Thursday, 14 May 2020
On behalf of Senator Gallagher, I move:
That the Senate—
(a) notes that:
(i) the Government said that the economy would 'snap back' after the end of the COVID-19 crisis,
(ii) the Reserve Bank and Deloitte have forecast unemployment to remain at elevated levels for years,
(iii) members of the Government are calling for the early end of the JobKeeper payment, and
(iv) Government ministers have confirmed that JobSeeker will revert back to $40 per day in September this year; and
(b) calls on the Government to:
(i) table Treasury's review into JobKeeper in the Senate as soon as it is finalised,
(ii) as soon as possible, provide certainty to people on the JobSeeker payment that they won't be "snap-backed" to living on $40 per day; and
(iii) outline a plan for jobs and for reducing unemployment in the Government's economic update when it is delivered in June.
I stand in support of notice of motion No. 591 brought on by my colleague Senator Gallagher. A mind-boggling budget deficit of $143 billion has been predicted for the 2019-20 financial year. This week Deloitte Access Economic economist Chris Richardson forecast the federal deficit to blow out to $143 billion this financial year, dwarfing the $5 billion surplus the government had forecast in December. Mr Richardson predicted in his report that the economy would be suffering a COVID-19 hangover for many years to come. National income is predicted to fall $35 billion below official projections and have a shortfall of just under $200 billion in 2020-21.
The report also forecasts the unemployment rate will not get back down to five per cent until late 2024. Mr Richardson says that recovery will be slow. He puts the key reasons for this as families and businesses having suffered 'blows to their confidence, their income and their wealth', so they'll be 'more cautious about taking any risks'. As for the Reserve Bank, it has already, in Mr Richardson's words, got 'the pedal to the metal', meaning this is the first recession and recovery where the RBA is 'essentially already out of ammo'. While Australia may well outperform many other global economies, 'that global weakness may undercut the prices we receive for our resource exports'.
It's also worth noting that Mr Richardson says:
Australia's recovery will be strikingly dependent on the extent to which our governments—federal and state—switch their policies away from the virus sprint and towards the recovery marathon.
He identifies our key problem as unemployment, and 'that's the curve we now have to flatten.'
We 'will have to drive unemployment down without any help from the RBA, as the Reserve is already tapped out'. Our fight against the virus must now be a battle against unemployment. Mr Richardson warns against rapid budget repair and a reliance on spending cuts, and he says that, with interest rates so low, the government's extra spending on coronavirus support measures, such as JobKeeper, 'will only cost the average taxpayer around $3 a week'. That's it: $3 a week. Yet this government wants to walk away from JobKeeper and JobSeeker.
Today's April labour force figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows young Australians are bearing the brunt of the unemployment crisis—13.8 per cent of our young people are now without work, which is more than double the national average of 6.2 per cent. There are now 283,500 unemployed young Australians, many previously employed in casual, insecure and gig work and in hard-hit industries such as hospitality. One-third of accommodation and food services jobs have been lost during this crisis, and those worked by people aged 20 to 29 deceased the most.
Young Australians are carrying an incredibly heavy load through this crisis, and Labor is deeply concerned about the potentially devastating impact on our young population. Overwhelming unemployment, social isolation and missing significant life events are all taking a financial and certainly a mental health toll on our young Australians.
The government must have our young people at the forefront of their thinking and take all necessary steps to support them during and after this crisis. One thing the Treasurer could do right now is better target the JobKeeper program to ensure those young people who were employed casually on a short-term basis are able to access financial support and maintain a connection to their workplace. Labor will continue to work constructively with the government to ensure young Australians are supported.
The Northern Territory has the lowest number able to work from home with only 32 per cent, and that was followed by Tasmania on 35 per cent. Labor is calling on the government to release modelling on the anticipated economic impact of snapping back the coronavirus supplement overnight. Last week the Department of Social Services said that it estimated some 1.7 million Australians will require unemployment support by September, yet the Prime Minister has been insistent that he will snap back the JobSeeker payment to $40 per day for millions of Australians on 24 September. This is the equivalent of ripping almost $1 billion a fortnight from household budgets. This sudden stop will have a significant impact on the Australian economy. It was revealed last week at a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 that the government had not coordinated its jobseeker increase with its wage subsidy rollout, which it introduced following pressure from Labor, business and, in particular, the unions. The Reserve Bank, the Commonwealth Treasury and the International Monetary Fund have all confirmed in recent weeks that an economic snapback is nothing but a myth from the Prime Minister. A snapback of jobseeker risks leaving millions of Australians behind.
The government needs to be clear, it needs to be straight with all Australians, about whether the nation is now edging closer to another economic cliff, in the form of the Prime Minister's promised jobseeker snapback. If the Prime Minister wants to snap back jobseeker, he should be upfront with Australian workers and Australian businesses about its consequences—this is a fairly reasonable ask—and seek advice from the Department of Social Services and the Treasury. The government's jobseeker snapback isn't a plan for the economy; it's a recipe for disaster. The Department of Social Services has admitted it believes another 400,000 Australian will require the jobseeker payment by September, bringing the total number of jobseeker recipients to 1.7 million. With almost two million Australians requiring income support in six months time, it is difficult to comprehend why the Prime Minister is insisting on a snapback to $40 per day.
There have certainly been mixed messages from within the ranks of the government. This week the Minister for Families and Social Services, Anne Ruston, said she wouldn't rule out an increase to the jobseeker payment rate. Yesterday her department said all options were on the table, yet the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Minister for Finance have locked in a return to $40 per day for Australians on jobseeker. This is despite the government's own projections that unemployment will still be as high as 1.7 million.
The hundreds of thousands of Australians who have found themselves out of work or had their hours slashed are understandably confused by the mixed messages from this government about jobseeker. They need to know how the government will help them get back into work and they need to know that their jobseeker payment won't be snapped back to $40 a day by the Morrison government. It wasn't enough before the COVID crisis and it certainly won't be enough after the crisis. The old Newstart rate of $40 per day was so low that it presented a barrier to finding work. Australians will need to meet costs such as phone and internet bills to be able to find jobs and participate in interviews. Australians need assurances that this government will not let them fall through the cracks. Australians need to be uplifted and treated with dignity and respect to be able to take their place in our society without feeling that we're looking down on them because they are in need of social services. Australians need that kind of security, going forward.
