Adjournment Speech on The Economy and JobKeeper

June 22, 2020

I thank Senator Sterle for raising such an important issue that obviously deserves significant attention. The labour-force data that was revealed today paints a very bleak picture across Australia, with the devastating impacts of the recession being driven home by the news of 835,000 jobs lost since the virus hit. The ABS highlighted the unemployment rate would be as high as 11.3 per cent had 623,000 people not dropped out of the labour force altogether. The participation rate has dropped to 62.9 per cent—the lowest figure since 2001. People are leaving the labour force entirely rather than looking for work at the moment. This is marking how truly dire the situation is for many Australians. We have 2.6 million people who've lost their job or who are working fewer hours across April and May.

The ABS weekly payroll jobs figures show a significant drop in jobs across regional Queensland. They paint a bleak picture across Australia and Queensland on the whole but, unfortunately, they don't seem to be having an impact on this government. If you look at their form over the last couple of weeks, the government have been focused on: excluding people from JobKeeper, which we saw in the vote last night on the Senate; taking workers off JobKeeper altogether when it comes to childcare workers; and having internal discussions about ending JobKeeper earlier for those who are on it at the moment.

Just how important JobKeeper is can't be underestimated. According to a recent report in TheCourier-Mail, there are 160,000 businesses in Queensland that have signed up for JobKeeper, including 3,600 businesses in Cairns, around 5,300 businesses in Wide Bay, 5,000 in Ryan, 4,000 in Groom, 3,000 in Hinkler, 2,800 in Flynn and 11,000 in Logan. The sheer number of businesses that are signed up for JobKeeper is astonishing. It has helped to keep so many workers attached to their work, which will help speed up the recovery, yet the PM hasn't got a plan to extend JobKeeper beyond September. So, in the middle of the first recession in 29 years, the government is actually talking about fast-forwarding people out of JobKeeper and leaving them off it altogether.

There are around 3.5 million workers currently on JobKeeper nationally, so cancelling JobKeeper earlier and forcing people onto jobseeker will smash workers' businesses just as they are starting to recover from this crisis. The government have said they will tell the Australian people about their JobKeeper plans in June, but are now waiting until after the Eden-Monaro by-election in July.

With this Prime Minister, politics always comes first, second and third. He's prepared to leave those Australians waiting. You could imagine how anxious those people would be, awaiting the news of whether they will be able to stay on JobKeeper and whether that will be extended. But this Prime Minister prioritises politics. He waits till after the Eden-Monaro by-election to give these people certainty. So there are millions of anxious Australians worried about the rug being pulled from them or JobKeeper hitting a brick wall in September.

What was disappointing about the vote in the Senate last night is that it could have enabled those dnata workers—there are 5,000 of them across Australia, including 1,000 in Queensland—to be included in JobKeeper, and it would have been a good opportunity for the Senate to send the government a message about how we believe these workers should be treated, but that opportunity was missed. The government, when it comes to these issues, have a choice. They always have a choice about what they do, but we know that their contempt for workers—the way they have mistreated workers now since they have been in government—is in their DNA. So I fear that the missed opportunity last night and the way the government have been pulling the rug out from childcare workers and having internal discussions about JobKeeper being removed early—and, from their point of view, the earlier the better—are creating a more anxious Australia. The government are treating workers that need certainty with contempt, and this is going to make the recession last longer and be more dramatic for so many Australians. So it really was disappointing last night that the Senate missed an opportunity to send a message to this government that these dnata workers need to be treated better. Australian workers can't wait until September to hear what this government is going to do, and we will continue to pressure the government to do the right thing by these workers so that they can have certainty about what their economic future looks like.