Senate debates

Tuesday, 12 May 2020


COVID-19: Economy

8:13 pm

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

Tonight I rise to speak about the economic recovery from the coronavirus challenge. As a senator for Western Australia, I've spent much of my time since we were last in this place speaking to businesses right across my state. There's no doubt that as a whole they're hurting, particularly those in service focused industries and their supply chains. I've heard stories of innovation, ingenuity and reinvention, the real spirit of Australia—Western Australia, in particular. I've also heard from businesses that have been hit with the full force of this economic shock.

With the Prime Minister's release of the three-step plan, Western Australia is putting in place a road map back to businesses reopening and our quality way of life. With this, comes the long road to economic recovery. It remains true that we are all in this together. This isn't some trivial term or cliche phrase to brush off and, just as it has during the health preservation phase, it now holds the key to our economic recovery.

Everyone in some way has been hit by the economic consequences of coronavirus. It might not be you directly but might be your partner, your wife, your children, friends or family. Over the coming weeks and months, there is something that we all can do, and I would argue it will be the single most important thing after the health considerations—that is, to support local, small businesses. Buy big if you can. Start thinking about exploring our great state, whether it's a weekend drive or something longer. Every purchase you make and every dollar you spend in a local business will be another step back to seeing our economy return to full steam ahead. So if you've been thinking about visiting a winery to check out the latest vintage or getting a towbar put on your car by the local mechanic or taking the kids on a road trip, now is the time to do it. Every dollar spent in WA will support a local business and the West Australians that it employs. The same is true for every state and region represented in this place. Go on a road trip, a Sunday drive or something longer.

The June long weekend is just over two weeks away in Western Australia. My family and a few of our friends are heading down to Manjimup for the weekend. Why don't you consider, if you are in Western Australia, taking that opportunity to get away with your family and friends, obviously in a safe and socially-distant way, and spend locally in these businesses? Stop in at that cafe on the way and buy a few coffees or a cake and meat pie. Go and check out the winery, the boutique distillery, you have been thinking about for a while, have a small BBQ with local produce, make the next present you buy for someone from a local artist, artisan or crafter, or get them a voucher for a local experience. When the time is right, even encourage a significant other to go and pamper themselves. Every bit helps.

I commend the support from the Commonwealth government and the measures to support businesses put in place by the state government through the National Cabinet. Our nation would be a vastly different place without them. Millions of Australians have remained connected to their jobs because of the JobKeeper payment. The discussions of the National Cabinet which have resulted in concessions for businesses, utility bill credits, payroll tax exemptions and measures to support arrangements with landlords, among others, have and will provide the support that so many businesses need and have needed to keep their doors open.

But it's important to recognise that this is the first phase of a broader economic recovery. The second phase starts with the purchasing power of Australians. Your dollar, whether it's one or many, or where you decide to put it is incredibly powerful. A lot of the restrictions that we're seeing will be released this coming Monday in Western Australia; it's almost upon us. It's time for us, all Australians, to build the road to recovery.

8:18 pm

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

There's no doubt that we've had some very difficult months to get on top of the coronavirus pandemic in Australia and there will be more challenging times ahead as we reopen our economy and manage any clusters where they occur. As the reopening gets underway, we have an opportunity to imagine what a post-pandemic economy may look like across Australia. That economy should be built on a bedrock of secure, well-paid jobs across a broad range of industries, with workers and small businesses having options to build careers so that they can care for their families and make a life well into the future.

It should also include a strong manufacturing industry. To achieve this, governments must arrest the contraction of manufacturing that has sadly been occurring in Australia over the past seven years under the conservative government and develop a new plan to make our manufacturing sector a growing and vibrant part of our economy. Between 2011 and 2016, the ABS census data shows over 200,000 manufacturing jobs have disappeared. What was once an industry that we were all very proud of, that contributed to 14 per cent to our gross domestic product in 1996, manufacturing now makes just around 5.5 per cent of GDP. Yet at the same time, Australians have been buying more manufactured goods than ever. Our demand for them is growing, but the products that we want to buy are increasingly not being made here in Australia or by Australians.

Manufacturing can and must be part of Australia's future economic security and this point has been well made by experts around our country. As the coronavirus has well illustrated, our definition of sovereign capability must be expanded to include all areas of the Australian economy, many of them centring on domestic manufacturing capacity. When we make what we need to get through a crisis like the coronavirus, that puts us a step ahead strategically and makes it easier to get through difficult times. It's a simple equation: the more we make here, the more self-reliant we are and the better we will be able to face another crisis in the future.

This isn't about being anti-trade, far from it. Australia is a very proud nation that trades with many countries around the world and, in particular, in the Asia region. But if we can make something here, why shouldn't we? And further, if we can diversify our trade relations to ensure that we're not overly dependent on one single trade partner for our prosperity, why don't we? As the recent events concerning many of our barley growers and meat producers have shown, this is just prudent economic management.

But arresting the decline in manufacturing will require careful and considered policy-making and implementation by government. We will need to carefully map our current skills and capabilities in manufacturing and make new investments in industries that are performing well, like agriculture. We should use government procurement processes to lead the way in buying and using Australian-made goods.

Getting the taxation settings right will also be an important part of the discussion we need to have in this place. And that means—as Jim Stamford points out in a recent paper for the Australian Institute looking at tax incentives, to name just one example—that our future commitment to innovation must be far greater than just political slogans. We will need to make real investment in research and development. It should be carefully targeted to encourage small and medium enterprises in supply chains, and not just make life easier for big multinational companies as, unfortunately, this government seems to prefer. Strong local manufacturing offers employment, creates opportunities and helps add to the country's prosperity.