It is an honour to get up to speak about what is a very, very important issue. I want to start by acknowledging that, from the very beginning of this crisis, this government—our government—has responded swiftly and strongly and in the national interest at every point in dealing with what the Prime Minister has rightly referred to as the dual crisis: the health crisis, first and foremost, and the economic crisis.
When it came to our health response, we acted early and we acted strongly. We imposed a travel ban, ahead of most other nations. We declared a pandemic, well ahead of the World Health Organization. The Prime Minister stood up the national cabinet, an unprecedented response to an unprecedented crisis.
I think that the very sobering figures today for the labour market, which are devastating for individuals and families, of course, are a significant challenge. As the Prime Minister has said, though they are not necessarily unexpected, they are devastating for many, many in our community. But if we reflect on those numbers—if we look around the world at the unemployment numbers for some of our major trading partners, like the United States and Canada and others—I think we can point to the fact that that strong response has helped us to avoid much worse figures. We don't downplay those job losses; they are a serious hit for those individuals and those families, and for our economy. This unprecedented crisis has caused that. We can be very proud as a nation of the way we're responding.
We responded to the health crisis. We invested billions of dollars extra to respond to that health crisis. Minister Hunt, I think, has done an extremely good job on that front.
Then, when we go to the other part of this crisis, the economic crisis, we have committed and are delivering unprecedented economic support to the community. It started with cash payments to individuals, particularly pensioners and other people in the welfare system getting extra cash in their bank accounts so they can have some support through this difficult time. We delivered cash-flow support to businesses so they can keep the doors open. We supercharged our safety net, doubling our jobseeker payment to support those Australians who, through no fault of their own, are doing it particularly tough as a result of this dual crisis. We enabled Australians who are doing it tough to have access to their superannuation. We heard a bit of criticism from the Labor Party on that today, which we reject absolutely. Giving Australians access to their own money at this very difficult time is an important part of our economic response. The fact that young people and people who are not so young have taken advantage of that so they can look after themselves and their families while getting unprecedented support is something we should all be proud of. All up, the economic response from the Australian government is projected to be $320 billion, or 16 per cent of GDP, compared to virtually every other nation. That is an extraordinary response in extraordinary times, and we should be very proud that we have been able to deliver that. We will continue to do that to protect Australians and protect Australia's sovereignty during this time.
Labor have said at various times that they will give bipartisan support, but we are seeing that language rapidly shift. The tone was set by the leader, Anthony Albanese, when, in criticising the national cabinet, his criticism of the national cabinet was that he wasn't part of it. That was his main criticism of the national cabinet—this unprecedented response, this great show of leadership from the Prime Minister, where he brought premiers and chief ministers of both political persuasions into the now virtual cabinet room, so they could get together and make decisions in the national interest. What we have seen from the Labor Party over time, led by Mr Albanese, is more and more politicking rather than dealing with the serious challenges that we as a nation face and, indeed, that governments and nations right around the world face. As we compare our response to those of other nations, we can be proud of how far we've come. But, indeed, we have a long way to go.
Before I briefly touch on the coming back of the economy and supporting the economy as we come out of this crisis—as we open up the economy again, as we open up our society—I would just address one of the big lies that are being put out there by the Labor Party. Mr Albanese and Mr Chalmers were at it again today, suggesting that the economy was in trouble before the COVID crisis. That is not what the RBA governor had to say. That's not what the IMF were saying when they were projecting what our growth was going to be—that it was going to be stronger than most G7 nations—when unemployment had come down to 5.1 per cent and at a time when we delivered tax cuts for the Australian people, which we said we would do at the last election. This criticism, this claim, this big lie, from the Labor Party, that somehow the economy was doing it tough, is wrong.
As we start coming out of this crisis, we will build on the principles and the values that have kept our economy going strong and that enabled us to utilise our balance sheet to deliver this unprecedented support. Let's imagine for a moment that we'd gone into this crisis with the $48 billion deficit that the Labor Party left us. Imagine if our deficit was at $48 billion instead of having the budget in balance. Imagine if unemployment were rapidly rising, as it was when the Labor Party left office. Imagine if we had not had a strong economy. Our strong balance sheet and budget—with debt as a proportion of GDP around a quarter of that in the UK and in the US and about a seventh of that in Japan—have enabled us to deliver this unprecedented response. It would have been far more difficult if we didn't have that starting point.
As we look to build on that, we are going to reject some of the policies that are being put forward. This week, the shadow finance minister criticised the Liberal Party because we talk about things like lower taxes as we come out. We took lower taxes to the election, and we are delivering lower taxes right now. We're not going to recover from this crisis by increasing taxes for Australians. I don't think that that is going to be the way to create jobs and bring back to the workforce some of those people who newly find themselves unemployed. We are going to do it by keeping taxes low. We are going to do it by supporting business. We are going to do it by investing in infrastructure. We're going to do it by being innovative. But, all the while, we're going to do it in a fair and Australian way.
Australians can trust that, as we come out of this crisis, this government—which I think has responded very well going into this crisis—is going to be best placed to help Australians get back into work, to help get our economy moving, to help keep Australians safe and to help keep Australians together. That's what we are going to continue to be committed to. That will be a task that will be with us for some time. But we are up to it and the Australian people are up to it, and we're going to go on that journey together, supporting them all the way through.
I am certainly glad to hear Senator Seselja say how proud he is of the government's JobKeeper package that they put in place. I say that because the Greens called for a living wage very early on in the piece. Indeed, even as early as mid-March we were calling for a living wage, a European-style wage, which essentially looks very similar to JobKeeper. My colleague in the chamber with me today, Senator Siewert, has been one of the most outspoken MPs in this parliament, in this building, about raising the rate of Newstart, which of course is now the jobseeker payment—and I know that very shortly she will be talking about making that permanent.
I want to make a few brief points for my contribution. The importance of the JobKeeper package was simply to provide confidence and trust in our economy. It wasn't necessarily to exactly replicate the wages of workers around the country. It was to set a stimulus payment at a level for all workers who had been impacted in businesses. I have literally lived and breathed JobKeeper at home for the last six weeks, because my wife and her business partners have been labouring to try to understand the labyrinth of eligibility requirements for JobKeeper. I've spoken to accountants. My office has been working around the clock, as I know Senator Siewert's office and many of my colleagues' offices have been doing, trying to help constituents to navigate both JobKeeper and the jobseeker payment. It wouldn't surprise me if many of us in this chamber have had all of our staff working around the clock to try and help Australians sign up to these schemes.
