Tuesday, 10 November 2020
Matters of Public Importance
I inform the Senate that, at 8.30 am today, 18 proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that the following letter was received from Senator Polley:
Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:
The evidence presented to the 2020-21 budget estimates hearings, which confirmed the Morrison Government is always there for the photo op and never there for the follow up and that, despite delivering a Budget that racks up a trillion dollars of debt, the Budget still doesn't create the jobs Australians need.
Is the proposal supported?
More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.
The evidence presented to the 2020-21 budget estimates hearing confirmed that the Morrison government is always there for the photo op and never there for the follow-up and that, despite delivering a budget that racks up a trillion dollars of debt, the budget still does not create the jobs that Australians need. This budget is full of flashy headlines that are great for the photo opportunity, but there is no guarantee that the Morrison government can deliver or will deliver on those promises.
The government has a legacy of running away from responsibility and ducking away from accountability, and the budget is no exception to that. This means that millions of Australians will now face further adversity in what has already been a tough year for all of us. Regardless of the state of our economy, the government has begun to withdraw support from it. However, there remains a high degree of uncertainty and varying degrees of social distancing requirements throughout Australia. These requirements are in place for our health and safety and as a great line of defence against COVID-19, but they continue to be detrimental to business activities.
Our economic recovery is pinned on the idea that we can control this virus. While there are still cases of transmission throughout our community, although the numbers are low, there should be support for businesses and employees who face altered conditions and cannot operate at their full capacity. This government has sat on the legislation, for instance, on the national integrity commission for two years. After finally revealing their plan, they are prepared to establish a toothless commission that won't stop any corruption. It also won't be ready until the next election, at the earliest. In the meantime, rort after rort has been uncovered. There's the sports rorts scandal, the suspicious payment of $30 million at Sydney's new airport for land that was worth a 10th of that, the fiasco of Minister Taylor using forged documents, subsidising billionaire Clive Palmer, and the Cartier watches.
It's crucial that this government is held to account. At Senate estimates it was uncovered that the amount of money spent on consultants and contractors had blown out. These are the jobs that can be performed by the Australian Public Service, yet the Morrison government are happy to expend an exorbitant amount of taxpayer money on high-level executives and managers and to look after their mates. These jobs could be funded and that money spent on APS employees and their work. The Morrison government are very good at making announcements, but they lack transparency and accountability.
Today Mr Morrison made another announcement that will extend JobSeeker at a reduced rate until March, but he refuses to answer any questions about permanently increasing the rate of this supplement. There needs to be more certainty and a comprehensive plan to get people back into work. Simply announcing that there's been an increase in job advertisements will not do that. In the middle of the worst recession in almost a century, it makes no sense for the Morrison government to be withdrawing support from the economy without a comprehensive jobs plan to replace it. We have called on this government for some months now and still we have seen no jobs plan.
As payments get wound back, as the money from early access to superannuation dries up and as the suite of mortgage and rent deferrals ends, they will remove substantial support and it will mean that struggling Australians will begin to feel the real sting of this recession. This will come at the worst possible time for many workers and their families, our communities and our businesses, just as we are heading into the Christmas period. Even before the pandemic these were always times of concern for too many Australians, and now, with what we've experienced over the last eight or nine months, it's going to be a tough Christmas for too many Australian families, too many small businesses and too many people in our communities.
The latest figures from the ABS have shown a fall in jobs and wages in every state and territory in the first full fortnight after the Morrison government's premature cut to JobKeeper. A further 30,000 jobs were lost in the fortnight to 17 October, 470,000 jobs have been lost since the virus outbreak began and 160,000 more Australians are expected to be in the unemployment queue before Christmas. Since the beginning of this crisis, jobs in accommodation and food services have decreased by 18 per cent. Arts and recreational services jobs have fallen by 15 per cent. Australians deserve a government that chases jobs, not just headlines.
The Prime Minister has been slow to act during this crisis, and his government's deliberate decision to exclude Australians from support means that the lasting legacy of this crisis could be higher unemployment for longer and trillions of dollars in debt. According to research undertaken by the Grattan Institute, our recovery should be occurring much quicker, as, unlike previous recessions, this recession was brought on by government restrictions, not financial crashes or conflict. Labor wholeheartedly believes active labour market programs should be created and sustained through economic recovery. Labor has a proud history of using active labour market programs, such as Working Nation during the recession of the early nineties.
