Senate debates

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers


3:01 pm

Photo of Katy GallagherKaty Gallagher (ACT, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Finance) 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 Wong today relating to the economy.

Today we had the National Accounts released. What they've shown is that we have the deepest recession since the Great Depression, we've got the worst quarterly contraction since records began 60 years ago, household spending has collapsed, business investment—already in decline since 2018—has tanked, one million Australians are unemployed, 400,000 people are expected to lose their jobs by Christmas, 1.6 million Australians are receiving income support through JobSeeker or youth allowance, about 3½ million Australian workers are on JobKeeper and we have record levels of debt and will have deficits for a decade. What's this government's response to this disastrous set of numbers released today—numbers which tell the distressing stories of businesses lost, jobs lost and households under enormous stress? Where is the government's plan for economic recovery? Where is their plan for jobs? We've known for some time that the Treasurer is very quick to go out and tell everyone how bad the economy is and how terrible the impact of COVID-19 has been, but he's not as quick to get out and tell us what the plan is for recovery, and that's what people want to hear.

People know the economy has suffered. They know jobs have been lost. Each one of us knows someone who's lost their job and who's struggled to make ends meet. We all understand that. The more relevant thing for the government to be focusing on is what they are doing. The only thing they've been clear about since July when they provided the economic update is a plan to cut economic support—to cut JobKeeper, to cut JobSeeker, to cut wages, to cut super and to freeze the pension. They're all decisions that this government has taken. We know what they're prepared to cut and what they're prepared to withdraw; what's less clear to us is what they're going to do to drive economic growth, to drive jobs growth and to support businesses that are under pressure in the recovery stage. That's what we are looking for, that's why we asked our questions today, and that's why we want to know whether this is the right time for the government to be withdrawing the support that's been provided in the last six months.

It's not just Labor that want to know this; the Reserve Bank governor has made it clear on many occasions that fiscal policy will remain an extremely important element of any economic recovery, and he has warned against withdrawing fiscal support too soon, because the consequences of that will be a longer and deeper recession. And the unemployment queues will grow longer than they should or need to if the government gets this wrong. That's the point that Labor is making. That's why we are asking the government: what is your plan for jobs? How are you going to grow jobs and grow the economy? That is what Australians expect of their government. That's what they elect them to do—not to tell them how bad everything is, how it's not their fault, how it's everyone else's fault, the states' fault, and how we're better than every other country. When you do those international comparisons, I think it's pretty cold comfort, frankly, for the million people who have joined the unemployment queue or the 1.6 million surviving fortnight to fortnight on JobSeeker or youth allowance. I don't think they make the international comparison. They want to know what the plan is for jobs.

We know this government puts a lot of emphasis on the spin. There's a lot less emphasis placed on the substance. So we have announcement after announcement—JobMaker, JobTrainer and HomeBuilder. Then when you drill down into those programs that were announced 10 weeks ago, three months ago, what do you find out? You find out that there's no idea how many jobs will be created under JobMaker. The employment department didn't know, other than that they weren't in charge of it. On JobTrainer, we don't know the skills priority list. I think they may have released something today, but when it was announced 10 weeks ago they didn't know. They had to wait for that work to be done. And HomeBuilder was supposed to drive the construction industry—nothing spent and no applications approved. We want more than spin. We want substance and we want a jobs plans from this government. (Time expired)

3:06 pm

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Finance, Charities and Electoral Matters) Share this | | Hansard source

When we think back to the last election, I recall in the week before the election the Labor Party put out their picture.

Senator Gallagher interjecting

Senator Wong interjecting

It's a good one! I've got the picture; it's a good one. It's in my office. You're in it, Senator Wong. Senator Wong was in the picture. Mr Bowen was in the picture. Mr Shorten was in the picture. Mr Chalmers was in the picture. What they said is, 'We're ready.' I think about that election when I see what the Labor Party go on about in opposition and the way they behave. I think about the reasons for that. There's been a lot written about it, about their economic plan. The wrecking ball they wanted to take to the Australian economy with their higher taxes plan was part of that. The line of questioning that we saw in question time today which we're debating now—the questions that they put and the answers that were given to those questions—fundamentally goes to the disdain the Australian Labor Party have for the Australian people. They have absolute disdain for the Australian people.