I'm also proud of JobKeeper. It's certainly not perfect; it has a number of issues, and, along with my colleague Senator Siewert, I continue to ask questions on some of those issues at the COVID committee. It is a big outlay, but it's absolutely critical. What we know about pandemics and panics throughout history is that the one thing they all have in common is that people lose trust. They lose trust in their institutions and they lose trust in their financial systems. If they do that then the glue that holds our economy together comes unstuck, and then the next stage, further down the track, is smashing windows, setting fire to buildings, rioting, looting and so on and so forth.
There are certainly reasons to be critical of the pace at which the government adopted this. It took nearly two weeks, after coming under significant criticism from the Greens and others, for the government to adopt a living-wage scheme. I'd like to recognise the role that the unions and the ACTU played in this, and also that of the business community. COSBOA, the small-business group, and a number of chambers of commerce around this country also put pressure on the government. As I often say to friends of mine in the union movement, I'm not necessarily sure it was the Greens and Labor and the unions that persuaded the government to adopt this scheme; I actually believe it was probably the business community that persuaded the government to adopt a jobkeeper-style scheme. But, either way, it's a win for Team Australia, for everyone working together.
But the idea that somehow the economy is going to snap back in a few months time, like an elastic band—that somehow people around the country are going to be able to remove themselves from the fear and anxiety that they've been feeling over the last five weeks in isolation—is completely unrealistic.
What governments do really well in times of crisis is step in and do the heavy lifting. Whether it's bailing out businesses or providing money to workers—over five million workers around the country, in this case, which is unprecedented—governments have an ability to do that because governments can take on risk. This is a period of extreme risk. As Senator Cormann said the other day, it's a one-in-100-year event. Our capitalist system—businesses and markets—aren't built for risk. Any capitalist will tell you: if you want them to take on risk, they need a high expected return. Of course, in times of crisis and pandemic there are no returns. In fact, there are falling returns. We've heard today about real estate markets potentially losing a third of their value. We've seen what's happened on the share market. We've seen what's happened to superannuation balances around the country.
Governments are in a unique position to do the heavy lifting, and so they should. My point is: they must continue to do this in coming months if we are going to keep the good work we have done from unravelling. That trust and that confidence must be there, and it's the government's role to maintain it. And government needs to go a step further. It's not just about providing a stimulus payment. Governments need to step up and invest in their communities, invest in infrastructure and invest in a renewable energy future, transitioning our economy to clean energy. There's a whole range of things we could do.
Senator Seselja talked about the debt that's been put into JobKeeper being around 16 per cent of GDP. I'm not sure if that's net GDP. To give you a brief overview of Australia versus other advanced industrial nations: our debt is expected, at state and federal level, to exceed 30 per cent of net debt to GDP; advanced industrial nations are currently sitting around 90 per cent—three times what Australia's net debt position is. There's a very famous case study of Australia after the war, which any student of politics can tell you about: when Australia rebuilt and reshaped itself following the Second World War, our net debt to GDP was around 120 per cent, but it was paid off by growth. We should take on a lot more debt in this country, at record low interest rates. We should establish, for example, a government owned infrastructure bank. We should be using this as an opportunity, turning a crisis into an opportunity, and investing in our communities, investing in our young people and making sure everybody has a job.
I know Senator Siewert is going to talk more about the people who have been left behind in this crisis, those that have missed out on the JobKeeper payment and aren't eligible for the jobseeker payment, and there are way too many of them. My last point is: I'm glad that Labor have brought this motion forward for debate today. I was quite surprised when I read in the paper this morning that the Labor Party are considering tinkering with the JobKeeper system. They're proposing that casual workers and young people who weren't necessarily earning $750 a week before COVID be given a lower payment in the future so that the excess money can be allocated towards those who have missed out. We have enough money in this country to pay everyone and make sure no-one gets left behind, without taking money off workers. Remember: this was not designed to match people's wage; this was designed to be a stimulus payment, to give people money. That's what you do. Some people call it helicopter money.
Once again—and I promise I'll finish on this point—we shouldn't be taking money off young Australians. As we heard in contributions in question time today and from Senator McCarthy, young Australians are doing it tough. No-one is feeling the consequences of COVID more than young Australians.
I read an article about three or four weeks ago by Bernard Keane in Crikey saying that young Australians are doing it tough, but older Australians should form a pact with young Australians because of the sacrifice that they have made during this crisis, because they're doing it tough. Older Australians, who are much more susceptible to COVID from a health risk point of view, repay young Australians by forming a pact and helping them fight the crisis of their time, which is climate change, understanding the threats and challenges that they face. I think that's a really important point. And I hope a lot of older Australians do appreciate the sacrifices that—and rightly so—young Australians are taking by staying at home, by following the rules. So many of them have lost their job. The mental health crisis they're suffering has been well outlined in this place. It's time for an intergenerational pact between older Australians and young Australians. Once again, this could be an opportunity. We can turn a crisis into an opportunity.
The government has been talking about getting Australia to snap back to a time before coronavirus. They've foreshadowed a return to their old agenda of cutting funding to public services, sitting back as Australians barely survive on the low rate of Newstart and undervaluing the work done by teachers, nurses and other frontline workers in our communities. This pandemic has exposed the government's faults. It's exposed their ideological preoccupations and it's exposed their shortcomings, and it's forced them to address sectors and services that they have been ignoring for years, like social security, early childhood education and manufacturing.
We cannot go back to how it was before. As Mr Albanese in the other place said this week, 'We must move forward to having not just survived the pandemic, but having learned from it,' and with one million Australians unemployed, there is no time to waste.
Before the government introduced JobKeeper it asked Australians to reach into their retirement savings to cope with the loss of income during this crisis, and it's the same advice that's been provided day after day during question time by the finance minister. People should not have to choose between a decent retirement and paying their rent. Superannuation works by putting away small amounts now, small amounts when you're young that grow to large amounts when you retire, and the consequence for a young person taking money out of their super now could be very significant at retirement.
