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Tuesday, 7 February 2017
Page: 49

Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (15:35): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Attorney-General (Senator Brandis) and the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science (Senator Sinodinos) to questions without notice asked by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Wong) and Senator Carr today relating to unemployment.

Today the Leader of the Government in the Senate was asked: with 34,000 full-time jobs lost in 2016 and 19,800 more people in the unemployment queue now than when the Abbott-Turnbull government was elected in 2013, is it not clear that the government is delivering fewer jobs and fewer opportunities? I was surprised that the minister's answer was to say that the government's policies were working. I put a simple proposition to those who actually believe that to be true: they should simply ask someone who does not. They will be able to explain that the fact that there were 34,000 full-time jobs lost last year and that there are nearly 20,000 more people on the unemployment queues since this government took office is demonstrable evidence that the government's policies are not working.

The Leader of the Government in the Senate suggested that the employment situation in this country was buoyant. Buoyant! What struck me was how remarkable it was that the government was so lacking in empathy. A position of great economic and social distress is being reflected right across this country in so many communities. So many communities are facing the uncertainty of the economic conditions. The enormous pressures that have been placed on working families have caused concern and anxiety, and the government's response is to say, 'The employment situation is buoyant.' This is making an assumption about seasonal unemployment, which is now 5.8 per cent according to the ABS—an assumption that I say is open to question. The survey results from the ABS rely upon the presumption that a person is working for an hour a week. There is considerable academic literature to suggest that the ABS surveys grossly understate the level of underemployment and the number of people who are without jobs.

The new Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science was recently quoted as saying that we had to accept that some industries will die. He reflected on that today, and he once again said essentially that we should accept the proposition that there is somehow or other a natural process at work here. In regard to the automotive industry, it is absolutely clear that there is no natural process here because the government made a political decision to force the automotive companies out of Australia. That was reflected by the fact that the Treasurer at the time in 2013 asked General Motors to 'come clean' and 'be fair dinkum'—'Either you're here or you're not.' The Acting Prime Minister at the time said to the chamber:

… today I have written to the general manager of Holden, Mr Devereux, asking General Motors to make an immediate statement clarifying their intentions in this country.

It is quite clear what the threat was. In the context of the government saying they were going to withdraw industry assistance, there was no doubt whatsoever. In fact, at the time The Age quoted a text message by a company executive:

Are you seeing this question time attack on Holden? Taunting [Holden] to leave? It's extraordinary.

So there is nothing natural about a proposition where this government has sought to destroy an industry, nothing natural about a political decision to drive the automotive manufacturers Holden and Toyota out of this country, nothing natural about the enormous social and economic cost that that decision will have for this country. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the cost to this country will be measured as far greater than any level of assistance provided to those industries—the cost in terms of health, the cost in terms of social disruption and of course the cost in terms of the dole queues. This is a government that says it is interested in investment but it drives away international companies that provide support for up to 200,000 jobs in this country, provide support for what is a key element of manufacturing in this country. At the time General Motors reminded us that for every dollar spent by the automotive industry $30 was generated throughout the economy—200,000 high-skill, high-wage, important jobs, the backbone of our manufacturing sector. This government made a decision to destroy manufacturing in this country in the automotive industry, and now they face the consequences of that. (Time expired)