More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today’s debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.
I rise to speak about the Turnbull government's failure to ensure that well-paid jobs are available for Australian workers. Labor puts the interests of working Australians first, unlike the Turnbull government, which focuses on lining the pockets of big business. Instead of growing inequality, Labor wants to grow decent jobs that grow our nation. We need to stem the rise in insecure work, underemployment, casualised labour and depressed wages, which are making it harder for families to make ends meet. It is extremely difficult for too many Australians to try to manage their family budgets.
What we have seen this week, and what we have seen for the last 4½ months is a desperate government, bereft of any plan or any outline of a strategy for moving this country forward and giving this nation the future that it deserves. This is a government that has been so preoccupied with its infighting and division that it has resulted in the Prime Minister just grabbing any thought bubble that passes by. We have seen this time and time again. We remember so vividly Mr Turnbull and his Liberals during the election campaign—in fact, one could remind people here that if you were outside the office of the former member for Bass every morning you would hear him and his staff chanting, 'Jobs and growth! Jobs and growth!' They were using that as part of their motivation.
Well, we listened and we heard, just like the Australian people, that 'jobs and growth' mantra. We heard it day after day. But what have we seen since the election? Nothing. What we do understand is that that was all just noise—cheap words and slogans which the Australian community have come to expect from a Liberal government. After all, Mr Abbott, when he was the Prime Minister of this country, was renowned for his three-word slogans.
And we might have some critical things to say about Mr Abbott, but one thing you could say about him is that he actually knew how to campaign—unlike the current Prime Minister. At least with Mr Abbott you knew what you were getting. You knew what you were getting—you knew, if you voted for Mr Abbott, the sort of government that would be delivered to you. This is unlike the current Prime Minister, who only seems to be focused—surprisingly—on his own job.
Unfortunately for the Australian economy and for workers in this country, we have a government that has no leader and we have a leader who has no authority. He has no leadership in terms of being able to guide the economy and create the framework for jobs to be created in this country. We are almost at the end of the parliamentary year, and I am sure I am not alone in wondering what the point of this government is, because they have delivered very little. In fact, every time they set out to achieve something the end result is that they stuff it up.
I am trying to think: what would come first to mind in relation to how they have let down Australians when it comes to jobs? Well, we know that the Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, has spent the last 18 months creating uncertainty within the agriculture industry, amongst our fruit growers, and in the tourism industry while he has been unable to resolve the backpacker tax issue. This is having a huge impact right around the country, no more so than in my home state of Tasmania. As I said, 18 months! Barnaby is pretty good at mucking things up, but 18 months? Even now, in the second-last week of the parliamentary sitting, we are yet to have any legislation before us to have that issue resolved. And I know, because I was on the committee when we were taking evidence in Launceston where the fruit growers were giving evidence, that the tax is not just an issue confronting backpackers, because if they do not have these backpackers coming in and picking the fruit then that fruit will just rot on the trees and fall to the ground, and no-one will have a job. With those backpackers coming in they are able to create real jobs—meaningful jobs—for local Tasmanians.
This government, quite frankly, is a failure on all levels. The Prime Minister did promise that he would fix the budget and create jobs and growth, but all he has delivered to date is a growing deficit, more debt, record low wages and record underemployment, and we know that his government has put at risk the triple-A credit rating. The unemployment rate in this country is at 5.6 per cent—90,000 jobs, full-time jobs, have been lost this year as a result of the failures of this government. We have over 261,100 young people unemployed in this country. It is an absolute tragedy. Over 1.8 million Australians are looking for work, and we know that in excess of 700,000 Australians cannot find any work at all. That is without those who are under-employed. We have the highest number of Australians since 2006 giving up on finding a job, and the participation rate has dropped to 64.4 per cent. They should be ashamed of themselves.
We cannot forget about wage growth for the year, which is at 1.9 per cent. This is the lowest wage growth on record. It is the lowest wage growth we have seen since data was collected. Families are having trouble managing their budgets. They are having trouble paying their mortgages and their rent. All these statistics point in one direction, which is to the failure of the Turnbull government to provide confidence in the economy, in jobs and in wages.
We also know that this government will do whatever it can to attack working Australians. We saw that last night with their attack on workers, when we were here until about a quarter to three in the morning. We stayed to debate until the wee hours of the morning and today we see them beating their chests because they are all so proud of themselves because they think they have got another one on the union movement in this country. Little do they know and understand that we know they have an agenda to do everything they can to remove penalty rates for hard-working members of our community, particularly in low-paid areas in hospitality, and others. We know that once they get a little bit closer to taking penalty rates away they will then act like the vipers they really are.
But we know that wage growth is flatlining in this country. We have full-time jobs falling for the year. We have a record number of people who cannot find a job and a record number of people giving up even looking for a job. It is devastating and it is so un-Australian.