I'm particularly concerned about the impact on women. Women already receive significantly less than men in their retirement, they retire with significantly smaller balances than men, and the government is now inviting them to take as much as $20,000 out of their superannuation to get by. Taking money out of your retirement if your balance right now is only $40,000 could have a very, very significant impact on meagre earnings that have been put away.
Australians working in the hospitality and arts sectors have accessed their super more than any other workers during the COVID-19 crisis, and it's no surprise because these are the sectors who are most likely to be excluded from JobKeeper because of the narrow terms on which JobKeeper has been reconstructed. Labor has been calling for more support for these sectors so that young people, women and vulnerable workers are not required to rely on their super but instead receive proper government support. The government's policy decision means that thousands of people have relied on their savings to get through difficult times, and the sad truth is that these savings will need to be rebuilt.
This is not a Young Liberal debating contest. This is a $3 trillion system that Australians depend on. In establishing the scheme, the minister should not have embarked on a rapid rollout of a major reform whilst wilfully ignoring warnings from the industry about the risk of fraud, because exactly what the minister was warned about has come to pass. She's on the record as having rebuffed those warnings, telling the industry that there was nothing to worry about, that perfectly adequate protections were in place, but that wasn't right. It wasn't right at all. Those protections were not adequate, and the minister was forced to suspend the scheme that she put in place because of the fraud risks that eventuated exactly as she was warned. I say this: this was a time when the government ought to have cooperated with industry. It ought to have put aside its ideological attacks on super, it's endless determination to undermine this system, and actually—
Senator Hume interjecting—
This was a time to work with the industry, to put aside ideological preoccupations and to cooperate with business. It's a very great shame that this does not appear to have been the approach so far.
I want to make some remarks about the impact of the crisis on women and the need to pay particular attention to women's economic circumstances. Time and time again, the impact of significant changes to women's economic circumstances are under-reported and under-recognised. This week the ABS released figures that showed overall employment decreased by 7½ per cent between 14 March and 18 April this year. That is a substantial change in the labour market. However, while male unemployment fell by 6.2 per cent, female unemployment fell by 8.1 per cent. That's a difference of nearly two percentage points. Associate Professor Alysia Blackham, who researches workplace discrimination and inequality at the University of Melbourne, said that the pandemic was magnifying already existing inequalities in the labour market. She noted that women are already overrepresented in insecure work, and they are also more likely to be on casual contracts with no paid leave entitlements. It leaves them vulnerable to being cut off from their jobs, as there is no obligation to employ them on an ongoing basis or to ensure certain hours.
This is a government that rarely thinks very specifically about the impact of its decisions on women. On this occasion I say to the government: because of the industries they work in, because of the terms and nature of their employment, women are being hit hard by this crisis. In building policies for reconstructing Australia, we need to think in specific ways about how those policies might support women or might undermine women's interests. Men and women have very different economic lives. This pandemic has highlighted this, and the policy response needs to explicitly consider whether or not the policies advanced will help Australian women.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected us all, but it has also provided us as a community with an opportunity to reflect on what is important in our lives—our families, our health and our economic security. It has illustrated that we're all vulnerable to forces beyond our control and that we rely on one another for compassion and cooperation in difficult times. It's provided us with an opportunity to reflect on what we want the future to be and to think about what we want to take forward and what we want to leave behind. We do not have to simply snap back to insecure work, to jobseekers living in poverty and to science being ignored. We can have an economy that works for people, not the other way around, and a society that reflects the very best of who we can be.
In the face of a global pandemic, with its devastating financial effects and the health of our very nation being of crucial importance, Labor wants us to repeat our plan for the future of our economy—the plan to get Australians back to work and to fight the inevitable effects of the global pandemic on unemployment rates. My response to them is: haven't you been listening at all?
Today there was hard evidence to demonstrate that the Morrison government's plan has put a solid foundation under our economy, evidenced by the fact that unemployment figures rose just one per cent in April to 6.2 per cent. As our Prime Minister said, though, it's still a tough day for Australians. That result, though, in an environment where predictions were that unemployment would run as high as eight to 10 per cent, demonstrates that the strategy to get Australians back to work and to combat massive unemployment is already working.
We're supporting Australians through this difficult time. We're facing hard times, but we have a solid plan and we will recover. In this unprecedented environment, where we face a global pandemic of devastating proportions, we are getting it right. The unemployment rate is proof of the fact that the JobKeeper program is doing its work. We've worked to retain connections between businesses and employees and to ensure a pathway for millions of workers to return to their jobs. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer have been talking about plans to reignite the economy in deliberate stages. As the states ease restrictions, we will see more people return to work.
It might be timely to note that Labor's record on economic management is far from glowing. Even today, a party that's proved itself incapable of managing a tuckshop, a party that's been bankrupting Queensland, is now suggesting that the solution to unemployment is for their leaders to become international airline moguls. That plan will inevitably result in failure and long-term unemployment for airline workers. We welcome other bids for Virgin Airlines so that it can enjoy a long and profitable future, with secure jobs for its Australian workers.
In stark contrast, the Morrison-led government has, with care and the same steady, responsible economic management, developed solid solutions to a range of tough economic problems. At the centre of our economic strategy, we've been sure to care for all Australians while they've been off work. The jobseeker and JobKeeper programs have provided the pillars of support for our economy. There are six million Australians benefiting from the jobseeker, Youth Allowance and JobKeeper programs. The jobseeker and youth allowance payments provide a safety net for people while they search for a job.
When we talk about the unemployed in Australia, we should note that we have one of the most targeted and effective social welfare systems in the world. Almost every Australian who receives the jobseeker or youth allowance payments also receives supplementary payments on top of the base payment—so there are extra supports in place. The jobseeker payment is a temporary transitional support, with close to two-thirds of recipients expected to exit the payment system within a year.
What else do we do to combat unemployment and support Australians who are out of work? The JobKeeper provisions announced on 30 March, to the value of $130 billion, provide employers with $1,500 per fortnight per eligible employee. That's around 70 per cent of the median wage. For workers in the hospitality, accommodation and retail sectors, it will equate to a full median replacement wage. Payments will be made for 13 fortnights from 30 March, ending on 27 September 2020. With this stimulation for the economy we've ensured that many of those businesses forced to close during the shutdown will be able to reopen. There will be jobs for Australian workers to return to.