Australia is at the crossroads. We are at a pivotal point in our recovery. We can rebuild our nation and ensure a more resilient and robust economy into the future. But all this budget is doing is handing down a one-year, short-sighted response with no real guarantee of reform. This budget will put us $1 trillion in debt—this is a remarkable amount of money—but it doesn't offer any guarantee of ensuring a stronger economic future for Australia. What Australians are looking for now is real leadership. There were too many Australians being left behind before this pandemic. In my home state of Tasmania there were too many families needing assistance. There was such a strong demand on our charitable organisations to give a helping hand to too many Tasmanians—and that was happening across the country. So, at this time, more so than any other in recent memory, we need leadership from the Prime Minister. We are certainly in unprecedented times.
As many countries begin to experience a second wave of the pandemic I'm thankful for our swift response to COVID-19, which has meant that we have performed relatively well. But there are still many challenges ahead. I want to put on record my thanks to the Tasmanian community, who have been there supporting one another and supporting small businesses. They have been excellent in their response to trying to keep the Tasmanian economy moving. But we are experiencing additional challenges, with growing trade tensions with China and with many industries facing uncertainty over their future.
We need leadership from this government. Tasmanian industries and Tasmanian businesses need certainty going forward. What we really need from this government is fewer catchy headlines from the marketing manager and more follow-through. We need leadership. We need to ensure that people don't become complacent about COVID-19, but we need to ensure that we're working together to keep our economy turning. We need to ensure that fewer than 160,000 additional Australians are going to end up unemployed before Christmas. That means we need real action, and we need that action now. We need fewer photo opportunities. We need the Prime Minister to step up and follow through.
I must have experienced a different estimates process over the two weeks, because what I witnessed and heard was ministers and their advisers working tirelessly day and night to achieve great economic outcomes for all Australians. The mover of the motion has asserted that the Prime Minister is only about flashy headlines. Let me list some of the responses which will deliver real action: the JobKeeper payment, supporting apprentices and trainees, income support for individuals, boosting cash flow for employers, the small and medium enterprises guarantee scheme, early release of superannuation, supporting pensions, HomeBuilder. Each one of these response initiatives has preserved jobs and set us up for an economic recovery, and yet there is more. I'm incredulous that the Labor Party would suggest that this government is not focused on jobs. It has been the word uttered the most by the Prime Minister, members of his cabinet and members on the government benches. What we don't hear from the other side of the chamber is that real jobs come from real businesses, and real businesses need the free flow of capital. They need access to capital—or debt, depending on how they want to run their business—and they need to have demand for cash flow. The measures which the Treasurer, in the other place, has instituted are designed for a targeted response to achieve this.
In the recovery program we have the JobMaker hiring credit, which will support around 450,000 young Australians into jobs. There's the JobTrainer Fund, providing up to an additional 340,700 places in courses to boost skills. There are the accelerated personal income tax cuts, benefiting over 11 million Australians. To support business investment there are temporary tax incentives, which are available to over 99 per cent of businesses. Of course, as we all know, there is the incredible infrastructure stimulus. All of this generates demand and provides a flow of trained Australians to join businesses to meet that demand. I'm a little unsure of what the honourable senator who moved the motion was suggesting in talking about active market programs. I would suspect that they're more of the Soviet style, which is intervention and the government choosing winners. You simply cannot do this. You cannot generate economic growth without allowing a free flow of credit and allowing individuals to pursue their own endeavours and dreams.
I also find it difficult to take that the government was criticised for not providing certainty. Everything in the budget was designed to give businesses in Australia some ability to plan and to design how they wish to navigate the way ahead. There will be challenges going forward. There may well be a second wave. But the government cannot be criticised, for it will need to remain nimble and attentive, and its measures will be adjusted as and when required.
The honourable senator who moved the motion asserted the excessive use of consultants. In the estimates hearings that I attended it was said time and time again by senior members of the Public Service that they had used consultants, particularly in their approach to COVID, to bring into the Public Service the skills they otherwise wouldn't have had and to allow them to respond quickly and effectively. So I don't think that the point is well made by the mover of the motion. I don't intend to address the issues of the national integrity commission because I don't believe they are entirely relevant to the assertions that are made in this motion, and that will be debated at another time, and nor are the allegations of rorting, which my party vigorously denies, of various community programs.
