Wednesday, 7 September 2022
Statements by Senators
Jobs and Skills Summit
I am very pleased to finally have the opportunity to rise in this place and talk about the Jobs and Skills Summit that was held in parliament last week. I'm particularly keen to talk about not only the events that were held and the discussions that took place in Canberra but also the work that was done in the lead-up to the summit, which I think goes to the power of the summit itself. As we know, many members of the government held round tables in the lead-up to the summit. By setting a date and telling the rest of the country that we would put everyone in a room and tell them that we wanted solutions on the table, we found that people started to come together—people from all walks of life, people who do not necessarily agree with each other all the time, people who might have different views about what we need to do to fix some of the challenges. But holding the summit itself led to outcomes before the summit even began, and after the summit we saw 36 concrete, meaningful outcomes that came from the agreements before and during those discussions.
For my part, in the lead-up to the summit, I was determined to make sure that the unique views of people in regional Queensland were heard and were part of the discussions. I live in Cairns. I am based in Far North Queensland. There are many different diverse communities all across regional Queensland. I wanted the opportunity to hear from just a few of those communities in the lead-up to the summit. So, over one week before the summit was held I held three regional round tables in regional Queensland, across three different electorates. And I have to say, they were very well attended, and I really appreciated the effort and enthusiasm that people brought to these opportunities. From Mareeba in the Atherton Tablelands to Townsville and to Cairns, I heard from diverse, passionate Queenslanders who are working hard for their communities. Everybody who came to the summit understood that we weren't going to be able to solve every problem there and then. But they were there with ideas and with a contribution, with an understanding that their feedback would be taken into the summit itself.
It was very good to see that a number of regional Queenslanders were present at the summit. We know that there were mayors. Mayor Ann Baker from Moranbah was there. Professor Allan Dale, who is based in Far North Queensland but chaired one of our roundtables in Cairns, had the opportunity to attend the summit in Canberra. So there were people in the room from regional Australia, but I definitely wanted to make sure that these views were held and were delivered to the Treasurer and the task force secretary. In many of the same ways that many of my Senate colleagues and MPs in the other place did, I joined in listening to communities in the lead up to this opportunity to make sure that these voices were heard.
What we heard was resoundingly clear. From Meribah all the way through to Townsville and Cairns, we heard that there have been 10 long years of wages going backwards and not keeping up with the cost of living. Queenslanders understand that our challenge does not end with just getting people into work. We also have an opportunity to make sure that workers are treated with respect and paid for a fair day's wage.
Everyone at the summit recognised that our industrial relations system is desperately in need of an update, and that is coming from businesses and workers alike. Workers and businesses told me that workplace laws were too complicated, and I was pleased to see agreement between business and union groups over the summit itself, demonstrating a commitment to work together in Australia's national interest. While we still need to work through what the details of these plans will look like, there is definitely consensus—not only through the government but with businesses, with industry, with unions, with employers and with workers on the frontline—that we need to have a look at our workplace laws to make sure they are fit and proper for the future.
In particular, in regional Queensland, our tourism and agricultural industries indicated that the skilled labour shortage has disrupted migration settings, meaning that they experience concerning labour shortages. Just as difficult as it has been to attract workers to regional Queensland, it is equally hard to retain them in the current conditions. Vital community infrastructure like housing, health and internet are central to keeping regional towns afloat. We are hearing all too often that, without community infrastructure and services, workers see no incentive in making a regional place their home. So we need to make sure that if we are encouraging workers to come to regional Queensland they will certainly have the infrastructure and services needed to make sure they want to live there and raise their families there as well.
I think Minister Gallagher summed it up perfectly when she said that 'women nailed it' at the summit. So did women across regional Queensland. I'm very proud that at my roundtables in regional Queensland we had a lot of women around the table, and they were telling me that the cost of childcare and parental leave issues are causing them to make the decision to leave the workforce or work fewer hours than they would like to. When we are in desperate need of workers to revive and grow our economy, we must look at ways to clear every obstacle that women face in entering and staying in decent work.
Finally, a more detailed summary of the North and Far North Queensland contribution to the Jobs and Skills Summit was delivered to the Treasurer and the task force secretary. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to meet with the Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, to talk with him directly about these issues. He is certainly no stranger to regional Queensland, but it was important to make sure that the original issues that we were talking about weren't lost on the national scale.
I am proud to be a member of a government that seeks to find common ground and invites cooperation so that we can reap the benefits of reform. It is very clear that the Jobs and Skills Summit was a success. I can understand those opposite wanting to talk down the success of the Jobs and Skills Summit because, unfortunately, they failed to turn up. They failed to understand that this was not a moment for politics, but a moment for our country—a moment to deal with a lot of the issues that we are facing, come together, put aside differences and build a consensus on how we can move forward. Whether it is the cost of living, whether it is skills shortages, whether it is getting women back into work after childbirth, it is important that everyone around the table shares the same concern to make sure that these issues are dealt with by a reforming government—a government that cares about people, a government that is focused on delivering jobs in places like regional Queensland, and a government that is crystal clear that it will always put the national interest ahead of political interest. That is what was on display at the Jobs and Skills Summit, and I couldn't have been prouder to be a part of a Labor government on those days.