We're also seeing success on the health front. By putting in place appropriate social-distancing measures, we've slowed the spread of coronavirus. Our economic strategy is as carefully thought out as the health response to the coronavirus. That response has seen other affected countries look to Australia with envy. Australia is confronting the health and economic challenges from a position of strength.
We don't shy away from the fact that the effects of the coronavirus pandemic across the economy have been severe. Businesses and households are facing uncertainty and, as expected, economic activity has slowed. But our measured plan has put a floor under that economic uncertainty. The government's focus right now is not only on the health and wellbeing of Australians, it's on maintaining our strong economy so people can resume work. As the coronavirus is controlled, the Morrison led government is focusing on businesses reopening. That plan has been designed to ensure that consumers gradually regain their confidence and also return to normal. The government's economic support package has provided timely support to affected workers, businesses and the broader community and has kept Australians in work and businesses in business. In fact, without the JobKeeper program, Treasury forecast that unemployment figures could rise as high as 15 per cent for the June quarter, instead of the current forecast of 10 per cent.
Our economy is resilient and well placed to navigate challenges, but we know that the outbreak, social-distancing measures, economic confidence and travel restrictions are having a significant economic impact. GDP is expected to fall by 10 per cent in the June quarter, the equivalent of $50 billion. Every week that the restrictions remain in place, there is a further $4 billion reduction in economic activity due to the combination of reduced workforce participation, productivity and consumption. Going into this outbreak, however, economic activity in Australia was strengthening at the end of 2019, with the economy growing by a healthy 2.2 per cent. Our strength today lies in the fact that the economy was resilient and well placed to navigate the unprecedented challenges of this new coronavirus environment. Bringing national cabinet together to ensure that we can reopen our economies has also been integral to the response plan.
Our economic response to the coronavirus, totalling $320 billion—which is 16.4 per cent of annual GDP over the forward estimates—will help stop the economy stagnating and provide jobs. That fiscal package, which includes the JobKeeper payment, is front-loaded in order to instil confidence in businesses and households. The accommodative monetary policy with its flexible exchange rate will also help to mitigate the effect of negative economic shocks. It should also be remembered that Australia has a sound and well-capitalised banking sector to withstand financial market turmoil. To reiterate, on 8 May the national cabinet met to finalise the three-step plan to gradually remove baseline restrictions and make Australia COVID-safe. Implementing all three stages may see as many as 850,000 people back at work, increasing GDP by around $9.4 billion a month, and controlling the unemployment rate. Our plan to keep businesses open and Australians in jobs is well underway. Our economic response totals over $320 billion over the next four years to 2023-24. It will protect the economy by maintaining confidence and keeping people in jobs, and our approach will remain that we invest in our economy in ways that provide more jobs. We intend to support Australians during the most difficult of times. I'll quote our Prime Minister, who said today: 'that's what Australians can take hope in today … that we will see those better days'.
As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I want to have a chat with Australians through a series of basic questions. Do Australians know that 120 years ago our country led the world in per capita income? We were the richest. Yet from 1923 onwards, we deviated from our Constitution and from the basics that made our country successful. We deviated more after 1944. That accelerated under Labor and Liberal-National governments in 1975 and 1976, and especially from 1996 onwards.
Even before the virus, our country was in an economic mess. The fundamentals showed that. Yet, despite the extra debt created by this virus, we can get out of this mess and rebuild our success, providing that members of parliament understand the key issues that Canberra caused and that we need to reverse. I stand by my initial call to go hard and quick on managing the virus. Much was unknown about it, and developed nations were reeling from it with high death rates and collapses of medical systems. At the same time, I pointed to other nations whose response has been far more effective than ours, in terms of far lower death rates and far, far lower economic impact—Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong.
As I said in the Senate in March and April, there's no manual on how to respond to this. Yet basic questions must be asked. We trusted the government with an open cheque and we promised accountability. I promised to hold the government accountable and am doing so, although sometimes without answer. I will continue to do so. It's my job. We all need to be realistic. Ecuadorians voted for no restraints and its citizens are burning bodies in the streets, bodies are stored in plastic bags in the streets, and people are collapsing and dying in the streets. In New York City morgues are spilling over and refrigerated trucks are standing by, and hospitals are overwhelmed. Yet in the same nation Florida is doing much better. Why?
As for the COVIDSafe app, our initial investigation showed the app was secure, yet the storage of data was a risk. I would not download the app because I don't trust government. The privacy bill today fixes the storage issues—yet now we learn that the app is an invasion of privacy, after hackers showed it is not secure and can be used to spy on people. I don't trust government. In this speech I will show why I do not trust Liberal or Labor governments especially the 1996 to 2007 federal government—for which, I confess, I voted. After seven years research following that government, I concluded it was one of the greatest wreckers of our nation and bypassers of our Constitution.
As citizens and as taxpayers, let's have a discussion. I'll ask some basic questions, and people can answer for themselves. To people who say that a small percentage of the population dying doesn't matter and who want to stop all isolation: are you willing to name one or two close friends or family members you're offering up to die to save our economy? If so, can you speak their names aloud. Isn't preserving and protecting life every government's No. 1 job? Can we put a dollar value on the sanctity of life? No.
Now let's ask what constituents are wondering—or, indeed, shouting. Isn't it true that the government relies on Neil Ferguson's pandemic models and predictions at the Imperial College London for the basis of its management of COVID-19? Isn't it true that Neil Ferguson leads a 50-strong team at the Imperial College London with ties to the UN's corrupt World Health Organization? Isn't it true that American officials admit Ferguson's modelling influenced the USA's response? Did the government know that in 2005 Ferguson said that up to 200 million people could die from bird flu, yet between 2003 and 2009 only 282 people died worldwide from bird flu?
