26 August 2020

I rise today to support the amendment moved by the member for Rankin. Labor will be supporting this legislation, the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Jobkeeper Payments) Amendment Bill 2020, but I do note the amendment moved.

At the start of this crisis it was Labor who urged the government to consider wage subsidies to help employers keep staff. The government initially rejected the idea, but then they listened to Labor. More recently it was Labor who called on the government to extend JobKeeper, and now they have. It was Labor who called on the government to abandon its proposal to extend emergency IR powers to businesses that have fully recovered, and they have. Throughout this crisis Labor has worked constructively with the government on the passage of legislation through this parliament to support Australians.

But, as we often see with the Morrison government, it has been painfully slow to act. It is slow to recognise the problem. It is often ignorant of the facts. Support for people in need was too slow, created too much uncertainty and excluded far too many people. This delayed an economic response to the COVID-19 outbreak and needlessly pushed too many Australians out of jobs and into those terrible queues of people we saw outside the nation's Centrelink offices, including more than one million casuals, who have been the hardest hit by restrictions and the downturn. Even as millions of people suffered, the Prime Minister had the temerity to falsely inform Australians that the economy would 'snap back' by September.

When this government does take action we then see the terrible failures of implementation. We saw the $60 billion JobKeeper bungle, the biggest in Australian history. We've seen three million vulnerable Australians forced to raid $33 billion from their superannuation accounts because the government failed to provide adequate support. This is a privatisation of the support that the public should have provided. We've seen the failure to implement a national scheme for paid pandemic leave. This government's failures will make this economic downturn worse than it needs to be, the unemployment queues longer and the recovery so much more difficult.

Labor's priority is always to protect jobs and to create new jobs. We want to help workers, businesses, families and communities through this crisis and to ensure that vulnerable Australians are supported. We believe job creation should be the No. 1 economic issue in this nation, but this government's record on jobs and economic growth is poor, and even worse, this government has no plan for the future.

Even before the summer bushfires and the COVID-19 outbreak annual growth was already well below trend, consumption was weak, business investment had fallen, underemployment and household growth had hit record highs, wages growth had hit record lows and debt had more than doubled. The Liberals now preside over the first recession in Australia in 29 years and hundreds of thousands more Australians are unemployed or left behind.

The unemployment rate is at 7.5 per cent and is expected to climb to 10 per cent. ABS data this week confirms the jobs crisis is getting worse, with 520,000 payroll jobs lost since the outbreak. The ABS 'Weekly payroll jobs and wages in Australia' shows that, since 14 March, payroll jobs have dropped by 4.9 per cent, and total wages have fallen by 6.2 per cent. Victoria was hardest hit, with payroll jobs declining by 7. 8 per cent. Payroll jobs for women declined by 4.7 per cent, and male payroll jobs decreased by 5.3 per cent. Jobs in the accommodation and food services sector decreased by 18 per cent and jobs in the arts and recreation industries fell by 15.3 per cent.

Here we are in late August, more than six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, at a time of mounting job losses, and this government is removing substantial JobKeeper support from the economy without any jobs plan to replace it. The government's changes to JobKeeper do not represent a comprehensive plan for jobs. They do nothing for the hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their jobs or will lose their jobs, including up to 400,000 additional workers expected to lose their jobs by this Christmas. That's 400,000 additional workers that will likely lose their jobs by this Christmas.

The wind-down of JobKeeper will come at the worst time for workers and businesses in Victoria and other parts of Australia. Some of the hardest hit industries are those that have been and remain deliberately excluded from JobKeeper. You'd have to be living under a rock not to have heard the outcry from countless Australian workers who have missed out on the scheme. The most recent incarnation of JobKeeper fails to expand the scheme to allow workers whose companies are owned by foreign companies to access the payment, placing undue pressure on the aviation industry. This government goes on about Australia's investment potential and economic credentials but, at the same time, allows these companies, who hire thousands of Australian workers, to hit the wall. The government have had ample time to tweak JobKeeper to ensure those workers are supported, and that they haven't just confirms that the Prime Minister and his government are happy for aviation to collapse in this country, and, with it, thousands of jobs. So, while they call for open borders to happen, despite health advice and the actual facts, they'll also let the aviation industry, which could work through an open Australia, fail.

I commend the work of the Transport Workers Union and its national secretary, Michael Kaine, for advocating on behalf of the aviation industry and its Australian workforce. He quite rightly pointed out:

… the Government simply doesn't have a plan for aviation. It is willing to risk thousands of jobs and force families into poverty. It is standing by while Qantas and Virgin limp along, their futures entirely uncertain.

Qantas has announced 6,000 redundancies, while redundancies are also planned for Virgin. We saw just last night that more job losses are coming for Qantas. Workers at dnata have been shut out of the JobKeeper payment because of an exclusion of companies owned by foreign governments, and they are expecting more job losses. It's a disgrace. It has become clear that the JobKeeper wage subsidies are a good idea but are being very badly implemented and leaving so many people out. Some people are being left out accidentally, but many people are being left out quite deliberately.

I turn to the matter of universities and international education. I for one am not surprised that this vindictive government would use the pandemic as cover to continue its culture wars against our amazing Australian universities. This is the same government that tried to deregulate our universities and force $100,000 degrees upon the students of Australia. The coronavirus crisis has had a particularly acute impact on Australian universities. The once-in-a-lifetime border closures have put an abrupt halt to international student arrivals. Many, if not all, Australian universities rely on this income to survive because of cuts implemented by this government, and former Liberal governments, to universities around this country and also their science and research programs.

The government deciding to lock universities out of JobKeeper means not only that universities have had to deal with funding shortfalls by culling workers but also that international students themselves have been left destitute, with little to no financial support. This idle government feels no duty of care to those students, even as it has watched borders close and flights get increasingly difficult to access and become largely unaffordable. Before the pandemic, the government refused to intervene to protect international students from exploitation in the workforce. During the pandemic, international students have had their superannuation stolen and have been forced to seek help from charities and food banks to survive. At the same time, UNSW and UTS surveys show that almost two-thirds of international students don't seek information or help for problems at work and suffer in silence, often because of visa concerns or fears of job loss.

When the coronavirus pandemic began, the Prime Minister said, 'We are all in this together,' but the experiences of international students in Australia paint a vastly different picture. We have treated our international friends, our international students, so poorly. This government could have shown some care and compassion by helping out those people—who literally are the fourth biggest export industry of this nation, worth some $30 billion—while the nation and the world rebuild and recover from coronavirus. Fortunately for these international students, the people of Australia do have care and compassion, and local communities did help international students. But, while they have been helped, the government has failed to help. Other nations have helped international students extensively and made sure that they are safe and feel welcome in those countries. I fear that, when this pandemic is over, international students won't want to come back to Australia because our government, this Liberal government, failed to help international students in their desperate hour of need.

So many of the people of Australia have been left behind by this government during the coronavirus pandemic. JobKeeper is going to be extended. It should be extended further. The people who have been left behind should be found and should be helped out of the crises they are facing, lest more and more people get left behind and drop into an unending cycle of poverty, which may very well be the legacy of this government's response to the economic crisis caused by the ongoing health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic. I thank the House.