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Monday, 26 September 2022
Page: 136


Mr PASIN (Barker) (17:25): Before I begin my contribution on the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Self-Employment Programs and Other Measures) Bill 2022, I want to say what a blessing it was to hear the member for Monash, someone who's been in this place on and off since 1990, speak about what is very much the long view. I don't know whether he will thank me for this—and I expect the member for Burt has an even more exaggerated example, given that I think he might be younger than me.

Mr Gorman interjecting

Mr PASIN: Oh, it's changed, has it? The member for Monash entered the place in 1990. I experienced some change in 1990 as well, the member for Monash might be interested to learn. I moved from primary school to high school in that year. That is how long the member for Monash has been in this place. It underscores one thing, and that is that the long view is important in politics. It is important in life, but it is particularly important in politics—and I want to talk a little bit more about the long view.

There are a couple of other things. I think the member for Monash said that I might have been in the field at 15. If only, Member for Monash! At eight I was driving a tractor, albeit I drove it through a fence and got scolded by my father. I will never forget the dressing down I got. I think the words were: 'That's what you get when you ask a boy to do a man's job.' Indeed, at about 10 or 12 when I was in the packing shed and I triumphantly told him that I could lift a 20 kilogram bag of onions, he said, 'Great; stand there and do it all day.'

So you are right: many of us have been privileged to be early adopters when it comes to employment. I say 'privileged' in the sense that I wouldn't exchange for anything any of those experiences I had with my father in his various businesses on the farm and engaging with people. Indeed, I credit having worked in our packing shed over a number of years for my subsequent career in criminal law, because almost everyone who worked for us was on bail. It was an element in society who, back then, could only find that kind of employment. My dad was particularly enthusiastic about employing people who were down on their luck. It was those experiences which led me to not be scared, if you like, when it came to practising in that law.

But I spoke about the long view, and I want to take the opportunity to wind back the clock a little bit. It's 2013 and I am a candidate for election. The then Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, and the coalition had determined a plan. I am sure, Mr Deputy Speaker Georganas, that you would have been across this document and perhaps reading it with a more critical eye than I. I was effectively trying to rote learn it in the event that I might be asked questions about the document and be unable to answer them. That was a famous example that I wasn't keen to repeat.

I particularly remember reading one of the elements of that plan, which back then I thought was a ridiculous stretch target. For perhaps the member for Groom and the member for Menzies, who weren't in the place or involved in that campaign, it was a statement made before the 2000 election as follows: 'We will generate one million new jobs over the next five years and two million new jobs within a decade by growing a bigger, more productive and prosperous economy.' I remember reading that in my office and thinking, 'My goodness; there's no way any government would be able to achieve the creation of a million jobs in five years and definitely not two million within 10 years.' In any event, the Abbott government was elected in 2013, and we know that subsequently that administration became the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments.

I might take this opportunity to reflect on the question: how did we go relative to that stretch target? I will start with the five-year goal. The answer to that question is that it was achieved almost to the day: a million jobs in five years. That was a credit as much to the Australian people as it was to the government of the day, but I will say, as someone who sat in countless party rooms and countless committee meetings, during those years there was a steely focus on getting Australians into jobs. We were often mocked for saying the best form of welfare is, of course, a job, but in any event we achieved that million-job target.

The next question was: could we dream of achieving two million within 10 years? Of course, at the point of the pandemic, we had reached 1.5 million new jobs, three-quarters of the way to that target. On leaving government some 8½ years after coming to government, we had achieved 1.8 million new jobs towards a target of two million in 10 years, so I suggest to you that it was on target, notwithstanding that you would have expected that, given the pandemic, we would have been blown substantially off course.

The point about that is that you might end the conversation there and say 1.8 million jobs were on track, but I will rush forward to today. It's estimated that there are 400,000 unfilled jobs in the economy today. When you realise that those estimates are borne of statistics that came out of our metropolitan centres and electorates like mine, member for Groom's, the member for Durack's or the member for Nicholls—all the job vacancies that you're talking to your employers about aren't included in those statistics, so I think we can comfortably accept that there are at least another 400,000, if not more, jobs. There are probably 800,000 unfilled places in the economy today. As we heard from the member for Monash, not one person in this place would dare suggest they've never had an employer tell them they don't have unfilled jobs. We all do; we hear it everyday. I'm sure you hear, like I do, the collateral issue with availability of accommodation in our respective communities.