Did the government know that, based on Ferguson's advice, the British government estimated that swine flu would lead to 65,000 deaths, yet in the UK only 457 people died, with a death rate around one-twentieth of Ferguson's prediction? Did the government know that Ferguson's 2001 modelling on foot and mouth disease was severely wrong and that his advice to cull animals on neighbouring properties without symptoms cost the British economy 10 billion pounds? What about Ferguson's 2002 prediction that between 50 and 50,000 people would die from mad cow disease and that there would be possibly up to 150,000 deaths? There have been only 177 deaths in Britain. This guy keeps getting it wrong, badly. Experts internationally have discredited the Imperial College's modelling assumptions. Have models from Ferguson's college been subjected to external scrutiny? Why was widespread testing such as Taiwan's or South Korea's not modelled? Ferguson's Imperial College model saw Sweden having 15 times more deaths by 1 May than actually occurred. Why did Ferguson break his own recommendation to maintain a significant social distancing indefinitely until a vaccine is developed? Why, as warned in my letter of 16 April to the Prime Minister, was no second advisory team funded to critique the primary team? Why not have a blue team, and also a red team to check the blue team's work? Did the government put blind faith in a foreigner without understanding despite his record of huge catastrophic errors and failures?
Who is accountable for the Ruby Princess cruise boat debacle causing a high proportion of Australia's infections and deaths? Isn't it true that the senior Border Force officer on duty on the boat order the captain under section 64 of the Customs Act to not disembark customers? Is the government aware that he then told a more senior officer of the direction he gave to the Ruby Princess captain and that the more senior officer overruled the previous order, and passengers disembarked? We've been given the name of the more senior officer who reportedly reversed the order. Would the government like to know his name? Would the government like to know further information about the breaking of Customs laws at the scene? It has previously been reported that before disembarkation a person from the Department of Home Affairs contacted Border Force officers. What was the nature of instructions or information in that contact? Why did the more senior officer authorise the bulk disembarkation of the passengers despite evidence of coronavirus outbreak on the ship?
Now let's turn to Victoria. The Cedar Meats abattoir is associated with one-third of Australia's cases. Why did the Victorian government enable this? Outbreaks at aged-care facilities represent 60 per cent of deaths. Why did we not change strategy to that of Taiwan, which has a similar population to Australia's, had earlier and greater exposure to China, is more densely populated than Australia and yet only has had only seven deaths compared with our 100? Why can't we keep the sick and vulnerable isolated—as I mentioned on 23 March and 8 April in the Senate and in my letters to the PM—and allow the healthy to return to work as normal under a regime of testing, as successfully done in Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong, with their low death rates and a healthy economy? How many died from the coronavirus and how many died with the coronavirus?
Let's turn to discuss leadership. Are the following traits of effective leadership? Not sharing the data? No. Not trusting the people with the plan of where we're going? no. Repeatedly stating the phrase 'six months hibernation' early on? No. Is all states going in separate directions evidence of a lack of data, lack of unity, plenty of political interference or of a national cabinet not working? Why do state and federal governments seek to control people arbitrarily? Why are footballers like Bryce Cartwright risking their careers and their family livelihood because the Queensland state government forces them to be infected with a compulsory flu shot? No-one can link it to the coronavirus yet the state government makes it a condition of restarting our rugby league competition. Why are triggers in state and federal road maps to exit isolation not based on objective data but are simply a matter of political opinion? Does the government expect that Australians will be sent home in three to six weeks time to curb the second wave of COVID-19 outbreaks or the third or the fourth? How will that be enforced? What does the government's model that shares basic assumptions with Neil Ferguson's Imperial College models say about the number of times isolation will be ordered and released? Doesn't it say there will be outbreak spikes needing future isolation? Quoting from the UK government's official declaration Health Department:
As of 19 March 2020, COVID-19 is no longer considered to be a High Consequence Infectious Disease … in the UK.
Yet it remains a threat, doesn't it? I know that, albeit much lower than originally thought.
In my first corona speech, on Monday 23 March, I named the virus the Chinese Communist Party-UN virus because of the UN's culpability in giving wrong and contradictory advice and making dishonest statements. I later called for inquiry into the Chinese Communist Party's role in the pandemic. Why did the Prime Minister recently call for the UN's failed and corrupt World Health Organization to be given the power of weapons inspectors, especially after the World Health Organization lied about the corona? Recently, last October, Scott Morrison called for a review of what he said was 'unaccountable internationalist bureaucracy'. Yet, around 1 May, this Prime Minister said, 'Australia will do what is in our interest, in the global interest.' Why does he now contradict himself a second time? Which of his statements is the truth?
Why did Lib-Lab governments at federal and state levels sell assets to the Chinese Communist Party? They sold electricity assets, essential assets, and subsidised the Chinese to install solar panels and wind turbines in Australia that are destroying our electricity grid and sending jobs to China. Why did the government sell the Port of Darwin to the Chinese or sell Murray-Darling Basin water to Chinese companies under the 2007 Howard-Turnbull Water Act? Senator Patrick called five times for an inquiry into the relationship between Australia and China. Each time I spoke in favour, and each time the Labor and Liberal-National Parties voted against the inquiry. Why?
Why is New South Wales Labor now praising China, demanding welfare payments for foreign students, wanting more taxpayer subsidies for arts programs for the wealthy? Does the government know that the Chinese Communist Party is close to the UN and pushes its policies? Why does the UN's World Health Organization, with its close relationship to the Chinese Communist Party, never mention Taiwan, the stand-out successful performer for managing COVID-19? When will state and federal Lib-Lab governments give us our lives back and our basic freedoms? Anything that is needed with the permission of government is not a freedom.
Corporate bonds—let's consider them. A Liberal senator recently mentioned his deep concern about our Reserve Bank of Australia buying corporate bonds. That's a transfer of wealth from taxpayers to foreign companies, and a transfer of risk from those companies to we taxpayers. Why? The former deputy commissioner of taxation Jim Killaly said in 1996 and in 2010 that 90 per cent of Australia's large companies are foreign owned and since 1953 have paid little or no company tax. The 14 largest companies in our country are foreign owned. Why do Lib-Lab governments encourage companies to use our assets and exploit our resources yet pay no company tax?
This is not the first time Liberal-Labor-National policies have cost the people billions of dollars based on no real data. Consider these areas of policy failure now hurting Australians: energy; stealing farmers' rights to use land that they own but can't use; water policy and the 2007 Turnbull-Howard Water Act that pushed farmers aside and put compliance with international agreements to the foremost priority; over-regulation with red tape, green tape and UN blue tape; and UN control of World Heritage areas, fishing and immigration. Even Sydney's Warragamba water dam supply is under UN control, effectively. Immigration policy is under the UN Human Rights Council and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The Iraq War was based on the furphy of weapons of mass destruction that did not exist. Public money is blown with no empirical data or justification again and again.