The government does have a significant, comprehensive job plan. It was the fundamental basis and foundation of the budget. We accept the fact that the economy has been under stress because of COVID, but honourable senators should turn their minds to the fact that in some of the states, particularly Victoria, it has been the decision of state premiers and their cabinets or their particular arrangements to deal with the emergency that have restricted the free movement of people and the operations of businesses. Whilst the Commonwealth has encouraged those communities to seek to free up when it is safe to do so, the blame for business restrictions cannot be put at the feet of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth has rightly respected the states, as it must, and sought to provide financial arrangements to assist the businesses where it is able.
I particularly wish to address the supporting measures for the flow of credit. Small businesses and small-to-medium enterprises need access to credit; otherwise they cannot create their businesses and run their businesses or, at the same time, meet the aspirations of themselves and their families. The government has a series of measures which assist in the flow of credit, and these are the SME guarantee scheme, the RBA Term Funding Facility, the Australian Business Growth Fund and the Structured Finance Support Fund. A small business, when it's under stress or when it's starting out, needs capital to grow depending on the nature of its capital requirements and what market segment it is in. So, while the government in its other initiatives has stimulated demand and confidence and a sense of surety in the community from an economic perspective, likewise there must be a free flow of credit. If banks do not lend or other alternative lending institutions are unable to provide debt then the businesses will not be able to run, for they will not be able to underwrite their cash flows or invest in those things they need for their business. You need cash flow before you can make tax deductions.
The government's small and medium enterprises guarantee scheme supports up to $40 billion of lending by guaranteeing 50 per cent of eligible new loans issued by participating lenders to small and medium enterprises. It has two phases. The Reserve Bank of Australia's Term Funding Facility is providing up to $200 billion in low-cost funding to the banking system to support the flow of credit and lower interest rates for households and business. The government's $15 billion Structured Finance Support Fund is making targeted investments through the securitisation market to support funding of smaller lenders. The government and a number of banks have also established the Australian Business Growth Fund. Whilst these are not necessarily considered glamourous by many members in this chamber, as someone who has come from the business community I know they will underpin, to a very large extent, our economic future.
I might just finish off by saying South Australia has fared well under its Liberal leadership. A projected 790,000 taxpayers in South Australia will receive tax relief in the budget. It commits an additional $625.2 million over the next decade to land transport infrastructure projects. The mood on the ground in South Australia is good. The South Australians that I speak to are thankful for the support that the Commonwealth government has provided them. I'd ask honourable senators to take heed of the fact that federal governments cannot themselves employ every Australian. They have to create an environment where people can pursue their own individual dreams and, from those dreams, found, start and run businesses, and those businesses will employ people. That is an economic reality. Whilst the stimulus has assisted the businesses in existence to survive, the new response measures will allow them, going forward, to thrive.
I rise to make a contribution to the debate on this matter of importance. I note that , for every job vacancy, we still have , on average, 12 people without work competing for that one job vacancy. What does this budget do? It a ctually doesn't put any further money into the JobSeeker payment past the end of December. The government had the coronavirus supplement , which I'm very much on the record as saying we support ed. But then the government cuts it , very prematurely , and announces its budget without announcing what's going to happen after the end of December, leaving people who are currently looking for work — the 1.8 million people that the government itself is predicting will be unemployed at the end of the year — uncertain and anxious about their future . S o not only did the government not commit to further extending the coronavirus supplement ; more importantly, they did not commit to a permanent increase in the JobSeeker payment, which everybody in this place knows is far too low at $40 a day. Then today the government say, 'Yes, we are going to extend the supplement to the end of March , but we're going to take another $100 off you . ' That means that th e people who are struggling to survive on the already cut supplement, which is actually below the poverty line, are going to be dropped even further below the poverty line , come 1 January 2021 . ' Happy New Year ' to th ose 1.8 million people who will be struggling below the poverty line on the JobSeeker payment, c ompeting for non-existent jobs.
The Treasurer's excuse today in question time for that was that the Australian economy is recovering , apparently . Tell that to the 1.8 million people who will be unemployed. We still have a long way to go to get back to employment rates before the recession. There are still twice as many people on unemployment payments as there were before the recession, chasing fewer jobs . A nd, by the way, if you're looking for an entry - level job, the stat s are much worse than 12 people competing for the one job; they are much higher and it is much harder. Millions of Australians are still unemployed, looking for more work to make ends meet , and there are over a million children who will be a ffected by this, who will be living in poverty . Because the government has cut the JobSeeker payment , effectively— because the coronavirus supplement is paid to those on JobSeeker, youth allowance and a number of other payments — they will be struggling below the poverty line. It is simply cruel and unfair .
