Senate debates

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers


3:04 pm

Photo of Nita GreenNita Green (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Finance (Senator Cormann) to questions without notice asked by Senators Gallagher and Watt today relating to the economy.

This week we have seen this government deflect, deny and attack Labor instead of listening to the concerns of everyday Australians who are hurting from higher bills and economic uncertainty. What we have seen is Liberal-Nationals senators opposite behaving like an opposition, ranting and raving about Labor—they even managed to rant about Queensland Labor today—when they should be acting like a third-term government, getting on with a plan. But we know they have no plan. The RBA and the IMF have both called for Australia to invest in infrastructure to stimulate the economy and create more jobs. But, instead of listening to those concerns, the government wants to talk about Labor, and the economy continues to slide backwards.

I thought I might take this opportunity to talk about youth unemployment and the figures that were released today. It's fair to say that the performance of the minister for youth this week has been pretty hopeless. Again, today we've learnt that the youth unemployment rate has not changed. There's been no change to that figure, and that should alarm everyone in this place. But it is the performance of the minister for youth outside this chamber that matters the most. Young people are struggling to pay their bills, to get the training and skills that they need, and they are facing higher rates of unemployment under this government. After six years, there's no plan—nothing but attacks on Labor. Today we learnt that 28.2 per cent of 15- to 19-year-olds are underemployed. Of people aged 20 to 24 years, the underemployment rate is 15.5 per cent. Those are shocking statistics, and those are the national statistics.

I want to raise the unemployment rates of regional Queensland because they're not getting much attention in this place from the other side. The other side are happy to ask questions about Queensland Labor. They're happy to point the finger. They probably wish they were back in Queensland—it's a fantastic place to be—but they're not in the parliament of Queensland asking questions of the Queensland Labor government. They are the government; they've been the government for six years, and it's time they start acting like it. In Townsville, the unemployment rate has gone from 5.8 per cent when Labor left office in 2013 to 8.3 per cent. Concerningly, under the Liberals, the median job search time hit an extraordinary 34 weeks in October last year—34 weeks to find a job in Townsville last year. That's 34 weeks on Newstart waiting to find a job. And the story isn't much better for youth unemployment. The youth unemployment rate in Townsville for 15- to 24-year-olds has gone from 8.9 per cent when Labor left office in 2013 to 17.1 per cent under the Liberals. The youth unemployment rate in Townsville has almost doubled. Instead of getting adequate responses about how the government is going to deal with this, we get deflection and denial and attacks and more questions about Labor than answers about what the government is going to do to fix this problem.

The issue is the same in Mackay. The median job search time has gone from eight weeks when Labor was in office to 23 weeks under the Liberals. It has almost tripled. When Labor left office there were 5,000 people in Mackay looking for work, and now there are 6,500 people looking for work. That's an extra 1,500 people in Mackay without a job. Youth unemployment in Mackay—the minister for youth might like to write this one down—for 15- to 24-year-olds has gone from 8.6 per cent to 15.5 per cent under the Liberals. Older people have also been let down. The unemployment rate for persons aged 45 and above in Mackay has gone from 2.6 per cent to 5.6 per cent under the Liberals. So, if you want to talk about Labor, why don't you talk about the unemployment rates when Labor was in office and what they are now under your government.

But these statistics relate to real people living in regional Queensland. My plea to this government is not to ignore them. Stop attacking Labor and start doing something to fix the problem. There are plenty of things that you can do to help young people in regional Queensland. Instead of doing anything of them—instead of talking about them in this place—you're here attacking Labor every single day. Well, the jig is up, and people are onto you.

3:09 pm

Photo of Matt O'SullivanMatt O'Sullivan (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is my great pleasure to be able to stand here today and talk about these great figures that have come out today, representing the significant strength that's happening in the economy. There's no doubt that this country is facing some strong headwinds, but we are facing them very, very well as a country. In fact, over 14,500 jobs were created in the month of September, increasing to 311,000 the number of new jobs that have been created this year. This is off the back of a very strong and substantial plan that we're enacting as a responsible government—a government that was elected by the Australian people to implement this plan—and that is what we're doing.

We've seen employment grow at 2.5 per cent, and it remains well above the decade average. Total employment is at a record high, with almost 13 million people employed. We haven't seen this before. It is unprecedented, and it has happened under this Morrison government. We have seen full-time employment increase by 26,200 jobs over the month, with almost nine million Australians in full-time work. These are full-time jobs. These make up 61.5 per cent of the total employment growth over the past year.

The number of unemployed people fell by nearly 25,000 people over the month, with the underemployment rate falling by 0.2 per cent. This is outstanding. This is happening in people's lives. These aren't just figures; we're talking about individuals who have been able to get ahead. They've been able to find work under a strong economy—an economy that is bolstered by good policies and is growing. With the decrease in taxes, Australians are able to keep more of the money that they earn. The effective take-home pay that they are experiencing in their own lives and in their family's income have increased under this government.

We also heard Minister Cash, when she was answering her question, talk about the increase in the number of women in employment. In fact, it's at a record high. Over 6,110,000 women are in work today. This side of the chamber and, I would hope, the entire chamber should be very, very proud of this is happening in our great country.

