Monday, 9 November 2020
Economic Recovery Package (JobMaker Hiring Credit) Amendment Bill 2020; Second Reading
I spoke earlier in this place about how many Australian workers have been left out of JobKeeper. I spoke about how the administration of the JobKeeper scheme had failed to ensure that public money did not go to executive bonuses. I spoke about how hundreds of millions of dollars of public money had gone to companies like Qantas, who then had nothing to stop them from pocketing the money with one hand while turning around and sacking or outsourcing Australian workers with the other hand—all under the guise, at the same time, of JobKeeper, while they were carrying out massive forms of wage theft.
Just as Labor stood up in this place and argued for a better JobKeeper scheme that included all workers, the government's own embarrassing error revealed that they had already budgeted an extra $60 billion for JobKeeper that would not be spent. Even then, they refused to include some two million workers that they had left out. JobKeeper was not what it should have been, because it failed so many working people and their families. So Labor will take a hard look at JobMaker. We will judge the program from the standpoint of working people and working families—and from the businesses that they support and the economy that thrives if working people also thrive. We know, despite its flaws, that JobKeeper had been the lifeline for millions of workers and thousands of businesses, which is why we called on the government to keep JobKeeper in place and not cut it back while it is still the middle of a recession. But then they went ahead and cut the rate of JobKeeper in September, and the final cliff is coming for these workers and their employers in March 2021, when JobKeeper will end. It will end without a real plan for local jobs, local manufacturing or local procurement. And, of course, there is no plan for the aviation industry.
That brings me to JobMaker. JobMaker is the latest policy announcement to come out of the Prime Minister's policy marketing production line. Like all of this government's policies, it is nine parts announcement and one part delivery—if you're lucky. Announced as part of the budget, JobMaker comes after the recent ABS figure shows 30,000 jobs were lost in the two weeks to October 17. This was the first fortnight after the government cut JobKeeper back prematurely. We've already lost half a million jobs since COVID hit, and we are set to lose another 160,000 jobs before Christmas. We must never forget that those official unemployment figures do not include the two million Australians who are underemployed.
Labor has said from the outset that we would be constructive and work with the government to support our workers and businesses during the pandemic. But they cannot hide from the fact that this measure is going to do very little to support the creation of secure, long-term jobs. In its current form, JobMaker will encourage turnover of longstanding employees. It will provide a tax incentive for these employees to be replaced with short-term workers in insecure jobs. The government will say that the jobs we have are new. The headcount must increase. They will say that each new job must be 20 hours, but there is nothing stopping an employer replacing one worker who works full-time with two young workers, or replacing one casual worker working substantial hours similar to full-time hours with two younger workers. The headcount goes up, the hours go up and someone loses their full-time job because of the government policy. For the two young people who get a casual job, those insecure jobs can be withdrawn as soon as the subsidy ends after a year, presumably allowing for another batch of short-term or part-time jobs.
This government is fond of saying that the best form of welfare is a job. What that glib marketing statement ignores is the quality of the job. It tries to gloss over the epidemic of underpaid and insecure jobs in our economy. It makes clear that all this government is about is a bandaid solution of short-term jobs to pump up the official employment figures and get through to the next election. What Labor stands for is secure jobs, jobs with rights, jobs with training, jobs with fair pay and decent conditions, jobs with superannuation for an appropriate and dignified retirement.
The JobMaker bill should make sure that these jobs include minimum and legal rates of pay, that they are of the highest standard and that they are for the long term. JobMaker also ignores millions of workers aged 35 and over, leaving them without access to any meaningful government support once JobKeeper ends. The JobKeeper scheme guidelines also contain no provision which guarantees workers access to any form of redress, such as an arbitration process, should their employment be unjustly impacted by the scheme. While some workers have access to dispute processes through their enterprise agreement, the majority do not. What this means is that workers will have their hours cut or their jobs terminated to make room for subsidised insecure workers.
What is particularly disturbing about this bill as it stands is that an employer can sack a worker and the worker would not even know that they were being replaced by a younger subsidised worker or workers, which is why it's in the interest of fairness that JobMaker must be transparent. To the greatest extent possible, the public must know how the billions in public money will be spent on the JobMaker scheme.
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the extent to which job insecurity had already become endemic in our economy. COVID-19 is a crisis. Its aftermath should be an opportunity to rebuild better than what we had before, an opportunity to build secure, well-paying jobs with rights, superannuation and training; jobs that come with access to adequate sick leave, including when a worker needs to self-isolate. What we need is a government that promotes secure jobs and builds a lasting legacy of prosperity for all Australians. Instead we get JobMaker, which is really 'job replacer', 'job churner' and, if you're over 35, 'job excluder'. We have a government unwilling and unable to grapple with the job insecurity it had itself embedded in the economy before COVID. Instead of tackling insecure work, this government policy is to promote it.
I rise tonight to make a contribution to the debate on the Economic Recovery Package (JobMaker Hiring Credit) Amendment Bill 2020. This bill allows the Treasurer to make rules to facilitate the JobMaker hiring credit scheme that was announced in the October budget. The JobMaker scheme will be targeted at workers aged 35 years and under who have received JobSeeker, youth allowance or a similar payment in the past three months. This bill lacks important details and protections for workers, would give enormous power to the minister, would lock in insecure and low-paid jobs for young people and would allow big business to use public money to bolster their profits under the guise of a wage subsidy.
In its submission to the inquiry on the bill, the Council on the Ageing, COTA, said that it is deeply disappointed that older workers are not included in the scheme or supported through a similar program targeted at employment for older Australians. As COTA explains, although older workers haven't experienced as large a spike in unemployment as younger workers, there has been a major increase in unemployment amongst older people.
History tells us that once an older worker becomes unemployed they find it much more difficult to re-enter employment than younger people and are at greater risk of becoming long-term unemployed. We see the problem in a growing trend of older workers becoming a bigger cohort of the long-term unemployed. Past recessions have led to a warning for older workers. Two years after the 1991 recession, the share of long-term unemployed for 55- to 64-year-olds peaked at 56 per cent, compared to 33 per cent for 25- to 34-year-olds. After the 1990s recessions, many older people, in fact, never worked again.
One of our chief concerns with this bill is that it doesn't provide a single detail about the scheme, nor does it detail the eligibility criteria, and my colleagues have pointed out the large flaws in this scheme. Instead, this bill delegates the power to the minister to establish an unlimited number of publicly funded wage subsidy schemes until 6 October 2022. There are significant risks involved in leaving these details out of primary legislation. A point that the Greens have raised many times is this growing trend to leave important details out of the primary legislation. This bill is taking it to another level. The Greens share COTA's concerns that proper safeguards need to be built into the program to ensure that older workers and their jobs are protected. The government must demonstrate how the JobMaker scheme will not result in employed older workers being displaced by subsidised younger workers. It would be irresponsible for the government to oversee a scheme that pits younger workers against older workers.
There is a strong case for supporting older workers through this crisis as well as younger workers. We only need to take one look at the JobSeeker demographics to understand this. In September, the Parliamentary Budget Office reported that there had been an increase in people, especially women, who had been on the JobSeeker payment for more than one year. The increase in long-term and older JobSeeker recipients is likely to continue, irrespective of short-term fluctuations in unemployment. What's worse is that the JobSeeker payment is now acting as a pre-age pension payment for some unemployed older Australians, and they then retire in poverty. Without tailored programs and interventions, older unemployed workers will continue to be left behind by this government. The growing proportion of older workers in the trend of the long-term unemployed is, unfortunately, a strong warning of where we may end up after this pandemic and after this recession. This bill provides us with the opportunity to discuss an issue that too often flies under the radar and is ignored, and that is the very real issue of age discrimination.
The Australian Human Rights Commission found, in 2018, that 65 per cent of human resource professionals consider candidates aged over 50 as too old. Imagine being told that you are too old at 50 years old, and then you face the prospect of not working again even though you may live for decades longer. Or you may, in fact, end up in a series of casual jobs that guarantee no security. A survey conducted by LinkedIn, earlier this year, found that 25 per cent of surveyed Australians reported age as one of the top barriers to securing work. Age discrimination undermines an older person's right to work, their right to economic security and their ability to enjoy the benefits of paid employment, including those things that the government talks about all the time: dignity, independence, social inclusion and a sense of purpose. These are all things that the government constantly tells us are important, but apparently they are not important for older workers.
Working later in life, past retirement age, is a choice that many people do make. But age discrimination takes away that choice. Under its current composition, it's possible that the JobMaker scheme could also take away this choice for older workers, essentially meaning the laws of this place and its failure to address unemployment in older workers will mean that older workers will retire in poverty.
At Senate estimates, I noticed the government ministers were keen to spruik the benefits of other wage subsidy programs that exist for other cohorts of workers. This includes the restart wage subsidy program, which is designed to support older workers. However, the restart wage subsidy isn't a suitable alternative to JobMaker. As COTA pointed out in its submission:
The program is not a COVID-19 measure.