We saw it with the claim that you could raise taxes by $387 billion and that would have no impact, that you'd be able to have this magic money tree and distribute money wherever you liked and that would have no impact on the economy. We saw it in question time today and the attacks that the Labor Party are launching. They showed such disdain for the Australian people. They think that they won't notice that when they attack us as we face this economic downturn and they ignore what is going on around the world and what is going on in Australia in terms of this thing called COVID-19, coronavirus, and the wrecking ball that that has been for the world economy.

Opposition senators interjecting

We have Labor senators interjecting about this. They seem to think that the Australian people are too dimwitted to notice that there are these things going on and that governments around the world are seeking to deal with it. This Australian government, this coalition government, has put forward policies right throughout to shield Australians from the worst of the economic impact. Can we stop all of the economic impact? No, unfortunately, we can't. That's why days like today, when we see those figures out there and we see a number put on the challenges and the suffering that so many Australians are going through as we deal with this health crisis and economic crisis, are tough days. We are thinking about those people who have lost their jobs.

Opposition senators interjecting

Again, we get these ridiculous interjections. But the Labor Party would like us to pretend that this is all happening in a vacuum, that the drop in GDP that has been announced today, that we take seriously, that we've been working so hard—

Senator Pratt interjecting

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Pratt, order!

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Finance, Charities and Electoral Matters) Share this | | Hansard source

As Minister Cormann pointed out, when you have states and territories doing a pretty good job, in most cases, dealing with the health crisis and shutting things down and saying, 'You can't move here,' and, 'You can't move there,' and, 'This business can't open,' that has a serious impact on economic activity.

But the other lie the Labor Party seeks to perpetrate and thinks the Australian people are too stupid to notice is that somehow we went into this with an economy that wasn't doing well. That's not what the RBA governor was saying. He was forecasting economic growth of three per cent and more going into 2020 and 2021. He was forecasting unemployment to drop below five per cent, so that was the starting point the Liberal-National government had brought the country to.

The other starting point we had was a balanced budget. Having inherited a $48 billion deficit from the Labor Party, we balanced the budget, which of course has given us more fiscal firepower to be able to support Australians with JobKeeper and JobSeeker. Can you imagine if the deficits that had been run up under the Labor Party had continued, as they would have? We would have $40 billion and $50 billion deficits. So we had balanced the budget, we were strengthening our economy, unemployment was headed below five per cent, and now we're dealing with this challenge together as a nation. We'll deal with it. We'll come through this, because we will make changes. We will be nimble as an economy, as a government and as a country. That will help people get back into work, that will assist them with the skills they need and that will cut the red tape that gets in their way. We will get out of this together. But we are not going to be lectured to by the Labor Party living in a fantasy land, pretending the crisis doesn't exist.

3:11 pm

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

Well, let's just start with a few facts; it would make a nice change from what we just heard from Senator Seselja. The facts are that today we learned that Australia is facing its worst recession in nearly 100 years, the worst recession our country has faced since the Great Depression. We have seen the worst quarterly contraction of our country since records began. If there's one thing this government has set a record for, it's for setting new records of poor economic management. Even before this crisis hit, we saw the worst wage growth that this country had ever seen, since records began, and today we saw the worst contraction in the economy in any one quarter since records began. It's the first recession in 30 years. It is 30 years since growth started under a Labor government, which got the economy moving, got the economy growing and got people into jobs. Now it's all been brought to an end by a coalition government starving the economy and starving the Australian people of support that is desperately needed.

I might just point out that the government is very keen, as it's wont to do, to flick responsibility for what has gone on here. It points to the COVID pandemic, and of course that is a factor in this economy. But I didn't see anyone on the government benches running those kinds of excuses when Australia faced the GFC. All around the world after the GFC, the global economy went into freefall. All developed economies went into recession for years, except for one—Australia. Australia was the only world economy that did not go into recession after the GFC and that was because of the policies that were brought in by the Labor government of the day. This government could take a few lessons from that Labor government about how you deal with external economic shocks and protect your own population from the harm they can cause.

Just as we saw a Labor government take an expansionary approach to the economy after the GFC, we need this government to take an expansionary approach to the economy after the COVID crisis. Unfortunately, we are seeing the opposite. All of these facts and figures have human consequences. It's not just about percentages and records and things like that; it's about the human consequences. All around Australia we're seeing families losing jobs, unable to pay bills. We're seeing businesses that have been developed over decades collapsing and we're seeing Centrelink queues the like of which we have not seen since the Great Depression. These are the human consequences of this government's failure to properly protect Australians from the COVID epidemic and its economic consequences.