Former Western Australian Premier Richard Court's book Rebuilding the Federation documents in detail the dismantling of our nation. COVID-19 has exposed our weaknesses because we have adopted the globalist policies of interdependence that make us dependent on others. We have lost our independence and now depend on foreigners. COVID-19 has exposed that we lost our manufacturing security. UN treaties, protocols, agreements and declarations in Lima in 1975, in Rio in 1992, in Kyoto in 2005 and in Paris in 2015, and many others, have stolen our national sovereignty and destroyed our governments, our productive capacity, our economic resilience, our independence and our security.
When will Labor, Liberals and Nationals stop blowing billions of dollars without data? In this case, on COVID-19, it's $320 billion. This is why I do not trust Liberal-Labor-National governments. We need to celebrate Australia's people, resources, opportunities and potential. We need to recognise that what Liberal-Labor governments have done since 1944 is selling us out—literally selling our future. We need to get back to basics, return to reality, to bring back our country. It's common sense. All people need, all we want, is to be heard and to be given a fair go.
We need leaders who use our assets—the people's assets—for our people, our country. We need people to stop believing in big government, believe instead in ourselves, our country, and take back our rights at the ballot box. The people are the rulers; our Constitution says so. The first step in bringing back our country is to admit the causes of its economic destruction and then end the treason to bring back our country, personal freedoms and rights under our laws, values and culture. Liberal-Labor governments over the last 76 years have handed over our sovereignty. To regain our high standards of living we need to bring back Australia. Voters need to take responsibility at the ballot box and elect trustworthy representatives who truthfully use solid data to serve our country. The people will then trust elected MPs to serve our nation.
I appreciate this opportunity to reflect on the impact of the coronavirus on Australians and Queenslanders so far. It's been hard for people facing work shutdowns. It has been hard for business owners who are not sure if they are going to make it through. It's been hard for families as they were thrown into the deep end of home schooling, often trying to work from home at the same time. It's been hard for the elderly and the sick, who face the knowledge that this virus is most dangerous to them, and they faced additional isolation as a result. But through all of that hardship, every step of the way, the Morrison government has been there with an unprecedented subsidy of the $130 billion JobKeeper payment to keep Australians in work and connected to their workplaces so that they can have that continuity and so those businesses can bounce back as quickly as possible; with expanded assistance for those who have lost jobs through the JobSeeker payment as well allowances relating to rent, phones and other expenses; with the expansion of the instant asset write-off, the business cash flow boost and the jobs hub to help businesses navigate these difficult times; and with the COVID supplement to help welfare recipients to stimulate the economy. I could keep going but I think those in the chamber get the idea.
It's a lot of spending. I'm not ashamed to say that that level of spending pushes my boundaries but it should because it's not my money or the government's money; it's your money, the Australian public's money, the taxpayers' money and it's our children's money. I'm reassured by the knowledge that these are temporary measures to get us through this difficult time and I am reassured by the knowledge that these measures are working. I hear it from individuals and businesses all over Queensland.
Ryan Shaw, the LNP's candidate for Nudgee, recently met with the owner of VEND Marketplace in Virginia, who said that the JobKeeper payment has helped maintain his tenants because the businesses who lease shops in that centre are able to keep opening with the benefit of the JobKeeper boost. My office has heard from Malcolm Dickens from Dickens Training and Assessment Services. He provides vocational training in the construction and earthmoving industries. It is a wonderful Queensland business that provides training across Queensland and even into New South Wales. Not only have they benefited from JobKeeper payments to keep their staff on but they've particularly benefited from the cash flow boost implemented by the Morrison government and this has allowed them to adjust their workplace to continue to deliver training in a COVID-safe economy.
I was really pleased to hear from my friend and colleague Angie Bell, the member for Moncrieff, that the JobKeeper program made it possible for the Southport Yacht Club to stay in business. It is a community club which has been operational since 1949.
Surfers Paradise MP John-Paul Langbroek told me that his electorate in the small business capital of Queensland—which statistically it is—was hurting given the downturn in tourism that has come about due to the closing of borders and the requirement for Australians to stay home. Thousands of restaurants, cafes and shops normally thrive in that bustling little community. But many have been brought to their knees by COVID-19. Thanks to the JobKeeper program, many of them have been able to keep their doors open, and I will give just a couple of examples. The Edgewater Restaurant, run by John and Tracey Cianci, is open again for business on Saturday, with staff being supported by the Morrison government's JobKeeper program. The Moana Restaurant, on the Isle of Capri, has been able to retain long-term staff by pivoting so that they can provide takeaways, and they'll open for dinners from this weekend. Lincoln Testa, from Madison's Cafe in Broadbeach, said: 'Thank God for JobKeeper! We wouldn't be here without it.'
Based in Townsville, Ashley Evans, who owns AAA+ Financial Solutions and AAA Consulting, says that his business has survived because of the JobKeeper payment. Importantly, though, he says that he's been receiving really positive feedback from clients across northern and western Queensland to say that JobKeeper has been vital for them. Ashley's been helping his clients to navigate all the changes taking place in the assistance that's available from government and the changes in our economy that have come as we adapt to the COVID environment. He's also been working closely with banks to help organise complementary finance to ensure that businesses are able to keep making payroll while they have waited for early JobKeeper payments to arrive. Ashley says passionately that JobKeeper is exactly the lifeline that small businesses across regional Queensland have desperately needed.
I've also heard from Nick Braban, a bar owner, that, due to the JobKeeper and cashflow boost payments, he's been able to pivot his businesses, given that they weren't able to be open in the usual way, so that he has been able to keep the doors open at his Isles Lane and Beirne Lane venues in Fortitude Valley.
I could keep listing great examples like those, but I'm also struck by the ingenuity of Australian businesses that have been able to dramatically adapt their operations to these times. Nowhere is that clearer than in the way that Queensland manufacturers have pivoted to producing personal protective equipment, or PPE, and medical equipment to sustain the needs of our population and our health system during this time. Gold Coast company Triple Eight Race Engineering is now manufacturing an emergency invasive ventilator that's suitable for a range of situations, including where there are suboptimal conditions, such as not being in a hospital. The ventilator has been designed by Triple Eight to meet the technical specifications that the regulators require. It's a self-contained unit that doesn't require a medical-grade air supply unit to function. It's really very clever—and a great way that they've adapted to the challenges of this time. It means that we will be able to deliver great health services even outside the hospitals of our capitals.