… … …
For now, there is an urgent need for a COVID-19 specific measure. Restart Wage Subsidy is not fit-for-purpose in the current economic environment.
I agree with COTA; it isn't.
Per Capita also recommend in their submission that:
… the Government urgently revisit the design and implementation of the Restart Wage …
According to Per Capita, the program has outlaid less than half of its expenditure and created just a quarter of the anticipated jobs since it was announced in 2014. I would not say that is a successful scheme. Certainly, in talking to older workers, people have commented to me many times that the program doesn't fit the bill. So the government can't fall back on that and say, 'It's okay; we've got the restart scheme.' It's clear to me that the restart program is not a suitable substitute for looking after older workers and ensuring that they can find work and supporting them to find work.
We need more action to make sure that older workers who are unemployed as a result of this recession get the support they need. We need to make sure that older workers are not being left behind by this program. Older workers have much experience and wisdom to offer in our workplaces and they will play a critical role in rebuilding our economy. They must be given the opportunity to play that role. Many older Australians experienced age discrimination before the coronavirus hit. As I articulated, they are a growing cohort of the long-term unemployed—and, believe me, it's not through not wanting to work. Older workers want work. They can't find work. I've had older workers talk to me about being knocked back for jobs such as filling shelves in a supermarket that they saw re-advertised. They applied and then saw them re-advertised. That's age discrimination.
As I said, many older workers experienced age discrimination before this pandemic hit. This pandemic is amplifying that. We are now faced with choices about how we are going to rebuild and get through this crisis. If the government are genuine in leaving no-one behind, they will make sure they look after older workers. We must ensure that the choices that we make leave no-one behind and that we ensure that we are supporting older workers. I strongly support the need to support younger workers, but, as I said earlier, we can't play one off against the other. We need to make sure that older workers are not discriminated against yet again.
This bill needs fixing. The Greens have many amendments, and I know others do too. This bill needs to be amended to ensure that the key elements of the scheme are not left to delegated legislation and are articulated in the primary legislation. I commend the amendments that Senator Faruqi will move on behalf of the Greens in the chamber and look forward to the debate on those amendments.
As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia I speak to the Economic Recovery Package (JobMaker Hiring Credit) Amendment Bill 2020. JobMaker was announced in the budget with much fanfare. The Treasurer announced his headline—'JobMaker will support 450,000 jobs'. Why didn't the media think to ask the Treasurer to define the word 'support'? His own Treasury doesn't agree that the word 'support' means what the Treasurer thinks it does.
Treasury indicated at Senate estimates hearings that JobMaker will create not 450,000 jobs but a meagre 45,000 jobs—one-tenth. This inconsequential measure will not make a noticeable difference to the prospects of everyday Australians and yet the government is treating JobMaker as a headline grabber. Here's a brochure from the government. The centrepiece of their economic recovery plan for Australia is 'JobMaker—creating jobs and rebuilding our economy'. It's right here on the cover. It must be true because it's glossy.
Once again this Liberal-National government is misrepresenting announcements as achievements—a well-worn ploy that many marketers use. Coupled with a glossy brochure there are diagrams, high-viz vests, headlines and lots of colour. JobMaker is budgeted to cost $4 billion. Yet, with only 45,000 jobs likely to be created, the cost is actually only $400 million. To put that into perspective, the government will spend $400 million on JobKeeper in one day—$400 million is one day's JobKeeper.
Let's turn to the number of jobs and training places created in this budget. When they're added up, they exceed the number of people unemployed. This budget is a hoax. According to the Treasurer's own numbers, this budget will put everyone back into a training place or a job before the next election—zero unemployment. Didn't the Treasurer add up all these wild claims in the budget and realise that the numbers just don't add up? The government has let hyperbole run amuck. Then again, working a calculator has never been Treasurer Frydenberg's strong suit. JobKeeper itself was out by just $60 billion!
The coalition's Restart program was announced in 2014 as a $10,000 subsidy to help 30,000 older Australians back into the workforce every year. Six years later this scheme has helped only 9,000 older Australians a year, less than one-third of the 30,000 a year the government announced. Even worse, almost half of those workers were terminated once the minimum employment period ended. That leaves just 4,500 per year.
On top of that, many of the businesses that claimed Restart were not serious about putting on a new employee. Instead, those businesses were serious about free money from the government. That's the problem with corporate welfare. It turns businesses into subsidy farms reliant on the government. It creates phony jobs, not sustainable breadwinner jobs. It creates weaker companies, not stronger companies. It replaces the profit motive with a handout mentality. One Nation opposes corporate welfare—the transfer of wealth from taxpayers to large corporations.
This government's economic recovery plan for Australia is more corporate welfare, more printing money to give to the banks and more pumping up of the housing bubble. That's it; that's the whole plan. If the government were fair dinkum about creating jobs, it would create the right business environment for growth and would invest in restoring our country's productive capacity. Our productive capacity has been destroyed by a lack of infrastructure and by the decimation of our electricity sector, which is driving manufacturers overseas. We've gone from having the lowest electricity prices in the world to having the highest, and manufacturers are leaving in their droves and taking with them their jobs to China, India and Asia. Restoring our productive capacity includes building dams, power stations, roads, bridges and transmission lines. It involves cutting red tape, cutting blue tape and cutting green tape. It would involve—if the government had courage—comprehensive tax reform so that we had a proper, honest, effective and efficient taxation system, a transparent taxation system. And then let the economy get on with the business of creating jobs and wealth for all Australians.
Instead, this government chooses to promote a casualised workforce. JobMaker is not about creating full-time work; it is the reverse. It motivates, indeed drives, businesses to replace one full-time employee with two casual employees, replacing one real, breadwinner job with two junk jobs. The JobMaker protections around higher payroll and headcount allow for this casualisation process. This is an attack on breadwinner jobs—jobs that can support families; jobs that can put kids through school and university so kids have an option for a better life than their parents had. Remember that, Australia? Remember when kids fared better than their parents? Under successive Liberal-National and Labor-Greens governments, that's become a thing of the past. Our generation is the first generation to pass on less, not more, to our kids—less wealth, less opportunity, less freedom.
The Liberal-National coalition have form on this. Prime Minister Howard's government spent 11 years breaking up full-time breadwinner jobs into junk jobs—casual and part-time work. They are jobs that have no bargaining power, with lower wages, fewer entitlements and less security. I've talked about that many times in the Senate. I have got so much data and evidence on that. There is no wealth creation in these low-paid, casual, subsistence jobs. As a result, Australia's median wage has gone backwards over the past 30 years. Why some union bosses have gone along with it is beyond me, but we can talk about that another day. Today we're talking about the Liberal Party declaring war on families, on holidays, on workers' home ownership and on everyday Australians trying desperately to accumulate wealth just to stash a bit away for the future.
JobMaker is another nail in the coffin of Australian families, courtesy of the corporate greed, hubris and arrogance that have overtaken the Liberal and National parties. One Nation opposes this legislation, this marketing ploy. Instead of trying to look good, government should do good. We need to get our country back to basics. We need to invest in restoring our country's productive capacity. That's what decides our country's future.
I rise tonight to speak on the Economic Recovery Package (JobMaker Hiring Credit) Amendment Bill 2020, colloquially known as JobMaker. I'm going to do something a little bit unusual tonight, with your indulgence, Mr Acting Deputy President. I'm going to read a section of the Constitution, because it goes to a core problem that exists with this bill. I go to part I, section 1 of the Constitution, under the title 'Legislative power':
The legislative power of the Commonwealth shall be vested in a Federal Parliament, which shall consist of the Queen, a Senate, and a House of Representatives, and which is hereinafter called The Parliament, or The Parliament of the Commonwealth.
Make no mistake: when Senator Roberts stands up and says he is a servant of Queensland, actually he has an obligation under the Constitution to recognise that it is in this place that laws are made; they're not made in back rooms of some office somewhere in the executive establishment. That is the problem with this bill at the moment.
This bill basically has two substantive paragraphs. It allows the government, the executive, to create a scheme that can have:
(a) one or more kinds of payments by the Commonwealth to an entity in respect of a time that occurs during the relevant period, being payments that are primarily for the purpose of:
(i) improving the prospects of individuals getting employment in Australia, or
(ii) increasing workforce participation in Australia;
That's all it says. That's all we've been asked to vote on. What we've been asked to do is grant a power to the executive to go off and do whatever it is that they want, provided it fits roughly within the scope of what I've just read to you. That is not how this is supposed to work. We may be actually operating contrary to the Constitution.
Of course, there is delegated legislation; we understand about delegated legislation. Delegate legislation is where we enable the executive to make regulations of an administrative nature, or perhaps in circumstances where there is an emergency. So during the COVID crisis, when we were very concerned about whether or not the parliament could or could not sit, it was appropriate to pass a head of power for JobKeeper and for JobSeeker so that we could let the Treasurer get on and make sure that we dealt with a rapidly changing situation. We allowed the social security minister to work with a rapidly changing set of circumstances. That was an appropriate use of a head of power. But, thankfully—and I will give the government some credit for this—we are now back in a situation of relative normality and a situation where, if necessary, we can call the parliament together using remote log-ins as well. So there's very little question that we can't get the parliament to come in and deal with any piece of legislation with which there might be some problem.