We know that this government has always supported the big end of town. The big policy item they took to the election was that they were going to give a $50 billion tax cut to the big end of town. We know that Prime Minister Turnbull is beholden to his caucus, particularly those from the right of the party. He will do and say anything to keep his job. He has demonstrated that. The people who voted for him at the last election thought he was a different Mr Turnbull. But what they have seen after voting for him is that he is a man who is just a shadow of its former self, a man who is consumed with keeping his own job. Through the course of the debate this morning I outlined that there is someone else in this place who is fighting to keep their own job—that is, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Attorney-General Senator Brandis. How many more gaffes will he have before the Prime Minister acts.
Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting—
We here the laughs from the good senator over there. Well, he was calling your colleagues in Queensland 'mediocre'. The reality is that the LNP in Queensland and across this country are all mediocre. This is a government that is mediocre, and this Prime Minister has failed to deliver on the promise he made to the Australian people, which is to be a 21st-century agile government. He has failed miserably. (Time expired)
I think Senator Brandis could well have been talking about the opposition debaters in this particular debate before the chamber. If I have heard a mediocre attack on the government that was it. And if that is the best the Labor Party can do then I do not think we have a great deal to worry about at the next election. I do go off the subject to simply say in defence of Senator Brandis, not that he needs me to defend him, that he has done such an excellent job that every attack the Labor Party has addressed to him as been flitted away, almost like brushing a fly away from the front of your face. The Labor Party's last great attempt to get Senator Brandis was the Gleeson Solicitor-General affair, when the Labor Party set up this sham inquiry to get Senator Brandis. All they achieved was to get the Solicitor-General—that Mr Dreyfus himself appointed to that position just a few weeks before the 2013 election. I can understand why the Labor Party are fixated with Senator Brandis.
Senator Polley spent some time talking about Senator Brandis and this is a debate, so I am responding to her comments. Why the Labor Party seem to be fixated with Senator Brandis is that he does such a wonderful job as Leader of the Government in the Senate. The Labor Party never lay a hand on him, in all of their attacks. He handles every question with great skill and aplomb. The Labor Party get very distressed by it. They keep bringing these futile attacks against Senator Brandis that get absolutely nowhere. Sometime the penny will drop upon the Labor Party, in this chamber, in that they perhaps should look further afield for some other attack focus.
The debate is about plans for jobs and growth. That was the broad program the government took to the last election and the Australian people supported it. It was a plan for Australia. It involved innovation. It involved some of the old industries. It involved some new areas that the government is looking at. But, all importantly, it was a plan. It centres around our enterprise tax plan, which is aimed at unleashing a new wave of investment, particularly for small businesses who provide about half of all of the jobs in Australia. That is why it is so important to support small businesses. They contribute very significantly to our economy.
To make it easier for these businesses to invest and expand, to create more growth and jobs, the company tax rate is to be cut. That is how you expand the economy. That is how you create jobs. You encourage business to create new employment positions. You do that by trying to reduce the company tax rates that we have in Australia which, by comparison with the rest of the world, are very high. We do not compete with a lot of investment into the country, because our tax rates for companies, which expand and create jobs, are far higher than they are across-the-board in other countries. That is why the Turnbull government has this plan to reduce tax, to encourage investment, which means encouraging growth and jobs.
By contrast, we have the Labor Party's plan for Australia's economy. I remember Mr Shorten talking about this during the election. I looked up his media release. It was pretty shallow but it did say, 'Go to this website and you can find out more about the Labor Party's plan.' I went to the website thinking I would get this glossy brochure that I had seen somewhere. Lo and behold, all the Labor Party's website did, when it went to this Labor Party 10-year plan for Australia's economy, was refer me straight to the ALP website—on which there is nothing about an economic plan or jobs. It was quite interesting. Unfortunately, I could not find that brochure on the website, but I did find a copy that I must have put aside. I am looking through this brochure for what the Labor Party's plan might be, but it is mainly full of glossy photos. There is not much about policy in it; there is not much depth to it. There are very nice photos, but there is not a single economic policy designed to support investment for small businesses, which generate, as I say, half the jobs in Australia. There is not a single policy in this program designed to repair the budget so that future generations of hard-working Australians are not saddled with higher taxes and debt. There is not a single policy in this document or any reference to any economic growth, which, as we all know, is the main driver of good, well-paid jobs in Australia.
Trying to find this thing which had miraculously disappeared from the website reminds me of the time many years ago when I was the Minister for Regional Services. I remember then Senator Sue Mackay was shadowing me; Senator Singh will remember this, because Senator Singh was Senator Mackay's media officer at the time. We were always keen to see what the Labor Party was doing and so we had a look at Senator Sue Mackay's website where we would find out all of the Labor Party's policies for regional Australia. Do you know where it went, Mr Acting Deputy President? You clicked on Senator Mackay's website and it would say: 'To see our economic policy, click this button,' which we did and it went back to my website. So the Labor Party was saying that its policy was the then government's policy on regional services. But it is a bit the same with this—
I should not be waving it around, Mr Acting Deputy President, you are quite right. What I am trying to do is look through it as I speak and try to find in this document anything that represents an Australian Labor Party policy for jobs and growth.