Senator Green spoke about youth unemployment. I find it interesting that those opposite would speak about this because there is an important program that is in existence in this country right now—it's called Youth Jobs PaTH—which that side of the chamber do not support. In the less than two minutes that I've got left, I just want to unpack this issue. If you are a young person who is unemployed and looking for work, you knock on the door of all sorts of employers asking them to give you a job. But the reality is that most employers will say to you, 'We need people who have experience.' You need to be able to get a foot in the door, but it's very difficult to get a foot in the door when employers are saying that they need people with experience. Youth Jobs PaTH provides people with the opportunity, through an internship program, to be able to get in with an employer. Yet those opposite voted against this program when it was first introduced, and they announced in the election that they would cut this program. Why would they do that? It is because they're beholden to the unions. Labor are beholden to the unions, and they can't see the opportunity that can be created. I would encourage all senators here in this chamber to promote this program. We've seen over 8,000 people go from welfare and into work through this program. It's an opportunity for young people to be able to get ahead and to get off welfare and into work.

We heard about the increase to Newstart, and there's an argument that those are making for that. Well, under this program, participants get an extra $200 a fortnight added to their Newstart payment to assist them with the cost of getting the bus tickets, filling up their cars or buying the uniforms that they'd need to be able to get and keep that job. This is what this government is doing. But those opposite won't accept this, because they're beholden to the unions and they can't see the opportunities. (Time expired)

3:14 pm

Photo of Raff CicconeRaff Ciccone (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to take note of the answers from earlier today. We have heard that the warnings have been worsening for a long time now and conditions in our economy are going backwards. There are many voices, not by any means from the fringes of debate; rather, voices have come from right across our community. They have come from the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, from many business executives from a lot of successful businesses here in Australia, from state and territory governments and from all manners of various industry groups, but, most importantly, they have come from ordinary Australians—working families who are now finding it tougher and harder to make ends meet than ever before.

Earlier this week we heard the news from the International Monetary Fund that they were sharply downgrading the forecasts for our economy. In the IMF's view Australia's economy is tipped to grow by just 1.7 per cent this year, down from the previous estimate of 2.8 per cent. To put that into perspective, Australia's economy is predicted to grow at a rate smaller than that of Greece—a clear sign that the tax cuts the government had insisted would provide a boost to the economy have actually not worked. Meanwhile, here in Canberra, we have a government that is asleep at the wheel. They would rather talk about the opposition than make the important decisions that are needed to get our economy moving again. Let me give advice to those opposite: attacking Labor won't fix our economy, nor will it improve the wages and living standards of hardworking Australians. You need greater fiscal stimulus to tackle the collapsing confidence and weak economic growth.

We know from the release of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey, HILDA, just a few months ago that, under the Liberals, ordinary Australians have gone backwards. After six long years of economic mismanagement, real median household income is lower now than it was back in 2013. Falling household incomes now mean that the percentage of our population living in relative poverty has increased to 10.4 per cent. In fact in the last year of the survey it was shown that household income reduced by around $500. That difference may not seem a lot for many of us in this place, but, for a lot of Australians outside the Canberra bubble, $500 is a lot and is a big hit to family budgets. It can mean the difference between sending the kids to school camp for the year and having them stay home. It's the difference between being able to afford to have the heaters on over winter and staying cold. These are just a few examples of the real life impacts for working families when our economy is floundering in the way it is at the moment.

To top it all off, in the time that this government have presided over one of the most significant slowdowns in decades, they've also presided over cuts to penalty rates and devastatingly low rates for Newstart and other social security payments. Australians have a right to know what this government is doing to help them make ends meet. They have a right to know what the government is doing to lift their wages and address the weakness in our economy. Unfortunately, despite all of these conditions, all of this struggle, all we get from this government is a few not-so-snappy attack lines against Labor and, 'Let's wait and see.' Australians, who are doing it tougher now than they ever were before, deserve more from this government; they deserve a government that is prepared to recognise the troubles ahead and to take action to safeguard their welfare, as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Labor did when the global financial crisis hit back in 2008. I'm sorry to say that this government is not doing that at all. They would rather attack Labor than ensure that our nation's prosperity is secured for the future.

3:19 pm

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm delighted to have the opportunity to take note of the answers given earlier today in question time. Can I address some of the issues raised by Senator Ciccone. He's an extremely decent representative from the state of Victoria, and I do admire his decency and integrity; however, that doesn't excuse him for the subject matter of his last contribution to the debate. The one thing I have learnt while serving in this chamber is that when the Labor Party refers to a document you need to go to the source document and see what the author of the document actually said. This is what IMF economic counsellor Gita Gopinath said in relation to the IMF's report:

… growth continues to be weakened by rising trade barriers and growing geopolitical tensions—

not by Australian government policy but by rising trade barriers and increasing geopolitical tensions. The counsellor goes on:

We estimate that the US-China trade tensions will cumulatively reduce the level of global GDP

not just Australian GDP, but global GDP—

by 0.8 percent by 2020.