Therein lies the problem. If I go back to a 2019 report from the Scrutiny of Bills committee, it says:
Generally speaking, about half of the law of the Commonwealth by volume consists of delegated legislation (as opposed to Acts of Parliament). The volume of delegated legislation made each year has increased over time. For example, in the mid-1980s there were around 850 disallowable instruments tabled each year. By contrast, around 1,700 disallowable instruments are now made annually.
Enough is enough. You heard me read from the Constitution. Passing legislation that grants a head of power, but then assigns the functions of generating the rules to the executive, is not consistent with our job. We're abdicating our job to people in the backrooms of government buildings. You see, how this is supposed to work is: legislation is presented to the chamber and we talk about it. We contest that legislation, we debate that legislation and, ultimately, we vote on that legislation. When we vote, the people we work for—our constituents—get to see who voted for what and what they said. That doesn't happen in this circumstance, because the rules have been developed by the executive. We don't know who that is.
When we vote for this, perhaps later tonight or tomorrow, we're not even certain that the rules that have been circulated—because they're in an exposure draft form—will be the ones that actually come into play. The Senate doesn't even understand what it's voting for. As we go through looking at the bill tonight, as we go through the committee stage and people want to move amendments to change things, it's very difficult to do so, because, actually, all of the provisions are really in the rules. Sure, they might be disallowable, but disallowable not in a way where you can amend a regulation or seek to strike out part of a regulation—it's a job lot; you've got to say no to everything. And when the government wants to change something, they'll just do that. They'll change it. They'll table the regulation. They'll know that actually it's quite difficult in this chamber to have a disallowance, so it will go through. And you know what? Unlike when the government comes in with a bill to alter some legislation to which, provided it's roughly in scope, you can move amendments—because you've listened to your constituents and you know what the problems are and you want to make changes—you can't, because all of the details are set out in the rules. This is not the way things are supposed to work. This is not us doing our job properly. We should wait until the government has presented the rules to us, and then decide on that legislation on its merits.
On the basis that this bill is being constructed in a manner that abrogates the responsibility of the Senate, I will not be voting for it. I will not be voting for it. I am going to move an amendment that seeks to bring the rules back into the primary legislation, because that is how it's supposed to be. I hope I get the support of the crossbench and I hope I get the support of the Labor Party, because that's how the laws are supposed to be, not in some regulations drafted by someone in an office that we never get to see and voters never get to see.
I have some difficulty with some elements of this bill. I don't like the way in which it discriminates against people who are over the age of 35, and I'll have something more to say about that during the committee stage—indeed, I'm moving an amendment in relation to that. But I hope that in this instance the Labor Party stands up against the government. The government go off and do whatever it is they want to do, and they're quite comfortable doing that, and it is the job of a strong opposition to make sure that we constrain the government and make sure that they behave in a manner that is constitutional, and that is not what is happening here.
If we listened to what Senator Roberts just said, One Nation, very clearly, are not supporting this bill. And I've just indicated that, in its current form, in its unconstitutional form, I won't be supporting it either. What does that tell Labor? You've got the numbers to stop this. So, anything you don't like about this bill, you can stop. Later tonight or tomorrow, you can vote no at the third reading stage. I know that you're worried that that will somehow be portrayed in the media as you guys not supporting job creation, but it's not what that would mean. It would mean: 'Government, go back and sit down with the Labor Party and work together to find legislation that you can bring back to the chamber that is acceptable to the Labor Party.' We've just given you the numbers to do that. You now have strength because the government cannot get this bill through without the support of the Labor Party. That's pretty powerful. You have the choice now, the ability now, to go and talk in a room, to bring the rules back into the primary legislation, and let everyone see, discuss and debate it, and let everyone see how the people who propose the legislation are going to vote for it, because that is how this is supposed to work.
I will just repeat that, based on what Senator Roberts said, One Nation are not supporting this, so the government doesn't have the numbers. That gives you strength. But what you can't do now is wave it through. You can't just wave it through. You have the ability now to negotiate hard with the government, and I encourage you, I beg of you, to bring the rules back into the primary legislation so that the bill is constitutional, so that we are seen to be doing our job and so that we can lend support to some of the criticism that has come from the Scrutiny of Bills Committee from watching lots and lots of delegated legislation go through that does very significant things within the economy, within our communities. I encourage the Labor Party to think very carefully about this.
The JobMaker scheme has not been properly thought through. It has too many flaws to successfully entice businesses into hiring extra employees and help rebuild the employment sector post COVID-19. This pandemic induced recession is an extraordinary once-in-100-year event that has brought Australia and much of the world to its financial knees, and it needs something special to turn it around. JobMaker falls short.
The Senate might recall that on 24 February I was the first member of the Senate to question why the Morrison government allowed Australian universities to put profits before the health and security of this nation. Why I asked that series of questions was that a handful of universities here in Australia were circumventing international border closures unnecessarily and further spreading cases of the virus. It was a precursor to the troubles we would face as a nation due to the virus—in particular, the crumbling of the workforce. It was always going to require significant support from government to help trigger businesses to rebuild Australia's employment sector.
JobKeeper may have helped keep the heads of individuals above water, but it hasn't helped in any way to help businesses restore employment numbers. JobMaker, which is the next stopgap measure, also won't fix it. JobMaker offers little genuine financial incentive to business owners who are struggling to stay afloat. Just like many government programs, it was announced with much fanfare, but when it is truly analysed it doesn't really do much to help. Government seem to prioritise getting positive publicity rather than actually solving the problem they claim to be solving. The money that has been thrown at JobKeeper and now proposed for JobMaker is wasted money that might be good for the short term, but in the long term it must be paid back with interest, with nothing long term to show for it.
The $4 billion initially earmarked for JobMaker would be better spent on building infrastructure that would not only create jobs during construction but generate ongoing income for future generations. The modernised Bradfield Scheme, which I have highlighted for two decades, is the type of infrastructure project that could make a massive positive difference to the economy. It will pay for itself and then also generate much-needed ongoing income for Australia. It could irrigate such large parts of Central Queensland that it could become a food bowl not only for Australia but for the rest of the world. It's a shame the Queensland Labor government doesn't take this project seriously. It needs the federal government to make it a priority project in the national interest to get it off the ground.
Another infrastructure scheme worth analysing is Project Iron Boomerang, which would see the construction of steel smelters near the coalfields of Central Queensland and near the iron ore mines of Western Australia, with the two areas connected by rail. Coal and iron ore could be easily freighted between the two. It would mean we could process our iron ore to produce all Australian steel requirements here rather than exporting raw materials to China and then importing steel at great cost. We could then export to other countries. It would generate $72 billion in income per year, plus $21 billion in tax revenues annually, and create an estimated 75,000 jobs.
These two projects would help pay off Australia's debt and help the economy to recover. It's disappointing that projects like these two and others are not given serious consideration, yet debt-creating handout schemes are jumped at with enthusiastic fervour. The government would much rather throw borrowed money at welfare schemes that might put smiles on people's faces but will have minimal long-term benefit. It fails to mention that all that money will also need to be paid back courtesy of the very people who receive the handouts: the taxpayers.
Rather than providing support that is genuinely helpful, the financial offerings under JobMaker are relatively small and largely dependent on the courage of the business owners themselves to take a leap of faith to hire new workers. This is a big ask at a time when we're still in a significant recession and those businesses are struggling to survive. I have mentioned previously that the $4 billion to set up the JobMaker hiring credit scheme could instead go towards helping the states to raise the payroll tax threshold, which would support businesses and business growth across the board.
JobMaker also comes with administrative headaches for businesses, which are required to report quarterly to government to affirm their ongoing eligibility for the credits. A lot can change in business in three months. To be eligible, they need to prove an increase in total employee numbers. It makes it a worry for employers who fear the unexpected loss of a staff member or two could see them lose their entitlement to that support. The reality hanging over their heads would create more unwanted uncertainty in a year that has already been plagued with considerable uncertainty. On top of that, the wage credits are paid to the businesses quarterly, potentially adding to the administrative challenges and reducing the attractiveness of the scheme.
JobMaker supports two sectors of the workforce: those aged 16 to 29 and those aged 30 to 35. Jobseekers of other ages are therefore overlooked and disadvantaged, including those who might be a little older but who have considerable expertise and still much to offer. As I pointed out when the scheme was first announced, it is discriminatory towards school leavers and older workers, even possibly breaching age-discrimination laws. While federal laws like the Fair Work Act 2009 outlaw age discrimination, some state laws allow special exemptions that aim to lift those sectors of society that are disadvantaged. So the murkiness of JobMaker gets even murkier.