Not only did the government not put that into the budget; they have now made this announcement that they will extend the payment through to 31 March. What are people going to do beyond 31 March? And w hat do you think people are going to do in the run-up to Christmas? They're not going to be spending a lot of money in the run-up to Christmas , because they know that another $100 cut is coming at them and they're potentially going back to $40 a day at the end of March. Actually, the labour market, and because the economy is recovering— (Time expired)
Australians are facing the deepest, most damaging recession in almost 100 years , and they're facing a deep and damaging jobs crisis. The latest ABS figures saw a further fall in jobs and wages in every state and territory—every state and territory. Thirty thousand jobs were lost in the fortnight to 17 October, 470,000 jobs have been lost since the coronavirus outbreak began and a further 160,000 jobs are predicted to be lost by Christmas. The jobs crisis is only getting worse , and it will keep hurting workers and their families unless this government delivers a plan for good, secure jobs — a real plan for Australia's recovery. Instead, we have a government that is focused on slogans and not solutions, on cutting peoples' income and support and on slashing JobKeeper and JobSeeker while people are still struggling. We have a government that is going to rack up a trillion dollars in debt, but somehow fail to create the jobs that people need.
When the government delivered their budget last month, I really hoped they would finally deliver us a plan to create good, secure jobs—but, no. Somehow, the government managed to announce billions of dollars of spending, a trillion dollars of debt, without a full, comprehensive and detailed plan on how they're going to rebuild jobs. This was a budget of short-term, stopgap measures where obviously more focus had been given to the announcement and the headlines these measures could create than to how many jobs they would deliver and how they would help our recovery. Decisions taken by the Morrison government in this budget mean that this recession will be longer and deeper than necessary.
It's time they stop chasing headlines and start focusing on a real plan with detail for good, secure jobs. Those 160,000 workers don't need to lose their jobs, as predicted, by this Christmas. What they need is a government that includes them in their support packages. What they need is a government that doesn't withdraw support, like JobKeeper, too early, making their jobs more insecure. What they need is a government that has a plan for everyone. This is a government that finds it all too easy to leave people out or to leave people behind.
Remember when the Prime Minister told us, 'We're all in this together,' and when the government told us their support programs would be equal and that they wouldn't favour some over others? They told us that they would not leave the vulnerable behind. But this is a Prime Minister we know does not deliver. There are millions left out of JobKeeper; support has been slashed before people get back on their feet and programs have been announced and never delivered. That's what Australians have come to expect from the government. Right when Australians need the government to stand up for them the most, the government stand in front of the cameras and then they run away. They disappear to their next press conference, their next doorstop, and they forget about the delivery. One day 'we're all in this together' and the next day millions of workers are excluded from JobKeeper. So many workers missed out on JobKeeper, people who really needed that support: casuals, freelancers, temporary migrants, NDIS workers, university staff, arts and performance workers, local government employees, charity workers, international students, and let's not forget those hardworking early childhood educators who had JobKeeper ripped away early.
Now we're seeing more slicing and dicing of people by this government, more exclusions and more cutting people out, instead of bringing people in. The government have left almost a million workers out of their plans for the JobMaker hiring credit, excluding workers over the age of 35, employees who had been on JobKeeper and businesses which had been claiming JobKeeper right at a time when this jobs crisis is only getting worse and right at a time when JobKeeper is crucial for Australia's recovery. Excluding millions from support and then ripping those support programs away too fast is hurting Australia's recovery. Their decision to cut JobKeeper, to cut JobSeeker and to exclude too many workers and businesses from this hiring credit will mean that the recession will be deeper and the jobs crisis will be more devastating for Australian families. We've already seen the direct and damaging impact of this approach: a fall in jobs and wages in every state and territory in the first full fortnight after the Prime Minister cut JobKeeper too early.