The Turnbull government, and before it the Abbott government, has a real vision for Australia that creates jobs. I am very familiar, as is Senator Canavan, who is the Minister for Northern Australia. We are very well aware of a detailed plan for the development of Northern Australia. That is not just a glossy brochure and it is not just there because the words sound good. It is actually a plan to develop Australia, to create jobs, to create exports and growth. Senator Canavan, as the relevant minister, is doing a wonderful job in promoting that plan for the development of Northern Australia. More than just a plan, it comes with budgeted money. Already Senator Canavan is having a field day spending upwards of $6 billion on initiatives that will help the growth of Northern Australia. There are things like the CRC for Northern Development and the beef roads project, which will allow one of our biggest industries to get their product to the market as quickly as possible and which in turn developed for productivity. There are plans for water resources—to grow anything in Australia, and growth in agriculture is one of the big futures we look towards, you need water. Up in the north, where most of Australia's rainfall occurs, there are very few catchments for those areas. The Turnbull government, in its wisdom, prior to the last election promised committed money to water infrastructure and provided some for actual work and some for feasibility studies. I suspect that senators from other parts of Australia will not be able to comprehend this, but the Turnbull government has a range of programs right across Australia offering money for water projects to various state governments. We do that because it is the state governments that control water streams and irrigation, not the federal government. We provide the money as the federal government and we have said to all of the state and territory governments, 'Here is some money. Go ahead and see what you can do in getting some water reticulation.'
Of all the states and territories in Australia, there is only one government that has not yet taken it up. All the rest of them have greedily, hungrily—and thankfully, from my point of view—taken the money and have done things with it that will come to fruition in the times ahead. But regrettably the Queensland government, my own state government, for some reason does not seem to want to use the money. I cannot work that out. Unfortunately, I do not see any Queensland Labor senators here. If they were here I would ask them, 'Why won't the Queensland Labor government take the Commonwealth's money and start the feasibility of the Hells Gate dam up behind Townsville or look at the raising of the wall on the Burdekin Dam?'
In the city, where my office is in Townsville, the local ratepayers are paying $27,000 a day to pump water from a long way away because there has not been this activity towards water that there should have been over the last 20 years. The federal government wanted to address that, and we have given money to the state government to do these feasibility studies around Townsville that would address that particular issue, but the Queensland state Labor government sits on their hands and do nothing. I do not know why they are doing that. It is not costing them anything; it is federal money. One can only assume that Senator Waters and her Greens mates in these states have threatened the Queensland Labor government, 'If you do anything with water, you won't get our preferences.' For that reason, the Queensland state Labor government sits on their hands and do nothing, and cities like Townsville, where I spend most of my time, run out of water and have to pay tens of thousands of dollars a day to get water pumped to reticulate the water supply.
All of this shows that the Commonwealth government, the Turnbull government, is keen on jobs and growth. We want to create an economy that is growing, because that creates jobs for Australians. I know that those following me in this debate will talk more intensely about the backpacker tax, which I intended to, but I have run out of time. But clearly the Turnbull government has jobs and growth as its No. 1 priority.
Donald Trump, Brexit and, here at home, One Nation—the common thread running through all of these political tremors is a discontent, a frustration and a disappointment that people are being left behind in droves and that they are not enjoying the spoils of economic growth. Wages are flat. There is casualisation of the workforce. There is a lack of infrastructure, whether it be public transport infrastructure or energy infrastructure. All of that is happening at the same time that luxury car sales are going through the roof and waterfront house prices are smoking hot. The obvious response to this is to say: 'It's not working. This isn't working for ordinary people. It's time to recast the old economic consensus where you let the market rip, let dog eat dog and turbocharge casino capitalism and crony capitalism. There's something going wrong there.' That would be the response from a rational person. Yet what is this government proposing to do? This government decides that it is going to play the race card. It wheels out Peter Dutton and starts blaming: 'It's all the Muslims' fault. It's those Lebanese Muslims you’ve got to worry about', instead of looking in its own backyard and instead of giving the tax cuts a rest. It has nothing to do with jobs and growth; they are basically a way of concentrating wealth in the hands of a privileged few. Let's ditch those tax cuts. Let's walk away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is a trade deal that says to an ordinary punter: 'We don't care about you. We care about the profits of a big multinational. In fact, we care about them so much we're going to give them the power to sue sovereign governments if a government does anything to protect the environment or public health.'
Walk away from the trade deal for goodness sake. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is not in the interests of ordinary people. That would be one of the big lessons to be learnt from what is happening right across the world, but Australian wages are going nowhere and the Reserve Bank said they are going to be flat for the foreseeable future. We know it is happening right around the world.
We have jobs data that shows that employers are casualising workplaces. And they like doing that; they prefer having more flexibility within their workplaces. Of course, the problem with casualisation for ordinary workers is that they feel less secure and find it hard to plan for the future. They are vulnerable; they go to the bank and they cannot get a mortgage because they have no certainty. Add soaring property prices on top of that and you have a series of things that are festering within the community. It leads to resentment, it leads to a feeling of betrayal and it leads to a sense of the political establishment failing the community.