It was hoped that JobMaker would encourage the creation of 450,000 new jobs, but Treasury itself has downgraded that expectation to more like 45,000. Experts from the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia, COSBOA, believe the dollars on offer through the scheme are not high enough for businesses to offset the costs and risks of hiring more employees. At $200 for a new worker aged 16 to 29 and $100 for someone aged 30 to 35, the employer who takes up these incentives still needs to find the bulk of the new employee's weekly wages. To commit to finding that extra money upfront each week is daunting for many business owners, many of whom are in survival mode due to more than six months of hardship. As I said earlier, the credits are paid quarterly, so they are forced to pay full wages upfront and wait months for the credits to be reimbursed—a further disincentive. Many businesses are still finding their feet and they remain uncertain of what the future will bring. They will obviously baulk at the idea of taking on the costs that come with additional employees. Committing to hiring additional staff members means the business owner is also committing to finding hundreds more dollars in income to make up the full wages. If business growth were that easy, he or she would have hired without the need for a wage subsidy.
JobMaker would be more likely to interest employers if their business had entered a growth phase, but many small and medium businesses today are in a survival phase. It is my concern that JobMaker would encourage the loss of full-time jobs and reduce job security. JobMaker encourages the subsequent casualisation of any new roles. The $200 payment requires a new employee to work a minimum of 20 hours, so it makes sense that an employer might think to employ two workers, each working 20 hours, to qualify for two payments. This would better subsidise an employer than employing someone in a full-time equivalent position. This reduces the demands on the employer, but, unfortunately, the workers miss out on full-time work and the employment sector generally suffers.
Governments of both colours have always believed wrongly that small-business owners live the high life. The reality is that most small-business owners work the longest hours of all their staff, often doing paperwork late into the night. They are the first to be in the office in the mornings, and they are the last to get paid after invoices and overheads are taken care of. As we know, there are many businesses across this country crying out for workers. But, because of the decisions made by this government to make welfare so lucrative, there are not many people willing to take up these jobs. JobSeeker has made it easy for Australians to live comfortably without needing to work. JobMaker has been devised by government to rectify that problem but is unlikely to be successful for the reasons outlined. JobMaker is not a strong enough system to help prise JobSeeker recipients off their couches and back to work. It is throwing bad money after bad money. One Nation will not support it.
The government needs to move away from the damaging handout mentality that is stagnating job growth and building debt. It needs to start thinking about measures that will fire up economic activity and make Australia the powerhouse economy that it can be. The government needs to shift focus to investing in infrastructure projects that will benefit Australians and Australia as a whole for the decades to come.
As I've stated in my speech, we won't be supporting this. I've spoken with a lot of small businesses along the way. A lot of businesses are thriving. They're doing extremely well with COVID. They've come out the other end. The trouble is that they don't want the $100 or $200 that's given to them. What they want is people to work. The signs are out there. When they're taking on 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds for work because they can't get anyone else to work then we have a real problem in this country. I know a lot of people are happy, and, under COVID, we needed to pay people who have lost their jobs and the jobseekers. I understand that. But extending this program out to March next year is not getting these people out of the way of life of sitting and getting paid by the government. That is not getting them to go and apply for these jobs.
My question to Michaelia Cash today was about what the government are going to do about these people who are offered jobs. We have 20,000 people in Cairns and the Hervey Bay in Queensland on JobSeeker, yet the farmers are crying out for about 15,000 workers, and they can't get anyone. No-one applies for their jobs. If you go to Maranoa or the Darling Downs, there are another 7,000 on JobSeeker, and the farmers can't get workers to pick the fruit. The farmers are ploughing their crops into the ground because no-one will pick the fruit. Is this how low this country has come—people don't want to get out to work because it's too hard? The handouts don't send out a lot of money. It's not a lot of money by the time you pay the rent, but the fact is that people here are quite happy to live this lifestyle. They don't have to get up, get in the car, go to work and travel an hour to work like most other Australians have to do. They're quite happy to receive that money and live this lifestyle, because they don't have to be told what to do or work for that money. There is a handout mentality in the third and fourth generations of this nation—a handout mentality of people not working. They feel it's an entitlement; it's not. It was set up as a helping hand.
When we bring workers from overseas to pick the fruit in this country, we have a real problem. Both sides of parliament keep giving handouts to buy votes. Once you give the handouts, you can't take them back. People think they're entitled to them. Where has the country that I grew up in gone? People have to provide roofs over their own heads, not rely on the government to provide them. It is there for those that need that helping hand. But when we have a generation on welfare payments, we have a real problem. This here is not helping the situation. Businesses don't want handouts. Businesses want Australian workers.
[by video link] On the legislation before us, the Economic Recovery Package (JobMaker Hiring Credit) Amendment Bill 2020, let's step back a little bit to the beginning of the conversation and explore what people, particularly young people as a generation, are experiencing right now, what this bill does, the problems with it and what needs to be done instead of it. We know that right now in our community people are really struggling. We're struggling with three things, primarily. There are the impacts of the health crisis and the continuing impacts of coronavirus in terms of our opportunities, whether they be in education or the employment space. We know that we're also struggling with a broader climate crisis at the moment, and many young people are staring down the barrel right now at a future that will be dominated by the backdrop of a rapidly escalating climate crisis that the major parties don't seem willing to address. Finally, we're dealing with the crisis of mental health in our community, particularly for young people. We know that levels of mental ill health, of anxiety, have never been higher than they are right now, and that many of us as young people struggle to access mental health care supports where and when we need them.
In the context of these triple crises that are facing us as a generation, we have a bill come before the Senate tonight that is casually known as the 'JobMaker bill'. It is a bit of a strange title. On the surface it doesn't really explain much of where it fits in a broader context, but you hear the word 'JobMaker' and you are inclined to think that it is designed to make jobs. It's a funny old thing; we have a Prime Minister with a marketing background and tonight is a night when you certainly see it, because if you pop the lid on this particular piece of legislation you discover a very small piece of legislation that doesn't really have much to do with making jobs. There is not much evidence to suggest that it will create many jobs at all. Ultimately, it doesn't address many of the long-term challenges that we as young people have been experiencing in the employment space, even before COVID began.
Let's go a bit deeper and look at what this bill does in simple terms. It basically enables large corporations to claim a wage subsidy, an amount of money, as a result of employing a young person, within a certain age range, to engage in a job for no fewer than 20 hours a week. This wage subsidy scheme has a very basic structure, and that has a couple of potential flow-ons that there are legitimate concerns about and a couple of flaws as well. Firstly, because of the way that the legislation has been worded, unfortunately it will be possible for an employer to take a full-time position, for which they are not receiving a wage subsidy, and split that position into, say, two or three 20-hour a week casualised positions. The employer will then receive the wage subsidies, increase its budget bottom line and, at the end of the 12-month period, sack the three people it hired and go on its merry way.
It's another example of how, when you dig into the government's response packages to COVID, you find that, while they look reasonable on the surface, there are structures by which public funds are disproportionately redistributed to large corporations that make sizeable donations to the Liberal Party at the state and federal level. That's part of the reason that if we look at the corporate profit trajectories over the last year or so we see that, despite the economic impacts of COVID-19, the share prices of some of our largest companies have shot through the roof. The profits have been outstanding, because so much money has been passed from the public purse into the corporate bottom line.
One of the nastier effects of this legislation will be to pit older workers, particularly older women, against younger workers. We know that it is very difficult for a young person to get a job right now. We also know that if you are over the age of 50 or 55 there's a lot of age based discrimination at the other end of the age spectrum. This will result in a lot of discrimination in the workplace, but one of the great concerns about this particular piece of legislation is that it will incentivise the hiring, on short-term, insecure contracts, of younger people at the expense of older workers, particularly women. This is a cohort, a group of people, that we already understand to be really disadvantaged when it comes to employment outcomes as well as retirement savings. The superannuation of older women in the workforce is disgracefully lower than that of men of the same age, because of a lot of wage based discrimination related to gender and different roles in the workplace.
Finally, I think it's important to look at the moral that sits behind this legislation. This might be a controversial observation, but I ask you to stick with me in consideration of the central question that you discover when you back up the truck a bit from this legislation and look at what we might call the fundamental premise. The fundamental premise of this legislation is that, regardless of the type of work—regardless of the amount of time, regardless of, in some ways, the conditions, the wage, the way that job insecurity might impact on your mental health—any job is better than no job, no matter how poor that job might be. This idea comes to us after decades, really—in some ways century on century—of a building idea that human value is inextricably connected to a human being's engagement in the workforce, what we sometimes hear spoken of as the inherent dignity of work. On its surface, this idea seems quite normal, quite uncontroversial and not particularly damaging. However, we need to look a bit deeper and ask ourselves the question: what does this mean for groups of people who are structurally inhibited from entering the economy, like young people or disabled people?
Many of us are locked out of the workforce. But many of us are also placed into jobs in so-called disability enterprises that pay 30c an hour, and those practices are justified because it is suggested that there is an inherent dignity in work regardless of what you are paid or the conditions of that payment.