Just like most of the Prime Minister's other announcements, JobMaker is big on promise and small on delivery. Only a month after it was announced in the budget, we found out that the JobMaker hiring credit program will actually create only 10 per cent of the jobs that the government promised: 45,000 instead of the 455,000 as claimed. This isn't the first time the Prime Minister has overpromised and underdelivered, because he's big on announcements and small on delivery. The government announced a $250 million arts rescue package months ago, but we found out at estimates that not a single dollar of that has been delivered. The government also promised big for Australian manufacturing—$1.5 billion—but they plan on spending only just three per cent of that this financial year. You always have to read the fine print with this government. These failures to deliver are costing jobs now.
This government delivered a big spending budget. They're racking up $1 trillion in debt, but we're not getting the bang for the buck that we need and Australians aren't getting the jobs that they need. Some promises in the budget didn't even last until the end of the budget month: JobMaker—450,000 places were claimed by the government but it is expected to create only 45,000 jobs; the technology road map—130,000 jobs were claimed but none were included in the budget; and the manufacturing announcement—80,000 direct jobs were claimed but none were included in the budget. These were promises designed purely for the photo op.
What about the other areas of policy that we know the government could invest in to create jobs? There was no plan in this budget for early childhood education, no plan for social housing, no plan for cheaper and cleaner energy and no plan for aged care. The budget had no real plan for jobs and it had no plan for the future.
If we really want to look out for workers and their families then we need to get this recovery right—a recovery with good secure jobs; a recovery for all Australians, not just some Australians. We need a plan for this recovery now. We need a plan that means making more of what we need right here in Australia, rebuilding and revitalising Australian manufacturing—manufacturing that delivers good secure jobs with decent wages. We need to get started on big transformative infrastructure projects that will actually improve people's lives—projects like high-speed rail and a new generation of high-quality social housing. We need a plan to guarantee apprenticeships on major federal projects, a plan to address the skills crisis by reinvesting in TAFE, a plan to recharge workforce participation of women, a plan to power our recovery with clean energy projects and renewables, and a plan to rebuild good secure jobs. That's what we need from this government—jobs people can count on, jobs people can plan a future on. This is what a Labor government would do.
It's time the government stopped focusing on their slogans, headlines and announcements. It's well past time that they actually delivered a plan for those good secure jobs that Australians are crying out for today—jobs with decent wages, jobs they can count on and jobs for all Australians, not just those the government decides to include. Our undervalued and overstretched essential workers need this plan. Over one million Australians who are out of work need this plan. Kids leaving school who are anxious about their futures need this plan. So it's time for the Prime Minister to commit to a recovery that includes good secure jobs at its foundation—a plan that includes more Australians and leaves no-one behind.
I rise to speak in this matter of public importance debate. Those on the other side of the chamber have said that we are always there when there's a photo opportunity. Yes, we do have photos. We have photos when we deliver things—when we deliver roads, when we deliver schools, when we deliver hospitals and when we deliver programs. We have photos when we actually deliver something. Those on the other side of the chamber have plenty of photo opportunities too, but not when they actually deliver anything—because they don't. In fact, today I saw some Labor people from the other place having a photo opportunity because they resigned. You have a photo opportunity when you quit. Isn't that wonderful?
At least we only have photos when we actually deliver things for the Australian people.
I completely refute their allegation that the budget does not create jobs. In fact, this government has been so successful at creating jobs that we now have a crisis. As Senator Walsh pointed out, we have a jobs crisis—because everything has to be a crisis these days. The crisis we have, particularly in the Northern Territory and regional Australia, is that we do not have enough employees to fill jobs. That's right. We've been so good at creating jobs and supporting people to not have to go to work that it's very hard for some employers to get people to take jobs, to fill vital roles in their organisations.
I bring your attention to the recent Northern Territory mango harvest. Since March, mango producers have been trying to source workers for the harvest. They normally rely on seasonal workers from Pacific countries. Many of these were not available this year because of border restrictions, so they started looking for Australians very early on in the piece. They looked very hard for Australians to take up the role. Very few did. One of our producers, who is part way through their mango harvest, reported to me the other day that they are $14 million down because they've been unable to source workers to take part in the mango harvest. They told me about one experience—of many—they'd had, as an example. They'd tried to get Australian employees through a labour hire firm. They were promised that four would be turning up. The four did turn up. They turned up late on their very first day. They did a couple of hours work and then said they were going into town to get some lunch. They never came back. This producer rang up the labour hire company and told them what had happened. The company said the workers had rung them and said, 'It's pretty hot and pretty hard, and we don't really want to do it.' They were 'going into town to go partying'. This is one of many examples.