Brisbane company OzVader began with its project founder Tony Sprague messaging a mate out of frustration at the climbing COVID-19 statistics around the globe and going, 'What if we could have done something here?' So, since then, Tony and a team of engineers and medics have designed and built a production-ready, safe and functional medical ventilator. It's a life-saving response to a global ventilator shortage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The OzVader V1 is undergoing functional testing at the medical engineering research facility at Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane. What an accomplishment in a short period of time!
Brisbane company 3D One are supplying world-first 3D printed patient customised medical devices for protecting healthy tissue in cancer treatment, and they're doing that with distribution throughout Australia and New Zealand at a rate of more than 60 per week currently. They have a fleet of 20 really quite serious 3D printers but, due to strong local and now international demand, they've needed to greatly increase their manufacturing capacity. Who would have thought there'd be stories of great growth amidst all of this hardship? By their pivot, they've now been able to develop their own large-format 3D printers, custom designed for printing these world-first radiation treatments. Now, after a series of prototypes and rigorous testing, they've entered large-scale production. They switched their 3D printers during this time so that not only are they producing assistance for those who are going through radiation and other cancer treatments but they're now printing PPE. They've crowdsourced more 3D printed parts from all over Australia, and that's how they are rather ingeniously keeping up with PPE demand from Australian hospitals.
I have great faith in Australian businesses and their tenacity to get through this difficulty, I have great faith in the resilience of Australia's working people and the fighting spirit of Queenslanders as they get through this difficult time, and I have enormous belief in the way that they have gathered together as a community and acknowledged the need to support each other as we get through this difficult time together. I'll conclude by saying to each and every one of those Queenslanders: the Morrison government is here with you every step of the way through this challenging time.
I rise tonight to make a contribution to today's general business notice of motion on the JobKeeper and jobseeker payments. Today the Australian Bureau of Statistics released labour force statistics for April. The figures are dire, as I think anybody in this chamber would have seen. The number of unemployed people increased by 104,500. The unemployment rate increased from 5.2 per cent to 6.2 per cent. The underemployment rate increased to a record high of 13.7 per cent. The underutilisation rate, which combines the unemployment and underemployment rates, also rose to a record high of 19.9 per cent. These are scary figures. What does it mean for our future?
But, unfortunately, these figures mask the real damage being done. Jim Stanford, director of the Australia Institute's Centre for Future Work, pointed out the following gaps in the latest statistics. Last month, half a million people—500,000 Australians—left the labour market. This means that they haven't been counted in the figures—hence his concern that in fact we don't have the true picture. Further, there were another 750,000 people who were counted as employed but didn't work a single hour. This is partly because of the way JobKeeper keeps people attached to the labour market even if there's no work. I'm not passing judgement on that—at least people are getting paid—but it does also need to be taken into consideration when we're looking at the overall number of jobs that are available. Finally, in April there was a big drop in the number of hours people are working. Average monthly hours for those still employed fell by seven hours per worker. That's equivalent to around 600,000 positions—hence Jim Stanford's concern that these figures are not telling the full picture. I'd argue this is even further warning that we need to make sure that we keep the jobseeker payment and that the JobKeeper payment is available for workers. Because of these gaps, Jim Stanford estimates that a more meaningful figure for unemployment is around 20 per cent. I'm deeply concerned that the number of unemployed Australians will keep growing, given these figures.
But there are also so many that are missing out on the supports. Senator Stoker went through those supports, as have other contributors to this debate. I've already outlined to this place how much I was pleased to see the jobseeker payment doubled, and the Greens were strongly lobbying for some form of wage subsidy scheme, so of course we're pleased to see JobKeeper, but the fact is that people are missing out, people are being left behind. The jobseeker payment is not available to those on visas. People on disability support pension and carers payment are missing out on the supplement, and in my adjournment contribution I'm going to go into that in much further detail. International students are missing out. Temporary visa holders are missing out on JobKeeper. Casuals who haven't had their job for more than 12 months miss out on JobKeeper, meaning a million workers are missing out on JobKeeper.
We cannot forget those who are being left behind. Younger workers and women are feeling the effects of unemployment the most. I'm deeply concerned about older workers. We knew, before the pandemic hit, that older workers were getting stuck on the old Newstart, now jobseeker, for much longer. I'm deeply concerned about the future for older workers, and I know there are many older workers who are also worried, because I'm hearing from them. I'm hearing from them concerned about their futures. In fact, some are saying, 'Will I ever work again?' We need to make sure that they do work again. We do not want to see older workers going into retirement in poverty. These are some of the hardest-hit cohorts.
I'm deeply concerned that this situation is going to get far worse come September, when the government think they're going to wave a wand and magically everything is going to be okay again. Well, unfortunately it isn't going to snap back, and we need to be planning for that now. We need to be planning for the fact that there are still, unfortunately, going to be people who either can't find work or are underemployed. That's why we need to retain the new jobseeker payment. Today's figures show how critical it is that we do everything we can to support Australians through this crisis and its ongoing effects. There is simply no guarantee that people are going to miraculously get their jobs back at the end of September, because, quite frankly, some of those jobs won't exist at the end of September.
If the government make policy decisions about the rate of jobseeker because of the arbitrary deadlines and some coalition members who are already lobbying for jobseeker and JobKeeper to end, that's based on ideological measures, not reality. It simply is not based on reality. The government knew that you couldn't survive on $40 a day. They quite clearly knew that. That's clearly demonstrated by the fact that they doubled the jobseeker payment. They doubled it knowing that people need more than $40 a day. That same truth is going to still be in place in September.
We already have experts saying that a sudden withdrawal of support could spark a double-dip recession. Yes, we need to work together, and we have been, by and large, working together to get us through this crisis, and the supports that have been put in place are really, genuinely helping people, but withdrawing them come September will mean that people are dropped into poverty. They won't be able to pay their rent. They won't be able to pay their mortgage or their daily living expenses. They simply won't be able to survive on $40 a day. We cannot go back to $40 a day for our income support system. This country is far better than that. We can't wind back supports to $40 a day come 25 September. We need to be making sure that we are showing that we are a fair and decent community and continue to support people through the ongoing effects of this pandemic. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.