What's even worse is that, rather than protecting the Australian people, this government's policy decisions are actually making things worse. They are making this recession deeper. They are making this recession last longer than it needs to and they are holding back the recovery. We just heard this nonsense from Senator Ruston that we're now seeing green shoots in the economy. On the day we have plunged into the first recession we've had in 30 years—green shoots? I'd hate to see a dry lawn if that is 'green shoots'. This economy is in freefall under this government, and their own decisions are making it worse. They excluded casuals and all sorts of other people from receiving JobKeeper. They've set up a system where people are having to raid their own superannuation funds just to stay afloat because not enough support has been provided by this government. In the same week that we hear that this is the worst recession in Australia for 100 years, they now plunge on with their plan to cut JobKeeper, to cut JobSeeker, to freeze the pension and to cut the planned superannuation increases. So their own policies are making this worse and holding back the recovery.

What the government should be doing is coming out with some kind of a jobs plan. I was challenging the government through question time as to where their jobs plan is. It's a blank sheet of paper. It doesn't have a website. It's Get on with it. (Time expired)

3:16 pm

Photo of Alex AnticAlex Antic (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There are a number of matters that separate one side of the chamber from the other. The most critical at this moment seems to be that, on this side of the chamber, most—if not all—of our members can manage to stay awake for the entire course of parliament. But, of course, we know that's not true on the flip side of parliament because we've seen Senator Carr nod off. It seems to me that are many, many more who may well be—

Senator Wong interjecting

Senator Wong, this doesn't relate to you. We're talking about Senator Carr's nodding off yesterday. But he's been asleep for longer than we think, as, obviously, has Senator Watt, because what we—

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Antic, please resume your seat. Senator Polley.

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Deputy President, I draw your attention to the issue before the chair and the need to draw the good senator to the topic at hand, which is not to run a commentary on other senators.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Polley. I am listening carefully. I'm waiting for Senator Antic to take note of the answers from Senator Cormann.

Photo of Alex AnticAlex Antic (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We are now something in the order of 25 seconds in, which is not an unreasonable prelude, because the point I was going to make was that you would have to have been asleep for the better part of 12 months to not know that we are in the middle of a global pandemic. Obviously, that propensity to doze off has infected that side of the chamber, because we on this side of the chamber all know that the COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented event in our lifetime. It has sent a wrecking ball through the economy.

In fact, we heard earlier from Senator Watt that there were concerns about the suggestion that we are now seeing green shoots. Let me take you to the words of the RBA governor, who said yesterday, in relation to the situation that Australia finds itself in:

As difficult as this is, the downturn is not as severe as earlier expected and a recovery is now under way in most of Australia.

We know that side of the chamber loves evidence based politics. We hear it all the time: evidence based policy, evidence based politics. This is the RBA governor talking. We know this is a difficult time. We on this side of the chamber know this is a difficult period. We have seen COVID-19 do what nothing else in our lifetime has done. The IMF is actually expecting 157 economies to contract this year, and many will experience unprecedented falls. So the impact in the June quarter on GDP across the globe has been staggering. There is no other way of putting it: it's staggering.

Let's look at some more evidence based assessments for the other side. There was a 20.4 per cent GDP fall in the United Kingdom; 13. 8 per cent in France; 11.5 per cent in Canada; and 9.1 per cent in the United States. These are ostensibly the biggest economies in the world. The situation in Australia needs to be read as the facts show, and the RBA governor's comments are very, very relevant. While the market is expecting falls of less than what we've seen overseas, the national accounts will confirm what Australians already know: the economy has been hit hard. That is very, very clear. And we can't rule out, of course, the effect of the Victorian stage 4 lockdown. This has been an enormous drain on the economy coming, of course, from the Labor-run state of Victoria.

As part of our economic plan, the Morrison government are providing unprecedented support. The suggestion that there has been no support or that JobKeeper is being wound down unnecessarily is an absolute nonsense. It's a Labor-run furphy. The business—

Senator O'Neill interjecting

There's the $314 billion in support to keep Australian businesses in jobs. We can run through some of that. Our jobs plan is, without question, sound and fundamental. We have the economic support packages.