It's one of these strange old ideas that have grown out of a misinterpretation, in my belief, of the foundational tenets of workplace activism and unionism. The reality of the history of the union movement here in Australia and around the world is that it grew out of an understanding of the inherent dignity of the worker; the inherent dignity and right of all people when they're on the job, when they're at work and when they're in the workplace to be safe and fairly paid. These rights and high ideals have over time been taken and twisted into a space now where there is a belief that the engagement in the job itself is the wellspring of the dignity. It is an idea that I think we need to push back on as young people and legislators because it ultimately sets up so many in our community to fail, to feel a sense of indignity and shame because of an inability to gain work. The reality is that human dignity is inherent to human beings, regardless of whether we might be able to sell our labour for an hourly rate in a market place that is high enough for us to be able to eat or drink water or have a secure roof over our head. It's an idea we need to bin and replace with an idea of inherent human dignity for all people in all places. This bill doesn't address that; this bill makes it worse, at a time when we as young people, as I said, are battling against a history of insecure work that stretches back far, far before COVID.
The latest figures that I've been able to find for WA show us that even before the pandemic we were struggling as young people with a 30 per cent insecure work rate, in some parts of our state, between 25 and 30 per cent. For many of us, insecure work is some of the only work that we have ever known. The practical function of this bill is to come in on the back of that to supercharge it, if you like, to make it a hell of a lot worse, to pit us against people in their 50s, people trying to make their way, and to pay McDonald's a fat packet for the privilege of doing so. It is a con job; it's a marketing exercise. It's a glossy pamphlet with nothing under the hood. One of the most pernicious parts of it, in many ways, is that there's nothing under the hood because it delegates a huge amount of power to ministers in the executive branch of the government to basically make it up as they go along. This bill is the emptiest of scaffolds that will then be given to the Morrison government to design nearly any and all programs that they can, in any way, link back to improving people's opportunity of gaining work, which is a real shift in where the legislative accountability should be.
I could go on for a lot longer on these issues if there were more to read in the bill, but the reality of this piece of legislation is that there isn't much there. There are no details as to how the program will work, because it grants the minister the power to make it up as they go along in a way that is quite unacceptable to us in the Greens. Senator Faruqi will be putting forward a number of amendments and suggested changes to this legislation, through the course of the debate, in order to attempt to improve it and make it better. But the bill that sits before us right now, unamended as it is, is not something that the Australian Greens will be supporting and not something that the community supports.
People in our community, be we young people or older people, want meaningful opportunities to expend our time, build our lives and define purpose on our terms. Some of us may come to the conclusion that paid employment right out of school is what we want to do. Some of us may decide that we want to study at university or go to TAFE or do something in between. The goal of us here as a legislature should be not only to provide the opportunities, the abilities and the support mechanisms that are needed for people to explore that life path, to define and discover for themselves what constitutes for them a good life, but also to find new and innovative ways to reduce the overall amount of time that we as people have to expend in workplaces that might not be the most enjoyable thing, away from our friends and family.
There was a point in history where, at least for an admittedly very narrowly defined group of people, Australia was defined as a worker's paradise. It struck a balance between work, leisure and rest. However, in 2020, we discovered that we are an economy that is driving people more and more to spend time away from their friends and family to make wages that are stagnating, giving their lives to work, living to work rather than working to live, which is ultimately the goal people want to achieve. If you talk to anybody in Europe, particularly in countries such as France or Italy, they take a look at the Australian work-life balance and they laugh and laugh. We have to be addressing those underlying issues. This bill doesn't go anywhere near doing that, and that is why we in the Greens will be opposing it as it stands.
I was just saying before that I did enjoy my two sessions working remotely from my Launceston office, but I will say that it is good to be back in the chamber for many reasons. My question to the government is: where is the evidence that this $4 billion job scheme will work? Where is the evidence that this is going to employ lots of young Australians? I'll tell you where the evidence is that it doesn't work. I'd like to take senators in the chamber back in time, on a little journey to August 2013. I have a document here in front of me called 'The coalition's policy to boost employment in Tasmania'. It's from August 2013. On the front is a picture of Mr Malcolm Turnbull—who I understand is on the Four Corners TV program as I speak—Mr Robb, Joe Hockey, I think, Tony Abbott and, I think, Julie Bishop. I'm not sure who the other fellow is. I've forgotten who it is already. They were the senior Liberal leadership team.
This policy, I remember, came with great fanfare in my home state. Let me tell you what it is, because this is going to interest everybody here. It was called a Tasmanian jobs program and it was a job hiring credit to any business that wanted to hire a young, unemployed Tasmanian. They wanted these young, unemployed Tasmanians to be hired quickly. This is where it gets quite interesting. They called it 'a trial jobs program for Tasmania to turbocharge a lacklustre jobs market'. A 'trial'—I will come back to that in a minute because it is actually quite important. This scheme was actually more generous. It offered a one-off payment of $3,250 to any Tasmanian business that hired an unemployed jobseeker. That worked out to about $250 a fortnight for a total subsidy of $3,250. It was expected—and they were very clear about this—that it would be first in, first served for Tasmanian businesses. There were 2,000 initial positions made available. I remember Senator Abetz speaking in the media saying that they believed it would be so successful—and he can come in and correct the record if I'm wrong; it was a fair while ago—it could employ tens of thousands of people. It was a trial for the rest of the country,incidentally.
You might be interested to know how the trial went , because it was designed to be assessed following the pilot program—the study. It was assessed by the Australian government Department of Employment in June 2017, two years after it expired , and the department said that , overall, over the two years that this program ran, there were 363 commencements. That was 18.2 per cent of the expected job placements. So, by any measure —and I haven't even got to the good bit yet— it was a failure. Eighty p er cent was unused; l ess than 20 per cent of it was used by Tasmanian businesses. It was actually proportionately lower than the take - up of another wage subsidy prior to that , called the restart subsidy , which also had a very poor success rate . It had previously failed in Tasmania.
Now, this is the interesting bit . In addition, most employers, 66.7 per cent, which is almost exactly two-thirds , who employed a jobseeker through this program reported that the Tasmanian job program incentive had not —I repeat: had not — influenced their decision to hire the jobseek er at all, e mploying what economists call a high level of dead weight loss. These were , to quote the report, in 'the largest employing and growth industries in Tasmania', such as construction , the retail trade, accommodation and food services. In other words, these businesses were going to hire tho se workers anyway , and the government just gave them a nice taxpayer subsidy for what they were already going to do. I'm not going to dispute that any single new job created is important , because it is.
So, on these measures — I ' ve got to do some quick maths on the hop here ; what's a third of 363? — 120 or so new jobs were created in Tasmania because of this scheme. The political spin that this created was immense. I don't ever really remember seeing it being reported on as a failure, but I thought I'd go back and check , because at the time I was on the public record in this place and in the Tasmanian media saying it would fail , and the reason is simple : businesses don't go out and hire an extra worker for a couple of hundred bucks a week. Even though this scheme is slightly different in it s construction, a worker still has to work for a minimum of 20 hours a week , so you ' d be looking at paying them at least 500 bucks a week to get the 200 bucks . Multiply that by 52 weeks and a business has to come up with at least $26,000 to take on an extra employee —plus super, plus, plus. As we know, for businesses it's a lot of work to take on employees . I run a small business myself . My wife and her partners employ 25 Tasmanians. They know what it 's like to hire new employees. It ' s not an easy thing. It's something you do i f you expect the demand for your services or your business to cover the costs of that additional employee. So, as I said at the time, why would any business in a difficult time go out and hire these employees, knowing they'd have to pay $20,000, $30,000, $40,000 or more — most likely a lot more than that — just to get a couple of thousand bucks? It did not make sense and it still doesn't make sense. And this is almost identical.
W hat I would like to know from the government , and this is perhaps a good question for the minister in the committee stage , is that, if the Tasmanian jobs program was designed to be a trial , and the report from the department was scathing, w hy have we seen it re-created during the COVID crisis ?
It didn't work. It literally didn't work. The department scrambled to find some minor positive things about it, and even they were hedged in terms of, 'Well, you know, there's no real evidence that even that worked.' I accept, and the Greens accept, that this is a difficult period. I suspect things are going to get a lot worse in six or 12 months time. This is a form of stimulus. The Greens supported constructive amendments and changes to JobSeeker. My colleague in here Senator Siewert has campaigned for decades to try and get an increase to the previous Newstart allowance or the JobSeeker allowance. In fact, I would argue that the Greens were the first out there to say that we needed a living wage during the COVID crisis; I would be happy to spar with anyone on that publicly. I've got the tweets and I've got all the information. We called for a living wage early in the piece, because we thought it was important. It was backed by business. It was backed by the unions. It made sense. We've never been through a period like this.
We accept that we need to do what we can to employ young Australians. My son, like a lot of young Australians, has been impacted by COVID. He started working at Target a couple of months ago, and he's been a new, improved kid since he got a job. So I understand how important it is to get young people into work; I really do. This is not the way to do it. This is a mirage that just offers false hope and all the political BS that goes with it. If we really wanted to see jobs for young Australians we would employ them in direct government programs, in areas that not just employ young people but give them skills and solve problems at the same time.
