Tuesday, 12 May 2020
Senator Gallacher, it is very pleasing to see you in the chair this evening as Acting Deputy President. I rise in the adjournment debate tonight to speak about the impact of COVID-19 on Australian manufacturing. It is very important to hold the government to account for their rhetoric on support for industry and to match that with the reality of their actions. In the speech from the Treasurer today, we did not see a plan to rebuild the Australian economy. Instead, we got hollow rhetoric with no real plan to do this essential work. The ABS earlier this month reported on the impact of COVID-19 on business. It showed that Australian manufacturers expect to get hit harder than firms in other industries by the consequences of this outbreak. Some 82 per cent of manufacturers expect reduced demand for goods and services compared to the economy-wide average of some 69 per cent of firms. On every question except staff shortages, manufacturing expects to get hit harder than other sectors. The Australian Bureau of Statistics confirms what we learnt with the Australian Industry Group performance of manufacturing index, the PMI, which shows manufacturing firms were losing new orders for business as both export demand and domestic demand slumped the most in one month in the 28-year history of this survey. The ABS survey also shows that 80 per cent of manufacturing firms expect that 50 to 100 per cent of their employees will be eligible for the JobKeeper payment, while some 65 per cent of manufacturing firms surveyed registered their interest, or intend to register, for the JobKeeper payment.
As Anthony Albanese recognised yesterday in his fifth vision statement, the damage to the economy has been severe and the threat of a prolonged impact is very real. Businesses and peak bodies have expressed a number of serious concerns, as has Labor, about the government's lack of vision to get us out of this mess and, indeed, their snapback approach. Snapback in the timeline expressed by the government will leave manufacturing businesses without support when they expect to be bearing the brunt of these impacts. Snapback as foreshadowed by the Liberals—a return to their traditional economic agenda—is a return to the policy settings for an economy that was already slow. As Anthony Albanese said, the pandemic may have arrived without warning but the weakness in the Australian economy did not.
According to the government's plan, the JobKeeper payment will be available only until the end of September—not even quite the end. Now the government say they may pull it back even before then. Meanwhile, every informed commentator expects recovery will be patchy and long and that different industries will come back slower than others. So this will not be over quickly for Australia's manufacturers. Instead, if that's the government's attitude, companies might not be around at the next election or for Labor's much more comprehensive set of policies.
I have to say: in a small window of hope, I note that the COVID commission has been working with manufacturers to ensure the supply of essential products and personal protective equipment and to solve supply chain issues to keep critical goods flowing to Australian communities. I'd really like to thank these companies for stepping up. But it would have been nice if the government had recognised the need for a plan to respond to these kinds of crises and to support Australian manufacturing before this virus hit. We are still feeling the impact of these shortages of PPE; for example, elective surgery in Western Australia is being slowed down, in closing the gap on surgery that was dropped, because Western Australia doesn't have enough PPE.
In closing these brief remarks, I see no sign of a government prepared to harness the power of government to support Australian manufacturing, as Anthony Albanese has argued for. One of the things we must learn from this crisis is that Australian manufacturing can and should be part of a way forward towards a strong economy that works for Australian people. (Time expired)