Senator O'Neill interjecting

I'm going to give Senator O'Neill some more evidence, because we know that, being a Labor senator, she loves evidence based policy. Our economic support package of $305 billion represents—

Senator O'Neill interjecting

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator O'Neill, order!

Photo of Alex AnticAlex Antic (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There's no question that she's awake; that's good. It represents 15.3 per cent of annual GDP. Now, let's go through it. We need to break this down, because some people in this chamber are asleep at the wheel. There's $101.3 billion for JobKeeper—$101.3 billion! There's $31.9 billion for cashflow boosts for business; $16.8 billion for income support for individuals, including the $550 fortnightly coronavirus supplement; and $9.4 billion for two rounds of the stimulus payments. Then there's the skills and apprenticeships program, with the new National Skills Commission, which we've spoken about at length in here. This is going to help young jobseekers to better understand the skills needed by employers.

What more can this government do? Once again, for those on the opposite side of the chamber who are awake, which Senator O'Neill very clearly is—Senator Carr has gone off for a nap, I think—we are going through the continual list of achievements. (Time expired)

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Antic. May I remind you of the words of the President earlier in the week about not referring at this particular time to senators who are not in the chamber, because we have so many senators paired and using the video link.

3:22 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That contribution to our debate after question time was an embarrassment for a government that has no plan. The only plan that was referenced there at all was the announcement schedule, where the government goes out and makes an announcement day after day. But Australians are starting to wake up to this government. They are desperate to hear that the government has a plan, because they know it will affect their life, but there is no plan.

I rise, like my colleagues, to take note of answers given by the Minister for Finance regarding this truly terrible day for the Australian people impacted by what's going on in our economy. As was forecast in recent days, the economy has headed into a recession for the first time in nearly three decades. The jobs figures are more diabolical than even I feared, with another 400,000 Australians predicted to lose their job by Christmas. This is indeed, as Senator Watt said, the worst recession in nearly 100 years. Memories and images echoing the Great Depression are acquiring a 2020 makeover in the lives of our citizenry right now. So many Australians—far too many Australians, including my own children and their friends—have a recession in sight now. They have no idea what it's like. We've had 30 years of growth constructed by great policymaking by Labor leaders, kicked off by Hawke and Keating. Right now, we are witnessing—our children are witnessing—the long, long queues outside Centrelink, right across this country. They're driving down main streets and seeing small businesses shuttered, right across the country. They're coming to know and see that the Australians who they believed would always have a job don't have a job, and businesses are disappearing overnight.

Today, it's been confirmed that the GDP, the gross domestic product of this country, has collapsed by seven per cent through the June quarter. That figure, a seven per cent decline in the wealth of our nation, has been unheard of since the Great Depression, over 90 years ago. The pandemic has, indeed, caused a steep drop in private household expenditure and that has had massive economic impacts. And I will go to what Senator Cormann said that was of incredible concern to me. He said, 'Yes, private household expenditure has dropped.' He said, 'People have stopped going out to restaurants and they're not going to cafes,' as if that's all that's wrong with the economy. If that's all that Senator Cormann thinks is wrong with the economy when we have a seven per cent contraction in GDP, then we're in for some bumpy times. I'll tell you what he gave away today. He predicted what the next steps in the government's response are going to be. Watch out for these words: 'adjust', 'new normal' and 'new baseline', because that's what Senator Cormann said today. He said that this is the new world and we're going to have to adjust to a new kind of Australia. When he says that you need to adjust, what he's saying to my children and their friends and people who have lost their jobs—the millions of Australians who've lost their jobs; the 400,000 people who are set to lose their jobs before Christmas—is: 'Get used to it.'

The Liberal-National coalition, the government of Australia, the one that goes out and tells you they're all about jobs and growth—they've got a new normal coming your way. They heralded it today. Get ready for the adjustment. Get ready for the new normal. Get ready for the new baseline where you and people you care about in your family are unemployed for a long time. And to get you ready for that we had Senator Ruston indicating that, even though she has the powers—she was given those powers by delegation, by legislation that went through this chamber and the other place earlier this year—to set the amount of money to be given to Australians, she gave no hope, no heart, no succour to the troubled world of Australians who are trying to balance their books— (Time expired)

Question agreed to.