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Tuesday, 7 February 2017
Page: 52


Senator BACK (Western Australia) (15:51): I wonder if the day could ever come when we could have a mature discussion in a non-adversarial way about an issue that is critically important to all Australians—unemployment. I admire Senator Ketter and I respect him, but his opening words were 'manifest failure', 'destructive', 'gobsmacked'. We are all concerned about unemployment. You have figures of 34,000 jobs lost—that was the comment by senators Ketter and Carr. The Attorney-General says 95,000 new full-time jobs in the fourth quarter of 2016—half a million jobs. I wonder if the day could ever come when all of us representing the electorates we do could sit down and say, 'Let's leave the adversary at the door and have a reasonable discussion about what is possible.'

On the one hand we say—on the other side, we are concerned that any tax cuts are just going to go to the banks and the multinationals. We all know that the biggest employer group in this country are small businesses. They employ 45 per cent of all Australians. As someone who comes from regional Western Australia, I can tell you that it is small businesses in regional WA that employs people. It is small businesses that take kids on. It is small businesses that are the ones most affected. Yet we all know that, particularly in a small business space, if you drop the tax, it adds to improved and increased employment.

We talk about penalty rates. Our side says, 'Just bring Sundays and public holidays down to Saturday.' You on the other side say that is the end of the world as we know it. And those who do not work mid-week, like single mums and students, miss out because businesses do not open. Is it possible for us ever in this place to have a reasonable argument amongst colleagues?

We hear about the car manufacturing industry and the loss of jobs, but it was Mitsubishi that closed up under the last government and it was Ford who announced they were going to close up under the last government, yet we are being lambasted because of Toyota and General Motors. I am reminded of the fact that Toyota wanted to go the Fair Work Commission and say, 'At the current EBA levels that we are paying people, we can't survive.' So what happens? The union movement and the then government of the day and the Fair Work Commission say, 'No. No changes.' So what happens? Toyota announce that they are going to close up. How frustrating is that.

Senator Gallacher and I were responsible for a Senate inquiry into our relationship with Mexico. As a result of that inquiry, there were seminars in Adelaide and in Melbourne to say that the vehicle component manufacturing industry in Mexico will need us to be able to provide for their three million cars per year. We all know the stats. Out of the million new cars a year, 900,000 are imported. And it is people like these in the gallery making the decision. I do not want a locally manufactured motor car. If I was allowed to I would ask for a straw poll and I know that nine out of 10 would say that we do not have an Australian manufactured car.

I look at the seasonal worker situation. At this moment there is fruit on vines and trees rotting because, whatever the mechanisms are, we cannot get young Australians and others to go out and pick the fruit. So we rely on seasonal workers from the Pacific and we rely on backpackers from overseas. I go through the agricultural areas and I ask: why are there no young locals on tractors during seeding and harvest? Am I happy about that? No. And yet we cannot have a reasonable discussion about this.

We cannot talk about electricity prices because it is going to be adversarial. And yet I learned the other day in South Australia that next to labour costs the highest costs on business is electricity, so they are putting workers off. I have been bleating away for five years in this place about electricity prices. I was the first person to say that power costs were going to go up dramatically in South Australia and they were going to have a state-wide blackout. I look at the issues associated with tourism: 80,000 jobs desperately needed, 80,000 long-term unemployed. Why can't we have a reasonable collegial discussion instead of this adversarial nonsense. (Time expired)