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Monday, 7 November 2016
Page: 2065


Senator KETTER (Queensland) (21:57): I rise to speak on perhaps one of the most important issues facing Australians—that is, the issue of jobs. Specifically, I would like to address the Turnbull government's inability to ensure that people in regional Queensland have sufficient access to full-time employment.

We know that the Liberals have no plan for jobs. They have no plan for the transitioning of our economy. They have no plan for families. They have no plan to train people for the jobs of the future. But we do know that they have some plans: they have a plan to privatise Medicare, they have a plan to ruin our dental services and they have a plan to sell out our workers across Australia.

The recent media coverage in Central Queensland highlights the concerns that people in regional Queensland, and particularly Central Queensland, have with the competence of this government. Recently, we saw on the front page of the Morning Bulletin in Rockhampton the depiction of the Prime Minister as a clown. While the mayor of Rockhampton, Ms Strelow, has graciously sought to apologise on behalf of the people of Rockhampton for that depiction of the Prime Minister, I would say that desperate times can call for desperate measures. I do not blame the staff at the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin for printing a front page of the Prime Minister dressed as a clown. It was the concern that the government was not being seen to be doing enough to address the critical issues of Central Queenslanders. By contrast, the Gladstone Observer recently had the Leader of the Opposition on the front page of the newspaper laying down a real plan for jobs for Central Queensland workers. That is what the coalition forget. They forget about those people that get them elected. They forget the people.

Last week I had the privilege of accompanying the Leader of the Opposition to one of my duty electorates, the electorate of Flynn. It was my pleasure to accompany him with the Labor candidate for Flynn from the last election, Mr Zac Beers. We were able to speak to apprentices and trainees at a local establishment and to hear firsthand about the concerns that the residents of Gladstone have in relation to their job prospects for the future. While we were there, it became increasingly clear that the government has done nothing to ease the pain of the aftermath of the mining boom. Flynn is an electorate that has been abandoned by this government. It is my view that many regional people, particularly regional Queenslanders, are being left behind. There are very sound reasons for us to form that view. We know that regional people have a shorter life expectancy compared to people in the city. We know that regional people make less money compared to their city counterparts for working the same job. And we know that regional and rural people are the ones who are on the receiving end of the impacts of climate change.

So why won't the government sort out a plan? Is it because they are incompetent? Yes, that is part of the reason, but I think it is also because they are focused very much on internal divisions. They have not started thinking about a plan beyond the proposed $50 billion tax cut for big business and the banks—and we have already heard that financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs have indicated that 60 per cent of the benefit of those tax cuts would flow to offshore investors. So the government's dishonesty and incompetence are hurting Queenslanders, hurting our economy, hurting jobs and affecting those who are most vulnerable.

During my time as secretary of Labor's Fair Work Taskforce, the issue of the ongoing casualisation of jobs across a range of industries was raised constantly. When permanent jobs are replaced by casual jobs, workers lose the right to security of work and pay. Workers and not-for-profit organisations suggested that companies were choosing to employ temporary visa workers because they were cheaper and less likely to know their rights and therefore stand up for themselves. This means that we need policies and systems in place that support a growing economy, prioritise Australian workers, allow industry to access the skills they need and, importantly, ensure workers are not disadvantaged or exploited. Several Fair Work Taskforce participants told me, 'I was sacked for being an Australian.' This highlights a worrying trend. These are concerns that we have heard in Central Queensland particularly. Enabled by the Abbott-Turnbull government's legislation, corporations no longer have a responsibility to employ Australians, even in key industries such as construction. With this cavalier approach to the welfare of working Australians, it is little wonder that almost 1.8 million Australians are currently either unemployed or underemployed. That is 1.8 million workers and their families getting by on either meagre welfare payments or low incomes that fluctuate on a weekly basis. We need to stem the rise in underemployment, casualised labour and depressed wages, which are making it harder for families to maintain their standard of living or even make ends meet.

What are we seeing from this government? We are not seeing any plans or proposals for the people of Central Queensland which are going to provide for real jobs. On the other hand, Labor has a plan for real jobs, a plan for the people of Central Queensland. We have a plan to make sure that the port access road in Gladstone gets upgraded. We have a plan to make sure that apprentices do not miss out on jobs from government funded projects. We have a plan to properly fund TAFE so that dodgy training providers do not get a run.

The Queensland Labor government, through their Advance Queensland agenda, are also committed to building a new economy that creates sustainable jobs, while extending Queensland's potential as a global innovation destination. In particular, the Regional Innovation Hubs Program is a Queensland government initiative designed to support innovation in regional Queensland. They are running regional consultation workshops with local businesses and they are listening to people. They are not taking them for granted. They are giving them a shot and they are working together.

Like my state Labor colleagues, I believe that regional people are the backbone of Queensland's economy. They have driven us through the good times and the bad. They have driven us through the mining and gas booms and they continue to drive our strong agricultural and tourism sectors. If we are going to have inclusive growth and prosperity, we need to bring regional and rural people along for the ride, not just take them for a ride. We cannot leave them behind.

The member for Flynn is a very nice person but he has monumentally let down his electorate. Remember his unwavering support for a banking royal commission? We know that he voted against it. His staunch opposition to the backpacker tax? He has rolled over and he is supporting the 19 per cent. He recently tried to appear like he was consulting with farmers over the proposed changes to the backpacker tax, but he has not. In fact, the very business he visited recently and touted on his website has written a submission against his government's own policy. It is calling for a 15 per cent rate of tax for backpackers. It opposes both the 32.5 per cent tax rate and the 19 per cent tax rate. In fact, the only thing the member for Flynn can offer his electorate is a big tax cut for big business. This is a straw man fallacy. It is trickle-down economics at its absolute worst. It is a thinly veiled effort to say that the government will create more jobs. But it will not. It will not help workers struggling to find employment with the downturn in the mining boom, and it will not stop cheap foreign labour rorting the visa system. It will not help people to get to see the doctor without having to swipe their credit card. And it will not help the people of Central Queensland. But Labor will not forget about Central Queensland. Labor will work to make sure that we advance our regions, and Labor will make sure that you get a say, whether you live in Brisbane or Barcaldine. Labor will listen.