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Tuesday, 11 February 2014
Page: 53


Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongLeader of the Opposition) (15:50): The government has failed to protect Australian jobs at a range of important Australian employers. There can be no more important obligation on a government other than the defence of the nation than to create the economic circumstances where jobs are created and jobs are maintained. We have a major jobs crisis looming in this country. This is not just another day at the office, as the government would have us believe. The rollcall of announced job losses since 7 September 2013 is horrendous: at Toyota, 2,500 direct jobs; at Holden, 2,900 direct jobs; at Qantas, 1,000 direct jobs; at Rio Tinto at the Gove refinery, 1,100 jobs; at Electrolux in Orange, 544 jobs; at Simplot, 110 jobs; at Peabody, more than 200 jobs; at Caterpillar, 200 jobs; and many other indirect jobs and many other small businesses. What we have here is a government who would much rather play political games than fight for jobs.

We have seen 54,000 jobs lost since this current government has come to power. The challenge of jobs in Australia is a real challenge—we get that. We get that there are challenges in the Australian economy from the dollar and the fluctuating currency as well as the challenge of making sure that we constantly innovate. But the Prime Minister has failed to support Australian manufacturing jobs in particular. He could have done more to keep Holden here. I seriously doubt that he has done anything to try and keep Toyota here, and certainly the car component manufacturers who are here have a very bleak future indeed.

This poor car industry, which the government keeps saying was going to die anyway, did not expect the sort of economic euthanasia where the government is just going to pull the plug and speed up the challenges faced by the car industry. As I said earlier in this House, I have a bit of time for the Minister for Industry. I know a number of government MPs are concerned about jobs, including the courageous member for Murray, but I do not have any time for a view that the loss of jobs is not a catastrophe. Labor in opposition understand that unemployment is a misery. We stand firmly for making sure not only that people can find work but that people can keep work. People do not choose the liberation of unemployment after working for years on a car line at Holden or at Toyota. There is no great life on the unemployment queue. Imagine, if you will, the people who are losing their jobs, many in their 50s and 60s. The labour market is incredibly tough.

Of course, the government say, 'We're all for the level playing field,' but somehow if Australia has any form of industry policy that is not good economics. First, that is lazy economics from the government who do not understand it is not a simple proposition that if you do not spend some resources to help companies update and innovate somehow you save money and there is no cost. Why is it that the government so wilfully ignore the consequences of companies closing? What do they not understand about weeks and weeks, months and months of people in the unemployment queue and how that saps your morale? How does that help kids whose parents have lost their jobs? How does that help relieve pressure on families?

This government will give you money for marriage counselling but not help to keep your job. Let me tell you, if you do not have a job that puts bigger pressure on your marriage than will be helped by some $200 voucher from the member for Menzies. When you look at what they will not do, not only do they not have a genuine view on helping Australian jobs but the mob opposite are also inconsistent. They fail to grasp the big difference between a can of SPC baked beans and a bar of Cadbury chocolate. The only difference I see in terms of government policy—

Mr Stephen Jones interjecting

Mr SHORTEN: You would want watch out: there is a health issue—I get that. Why is it that the government will bail out Cadbury and not help SPC? If the new definition in Abbottland is that you have to be a tourist attraction, the only tourism attractions being created in the car industry are museums. What are they doing about SPC? They say no-one is interested in visiting it, but a lot of people go to the Goulburn Valley because of its healthy economy and there are things to do there. If the new test for industry policy is tourism, why are they bailing out a fish farm in Tasmania when they will not go to the Gove refinery?

I went to Gove last Friday with Senator Nova Perris and the member for Lingiari and saw the disaster unfolding there. This is a regional centre, a small country town of 4,000 people. Last year, Rio Tinto said, 'If we can get a gas contract from the government of the Northern Territory, we're going to invest for a long time to come.' Rio Tinto held a party and invited everyone to come when the gas contract was signed. Then the CLP Chief Minister, Adam Giles, said, 'We're not doing this contract anymore.' Bang, boom—there goes the future! Then Rio Tinto said it would shut the refinery by August. That is called curtailment, in business-speak; I call it the loss of livelihood, in straight-speak. Where are the government? Have they picked up the phone to call Rio Tinto? It is not as if they are not helping Rio Tinto by giving back hundreds of millions of dollars in mining tax. Why not spend 50c to ring Rio Tinto and say: 'We get that there are a thousand houses there and only 200 people with jobs living in those houses. We get that self-funded retirees bought houses in Gove based on the promise of ongoing work.' Why not offer to help buy back the houses at the value people relied on when the houses were built?

That does not require taxpayer money; that just requires a bit of government heart, a bit of government courage. When talking about Gove, for instance—although this is not limited to Gove—why don't they build some Defence facilities there? Why don't they talk about making it an educational hub for the Indigenous people living in the Arnhem Land area? Of course, they will not do anything, but what really disturbs me about the government is not their lack of action on Gove, appalling as that is, or that they rubbish the food-canning workers at SPC—I agree with Sharman Stone, the government did lie about the conditions of food-preserving workers and have never apologised because they are so arrogant they do not know when to admit they are wrong, even when the whole of Australia knows they are wrong—but that they do not have a plan.

We will fight the jobs issue every day till the next election. It really worries me that we have a government who will not fight for anything except their own jobs. We know this is not just another cycle in manufacturing. Members of the government are on notice that Labor is saying there is a tide dragging our jobs overseas and they are collectively responsible if they do not speak up and do something. I acknowledge the member for Murray who has some courage. I suspect the Minister for Industry has been mugged by his colleagues, but I think he has shown some signs of having a heart. I tell you, hearts are in short supply in those opposite. Was this car industry death a foregone conclusion, other than by the Minister for Employment who is running around blaming the workers? Whatever the question, Senator Abetz will blame workers and unions. He is a pre-programmed automaton on that question.

The real issue is what plan do those opposite have for all these people who are losing their jobs? What plan do you have? They cannot all make chocolate at Cadbury in Tasmania. They cannot all work at the fish farm in Tasmania. They cannot all work at GrainCorp, that you stopped the Americans from buying. So it is not as if you are fair dinkum ideologically. You can be as consistent or inconsistent as the politics demands. What is your plan for real people? What is your plan for the voters and the constituents in your electorates and mine? What do you really think about people who have lost their job? What is your plan to retrain them? Our challenge to those opposite is to start fighting for Aussie jobs. Our challenge to those opposite is: have a plan for the people they are selling out through neglect and negligence. (Time expired)