Of course, you get a potent cocktail when you find somebody who is able to channel that resentment towards somebody else—to make it somebody else's fault, whether it be Muslims, whether it be Mexicans or whether it be women. When you combine those issues of race and misogyny with the underlying problem of growing inequality then you have a very potent political cocktail. That is what is going on here, and we have a choice about whether we respond and listen to the concerns of ordinary people and do something about the growing inequality in Australian society or whether we go down the low road.
Let me talk about going down the low road: we saw the Labor Party put forward a policy called 'Australia first'. It was not Australia first—it was One Nation first! How about we put some humanity first? We can look after the sovereignty of this country and we can look after ordinary working people without blowing the dog whistle or, in some cases, the foghorn. We have had barely a year where the Labor Party sided with the Liberals to defeat Greens legislation that would have required local advertising of jobs under the China free trade deal and that would have required particular standards to be met within some employment classes. Barely a year after the Labor Party sided with the coalition now they come forward with their Australia first policy.
That is not the answer: retreating into nationalism and preying on other people is not the answer. If you are serious about inequality you do not cut taxes for the wealthiest Australians. You do not remove supports from those people who need them most. In this chamber we have a responsibility: we have to listen; we have to recognise that race is a potent political weapon and that we have to take a stand against it whenever we see it; and we have to make sure that the prosperity of a strong Australian nation is shared equally amongst all Australians and between generations.
Unfortunately, I only have 10 minutes but I just want to highlight a problem we have in this nation. In fact, it is a national disgrace. I am going to talk about the corruption within certain RTOs—registered training organisations—in this nation when it comes to heavy-vehicle licensing. I think that everyone should pay a lot of attention to this. This is not whistleblowing.
I want to talk about the failure of the Turnbull government to secure well-paid jobs for Australians, but it has got worse than that. And before I go much further I want to thank my fellow members of the Rural, Regional Affairs and Transport Committee—not only from this side of the chamber but also from the government benches—who are just as alarmed as I am.
This started earlier this year, around March, or something like that. I saw a tweet, and all I could see was the back of the taut line of a trailer with a bridge in front of it. As it worked out, there was a B-double—Scotts Transport—using subcontractors. This B-double was on the M5 in Sydney, and the drivers in it—two drivers, one in the bunk and one behind the wheel—thought to themselves, 'Oh-oh! We're not supposed to be on this road. We're not going to fit under there.' This is just the start, and I am not making this up—this is fair dinkum. A Hollywood scriptwriter could not write something this alarming. They could not back it up. They could not back the B-double up! And it got worse—they could not uncouple the B-double. So they blocked three or four lanes of peak-hour traffic until someone from RMS, which is Road and Maritime Services in New South Wales, came up, broke it all up for them, moved it out of the way and got the traffic going—whatever they did.
The police were there, RMS were there and then they put these Indian truck drivers in the truck. I am not having a go at Indians; let's make this very clear—this is anyone who has been exploited. Then the police and the RMS waved them goodbye! Sayonara, see you later!
I am a heavy-vehicle operator, as everyone knows. I did not come to this place because I fell through university and then on campus one day thought, 'Geez, I wouldn't mind being a senator.' I actually went out and worked. I was a small-business owner—my wife and I ran our own little trucking company and we worked out very early on in the piece that if you want to make a small fortune out of transport, start with a large truck. We put in our hard yards. We absolutely put those hard yards in, and I am proud to say my son is doing it and my old man did it before me.
This is something that really alarms me. We had the ability, through the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee, to have an inquiry, and we have been calling people in. RMS are out there and they know I want to talk to them. They were going to come last week, but something popped up. But they have promised me faithfully they are going to come back.
I want to highlight that we are talking about the Turnbull government, and there is 13 minutes of my life—I am going to be very careful and watch what I say under the standing orders—that I am not going to get back after I had to sit in here and listen to some of the drivel from a previous speaker—oh, Senator Macdonald! I just want to correct the record: we want to talk about Australian jobs. I have absolutely no problem with foreign workers coming into this nation, as long as Aussies are employed first. If you are going to condemn me because that is a sin, well, you had better start throwing rocks at me now, because I am not changing my platform. I want to see Aussies employed first, and I want to see the big end of town actually take their hands out of their pockets and put some dollars on the table for training. We should be doing everything possible to support the development of our fine, young Australians.
I do not think I would find one person on that side of the chamber—well, there might be the odd fruit loop—who would want to have a public argument with me. We all want to see our kids employed. Look at the state where I and Senator Smith come from, Western Australia. It was only six years ago that we were in here bagging about Western Australia. We had bragging rights—it was the engine room of the economy. It is not the engine room of the economy anymore. Our eggs were in one basket, and all those workers have gone. I will just remind the chamber, for Senator Smith, sadly, our unemployment rate in WA is higher than in South Australia and Tasmania. I am not casting aspersions on South Australia and Tasmania—everyone else does that—but that is how bad we are going at the moment. There is nothing on the horizon in WA.
