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Tuesday, 11 August 2015
Page: 5032


Senator EDWARDS (South Australia) (20:58): Thank you for jumping into the chair for me, Mr Acting Deputy President Gallacher. I rise to speak about jobs and growth. I just want to make a comment about the earlier contribution of my colleague Senator Madigan. I have a great deal in common with Senator Madigan. Throughout the four years that we have been here, we have been in furious agreement on many things, but I cannot concur—we obviously agree to respectfully disagree—with parts of his contribution in talking about this government's commitment to manufacturing and innovation. That is why I want to talk tonight about jobs and growth, and particularly jobs and growth in my home state of South Australia.

I am lucky to be in this chamber joined by you, Mr Acting Deputy President, Senator Fawcett, Senator Wright and Senator Xenophon, from South Australia. We obviously are acutely aware of the fact that our state has the unenviable honour of hosting the highest unemployment rate and arguably, in some of the areas which I look after in the seat of Wakefield, some of the highest unemployment rates of teenagers, at 44 per cent, that this country has.

Jobs represent a foremost issue confronting South Australia, where, after 13 years—we are in our 14th year of state Labor government—we are experiencing those unemployment levels, as I said, beyond those of any other state or territory. In fact, the South Australian Labor government has steered unemployment to a 15-year high. Not only did the one and only economic strategy it had pinned its entire budget plan on, the BHP Olympic Dam expansion, fail to occur but, two days ago, BHP announced 380 redundancies. The problem with this strategy is that the government actually has no idea of what is happening in its economy in South Australia. To be blindsided by such an announcement just goes to show how far the Weatherill Labor government is from having its hand on the economic levers of South Australia.

While the South Australian Labor government tinkers at the edges with its fantasies of small bars, festivals, Flinders Ranges visits and Kangaroo Island visits for the recovery of the economy, the Abbott government is unveiling a phenomenal economic program which is creating jobs and growth. No matter how the political opponents of this government try to represent it, it is an unprecedented time for Australia and South Australian shipbuilders with last week's announcement. Importantly, employers, not labour market programs, create jobs. By getting the economic fundamentals right, reducing the red tape and creating confidence in the economy, this government is creating those conditions that are allowing employers to create jobs and the much-needed growth. While in my earlier comments I referred to the high youth unemployment in Wakefield, which just happens to be a seat which I live in and one that I spend a lot of time in and is held by Labor's Nick Champion—he spends his time in opposition publicly reminiscing about all the imaginary funding commitments that Labor never actually made in the seat of Wakefield—this government is actually creating jobs and growth in Adelaide's northern suburbs.

Two important examples of what we are doing to create jobs and growth that I would like to focus on for a moment are our defence industries and of course the three free trade agreements. We signed those trade agreements—with another to come, we hope, at the year's end—and last week we announced not a shipbuilding project in South Australia but an entire shipbuilding industry.

On the free trade agreements: one in five Australian jobs is linked to our export industries. In the case of Korea, we are going to lift those exports by up to 73 per cent. That means jobs and growth. Our free trade agreement with Japan sees tariffs reduced by 20 per cent. That also means jobs and growth. Under our free trade agreement with China, 95 per cent of our exports will be tariff free for the first time in our existence. That means jobs, and that means growth. How many jobs? Notwithstanding the self-serving, dishonest and xenophobic union campaign claiming the opposite, Australia's FTAs with Japan, Korea and China will create an estimated 178,000 jobs by the time they are in full force in the year 2035. That is real jobs in real time—and, by the way, it is a conservative prediction.

Meanwhile, Labor and their union masters are publicly toying with the idea of undoing these agreements, undoing these opportunities and undoing these jobs. They are like spoilt children in the playground. After six years in government and no action, all the inertia that went with the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd regime, nothing happened. It was a bit like all the orders for shipbuilding in our Australian defence industry, our Australian Defence Force: not one decision. Actually, there was one, but I will talk about that later.

In our shipbuilding industry, never before, as I said earlier, in the history of this Commonwealth has any government created a continuous naval shipbuilding program. Last week, the Abbott government did exactly that. It is a $90 billion industry with $40 billion already committed to Australian shipbuilding, and we have in the offering $50 billion more in the program of submarine manufacturing. We must get that right. I urge all the members opposite and those who have been involved in unions over their years to ensure that, when our design partners come knocking on the unions' door about how they are going to secure shipbuilding in Australia and grow this multigenerational opportunity here in Australia, they get enterprise bargaining agreements that are long term and are not fragmented, because the worst thing that could happen is that Australia shines as a beacon of inefficiency through the labour market. Our industrial relations, our efficiency and our productivity will be on show during this process.