I met recently with agricultural stakeholders—and this is something you would be interested in, Acting Deputy President Sterle, given your longstanding interest in the rural and regional affairs committee—who tell me there are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of jobs for Australians out there in regenerative agriculture and so on and so forth. They are also talking about setting up government funded programs to employ young Australians to look after the bush, to help farmers, to restore our soils and so on and so forth. There are so many opportunities, if we would think outside the box. We can solve problems at the same time we can find work for young Australians—meaningful work that offers them long-term careers. There is a huge future in something like regenerative agriculture, and that's just one example.
These are green led recoveries, and the word 'green' is used internationally; it's not a Greens party thing. It's talking about creating a value for communities, a value for the environment and a value for ecosystem services. In my home state of Tasmania there are incredibly important jobs waiting to be funded in fire management, for example. In recent weeks I was down in our World Heritage areas camping—some of the most stunning areas you'll ever see on the face of planet. It still surprises me that after nearly 20 years in Tassie I still haven't been to a lot of these places. While they were magnificent and I enjoyed them, the scars from climate wildfires are everywhere to see. Some of these forests have never seen fire in their thousands of years, but they have in the last five years. Things are changing. There is an enormous amount of work—constructive, meaningful work—in managing that land. We earn good income off that land, because millions of people every year come to Tasmania to see what is special about my state—that is, its wild, magnificent country. It is rare, and people will pay for it. There's more work in looking after that bush than there is in chopping it down, let me tell you. There are so many opportunities, and those are just a few.
I know my colleague Senator Faruqi has spoken at length about many of the other issues we have with this piece of legislation, but I just wanted to raise a point in this debate: where is the evidence that giving $4 billion to corporations will employ 10, 20 or even a thousand or 5,000 young Australians? Economic theory tells you that the businesses most likely to take up this subsidy would have employed them anyway—in other words, you are giving a handout to corporations. Many of them are big corporations, because small businesses won't go near this. They just won't. Right now, they have no certainty in their forward planning. In corporations law, it is enshrined that businesses must maximise the present value of future cashflows. That sounds like a technical term, but what that means is they need to make a risk based decision on what their future profits are going to be. I hate to say it, but I agree with what Senator Hanson said tonight: it is a very uncertain time and in uncertain times small businesses, especially, pull in their belts. Big businesses have more leeway but they will see this and go, 'Great, I was going to open a new McDonald's store anyway,' or whatever it happens to be, 'I'm going to take this.' They would have done it anyway. This is corporate welfare. I know my colleagues have spoken about this, so I won't go into it in any more detail, but I challenge the government to put up their evidence on why these wage schemes work.
I hope we get some sensible amendments to this to, at least, protect young workers should they go into these schemes. I would hate to see someone like my son lose his job because of dodgy employers, and I'm sure everybody in here would agree with that. So those safeguards are going to be very important, and it's certainly going to be important to get the Greens' support for this bill. I will look with interest, in the committee stage, to see what the government says about where they got the idea from, where the evidence is that these things have worked and why the pilot study results of the, perhaps now famous, coalition policy to boost employment in Tasmania were not used when they put this $4 billion mirage together to employ young Australians.
What I would like to do with my opening points is acknowledge what Australia has been hit by in the last six months. It is something that is unprecedented in the history of Australia but also in the history of the world. You can go back to the Great Depression, which was something my grandparents used to talk about, growing up in a household where there wasn't any money and people had to hit the road to get work. But they didn't have that axis of health on one side and economics on the other. What we're seeing here in Australia is an axis of an economic hit and a health hit.
What we've got to focus on—what Scott Morrison and the government have been trying to do from the beginning—is protecting lives, saving lives, but also protecting livelihoods. That is so important for Australians. Over the last six months we've seen Australia at its best. We've seen an Australia that has come together. We've seen an Australia where, through the national cabinet, which probably at times was slightly boisterous and rambunctious, leaders of different levels of government came together to focus on the national interest. I think that is something we've forgotten about, when we look at coronavirus, that we have seen the best of Australia. We've seen people put aside their political partisanship to look at how we can work together.
I have strong views on how some state Labor governments have treated coronavirus and have used it as a political weapon. I certainly have strong views, that I've picked up through the magic of osmosis, on what has happened in Victoria with the infringements on civil liberties but also, importantly, on how people have given up their civil liberties, that they understand it is in the national interest. So, when we come to looking at the piece of legislation that has come through us here today in the Senate, it is about what is in the best interests of this country and what is in the best interests of trying to help Australians. That is so very important.
Some of the speakers tonight have talked about JobSeeker. In Queensland at the moment, we are faced with not getting workers who go and pick fruit. This is a massive issue in Queensland, where we have a very important agricultural industry. Thousands of jobs and thousands of businesses depend on this industry, but we cannot get workers to pick the fruit. One of the reasons that those in regional Australia give is that JobSeeker is actually acting as—and this is where the law of unintended consequences comes in—a handbrake on people being able to go and look for work. So you find in the Wide Bay-Burnett area—a massive horticultural area—and in the Darling Downs, where I come from, that the fruit that needs to be picked is going to rot on the trees and then fall off onto the ground because we cannot get people to pick the fruit there. We as a society have to focus on whether it is the right thing that we allow businesses to effectively go broke. These businesses earn money and pay taxes, but these taxes are going to people on JobSeeker who should be looking for work but are not prepared to go and pick fruit. This is a serious issue facing Queensland, but it's not just about picking fruit.
In regional Queensland, there are areas of very high unemployment. But there are jobs going there. I met with the Mayor of Mackay, a wonderful guy called Greg Williamson—
a great, great, great mayor. He got out his mobile phone, went to SEEK and showed that there were 1,000 jobs going in Mackay. People there were unable to get work. So what we as a government have to try and do here is look at what pieces of legislation we can pass and what work we can do to help people get into work and help businesses employ people, because we've got to look at where Australia is going to be in 18 months time, two years time, six months time or even in a month's time before Christmas.
There is a new dawn coming; we will get through coronavirus. But if, sadly, we don't get a vaccine—and look at what has happened at that mink farm in Denmark where the coronavirus has mutated—and if the coronavirus effectively becomes like an annual flu that comes through, we've got to learn to live with coronavirus. We can look around this chamber here now, and, for those who might be listening at home, I'll paint you a picture: we have—
A government senator: Paint us a picture!
I'll paint you a picture. The Senate operates by having expanded pairing. We have bottles of water. We have people who sit socially distant. This chamber can still operate under such a new order. It's how Australia will need to operate under such a new order, because what we've got to do, whether it's in the Senate chamber or in businesses in trying to employ people, in trying to train people—I think Senator Whish-Wilson is trying to get your—
A point of order, Acting Deputy President. I know the Romans used to call it filibuster, but I just wondered whether we allowed such wideranging debate on a piece of important legislation like this and whether you perhaps could ask the senator to come back to discuss the topic at hand.
Thank you, Senator Whish-Wilson. As we know, second reading debates are very far reaching and they do wander off into certain spaces. But, Senator McGrath, I would bring you back to the topic at hand.
I appreciate your gentle guidance, Mr Acting Deputy President Sterle. But I think it is important in the topic at hand, because it comes through coronavirus; it comes through the impact on the economy. The JobMaker hiring credit is something that is going to accelerate growth in the employment of young people during COVID, and that is so important. It is so important that we can give young people the opportunity to get into work. And, in any second reading debate, we should always have a broad discussion of the different issues so those people who are listening at home can see where we're coming from—our different perspectives and our different approaches in life. What we've got to do on this side of the chamber is make sure that we help businesses. We want to give businesses the incentives to take on additional young jobseekers.
An opposition senator: Paint us another picture!
I'd love to paint another picture, but I think my paintings sometimes are best left at home! The JobMaker hiring credit is going to be available to employers for each new job they create over the next 12 months for a young person between 16 and 35. It is expected that 450,000 positions for young Australians will be supported through the JobMaker hiring credit, at a cost of $4 billion. I will admit that I'm one of those people who get slightly terrified about debt, slightly terrified by large figures, but what the federal government has had to do on behalf of the taxpayers of Australia is go into debt to help protect the Australian economy, go into debt to help protect businesses, whether it's money that has gone into JobSeeker to help those people who lost their jobs during this recession or it's money that has gone into the many other programs that this government brought into play to help businesses survive the recession. When I talk about businesses surviving the recession, I'm actually talking about businesses being able to keep people on their books, because, as unemployment has gone up, the government not doing anything would have been far worse. It would have been far worse for the economy and for Australian society if the government had not borrowed the money to help protect businesses and, in fact, protect jobs.