So, if you add the 1.8 million to the 800,000 our nation has created some 2.6 million jobs—albeit not all of them filled, because we are having some trouble filling them. That's a hell of an achievement and one which I hope for those opposite will be a legacy that they can continue. Why do I say I hope they can continue it? Because each and every one of those jobs filled is a real Australian in a real family better for that job.

One of the high points of my career wasn't an acquittal, wasn't well-drafted submissions in the High Court, the Supreme Court or these things but in fact occurred one afternoon in the Mount Gambier Magistrates Court. I'd just made submissions on behalf of a client of mine who had been, let's say, naughty. An employer in the region who sat in the back of the room and heard my submission knew me and said, 'Tony, any chance I could have a chat to your client about a job?' I said, 'Absolutely, he'd love a job, but are you sure?' 'Yes, I am. But I tell you what: he'll need to get to a particular post office on Monday. This is in a remote centre'—this is a pastoralist—'and if he gets there on Monday at eight o'clock, I will be there picking up my mail. I'll take him with me and he'll have a job.' The highlight wasn't the fact that that was arranged but the fact that, about two years later, he came back into my office having worked remotely for those two years for the employer mentioned. He came into my office and said: 'Tony, I've worked for two years for Employer X. What do I do with all the money?' He was asking me for financial advice—probably the worst person he could seek any guidance from in that regard! And so I directed him to someone who could provide him with some advice about his savings. I sat back in my chair and thought to myself, 'What a difference one job had made to this man, his wife, his children'—and it was an opportunity. It was an opportunity that employer provided to him—in an unusual setting; I'm not sure too many employers sit in the back of courtrooms waiting for people to walk out of the dock and offering them employment.

You see, that's what we do in this place: we build opportunities. We build environments in which employers can prosper so that they can offer opportunities to employees—opportunities potentially to improve their life, to turn their lives around or simply to go to a better, more skilled, higher paying job. That's why I rise in support of this bill. It's a bill that continues, if you like, the continuum of work, which is a bill that was conceived by those of us in this place and effectively adopted by those opposite. It continues that long journey, one that has been navigated by various governments in various parliaments, towards getting as many Australians as practicable into employment.

I want to make it very clear: an unemployment rate below four per cent in this nation is something we should celebrate. The fact that we're in such a strong position is a product in no small measure of the work of the former government, which stood us in good stead vis-a-vis the pandemic. But I want those opposite to be under no illusion. When your unemployment rate is at around four per cent—and the natural rate of unemployment probably sits at around four per cent—there is a lot of work to do to shift those remaining Australians into employment, notwithstanding the close-to-one-million jobs that are available. Many of those jobs are in my electorate. Anyone who is keen for a job—my staff hate it when I do this—can reach out to my office; I'm happy to put you in touch with employers who will take you on. I do it from time to time. My staff go, 'Oh, no,' but then all we end up getting are employers asking to be put on my list for if anyone actually does call.

In any event, I want to be clear for those opposite: it's a difficult challenge. We need to get as many of these Australians into employment as possible, for their benefit, mostly. I think it's fair to say that, when you're operating at a rate at or below the natural rate of unemployment, the return on investment by government in terms of placing someone in employment—long-term unemployed people or people with particular difficulties—and the cost associated with doing that at that rate is a challenge, but it's one we need to accept and work towards, because ultimately it's about making a difference for those particular Australians.

I reasonably anticipate that the individual I spoke about, had it not been for this particular employer who for some reason found it in his heart to offer this young lad a chance, would have spent every day from that day in court to today unemployed. Instead, he has gone about his life and worked in a setting that suits him, supporting his family, and he did that because someone was prepared to take a punt. This bill is about providing the requisite supports to ensure that people can transition from those very difficult settings into employment or into employment via self-employment, which of course is another important pathway, particularly when—I remind the House—there are many hundreds of thousands of small businesses and microbusinesses that operate successfully and in increasing numbers.

My final contribution is to remind the House that not only is it a particularly good thing for the individuals involved to find themselves in employment but it's also an age-old measure: if we can get people into employment, they go from being someone who is in receipt of a welfare payment, a transfer payment from government, to someone who's making a contribution to general revenue. We've just come out of the back end of the AFL grand final. It's the best example you'll find in civic life, in the industrial relations space, of a two-goal turnaround. Instead of someone taking a transfer payment via a payment from welfare, they're making a contribution. It's the fact we got 1.8 million Australians over the last term of government into employment which has meant we are in such a strong position to deal with the pandemic.