It wasn't just mangoes. We have a crisis with pastoralists in the Northern Territory. There are pastoral properties that still have a market for their cattle. They're still trying to work their cattle. They're still trying to turn off their cattle. But they can't get staff. I was talking to the managing director the other day of one very large company that owns numerous pastoral properties. He said some of the smaller family owned businesses really struggle to get employees. He said: 'We need to do all sorts of things. We can get employees, but we need to do all sorts of things for them, like very comfortable accommodation and big-screen TVs. We've have put in high-speed broadband on all our properties.' We're talking really remote properties, where it's extremely expensive to put in and maintain high-speed broadband. He said: 'That's what we need to do to attract any staff at all. It's so hard and so competitive to get staff that we have to go to these lengths to get them to come out here.'
It's not only agriculture and those sorts of industries; it's the bars, restaurants and clubs. I frequently go for a walk around Darwin and stop in and talk to many of the local businesses. They tell me exactly the same thing. They can't get baristas. They can't get bar people. They can't get waitresses. They say: 'We're open. Our businesses are doing well. Our problem is we can't get staff.' These same problems are occurring in Queensland and in other states, particularly in rural and remote areas. We just can't get the workers to keep these businesses open. We've been so successful in creating jobs. Now we can't fill them.
If we look at some of the programs that this government has undertaken and that this budget has delivered, particular to the Northern Territory, which is my passion, the NT has received $250 million in JobKeeper payments. Bear in mind, we have a population of just under 250,000 people. There's $227 million in cash flow boost credit for business. There are 120,000 Territorians who will receive tax relief, and 20,000 NT businesses are eligible for business tax incentives. This budget commits an additional $189 million of funding for land transport infrastructure projects in the Northern Territory over the next decade. This includes $120 million for the Carpentaria Highway upgrade, $46 million for NT national network highway upgrades and $22.9 million for the Stuart Highway upgrade at Coolalinga. Roads do not build themselves, so all this funding for infrastructure creates jobs because we need people to build roads—a lot of people. Since 2014, the government has committed $2.7 billion to fund land transport infrastructure projects in the NT, including funding announced as part of this budget, as I said, to create jobs, because infrastructure does not build itself.
The other thing I'd like to mention is the Beetaloo Basin, which is a key element of our gas-fired recovery. The Morrison government committed $28.3 million to the strategic basin plans around the country, the Beetaloo being one of five key basins. Currently the Northern Territory has practically no manufacturing industry. There are several reasons for this, but one of the reasons is the high price of energy. The Beetaloo Basin has the potential to unlock affordable energy for the Northern Territory and to create an actual manufacturing industry, which will create jobs—jobs for Territorians and jobs for Australians.
Then, if we look at defence, defence has committed $8 billion to Darwin over the coming 10 years to build defence infrastructure. Again, infrastructure does not build itself. That $8 billion will create jobs and ongoing employment, and a further $1.6 billion will upgrade RAAF Base Tindal in my hometown of Katherine. Again, that's $1.6 billion injected into a town of 10,000 people. That is a hell of a lot of jobs and ongoing employment.
Then, if we look at the NAIF fund in the Northern Territory, there's $300 million to build a new ship lift to service patrol boats and other craft in Darwin. Again, a ship lift doesn't build itself. Jobs will be created in construction and in ongoing operation.
There's a recent $24.2 million NAIF loan to Humpty Doo Barramundi. This is a 100 per cent Territory family owned business. This will increase the size of the farm, put in additional ponds and create a new hatchery. Part of this loan will create 110 jobs during construction and a further 160 ongoing jobs when it is built and operating. That might not sound like much, but, to a small Territory family owned business, that is a hell of a lot of jobs injected into the local economy.
If we look at some national reactions, the government's $74 billion JobMaker plan is a key element of the government's economic recovery plan for Australia. Designed to support a stronger economic recovery— (Time expired)
This is a budget that delivers massive dividends for the super-rich. It delivers huge payouts for the government's corporate mates and political donors. But it contains very little for ordinary Australians, almost nothing for working Australians and even less for those who are out of work. The Greens thank the Australian Labor Party for moving this motion, which allows for this debate to be held, but I have to say this motion is slightly confused in focus. And I have to remind people that Labor passed the tax cuts in budget week. They fell over themselves to get out of the government's way and give the very wealthy in this country a massive tax cut. We know that the overwhelming majority of these tax cuts will not be spent in the real economy. They will be saved by people who are doing it tough—and history shows that that happened last time people got a tax cut: the overwhelming majority was saved, not spent—or, in the case of the super wealthy, they will just be used to inflate the share market and the property market. Meanwhile, people in the real world will continue to have to make do with the scraps. We've got a serious problem with wealth inequality in this country, and it is only getting bigger because of the combined efforts of the LNP and the ALP as they fall over themselves to give tax cuts to the very wealthy.