I can talk in particular about Queensland, and I know, so can Senator Scarr, who travels around the state quite a lot. In terms of the message that we get from businesses around Queensland, it's that, of all the programs the government has put in place, the JobKeeper program is the one program that has saved their businesses. When they talk about saving their businesses, they don't particularly care about the fittings or the sign out the front or whatever's out in the garage; they actually talk about the fact that it has kept people in employment. So, when they say JobKeeper is brilliant, it's not because their business keeps going; it's because they can keep employing people. This is so, so important, especially in regional Queensland. Whether you're a travel agent out in Roma or you run a restaurant at Airlie Beach, to a woman, to a man, they've all said to us that JobKeeper is brilliant and they're all very, very enthused about what the JobMaker hiring credit can do to assist getting young people into work, because in Queensland there is a very high unemployment rate—in fact, we've got the highest unemployment rate in the country. This is just another brick in the wall that is our defence against coronavirus. This JobMaker hiring credit is something that can help young people get into work, get the skills and get businesses going.
In conclusion, I would like to commend the Economic Recovery Package (JobMaker Hiring Credit) Amendment Bill 2020 to the chamber, and I look forward to hearing the contributions from my colleagues who I understand are also very keen to speak on this bill.
Thank you very much, Mr Acting Deputy President Sterle. It's really good to be back.
I rise to speak on the Economic Recovery Package (JobMaker Hiring Credit) Amendment Bill 2020, the JobMaker legislation. I think we've had JobSeeker, JobKeeper and JobMaker. JobMaker is a good name. It's a noble ambition to make jobs, particularly when you're in a global recession and potentially a global depression. Creating employment is incredibly important. Everybody has got the right to a liveable income and to a safe, secure and meaningful job that pays them good wages. It is particularly important because even before the pandemic struck us we had an underemployment and unemployment crisis in this country. As our dissenting report to the committee report on this bill says:
In March 2020, the national unemployment rate was 5.2 per cent, and was even higher for young people at 11.6 per cent. The underemployment rate was even worse, at 8.8 per cent nationally and 19.1 per cent for young people.
These are really horrifying statistics. We know that we are setting up young people and putting them on track for a pretty bleak future. We know from previous recessions that when people get left behind and end up experiencing long-term unemployment it is very hard for them to get back on track, even when economic conditions improve.
We Greens agree that there is a need for government action so that young people aren't left behind. That's why, when the crisis struck, we released our Invest to Recover plan, which would have created 870,000 jobs. We want to see government take meaningful action to create jobs. We think that young Australians should be offered a jobs and income guarantee so that no-one is left behind, so that every young person has the choice of a job that is secure, well paid and satisfying, or a place in education—and a free place at that—at uni or TAFE, or a guaranteed income.
When it comes to these jobs, we reckon that the government should spend their money on public sector jobs. They should be provided in the employment sectors of the future, in which we know there is so much work to be done, whether it be tackling our climate crisis by investment in renewable energy, transforming our grid or environmental restoration. We know that we've got huge problems across the country in our degraded environments that require that people be employed in good, quality jobs restoring our precious natural environments, tackling the threatened species crisis and implementing recovery plans rather than not doing them and having them on the shelf. Jobs in teaching, jobs in aged care, jobs in child care—these jobs would be at a cost that is way less than the $99 billion that this government is handing out in handouts to big business.
We have done these sorts of employment programs before in this country. I remember when I was in my 20s in the 1980s and we had the Commonwealth employment program. It was a very successful program. I remember many of my contemporaries being given a leg-up and a start to their careers with a job under the Commonwealth employment program. In fact, we know that there are programs with public sector jobs that are operational now in Victoria. We have got the Working for Victoria program, the half-a-billion-dollar program which is creating six-month or 12-month positions in the public sector and providing really good, quality jobs.
I'd like to share the experience of a young woman who I know quite well, who, at the end of last year, finished her master's degree in urban planning. She had been supporting herself in hospitality throughout her university career. We got to 2020 and the pandemic hit. She'd finished her degree. Her hospitality jobs, of course, completely dried up. She no longer had a university course to go to; she no longer had a job to go to, but she managed to get herself one of those Working for Victoria jobs in strategic planning. It's a six-month position in Melbourne local government, and she has done really well. The six months is going to be up, come January, and she's now applying for jobs in similar positions throughout local government across Melbourne and is really confident that she's going to be successful in getting one of those roles. It has been such a leg-up for her career. These are the sorts of jobs—public sector jobs, good-quality jobs—the government could be putting money into and providing, but that's not what this legislation does. So the Greens have got very significant concerns about this legislation.
Fundamentally, the bill does not offer the protections that are needed for workers. It entrenches insecure, short-term, low-paid work for young people while handing out public money to big business under the guise of a wage subsidy. There are insufficient protections for existing workers to ensure that they don't lose hours or their jobs so that businesses can hire workers that are eligible for the credits. New jobs should not be created at the expense of existing jobs, and workers must be protected, and we are going to be moving amendments to safeguard the conditions of workers to that effect.
There's nothing in this legislation to prevent wage theft, which is already an enormous issue. Qantas was recently found to be underpaying its workers with respect to the JobKeeper payments. Coles previously announced underpaying workers by $20 million. McDonald's didn't pay penalty rates for decades and is currently facing a potential class action for denying workers paid rest breaks. We reckon that the hiring credit should be revoked for businesses who are found to be underpaying their workers, and our amendments propose changes to that effect.
On top of this lack of safeguards in the bill for young workers, we've got another fundamental issue with this bill. As our dissenting report to the committee inquiry notes, it's essentially handing the Liberal Party government a blank cheque. Why would you give a blank cheque to the party that's already given us sports rorts, that's given us one rort after another? Again, what we said in our dissenting report was that the Greens do not support the JobMaker hiring credit scheme being established by the minister, effectively, solely through regulations; nor do we support the broad and unrestrictive powers proposed to be granted to the minister in this bill. Our concern is shared by many of those who made submissions to the inquiry, as the chair's report identifies. The JobMaker hiring credit should be created through legislation and subject to parliamentary scrutiny and amendment.
Sadly, this government has got form when it comes to rorts. And it's not just sports rorts. The JobKeeper scheme was paid out via employers, despite concerns about it getting rorted, and there have been too many experiences of that happening. It has turned into a job rorts. As we said in our dissenting report, while workers are doing it tough, we've seen some of Australia's biggest companies increase their profits and pay out even bigger executive bonuses and higher dividends to shareholders. In August, it was revealed that the publicly funded JobKeeper wage subsidy was being used to prop up company profits, and 17 of Australia's top companies paid $250 million in dividends while also receiving JobKeeper. Under the proposed JobMaker rules, there is nothing stopping big businesses abusing the hiring credit in the same way. Wage subsidies should subsidise wages. They should not be used for corporate profits and higher dividends for shareholders. So we're going to be moving amendments to tackle this issue as well. I really hope that all senators in this place support them. After all, companies should not be able to pay out increased dividends at the same time as they're getting a subsidy.
Throughout this crisis the Liberal Party have played favourites with who they have supported and who they have left behind. The Liberal Party let Virgin, one of our two key airlines, go under. Thousands of workers were at risk because the Liberal Party refused to support them. At the same time the Liberal Party handed out millions and millions of dollars to their mates in a separate airline. This Liberal Party fundamentally left behind the dnata workers and the thousands of others represented by the Transport Workers Union. I want to acknowledge here the important advocacy of the TWU in standing up for the workers that this Liberal Party has left behind. If you're talking about JobMaker, you do not allow thousands of workers to be left on the scrap heap.
The Liberal Party managed to give out millions of dollars to wood processors, who are ripping into our native forests and driving our precious wildlife to extinction. Rest assured the Australian Forest Products Association had close consultation with the minister's office about how they would be bailed out. But the arts sector, which employs hundreds of thousands more people than the native forest forestry sector, hasn't seen a cent. The Liberal Party are playing favourites. They are all rorts, all spin and no delivery for so many people who are being left behind.
Fundamentally the Liberal Party stand for big banks, big fossil fuel companies and big corporations. They don't care about the environment, they don't care about workers and they don't care about your family and the struggle that people are facing to stay afloat in this recession. Many during this period have had an awful moment in the supermarket of thinking what they will put back on the shelf because they don't know whether they have enough money to pay for what they need. There's that moment when you don't know whether your credit card is maxed out—but, if you've been bankrolled by fossil fuel corporations for decades, you can't identify with what that's like. You think that just saying 'jobs and growth' often enough counts as support. You think that giving money to the banks will somehow trickle down to the most vulnerable in society. When the big banks feel the squeeze, the Liberal Party makes sure that they get a bailout and a handout for their executives, but when people who are doing it tough need a hand then the Liberal Party gives them a kick in the teeth.
This bill as it currently stands has, as I said, great ambitions to make jobs. It's a noble ambition. But as this bill stands it is pretty blooming awful. We will be moving amendments to improve it.
I rise to speak on the Economic Recovery Package (JobMaker Hiring Credit) Amendment Bill 2020. This legislation will make a very real difference in people's lives and for the national economy. The state border closures have ensured that there are industries and small businesses reeling from the effects of the coronavirus lockdowns. These businesses and families need to see a way out, a way forward, with the federal government smoothing the path back to normality.