I want to get back to this: alarm bells are going off in my head. We have heavy vehicle operators out there running interstate operations with B-doubles—we are not talking about a little Toyota ute running around the back blocks of Western Sydney or something—who are not even properly trained. I raised the problem with the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads. I will tell you what happened: we found this RTO. This RTO is called ACT, and they will have the opportunity to clear their name. There is no problem. I wanted them to come to me and say that they had nothing to do with that horrible, corrupt trainer who they employed.
I will tell you what he did. He is Indian, and he even exploited his own mates. These poor buggers were coming out here with the hope of being able to get a job and being absolutely exploited, and I will get to how they got here. There were 114 of them who this crook trained and assessed. He trained them and assessed them. How corrupt is that? They got their licences and they were off; they were B-double operators, no worries. The Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads told us that they issued them with show causes as to why their licences should not be taken from them. Of the 114—this is the alarming bit—80 had their licence downgraded from a heavy vehicle licence to a car licence. Of these 80, 17 failed a class heavy rigid Q-SAFE practical driving test and 63 downgraded their licences voluntarily. Thirty-four licence holders have passed the class heavy rigid Q-SAFE practical driving test and are eligible to upgrade to higher classes. Can we believe that? This is in Australia. Credit to the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads, who were onto this straightaway. They have fixed it up.
I ask the question: what about the corrupt trainer? And I will go out there and say it—do not worry about that; I am not hiding behind parliamentary privilege. He got suspended for a year. I thought to myself, 'Does that mean he can come back?' Fortunately, the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads have made it very clear that if he thinks that after the suspension he will be licensed and ready to train and assess in 12 months time he will have a lot of difficultly passing the law.
I have to go on, and this is what makes me so angry about that side over there. This is not new because, as we have uncovered—and I had no idea at the time—in Victoria there was another corrupt trainer who was training. He worked for one of the major transport companies. The major transport company, to their credit, had nothing to do with this and no knowledge of this. They raised the alarm, and good on them. They went to VicRoads and their name is as clear as anything. Six hundred and fifty drivers got put through—tick, flick, no worries—who had not even done the training, because he was getting the kickback, so VicRoads had to go back and reassess them. These are people out on our streets with your kids, my kids—all of us. They are coming at us with juggernauts. We are talking 60-odd tonne coming at us and they are not even doing the training properly.
This is the crown jewel, this one. There was one in New South Wales. Listen about this fellow. His name is Christopher Binos. He was working for none other than RMS, I believe. I think he was training for RMS. I will check that just to make sure. He was a trainer and he got done for accepting bribes to falsely certify logbooks. I am reading from an ABC press release. It says the inquiry heard he issued licences to 91 truck drivers without assessing them. So you can understand my passion and my anger. If we add up all these truck drivers—and these are just three incidents we know of—there are 650, 140 and 91. The lot of them had not even done the training properly.
I have something on Facebook, if you want to see what is coming on that. We are going to continue this inquiry with the good help of my fellow senators across the chamber as well as on this side and hopefully your good self, Mr Acting Deputy President Whish-Wilson, or whoever the Greens transport spokesperson will be this year or next year. There is a lot more that is rotten in truck training land, I can tell you. If you wonder why I get passionate it is because these should be Aussie jobs with proper training for Aussie kids. Do not anyone try to tell me that there is a shortage. We have truck drivers literally on the streets looking for work. It is one of the industries in Australia that is really, really struggling.
Like I said, for 13 minutes I had to listen to Senator Macdonald giggle his way through the stupidity of his presentation. He was laughing because it was all a big joke to him and he was holding up props and all sorts of stuff. No wonder this nation is in trouble. I just make a plea. I have members of the Nationals and the Liberals who are backing me on this. They will continue to work with me. But when we talk about Aussie jobs this is not dog whistle stuff. When anyone says that it is okay and that we have to look after the bottom line and that it is too expensive to have Aussie jobs and Aussie wages, I want to vomit. It absolutely makes me want to puke. They think that is all okay because they are worried about productivity and sustainability. Yes, we have to be productive. Yes, we have to be sustainable. But if you want to push and argue for wages and conditions that match Asia's then why don't you lot on the opposite side go and live in Asia? Why don't you go and live on the same pay rate as those people? You would not, because—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President—you are hypocritical. I have a lot more to do on this transport stuff, I can tell you. I have six years to play with this. I am not going anywhere. This is my hobby.
It is a pleasure to follow Senator Sterle after that very interesting contribution to the debate. I am going to see if we can bring the debate back to the topic at hand and perhaps look at some evidence that would help illuminate the debate on the topic at hand. Although Senator Sterle's contribution was certainly very passionate and heartfelt and I do not doubt his sincerity at all, one thing that he did not mention in his very interesting address is exactly where the Australian job market is at the moment, what the unemployment figures are, what this government's record has been in this area and what the task is for us ahead. So I am going to bring the debate back to that during my contribution.
