Senate debates

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

COVID-19: Employment

3:17 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Finance (Senator Cormann) to a question without notice asked by Senator Gallagher today the economy.

Of course, today we saw some deeply horrifying statistics come out about the state of unemployment in our country. Today what we found out was that unemployment in Australia has hit 7.1 per cent, the highest unemployment rate we have seen in Australia for nearly 20 years. Those figures can be measured in so many different ways. What it means is that just in one month we saw 227,000 Australians lose their jobs, and of course that comes on the back of more and more job losses that had occurred in Australia after COVID-19 hit in the early months of this year. What we've seen in total since March is the loss of 835,000 jobs across Australia. That's far more than just a set of numbers. That's families without income. That's graduates without career prospects. That's skills going down the drain, unable to be used.

There were so many shocking statistics revealed today about the state of unemployment in Australia. What we know is that, in the month of May alone, we saw 2.3 million Australians either lose their jobs or lose working hours. In addition to the 7.1 per cent of Australians who are now unemployed, we have a record high 20.2 per cent of Australians who are underemployed, who want more work but are unable to find the level of work that they're looking for. There are terrible statistics, again, for youth unemployment, for the number of women who've lost their jobs and for the male participation rate. In pretty much every way you look at it, these unemployment figures are incredibly bleak.

The most worrying thing is that these numbers are set to get worse, not just as some sort of coincidence, not because of uncontrolled events and not just because of COVID-19, but because of decisions that this government is actively making to hold back support to Australians who desperately need it. It's as a result of this government's own decisions that the unemployment rate has got so high and is set to get worse and that we will see so many Australians struggle in the months ahead. You really have to think about this government's priorities. Due to this data being released today, we now know that more than one in four Australians is either unemployed or underemployed. Yet all this government can talk about is cutting back on JobKeeper and jobseeker support. So rather than actually being out there desperately working day and night to get people into work, this government's priority, at a time when unemployment and underemployment have never been so high, is to work out ways that it can scale back support. That is exactly the kind of excessive austerity that this Prime Minister has said he won't engage in—but he and his backbench are preparing to engage in this and make survival so much harder for so many Australians.

I wish that in the coming weeks this government, as it has important decisions to make, actually listens to some of its more sensible backbenchers, particularly from my home state of Queensland, who are saying JobKeeper and jobseeker need to be extended. This is going to be an incredibly important test of this government over coming weeks—to see whether it adopts pragmatic measures that will keep Australians at work, that will keep money in the homes of Australians, or follows its traditional ideology and cuts back on that support.

We have seen so many disturbing signs that this government is not going to be able to avoid its ideological blueprint. Just today, the Prime Minister has said old jobs may have to go. Rather than working day and night to make sure all of the jobs we have lost this year get restored, this Prime Minister is already giving up on a whole heap of jobs. What are the old jobs that may have to go? Are they the retail workers? Are they the hospitality workers? Are they the manufacturing workers? Are they the mining workers? Are they the aged-care workers? Are they the disability care workers? Labor will not give up on jobs and we will keep fighting for those jobs to be restored. (Time expired)

3:22 pm

Photo of Perin DaveyPerin Davey (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on Senator Watt's take note motion. I thank Senator Watt for giving me the opportunity to explain what our priorities are. Our priority is exactly to address the issue that Senator Watt has raised. Yes, it is dreadful that the unemployment figures are high. But, let's face it, we have gone through a global pandemic like we've never seen before. When we compare the impact our economy has felt to others around the world, we have actually come out of this relatively well. I don't deny that the unemployment figures are devastating. But what I will say is that our government is very well placed to address that.

Our JobMaker plan is to get Australia employed again, to get Australia moving again, to help rebuild our economy. We are doing it because we have an eye on the future. We have announced that we are commencing formal negotiations with Britain for a free trade agreement. That will open up markets. That will help us to broaden our export capacity, which helps our regional employment. We can get our agricultural produce into Britain. If we can do that directly, it will be a fantastic outcome for regional Australia. We are fast-tracking infrastructure spending. That is jobs in construction, that is jobs in the regions, that is jobs in our states. I cannot believe that those on the other side shake their heads at our plan to build infrastructure. That's what they've been telling us to get on and do for the last four years. We are doing it. We are getting on with the job of getting people back in employment.

Today we are about to pass the National Skills Commissioner Bill. That is designed to identify the skills gaps across our country and develop the education and training programs so that people are job ready and job fit. This can only be a good thing. The Prime Minister has committed to a plan to lift economic growth over the next five years by more than one percentage point above trend to beat the expected pre-COVID-19 GDP by 2025. We have a plan—we have an economic plan and a JobMaker plan—and we are committed to working on that to deliver it. All levels of government, business and the community must rethink how these systems can better contribute to our recovery from this pandemic.

Senator Watt said, 'What old jobs are we turning our back on?' We're not turning our back on any old jobs, but what we are embracing is the need to adapt. Our economy needs to adapt and our job markets need to adapt, and we are embracing that adaptation. We are not about stagnating this nation. We are not about relying on the old. We are about rising to the challenges of the future, rebuilding our economy and getting on with the job of getting Australians back into a job. I will not apologise for the commitment that this government, the government I am part of, has to getting people employed again.

We need to bring common sense and cooperation back into this debate. We showed, in fighting COVID-19, that unlocking infrastructure and investment is part of the recovery process. Let's not forget Australia entered the COVID-19 crisis from a position of economic strength. That is strength that this government was able to create. Had those on the other side been in government, I dread to think what would have happened and how we would have been able to afford to address this pandemic.

To minimise the economic impacts and position our economy to recover on the other side of the crisis, we have provided $260 billion in financial support for the economy. That's around 13.3 per cent of GDP. We are reviewing where we are at right now. It is appropriate that we take the time to review it. We're not pre-empting the outcome of that review. The Treasurer will update everyone in July, and that is the right thing to do. We need to take time to review the position we're in and move forward. I am very proud of our position, the position our government has got us to in this nation, to get ready to put people back to jobs.

3:27 pm

Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You can see from Senator Davey's remarks, and you could certainly see from Senator Cormann's performance today in question time, what the government's plan really is for the Australian economy. They can't wait to get to snapback, when millions of Australian workers and hundreds of thousands of Australian firms will be forced off JobKeeper, with millions of people off to Centrelink, onto the unemployment queues. They're not going to tell the people of Australia about it until after the Eden-Monaro by-election. It's their secret plan to put off hundreds of thousands of lost jobs. Millions of Australians right now are looking for work or are underemployed, but the main game for this lot is always all about the slogans, never about the substance. It's always about the marketing, never about the delivery. What they are all about is keeping it all on the down-low, getting their way through the winter break, getting their way through the Eden-Monaro by-election, without telling the people of Eden-Monaro what they are really going to do. We know what they are really going to do, because they have made it very, very clear.

The millions of workers who are on JobKeeper will be pushed across to Centrelink, left to the mercy of the market. All of the rhetoric, all of the carry-on, all of the smugness from the Leader of the Government in the Senate, the Minister for Finance, cannot obscure the truth of their secret plan for jobs in Eden-Monaro, their secret plan for jobs in Australia, which is that they are going to leave the Australian economy to the market forces; they are going to leave ordinary Australians who've been relying on the JobKeeper scheme to Centrelink, to the unemployment queues, and we will see from this government more economic failure, more policy failure and more policy stagnation.

Question agreed to.