Labor's boneheaded attack on government debt makes it so much harder to fix the mess we are in. I remind senators we're in a recession, and we effectively have two choices: public debt held in common on behalf of us all or private debt in the form of things like payday loans, credit card debt and bigger mortgages. If the Labor Party wants to go down the path of more private debt, this country is in more trouble than I already thought it was. We already in Australia have some of the highest levels of household debt in the developed world, and times are only going to get tougher. We need to be using debt to transform our economy, to invest in renewable energy, to invest in green infrastructure and to build the 21st century infrastructure that we need to help us provide a good life for everyone, but at the moment debt is just being used to inflate the property bubble, to pump up the already rigged housing market and to provide corporate welfare for fossil fuel companies and weapons manufacturers. We can do better than that.
I rise to support this MPI. We talk about photo opportunities. Well, there's an incredibly important photo opportunity right out the front of Parliament House where the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags are flying next to the Australian flag. There are so many of them flying out there—not just one, not just two, not just three. There is a whole row. In fact, there are two rows on the left side of the building, and there are another two rows on the right side of the building. Do you know what, Madam Acting Deputy President Brown? Of the 52 weeks this Senate and the other house could actually stand up and do something, say something meaningful for First Nations people in this country, this one week is the time to do it. This is the time to engage in a way that is deeply sincere. This is the time to engage and reflect on the kind of year that we've had—and not just on COVID 2020.
Let me take you back a couple more months to the black lives rallies across this country, where millions of Australians took to the streets to remind every single institution that every parliamentarian steps into in every single jurisdiction of this country that the deaths of First Nations people are still occurring at a far higher rate than they should be and that there has been no justice since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody for First Nations people who have been in custody in our jail system. Today, we could have done something to unite our country through symbolism.
Someone in the Senate asked me what that symbolism was going to do. Don't we use symbolism every day? When we come into the Senate, we have the 'Our father', we give thanks in prayer and we listen to the acknowledgement of the Ngunawal and Ngambri peoples. So why is displaying the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags—national flags—along with the Australian flag, such a hard symbol to reconcile? And how is it that, in this NAIDOC Week, the government could be so mean-spirited as to not dig deeper—dig much deeper?
This motion has actually been before the government for three months. It wasn't a surprise. I even went to the Chief Government Whip three months ago, and I sat in his office and said, 'This is what we would like to do.' It was not a surprise. You had all that time. When we talk about photo opportunities—
Senator Dean Smith interjecting—
I guess gagging me is something that the government wants to do twice today, unfortunately. Imagine what the government is doing to First Nations people across the country. When we try to have our voices heard, whether it's in our local neighbourhoods, in our local communities or at the highest levels of parliamentary structures and institutions, we're put down. We're told to sit down. 'You can't speak. You can't even speak for one minute. Heaven forbid!' Have a think about that. Now, that is symbolism. That is symbolism in terms of what you as a government are doing—and how you could be working better with First Nations people in this country.
Use that photo opportunity of sincerity, of genuine engagement, of reaching out. Reduce the high incarceration rates of First Nations people using your national cabinet, which you have so successfully done over many months to eliminate COVID in our country—or, at least, to the best of our ability. Use the national cabinet to talk about how we can reduce the high incarceration rates of First Nations people in Australia, because you've shown you can use it. So don't dismiss us, don't gag us, don't tell us we can't speak. Please, make NAIDOC 2020 something else to remember as for the betterment of all Australians.
I rise to speak on this matter of public importance, which, effectively, is to do with the relative performance of our country. Australia is probably close to being the best country on earth in the way it has dealt with this debilitating pandemic. The Australian FinancialReview said that just four countries had fared better than Australia. Our economy underwent a seven percent contraction in the June quarter. Other economies, as the Senate would be well aware, have experienced much greater contractions: 12 per cent in the case of New Zealand and 20 per cent in the case of the UK. So in a fair comparison with other jurisdictions—ones that we would generally compare ourselves to—Australia has performed very well on the economic front.
