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Tuesday, 8 November 2016
Page: 3145

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (Gorton) (15:11): Creating decent jobs for Australian workers is a huge challenge for this nation and yet the government is lacking in its focus on a jobs plan to provide those decent jobs for Australians. Last month's unemployment figures paint a very disturbing picture. There are already more than 700,000 unemployed Australians, and 1.1 million extra Australians are looking for more work but cannot find it. There are more unemployed people today than was the case when the government was elected in 2013. What was most disturbing of all in last month's unemployment figures, according to the ABS, was that there was a fall of 53,000 full-time jobs, totalling over 100,000 full-time jobs being lost this year.

Added to that, we have the lowest wage growth on record. Wage growth in our labour market is lower than at any time for more than a generation. As a result, people are feeling the pinch. People are having trouble making ends meet. If you are talking to your constituents—and all members of this place should—you will find one of the reasons why they are having such difficulty is that wage growth is so low. According to the Reserve Bank, it is stagnating. Indeed, in some sectors of the labour market there is a wage recession. That is happening under this government's watch. There is underemployment and insecure work in a stagnant wage growth economy. If wage growth does not improve, which accords with the Reserve Bank's recent analysis, recent lows will see a knock-on effect for household income consumption and economic growth. Meanwhile, the true mission of this government is to create a labour market that is a low wage, easy to hire and easy to fire society. That is what they want to see.

With all of these challenges in our economy, in our labour market, you would expect the government to be focused—focused on delivering jobs for 700,000 Australians, focused on finding more work for the over one million Australians struggling to find sufficient work. But of course this government is divided, it is dysfunctional and as a result it is distracted from dealing with a most important national priority—jobs.

Whether this government is surrendering to the extreme Right on marriage equality or race hate laws, watering down gun laws or doing a tawdry side deal in refurbishing the office of a senator, the fact is that it is not focusing on the issues that most Australians are concerned about. That is why we are seeing a lack of attention to and a lack of regard for the growth of jobs in this economy. We will have to see whether that changes, but we do not hold out much hope that the government has any interest in maintaining employment conditions, improving and maintaining employment security, and finding opportunities for workers in this nation. There is no doubt that we want to see, as most Australians want to see, jobs that are decent jobs—jobs that provide some security of work and that make sure people can pay the bills, pay the mortgage or the rent, keep a car running and look after their kids. Not only do they want to have a decent quality of life; they want to make sure their children are afforded the opportunity to have an even better life. Well, that aspiration is being lost under a government that is completely distracted, fighting with itself and not focusing on these issues. The labour market that we want is one that treats workers with dignity and that affords them the opportunity to contribute fully to society.

Before the election this government promised jobs and growth. We have seen neither growth nor decent jobs. In fact, there is very little that sits under the mantra 'jobs and growth'. There is one commitment, one policy—a $50 billion tax giveaway to big business and multinationals, the only constituency that seems to have the ear of this Prime Minister. The fact is that the theory of trickle-down economics has been repudiated by eminent economists and, indeed, by history. The idea that you take $50,000 million and give that to big business and multinationals, and that that will, through some kind of osmosis, provide opportunities for people in the labour market is a nonsense.

The reality is that this is voodoo economics. It did not work in America in the 1970s, when it started. Just look at the United States. If you want to work out why there has been the rise of Trump, why there is an internal anguish within that country, you only have to look at what has happened over the last 30 years. Thirty years ago, it was a country where the median household income was in excess of that in Australia. It was a country that, at least in that area, people aspired to match, but not now. The middle class of America has been hollowed out. Working-class Americans are working full time but are still below the poverty line in many instances.

That is not a society we want to see here. It is the rich getting obscenely richer that leads to this disquiet and anguish, and to this anger towards those who have presided over a system that does not include people in the benefits of growth. We say to the government: don't try and replicate the American system; stop trying to make it easier for workers to be sacked; attend to the exploitation that is in the labour market.

You only have to look at 7-Eleven as an example. It is a franchising model in which, as we know, up to $100 million was ripped off its workers, yet there has been no effort by the government to remedy that problem. In fact, 7-Eleven workers are still not paid their due. There has been another task force set up by the government—the minister has had three task forces—which seems to have no tasks and no force. It is about time they attend to that.

Let us look at the record of this government. Firstly, they killed off the car industry. They sacked Australian seafarers on our vessels and replaced them with foreign crew on $2 an hour. They have cut 120,000 apprentices from the system. They have actually treated their own workforce with contempt. Mr Deputy Speaker Broadbent, you always get an idea of a government's view of the world from the way in which it deals with its own workforce. What we have seen in the last three years from this government is an effort to not pay any wage increases to its workforce. Eighty per cent of its workforce have not received a wage increase, even though its ministers have. It has deliberately stymied the efforts of the unions and workforce to get any wage increase whatsoever, and that is an indictment of this government.

More recently, we have seen a loosening of the 457 visa provisions. Labor support the use of temporary work visas, and there are legitimate demands in the labour market that need to be attended to. But what we do not support is the misuse and exploitation of workers who are on those visas, which also lead to downward pressure on wages and do not afford opportunities for locals to get work. We need to get the balance right here. Of course, the government are not focused on these issues.

We have a government that are bereft of policy ideas when it comes to fighting for jobs in this country. We see that they are not interested in providing support for workers in the workplace. They have only contempt for their own workforce. They are not providing support for people who want to get into vocational training. They are not providing sufficient investment and partnership with industries to grow economies. They are not anticipating the emerging demand in our labour market in the new economy. They are not engaging with small businesses in the way they say they will. They like to say that they are the party of small business, yet they do not engage with them. There is no business confidence, and there is no consumer confidence. As a result, we are seeing major problems in our society. The reason this is occurring is that the government are fundamentally at odds with themselves. They are fighting with themselves. They are distracted. They are not dealing with those matters that are of most concern to the Australian people.

We need to see a government that partners with business, that creates consumer confidence and business confidence, and that actually restores some confidence in the system so that businesses start hiring people and, indeed, so that consumers start purchasing. What we are seeing is low wage growth and stagnation in the economy. Where we do see jobs growth, we are seeing it only in the form of part-time work. As I say, 100,000 full-time jobs have been lost this year and the government sit idly by and do nothing.