Senate debates

Tuesday, 31 August 2021


COVID 19: Tasmania

7:25 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak about one element of the jobs crisis that has been created by the Morrison Liberal government's failure to maintain a uniform national wage subsidy scheme. The ham-fisted, alphabet-soup approach to disaster payments adopted by the Morrison government since the premature end of JobKeeper has meant that many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Australians have been left without income support.

Indeed, they have also been treated differently depending on the state they live in. Last week, it was reported in Tasmania's The Mercury newspaper:

The number of airport workers stood down due to flight cancellations across Tasmania has climbed from 30 to 100 as border closures continue to hurt the tourism sector.

That's the income of 100 workers in Tasmania gone because Mr Morrison's Liberal government has steadfastly refused to provide support and assistance to those who are direct casualties of his inept ability to provide a robust quarantine system that works and a vaccine rollout comparable to the rest of the developed world. Not a single one of these 100 impacted workers are eligible for Mr Morrison's aviation support package, yet these are workers in the aviation sector who've been stood down and lost their income because of the direct impact of the border closures and lockdowns brought on by this government's failures. That was meant to be the point of the aviation assistance package—to support these very workers. If that wasn't meant to be the point, what was?

Why do workers across Australia continually have to suffer because Mr Morrison refuses to admit he got it wrong with the early axing of JobKeeper? The failure to provide support to workers in this sector will have an ongoing flow-on effect, for many months to come, on businesses that rely on visitation to Tasmania, even after border restrictions are eased. This is due to an exodus of skilled and accredited aviation ground-operations staff, without whom Tasmania will be unable to handle an increased volume of air traffic. This is a looming supply chain failure brought about purely by the Morrison Liberal government's inept intransigence. I commend the Labor member for Lyons, Brian Mitchell, for continuing to raise the plight of these workers and for seeking to have this important matter addressed on behalf of them and the many Tasmanian businesses their critical work supports. I urge Mr Morrison to admit he's got it wrong and provide the necessary support to these workers to keep our aviation industry going for the long term.

But let us be clear: it is not just aviation support ground staff who are suffering. We are seeing workers in other airport services, like food vendors and car hire companies, being stood down as well. Beyond our airports, we're seeing our accommodation providers, hospitality venues, restaurants, cafes, pubs, tourism operators and so many more suffering from a significant and sustained reduction in visitation. This is a burgeoning crisis that many businesses will struggle to recover from. That is why Tasmania's Labor members of federal parliament wrote to the Prime Minister some weeks ago urging him to reinstate broader financial support for workers and businesses impacted by border restrictions. The chorus of support for these necessary measures has only grown louder since. As quoted in The Sunday Examiner, tourism operator and publican at the Duke of Wellington Hotel in Hobart Douglas O'Neil said:

We've seen a massive drop in revenue. There's just no tourists coming in. Three weeks ago I woke up and cried looking at my bank statement because I didn't know how I was going to pay staff.

Like so many others, Mr O'Neil has said the paltry, one-off grants currently available would not even cover a week of wages or rental costs.

The time for action was yesterday, but, if Tasmanian workers and businesses are to survive to see the other side of this crisis, they need support today. Tasmanians can see the downturn on the streets. Whether it's the abysmally low patronage of Hobart's iconic Salamanca Market and what that means for the many hundreds of stallholders, the low number of diners at our restaurants or the friends and families we know who've had their rosters cut and shifts dropped, this downturn is having a real-world impact. The Prime Minister pledged last year that he would build a bridge to get Australians safely to the other side of this crisis. It seems that this Prime Minister struggles to keep promises about the construction of not only physical bridges but also metaphorical ones. (Time expired)