As the Prime Minister has said throughout this pandemic and recession, this is a real balancing act between the health objective and the economic objective. It's all well and good for us to try to pursue a health objective, but not, in doing so, to flatten the economy, which is effectively what we've seen in New Zealand. I predict that the recovery in New Zealand will be very, very difficult.
In my own home state of New South Wales, I pay great tribute to the Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, for the way that the New South Wales government has kept the state open in terms of its borders, for the most part, and in terms of its businesses, and also deployed a very good health response.
This is a health and economic crisis in which Australia has performed very well. I think part of the reason we've performed well is that our institutions have been very successful, and the leaders have taken this virus seriously. When you reflect on the way that some leaders in other jurisdictions have dealt with this virus, I'm not sure that they always took it seriously. The Prime Minister and the innovation of national cabinet have meant that we've been quite successful in addressing this virus.
We were prepared to drop our prior commitment to a budget surplus in the short term in order to deploy the economic stimulus that the economy has needed to get through this enormous economic shock. In historical terms, this is a very significant shock. It is the biggest shock in 100 years. So the JobKeeper scheme was designed to keep businesses united and to keep the fabric of Australian businesses together. At the end of the day, the economy is underpinned by private investment, so our schemes have been designed to keep the blanket underneath the private economy so that, once the shock is over, normal transmission can resume. JobKeeper has been a successful scheme—$100 billion there. We've also deployed the JobSeeker scheme, which has been an additional payment recognising the extraordinary times in which we are living.
In terms of the future—and I think that's what the Australian people want to hear about from us, and from other people elected to this chamber and, over the road, to the House—the opportunity for us now, being in the first recession in 30 years, is what we do to drive private investment. Typically, the two big levers that a government has are tax policy—and that goes to tax rates, tax complexity and tax administration—and labour laws. We have very inflexible labour laws and a very inflexible industrial system, and we are a very high taxing country. These are two things that we should pursue in coming years, with a view to having a more competitive and more flexible economy. With the recession we're now living through upon us, I think it will become clear to more Australians, especially young Australians, that no-one owes this country a favour. We have to be competitive in order to attract investment and we need to be competitive to attract the best minds the world has to offer. That is the challenge for our government; that is the challenge for our parliament: how can we be competitive, knowing that we're always going to be an outward-looking economy and an outward-looking people?
I thank Senator Polley for this opportunity to discuss job creation. In Australia, we accept that the government should provide the infrastructure and then get out of the way and let the employers create jobs. The less red tape, green tape and blue tape are nobbling free enterprise, the more real breadwinner jobs will be created.
The Labor Party has brought us Queensland's notorious reef regulations, which are in the process of strangling the life out of agriculture across thousands of kilometres of Queensland coastline. The loss of jobs in agriculture and agricultural communities along our coastline is a disaster that Labor's green tape has caused. Australia's Water Act, though, was the product of an unholy alliance between the Nationals, Liberals and Labor. It has driven family farmers off their land and decimated rural communities. Green tape is killing agriculture and killing jobs.
United Nations blue tape is having the same effect on industry. This insane idea that power generation should not produce carbon dioxide, a harmless trace gas that does not cause climate change, has destroyed heavy industry and manufacturing in Australia. China is now producing what Australia would not. Labor, the Greens and the Liberal-National parties have all championed this transfer of jobs from Australia to China. China and India are now building 500 new coal-fired power stations to keep up with the demand for Chinese and Indian steel and manufactured goods.
Renewable energy, or, as I call it, 'unreliable energy', does not create jobs. For every one new job in so-called renewables 2.2 jobs are lost in the productive economy. Yet Labor, the Greens, the Liberals and the Nationals are out there every day touting a renewable led economic boom. The only boom here is in the cost to taxpayers. Every new wind turbine costs Australian taxpayers $536,000 in subsidies every year. That's $13 billion a year in subsidies, and that costs every household $1,300 a year. Blue tape is not about environmentalism; it is about wealth redistribution. Large foreign companies win and small Australian businesses lose. One Nation will withdraw from international agreements that harm Australia's interests and we will bring these jobs home. Senator Polley blames the Morrison government for poor job creation. I blame Labor, the Nationals, the Liberals and the Greens. (Time expired)