The announcement last week means 2½ thousand full-time jobs in Adelaide and so much work going through those shipyards that they will eventually replace the entire Royal Australian Navy. Let's not lose sight of that: what was announced last week will have the replacement of the entire Royal Australian Navy built in Australia. No such commitment has ever been made before. No such commitment can be undone now. That is a big commitment, and it was a commitment that the Abbott government made to South Australia and to the South Australian shipbuilders. You would think the unions would still be popping the corks, but I hope that they are getting their pencils sharp and getting ready to talk to the tenderers—the people that are involved in the competitive evaluation process—so that we get everything right in each and every one of those German, French and Japanese submissions to that competitive evaluation process. I cannot stress that to this chamber enough: we have to get that right.

It is worth noting that, for all the hot air and bluster from the other side, during the six years before we came to government there was only one acquisition for the Australian Defence Force and for the Navy, and they bought it from overseas, without a tender. So forgive me if sometimes you see me in question time a little bit animated when I hear those empty retorts from over the other side, from the shadow defence minister and the former finance minister, who presided over the Australian Submarine Corporation at a time when they came under enormous scrutiny for their lack of efficiency and productivity. This government, from the time it was elected, has gone in day in, day out to find the efficiencies and to restore the reputation of the Australian Submarine Corporation to where it is today, when it is an effective production unit with a lot to look forward to.

We will take a moment to note the job-making impact of small business in this country. Small and medium businesses provide 68 per cent of the private sector jobs in Australia, with small business making up nearly 43 per cent of private sector jobs. Building on the government's Economic Action Strategy and the removal of more than $1 billion in red tape is the Growing Jobs and Small Business package announced in the 2015-16 budget. This package will unlock the potential of small business through a small business company tax cut of 1.5 per cent, with associated tax reforms. This will help improve the profitability of small business and will also generate jobs and growth. There is a consistent theme through here: it is this government's focus on enabling small business to generate jobs and growth. That was why we gave small businesses deductibility of up to $20,000 for asset write-off in this year and multiple times. It was not being prescriptive of where they had to spend their money. Small business knows where it needs to invest, and it did, and it will continue to do so.

So you have that, combined with free trade agreements and the $90 billion worth of shipbuilding spend to occur, hopefully, beyond the $39 billion or $40 billion that has already been committed through activities which we have just talked about. That will occur in my state, the state of all the South Australian senators that are in this chamber and that are so interested in this. That is what you can do after two years in government.

After 13 years, the state Labor government has proven it cannot be looked to to provide any solutions. South Australian unemployment levels are the nation's highest. Through a lack of action on the part of the previous government, where there was no commitment to continuous building of ships, we are now in the 'valley of death', and there will be job losses until these programs take their rightful place in accelerating job manufacturing in South Australia.

We are providing solutions. Central to our employment policies is the Australian government's belief that the best form of welfare for anybody is a job. It is simple: it is a job. We will sell our young people short if we allow them to drift into a life of welfare dependency. We have seen that play out. It does not work. I—like Senator Wright, who is about to make a contribution in this chamber—have seen the effects of the lack of direction in regional centres and the lack of opportunity and employment. Over the last several weeks, before coming back to this place, I have been involved in a law enforcement inquiry into the use of crystal methamphetamine, which is of great concern to all of us here, no matter what our political persuasions are. It is something that we are all focused on. Jobs get people busy, away from welfare and away from being idle. They stimulate mental health, and they promote good outcomes and good lifestyles for people.

To ensure that all young people have a chance to be the best they can be, the Abbott government is implementing a multifaceted strategy that creates jobs through a strong economy and ensures that our young people have the skills, support and incentives to take these jobs. I will be out in the Fremont-Elizabeth City High School, and we will talk to those young people—those year 10, 11 and 12 students. Instead of saying that they will be able to get a job at Holden, we will say that they hopefully will start focusing on getting a job in skilled trades in the shipyards. They will be ready to go into those jobs when those jobs are ready for them. I will enjoy that. We are giving them hope, and we are providing a vision for them.

That is what Senator Madigan was talking about when he was talking about creating manufacturing-industry jobs. It is all going to happen in South Australia by virtue of the commitment of the Abbott government to shipbuilding in that state. The strategy will work. The latest labour-force figures show that job creation is at a four-year high. Since the last election, across this country, 336,000 jobs have been created, but there is more work to be do, of this there is no doubt.