I would like to begin by talking about the most recently available updated employment figures. They are the labour force figures from October. These figures show that our unemployment rate in Australia has remained steady at 5.6 per cent for the month of October. That is 0.3 of a percentage point lower than it was 12 months ago in October 2015 and it is the equal lowest on record since February 2013, seasonally adjusted. Employment rose in October by 9,800 jobs. That was driven by a significant increase in full-time employment of 41,500 jobs. That is welcome because it has certainly been a feature of the debate in previous months that there has been a lot of growth in part-time employment, so it is pleasing to see some growth in full-time employment. Total unemployment fell by just over 2,000 jobs for the month and has declined by 38,900 jobs or 5.2 per cent over the year to, as I mentioned, the lowest level recorded since February 2013.
Breaking down those figures, there were some other encouraging results. The female unemployment rate is now the lowest it has been since July 2013. Particularly encouraging, given the real challenge that I think everyone agrees we have with youth unemployment, is that it dropped by 0.2 of a percentage point to 12.5 per cent—although of course the government recognises that there is much more to do in this area.
Let us talk about the record of the government not just in the last month but since we came to office in September 2013. I think the record there is a strong one, although I certainly would not suggest that the task is finished. Since September 2013 a total of 467,100 jobs have been created. That leaves the total employment figure standing at 11,938,900 in October 2016. So, under this government, employment has actually continued to grow. It grew by 0.9 per cent in the past year. That stands in contrast to our predecessors. Under Labor, the jobless queues grew by 200,000 during their six years in office. In particular, in the time that the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten, was the workplace relations minister, the number of unemployed people increased by around 70,000, and the unemployment rate rose from 5.2 per cent to 5.6 per cent. So, when we hear those opposite, and particularly the Leader of the Opposition, suggest that they would do a better job, I think it is instructive to look at their record and Mr Shorten's record personally in this area.
From November 2007, when Labor won the election, to the end of their time in office 128,800 manufacturing jobs—which is one in every eight—disappeared completely. During the two years in which Labor's illustrious and infamous carbon tax was in place around 125,000 more Australians joined the unemployment queues. This government, as we discussed at length during the campaign and since, does have a plan for jobs and growth, and we would be able to further improve the good, solid results we have had in the space if those opposite got out of the way and allowed us to implement the plan we took to the election and implement the plan the Australian public sent us here to do.
A particularly important centrepiece of this plan is our plan to reduce company tax rates. This financial year we hope that the tax rate for companies with an annual turnover of less than $10 million will be reduced to 27.5 per cent. That will decrease the tax rate for around 870,000 companies who employ around 3.4 million workers. Those lower tax rates will allow those small and medium businesses to employ more people to invest back into their businesses and to continue to grow the economy.
Over 10 years the government plans to reduce tax rates for all businesses down to a rate of 25 per cent by the year 2026-27. That is a really important reform, and, as I want to talk about now, a reform which has in the past enjoyed bipartisan support, a reform which has enjoyed support from across the spectrum of the economics profession, including from people as respected and non-partisan as Ken Henry, the former Treasury secretary, who found and recommended that cutting the company tax rate is the most powerful thing a government can do to encourage investment and therefore, flowing on from that, encourage the creation of jobs.
It is easy for those opposite—and they certainly did so during the election campaign—to run a scare campaign on this issue. It is not immediately intuitive when you explain to people why reducing company tax rates will benefit them. I understand why people might initially be skeptical, but the evidence base on this is actually very strong, and there is very little debate about it in the economic community. Everyone agrees that the most powerful bang for your buck in cutting taxes comes in the company tax area, and that flows on to higher returns on investment, higher returns for shareholders and better wages for employees.
The reality is that we live in a globally competitive economy, and we are fighting every day out there to attract that marginal dollar of capital that we can invest here in Australia to increase our productivity, to improve employment and to provide more opportunities. We want that investment here in Australia. We want to fight for it as strongly as we can. To do so we need to provide the most attractive opportunities for investment, because if a global investor who can choose between us and many other alternatives knows he is going to get the same return on investment in Australia as he is going to get in another country—let's say in South-East Asia, where company tax is a lot lower—but the company tax rate is going to be lower and the return on investment is the same, then of course he or she is always going to invest in that country that has a lower rate of company tax, because that overall return on investment for him or her and their shareholders is going to be higher. So the reality is that if we want to compete in the global economy, if we want to attract investment, if we want to have jobs, we need to have a globally competitive company tax rate.