This is a global issue, not an Australian-specific issue, but you would not know it.

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That's why you're a senator; because you're a details man!

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am a details man, Senator Smith, my good friend from Western Australia. This is a global issue, but you would not know it from the Labor Party's contribution to this debate.

My colleague Senator Ciccone refers to Greece as a benchmark for Australia—Greece! I must say, you started to lose all credibility when you referred to Greece as a benchmark. The IMF report—the same IMF report that they've selectively quoted from, taken out of context—confirms that the unemployment rate in Greece is 19.3 per cent. That's the benchmark the opposition's referring to. That's nearly four times as high as the current unemployment rate in Australia. Since the GFC, the Greek economy is 23 per cent smaller and the Australian economy is 33 per cent larger. The IMF forecasts long-run growth in Australia to be three times as high as that of Greece. But that's the benchmark that's referred to by my friend on the opposition benches. Gross government debt in Greece is 184 per cent of GDP. That's the reference point we get from my good friend Senator Ciccone.

But let's move on to Senator Green, another decent senator sitting on the other side of this chamber. Senator Green raises the question of why it is that people on this side of the chamber, especially we Queensland senators, refer to the Queensland Labor government. The problem is that they're standing in the way of job creation. The people of Queensland are absolutely fed up and tired of the do-nothing Palaszczuk-Trad government. Minister Canavan referred to the Rookwood Weir: 2,100 jobs in Central Queensland that could be unleashed in the economy in Queensland if the Queensland government simply took advantage of the opportunity presented to them, but they refuse to do so, because they're a do-nothing government. And New Hope's Acland stage 3: for 10 years they've been seeking the approvals, and now they're having to lay off 150 workers. That's not creating new jobs; those were existing jobs—people having to be laid off because of the do-nothing Labor government.

The reality of this matter is that the coalition government has a plan. Quiet Australians endorsed that plan by providing a majority to the coalition government. And can I tell you that nowhere was the expression of that support louder than in regional Queensland, where they weren't just quiet Australians; they gave an almighty roar.

3:24 pm

Photo of Malarndirri McCarthyMalarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Attacking Labor won't create a single job or help wages growth. The reality is that people are suffering desperately. The lack of wages growth is having a major impact on people's lives, yet this government refuses to act to stimulate the economy. The RBA, the IMF, state and territory governments, and businesses are calling for the Morrison government to stimulate the economy. We have seen the IMF, the OECD, the Reserve Bank and Deloitte Access Economics all downgrade Australia's expected growth. The IMF indicated that we're going to see an increase in the unemployment rate. And who do you think will feel this the most? It's the vulnerable, it's the unemployed, it's our young people in remote and regional Australia, and First Nations people in remote communities with no jobs.

A submission to the Community Affairs References Committee into the adequacy of Newstart and related payments from Dr Frances Markham and Professor John Altman at the ANU said:

The simplest way to reduce poverty in remote Indigenous Australia is to raise the rate of Newstart. It is not hyperbolic, but merely a restatement of the epidemiological evidence to point out that the current rate of Newstart is killing Indigenous Australians. Life expectancy gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians cannot be expected to close while the rate of Newstart remains so low.

Yet what does this government do? They attack Labor rather than make any moves to boost the economy. This government refuse to raise the rate of Newstart, and those on Newstart and youth allowance experience poverty at the highest rates. The inadequacy of Newstart is an economic issue as well as a welfare and wellbeing issue. Newstart recipients are six times more likely to face poor health outcomes, they're more likely to suffer from multiple conditions, they're more likely to suffer from mental health, and they're more likely to be hospitalised. Poor health is a barrier to work and we all know this. People are struggling to afford the basics and the essentials, and they're struggling to meet their medical and healthcare costs.

And what about CDP? CDP, not CDC—but we'll get to that at some point. CDP, the Community Development Program. The Work for the Dole program in Australia pays $11 an hour. The national minimum wage is $18.93 per hour. How can people be expected to look after their families? How can they afford groceries and power bills or put fuel in their vehicles? In September 2017 there were 32,600 CDP participants, 82.5 per cent of whom identified as Indigenous. We were told during the last term of government that this government—the Morrison government—would find 6,000 jobs for those 33,000 people. There were big promises on jobs. Well, where are those jobs? Six thousand subsidised jobs were supposed to commence in February this year. It's October. That very quietly was downgraded to 1,000 jobs, and now—wait for it—the Morrison government has very quietly put out a package of just 100 subsidised jobs on CDP. One hundred jobs—not 6,000, not even 1,000. They've just quietly said, 'We'll give 100 jobs.'

Photo of Raff CicconeRaff Ciccone (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Five thousand, nine hundred to go!

Photo of Malarndirri McCarthyMalarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Precisely! That's 100 down from 6,000. That is quite a reduction in the employment opportunities that were meant to come, and where are the jobs? This government has no plan for our country. It has no plan to deal with low wages and rising prices, and the cost of essentials is skyrocketing. Electricity prices are increasing and child care has become unaffordable under the Liberals. Australians are worried about the economy, but Scott Morrison and the Liberals are pretending there is no problem.

Question agreed to.