I'm afraid to say that I've rarely heard such nonsense as I recently heard from the Greens on what this package will really do. There's such a lack of understanding of what it's really like to employ people out of the hard-earned dollars and the sweat of your family and their future. In the hospitality and tourism industries, pubs, clubs, travel agents and movie theatres have been financially devastated. The JobMaker hiring credit will give businesses incentives and assistance to take on additional young jobseekers who have been struggling to find work. By helping businesses we'll help young people access job opportunities as the economy recovers.
The JobMaker hiring credit will be available to employers for each new job they create over the next 12 months for which they hire an eligible young person aged 16 to 35 years old. It is expected that around 450,000 positions will be supported through this initiative, at a cost of $4 billion from 2020-21 to 2022-23. From 7 October this year eligible employers will be able to claim $200 a week for each additional eligible employee they hire aged 16 to 29 years old and $100 a week for each additional eligible employee aged 30 to 35 years old.
In my home region of North Queensland, this stimulus package will be most welcome. Tourism businesses especially have been hit by a virtually non-existent annual tourist season which has been made even more bleak by the prospect that international traveller numbers aren't likely to hit pre-pandemic levels for the foreseeable future. This federal package will allow these businesses to keep the doors open until things improve, while having the added bonus of keeping people employed and trained, ready to take advantage of the rebound. It is said that the best time to fix the roof is when it's not raining. It's no use businesses frantically trying to train staff and fill vacancies after the tourist wave starts breaking and, worse, after these young people have had considerable time at home without the benefits of being in work, learning new skills, working with people and getting out of the house. These businesses need to be ready to ride that wave, not to be paddling frantically and sliding off the back because they weren't ready.
In rural and regional areas in the north, non-tourism businesses have been fairly well insulated from the sharp drop in visitors and have been able to get by servicing local markets. But youth unemployment is still high, and incentivising businesses to hire these young people will make a difference to that. The difference will be not only in reducing unemployment but also in giving young people a sense of the dignity of having a job and earning an honest wage. The added bonus is learning skills that will help them for life, while also giving young people an incentive to stay in their towns and build a life for themselves—something that I believe is so critically important for regional and rural Australia. These are the regions where we know we grow the food and fibre, we have the amazing tourist products, we mine the minerals and, best of all, we grow these young people who go on to live extraordinary lives both in Australia and around the world.
More importantly, the hiring credit could prompt employers to take on people they might not otherwise have considered - those facing prolonged unemployment.
He adds that it is already estimated that there are 600,000 younger people on unemployment benefits. Business groups suggest that by next year more than a million people will have been on unemployment benefits for over a year, most of them under the age of 35, which is why this scheme is so carefully targeted at younger people.
It is concerning that Labor and others in this place have been so quick to assume a partisan position on this legislation when studies show that it is Labor held electorates that are set to benefit most from it. To quote from our Prime Minister in The Australian:
We also know from past experience that if young people lose work in a recession and can't find their way back, they risk becoming a lost generation.
We can't let this happen. We must do everything we can so that young people do not start their working lives on welfare. The facts also show that there are more young people living in Labor electorates. The need in Labor seats is greater than anywhere else. As somebody who graduated from university in the early nineties, I know, along with my colleague Senator Scarr, that it was a terrible time for looking for work. Every taxi was driven by an engineer or an architect. For those of us looking to find our first professional job in the world, it was very difficult.
There has also been speculation that unscrupulous employers will try to replace older, higher-paid workers with younger, subsidised ones. These extraordinary remarks could only have been made by members of the Greens or Labor—people who have never hired someone using their own mortgage and their own family's future as security, who think of people in the abstract. They can never understand that an excellent employee is held in high regard; that there is absolutely no way that an employer would attempt to get rid of a reliable and effective employee in order to replace that person with someone who is inexperienced, unknown and a new employee with all the regulatory risks that are attached.
Under this scheme, a business will be eligible to receive the hiring credit at the end of each quarter only if it has increased its headcount and its payroll. That is the security designed to ensure that extra jobs are created. It amazes me, as somebody who has run a small business, that these are people who don't understand the extraordinary process of advertising for new employees, weeding through the applications and hoping desperately for somebody who actually wants to do the job that you have carefully found a wage to pay for. You wait, you rule off time to go through the interview process, you carefully try and match somebody who will be a good fit with your other employees and your customers and who will grow your business, and then there is the devastation as half of the interviewees don't show and, on the day, the employee doesn't even turn up to start work. This lack of understanding—the idea that for $200 a week anybody would get rid of somebody who is a great employee, who is part of your extended family and your customers' extended family—best illustrates how Labor and the Greens have no idea about how to grow an economy, how to grow productivity or how to most sincerely value people and individuals.
While there is no doubt more jobs will organically be created as the economy recovers post-COVID, JobMaker shows this government is serious about creating an environment to ensure that this can happen. Any incentives we can provide are good for business owners, good for the towns they're based in, and good for the people who will be employed. This also shows that we are a government that is agile, pragmatic and innovative as we plan for Australia's future after coronavirus. I encourage regional and rural businesses to take up this offer and introduce local people to the world of work, or welcome them back to work if they have been unemployed. This government understands the importance of the regions and values the aspirations of regional people, be they employers or employees.
I can't help reflecting, as well, on the unbelievable rhetoric that I have just heard from a Greens senator—rhetoric about wages theft, as if every employer out there is looking for a way to rip-off the people they value the most, the people who allow their businesses to operate. Again, the Greens and Labor are people who don't understand the complexity of the awards system—the multiple rates, different hours and overtime. It is a very complex system. I can assure you that, even for somebody who has degrees and a very keen desire to ensure that wages are paid correctly, it is very difficult.
They also speak about government providing jobs, as if somehow taxpayer dollars magically—like a magic pudding—go on for as long as you like. I heard this during the Queensland election when the Queensland Labor government talked about providing additional government jobs, again with no understanding that it is private enterprise and small business that provide jobs, grow economies and grow businesses. They are the ones that genuinely provide jobs that pay taxes and allow for government jobs to then be created. It is a startling and frankly shocking lack of understanding about the way the world works. I guess it goes to their belief that you can continue borrowing money as if there were no tomorrow.
Finally, I heard the scoffing description of the forestry sector, as if somehow, because they didn't employ as many people as the arts sector, it was a lesser industry. It's the most sustainable industry. There couldn't be a more sustainable industry than growing trees that go into making houses and furniture and all sorts of useful, amazing things, and then grow again. They grow from the soil and the water and the air and the very carbon that surrounds us. In fact, in north Queensland the timber industry had been run so sustainably and so well for so very many years that the region was considered to be pristine and declared a World Heritage site. There has never been recognition for the understanding of the land and the environment these people have at work, and yet to have the forestry sector scoffed at as if they were not important was, I thought, very shocking. Once again, the Greens as a party are described as having very little connection to reality. On that note, I do commend this bill to the Senate and look forward to our recovery from the coronavirus.
What a privilege it is to follow my good friend Senator McDonald from Queensland. I must say, Senator McDonald, you bring many things to this place which are totally relevant, absolutely relevant, to the bill which we're considering here this evening, including the perspective of someone who's actually managed a business and employed people in the private sector. These are exactly the people we're targeting with this incentive to go out and give that young person a go, give that young person their first opportunity for a job, in the midst of a one-in-100-years pandemic. That's the experience you bring—lots of experience.
The other experience Senator McDonald brings is that of regional Queensland. Senator McDonald is of regional Queensland. She understands regional Queensland and she understands what this incentive means to businesses of all types in regional Queensland—the incentive to give young regional Queenslanders a job.
Lastly—she of course stole most of the lines I was going to use in relation to a previous Greens speaker, but there's plenty of material to go around in that regard—a material point I'd like to make in relation to this legislation and some of the contributions made by previous speakers is this: the issue of administration was raised; so will there be too much administration imposed on small businesses? Will that act as a disincentive, so small businesses won't employ those extra young people? I say this to you: Why not give it a go? Why not see if it works? Why not see if it does provide young people with an opportunity to get employment? Treasury's estimate is that this will provide 450,000 young people with an opportunity for employment. Why wouldn't you give it a go and see if it works? Why not? What have you got to lose?
Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting—
I'll take that interjection from Senator Whish-Wilson. If the $4 billion is actually spent on the scheme, that means 450,000 young people would have had the opportunity to get work. Surely that means it has worked. It's actually provided employment, and that's $4 billion which has been well spent. So I don't understand. There's an inherent lack of logic in those opposing this scheme. On one hand, people say it's not going to work and then, on the other hand, they're complaining that it's going to cost $4 billion. But, if it costs $4 billion, then it's provided hundreds of thousands of young people with jobs. Opportunity cost—
Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting—
Senator Whish-Wilson, providing employment to 450,000 young people seems like a pretty good use of $4 billion to me in the middle of a pandemic. It really does.
The second point that was raised in objection to the bill was in relation to the fact that it's focused on young people. I, for one, think that it's fit and proper that it is directed at young people. As Senator McDonald eloquently put it, we need to make sure that we do not have a lost generation in the middle of this one-in-100-year pandemic. As Senator McDonald alluded to, I can remember graduating from university in 1992 in the middle of the recession we had to have. It was difficult to find jobs.