The election of new President Donald Trump provides a further incentive for Australia to address this issue. He has promised to substantially reduce the United States corporate tax rate. It is currently far above our corporate tax rate but he is proposing to slash it down to 15 per cent. That is a significant decision for a major global player, and we should be very sensitive to it just because of that alone—but we should be particularly sensitive to what the United States is doing because the United States is our largest source of foreign direct investment. At the moment an American investor looking at Australia knows that for an equivalently good investment they are going to get a better return for their shareholders in Australia because we have a lower corporate tax rate. But if that equation changes, if the corporate tax rate becomes lower in the United States, those investors will reconsider their investments in Australia, they will focus instead on the United States, we will lose that capital investment in Australia and as a result we will all be poorer for it. That will flow through to lower wages and fewer jobs. That is why this is critically important.
I thought—I still hope for this deep down—that those opposite believed that. When the opposition leader, Mr Shorten, was in government, when he actually had the burden of office and making decisions which affected people's lives, he had a much more responsible, much more mature, attitude on this issue. In 2011 he talked about the then Labor government's tax reform agenda. He said it 'has a strong focus on ensuring that Australia remains an attractive place to invest.' He went on:
Cutting the company tax rate is an important step along this road.
This recognises the benefits to investment and growth from lower company tax rates and a trend to lower rates across the OECD over the past 30 years.
He was recognising the global reality then—I do not know why he has forgotten it since. In 2012, when he was the Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation, he said in a Sky News interview on 13 March:
Any student of Australian business and economic history since the mid-80s knows that part of Australia's success was derived through the reduction in the company tax rate.
He went on to say:
We need to be able to make life easier for Australian business, which employs two in every three Australians.
Speaking in the House of Representatives in 2011, he said:
Cutting the company income tax rate increases domestic productivity and domestic investment.
This is the crucial part:
More capital means higher productivity and economic growth and leads to more jobs and higher wages.
Those opposite say they want more jobs, they say they want higher wages. They used to have a plan to achieve that but they have since abandoned that plan. Mr Bowen, who is now the shadow Treasurer, took the time to study this issue, to look at the evidence, and he wrote a chapter in a book promoting growth through cutting company tax. It is pretty clear where that was heading in 2013. He talked about the achievements of Paul Keating, a former Treasurer, and the company tax cuts he made and the great dividends that paid. He talked about what the United Kingdom is doing presently, which is drastically slashing their corporate tax rate—another major source of foreign and direct investment for Australia, another country where investors will be considering whether they should invest their money at home in the United Kingdom or overseas in Australia. A big factor in their decision making is going to be the company tax rate. Mr Bowen said:
… the United Kingdom, facing a much tougher fiscal situation than Australia's, cut its company tax rate to 23 per cent in April 2013, to be reduced further to 21 per cent in April 2014.
Members and senators will be aware that they plan to reduce that even further, down to 17 per cent or possibly further under the government of Prime Minister Theresa May. What Mr Bowen was recognising was that even in a tough fiscal environment it is important to provide strong incentives for investment, because that drives job creation. Even in their situation, with a far higher budget deficit than us, having to have far more substantial spending cuts to their domestic spending programs, he recognised that company tax cuts were the right way to go. Finally, he said:
At 30 per cent, our company tax rate is now above the OECD average … it is how the rate compares to that of our competitors that counts.
That is the key factor. Since he wrote that in 2015, the trend has continued—company tax has only been cut further. If we do not do the same, we are going to be left behind and we are going to have fewer jobs and less investment as a result.
I rise to speak today on the matter of public importance. Wage growth is at its weakest. Full-time work is dropping and casualisation is growing. The outlook for Australian workers is bleak. In a deregulated world and a free trade economic environment, if we are to create national wealth and protect Australian workers' wages, the only solution is for our governments to deliver the cheapest electricity and power in the world to our pensioners, families, industries and entrepreneurs. As long as our focus is on renewable energy targets we will never have well-paid work, because a focus on renewable energy targets drives up electricity prices. The only target we should have is the cheapest electricity in the world, creating an attractive environment for investment.
This was championed by Dr Thomas Barlow, an Australian research strategist, specialising in science and technological innovation. He authored a critically acclaimed book called Between the Eagle and the Dragon: Who is Winning the Innovation Race? Dr Barlow reminds us: 'At the moment the US is having an energy revolution. They have cheap energy. The cost of natural gas in the US is about a third of what it was in 2008. And as a consequence we see manufacturing flow back to the US.'
Dr Barlow also reminds us that cheap power and relatively high wages during the industrial revolution caused a perfect financial and social mix, which gave entrepreneurs the incentive to develop new technology and machinery to replace manual labour. This enterprise generated massive national wealth and technological advancement and allowed Great Britain to stay great for hundreds of years.
With a national gas reserve policy, Australia can use the same formula for national wealth and prosperity. Furthermore, considering that we have 30 per cent of the world's uranium in our own country, I do not know why we are not talking about nuclear energy.
I rise to speak on this matter of public importance: the Turnbull government's failure to ensure secure, well-paid jobs for Australian workers. The Australian people do care deeply for the principle that governments put in place policies and programs to ensure well-paid jobs for the Australian people.
The Australian people expect and deserve a government whose priorities are growing secure, well-paid employment. Critical to that is the use of positive language by political leaders that reinforces the economic conditions and collaborative culture needed to improve employment in this country.
