Thursday, 18 June 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Cormann. Today's release of labour force figures for May shows a further 227,700 jobs were lost, bringing the total of jobs lost since March to 835,000. How many of these job losses could have been prevented if the government had extended JobKeeper?
Indeed, today it was announced that employment fell by almost 227,000 jobs in May 2020, including 89,100 full-time jobs and 138,600 part-time jobs. It's another sad day, but we of course knew this was coming. In case the opposition missed it, we're dealing with a once-in-100-years global pandemic and the very significant health and economic consequences of that pandemic here in Australia and around the world. If you compare Australia's performance in terms of the health response as well as in terms of the economic impact and the jobs impact, we are performing comparatively well—which obviously doesn't take away from the fact this is a very difficult time for lots of Australians. We've always been upfront about the fact that, as we work our way through this crisis, many Australians, sadly—
This is a pretty serious moment for our nation, and I think I should be allowed to provide an explanation of the position of the government. This is a very difficult time for many Australians, in particular those who through no fault of their own have lost their jobs. What the government has set out to do, working with governments around Australia, is get on top of the health threat by slowing down and suppressing the spread of the virus by providing support to businesses, to ensure as many Australians as possible can remain connected to those businesses. We've also of course provided significantly enhanced transitional support to those Australians who have lost their jobs. Anyone who doesn't get support through JobKeeper is of course, consistent with appropriate arrangements, able to access jobseeker payments.
A total of 2.3 million workers were affected by either losing their jobs or working reduced hours in May, reflecting a fifth of the entire workforce. How many more Australians will lose their jobs in September, when Mr Morrison snaps back JobKeeper?
I would say in response to the last part of the question that we will continue to make responsible decisions, as we have done so far, to ensure the strongest possible economic recovery and that Australians have the best possible opportunity to get back into work and to get ahead. These are not easy considerations. These are not easy decisions. You might want to pretend that there are some magic bullets that can somehow make it all go away, but we are doing the absolute best we can to ensure the strongest possible economic recovery on the other side of this and that people get back into jobs as quickly as possible. Of course, it is already happening. As restrictions on the economy are being eased, people are able to get back into some of those jobs that had been lost. Of course, more people would be able to get back to work if some states would open their state borders. (Time expired)
Minister, the underutilisation rate now stands at 20.2 per cent, which is a new record high. In the face of the first recession in 29 years and the highest unemployment figures in 20 years, why is Mr Morrison so determined to snap back and leave people behind?
I completely reject the premise of the last part of the question. We are very focused on making sure no-one is left behind. In case the opposition hasn't noticed, we are going through a pretty difficult period as a result of something we didn't cause. Workforce participation levels before the COVID-19 pandemic hit were the highest on record—in particular, the female participation rate was at its highest level ever. We've been hit by a pretty devastating virus. That has had a pretty devastating effect on our economy and on economies around the world. But you know what? In Australia, the Australian people know that, compared to other countries around the world, we are actually doing comparatively well. That doesn't mean that people aren't feeling hardship and difficulties. Of course they are, and we are focused on making sure that we get back into the strongest possible position as soon as possible.
My question is to the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Cash. In light of the unprecedented economic situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, can the minister update the Senate on the Australian labour figures for the month of May and what steps the Morrison government is taking to drive our economic recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic?
I thank Senator Molan for his question. As the Leader of the Government in the Senate has stated, Australia and Australians have shown great resilience in the face of COVID-19, which has caused a worldwide health and economic crisis. The labour force figures released today, for the month of May, were not unexpected. They continue to reflect the negative impact that COVID-19 is having on the labour market, but, in particular, because the survey period in which the labour force figures were taken was the first two weeks of May, they were actually taken in the situation where we had the height of the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
Whilst it is clear that the economic fallout from COVID-19 will continue for some time, the government has moved quickly to protect both the health and the jobs of all Australians and put in place substantial measures to help cushion the impact of COVID-19. While today's ABS figures highlight the devastating effects of COVID-19, it is important to note, as the Leader of the Government in the Senate has stated, that Australia did enter this crisis from a position of economic strength and record employment. Total employment in Australia now stands at 12.15 million. The unemployment rate today has risen to 7.1 per cent. Every single job loss as a result of COVID-19 is devastating, but what it does highlight, as Minister Cormann has stated, is the imperative to open up our economy. The states need to open their borders. That is what now needs to happen, and the Prime Minister has been very, very clear in this regard.
Having flattened the health curve in relation to COVID-19, the Prime Minister has made it very clear we are now fighting unemployment in Australia. That is the very clear message that we can all take today from today's labour force figures. But our No. 1 priority as a government is to support the economy to grow, and that is why we need all states and territories to open their borders, because that will mean that people can start travelling, businesses can get back to work and they can create more jobs for Australians, and that is what we are all about. That is why, as a government, we have also invested a record $260 billion, equivalent to 13.3 per cent of GDP, into the economy. The measures that we have implemented have provided the essential support that many businesses have needed to get them through the COVID-19 crisis.
Again, getting people back into jobs, ensuring that the economy is able to reopen so that it can grow—that is where we need to start. As the Prime Minister outlined in his address at the National Press Club recently, our JobMaker plan is critical to lifting growth, and not just for the next few months, not just for now. We have a plan for Australians. We're going to bring them with us as we reopen the economy, at least for the next five years. That's our JobMaker plan. In particular we're going to be supporting skills and industrial relations reform. Why? Because we need this not only to improve our workplace productivity but also to ensure that employers are getting the skilled workforce that they need. And, of course, there's the great work that the minister for trade is doing in pursuing free trade agreements, building new relationships, giving more businesses the opportunity— (Time expired)