On all fronts, the Turnbull government continues to fail Australian workers and those looking for work. Instead of pursuing policies that ensure secure, well-paid jobs, and instead of using language that encourages increased work security and commends fair pay increases, this government, led by Prime Minister Turnbull, attacks workers and employers and is devoid of ideas.
Tragically, thousands of Australians face insecure work through this government's policies and inactions. This is a government that is more concerned with attacking workers than growing jobs. This is a government that, after three years and two elections, still thinks it is the opposition, whose agenda is to blame the previous government for everything and to provide no vision beyond excessive, unnecessary tax cuts for big business. This is a government whose purpose it is to cut jobs, rights at work, services and living standards for working Australians. All the while they blame workers and make it harder for people to retrain and find new opportunities.
In the three years of the Turnbull and Abbott governments, we have seen the former Treasurer, Mr Joe Hockey, goad the car makers and encourage them to end production. We have seen the former Minister for Employment, Senator Abetz, cut the Wage Connect program and bungle its Tasmanian replacement, the Tasmanian Jobs Program.
Last week, in one of the most arrogant moments of mansplaining, the Prime Minister launched an attack on the CFMEU and Lendlease for reaching an agreement which locks in a 20 per cent wage increase for workers over the next four years and paid domestic-violence leave. It is disgusting that a Prime Minister would attack a private agreement entered into by workers and their employer. I commend the workers, their union, the CFMEU, and Lendlease for reaching the agreement.
I call on the government to abandon its politically-motivated, ideologically-driven attacks on working Australians. Rather than blaming workers, rather than cutting programs to help the long-term unemployed and rather than attacking unions, this government needs to outline how exactly it is going to create those well-paid, secure jobs for all Australians. The Australian people expect better than baseless attacks and ideologically-driven policies. This government's recipe for improving the Australian economy is to undermine unions, to remove workers' ability to collectively organise and to provide massive tax cuts for big businesses while cutting skills, training and research programs. Together, these measures will only ensure one thing: that the Australia of tomorrow is not a land of opportunity for all but a land of opportunity for those with means, where the extra profits from lower taxes will go to higher dividends and share buybacks, and the only employees set for wage rises are those that hold executive positions.
Prime Minister, the losers from your policies will be Australian workers and their families. To assert that the Australian people must accept being losers in your agile, innovative economy and that the Australian people must accept reduced living standards and reduced rights at work so that you can provide tax cuts and more power to big business demonstrates that you are no different at all from your predecessors, Mr Abbott and Mr Howard. Prime Minister, your comments demonstrate you have no appreciation for the hard labour and sacrifice of Australian workers, and no inclusive plan for the future of work and life in this country. Your philosophy of letting the market rip by the magic touch of an invisible hand will not solve our challenges and it will not absolve you of your responsibility for those left behind. The poor and the marginalised cannot be set aside as collateral damage in your pursuit for economic growth. It is not a matter of accepting your false dichotomy that we must follow your plan or face deteriorating living standards. They deserve better leadership, particularly from the Prime Minister. (Time expired)
Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President, for the opportunity today to speak to this matter of public importance raised by Senator Gallagher regarding secure and well-paid jobs. As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I am in total agreement that secure and well-paid jobs for Australian workers have not been allowed to be ensured due to government failure. Such government failure has been all too common at federal and state level since at least the mid-2000s onwards, including during Senator Gallagher's time as Chief Minister of the ACT between May 2011 and December 2014. Government failure is, in particular, two things. Firstly, it is a failure to understand everyday people's concerns that 'It's the economy, stupid'—in other words, a failure to understand sound economics in terms of both principles and evidence. Secondly, it is a failure to pursue sound policies based on sound economics or a failure to have the courage to pursue such policies—that is, a failure to listen, a failure to stand up and a failure to be accountable. The elites have abandoned us, the people. Who do they think they are?
Sound economics, time and again, has shown us that it is the freedom over control of individuals, groups and economies that creates and sustains the opportunities for more jobs and higher real wages because freedom enables the greatest driver of jobs: creativity. Why is that? In a nutshell, greater freedom leads to greater creativity and initiative, which lead in turn to greater productivity and savings, which lead in turn to greater service quality at lower costs and prices, which results in greater prosperity and charity, including, of course, secure and well-paid jobs for Australian workers.
Sound policies start, of course, with sound economics, but also include identifying and pursuing areas for increased freedom over control. What are some of these areas?
I and my Senate colleagues from Pauline Hanson's One Nation party aim to organise and host four more 'freedom, not control' town hall meetings next year which will focus on the following crucial policy areas, where opportunities for more sustainable jobs and higher real wages are currently being destroyed, not created: in quarter 1, energy and water, to echo Senator Lambie's perfect comments on the importance of energy; in quarter 2, money, including banks and central banking; in quarter 3, regulation, including land and infrastructure; and, in quarter 4, the big one—tax. In conclusion, I and my Pauline Hanson's One Nation colleagues will always welcome—