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Wednesday, 2 September 2020
Page: 6391


Mr STEPHEN JONES (Whitlam) (15:33): It's a dark day: a recession, the first in 30 years; a seven per cent contraction in the economy over the last quarter. But behind that word 'recession' lies the fate of millions of Australians. One million Australians are out of work. Another three million Australians are on JobKeeper, reliant on government support for their livelihoods in the full knowledge that, in three weeks time, the government is going to slash $300 of support from each and every one of those people. Unemployment's going up. Business investment's going down. Hope's nowhere to be seen. The government's slashing $300 a head from all of those people who are relying on their support.

I speak with some experience on what it's like to attempt to enter the workforce in the midst of a recession. I left school in 1983, in the midst of a recession, but, in particular, a regional recession in the Illawarra, created by the collapse of the steel industry. In the months before I left school, the steelworks contracted from a workplace employing 23,000 people to a workplace employing 13,000 people—10,000 people in a period of very few months lost their jobs, 10,000 fathers and mothers in households throughout one region alone. Jobs walked out the door. But it wasn't just the experience of those people who lost their jobs; it was all my classmates, who had the legitimate hope and expectation that, if they applied themselves at school, in the next few months, they would follow their fathers or their brothers or their uncles into a job as a boilermaker or a fitter in the steelworks or a sparky in the mines or an operator in one of the manufacturing industries that worked in unison with the steelworks. Those legitimate hopes and expectations were smashed in months.

In situations like this, the government has a role. The region on its own could not bring itself out of that recession. We needed assistance and a plan from the government, and we got it. The election of the Hawke Labor government saw a turning of the fortunes for the people of the Illawarra. The steel industry plan was put in place. The government went to BHP, as it then was, not with false hope but with a real plan: 'Yes, people are going to lose their jobs, and this business will not exist in another 10 years unless the owners of that business make some investments and transform it into a productive enterprise. But, at the same time, you have an obligation to the workers that you're about to lose and the workers that you're going to keep. You need to train those workers to ensure that they have the skills for your workplace in the future. You need to upgrade your plant and equipment so that it's not the clapped-out, sweated capital that doesn't have a hope of competing in a manufacturing industry of the future.'

This is the sort of plan that we need today: government working in partnership with business, saying, 'We are going to invest with you and help you to become more productive enterprises and help you to help your employees, so long as there is an agreement that there will be a sharing of the productive benefits when growth does come.' It doesn't all get squirrelled away into profits; it's shared between the workers and the business, and there is a transition plan for those workers who are losing their jobs. Unless you do all three of those things, it will not work. That's what we need, not just in one region but all around the country.

What we don't need is a recovery built on a press release. It won't work. What we don't need over the next few months is a proliferation of grants programs that dole out money to National Party or Liberal Party electorates on the basis of mateships. We don't need that. This is a recession affecting the whole country, not just National Party or Liberal Party electorates. What we need is a plan that truly brings together the life of the slogan the Prime Minister is happy to repeat: 'We're all in this together'. We're happy to work with the government on this plan, but we'll be criticising it every step of the way when they fall short. (Time expired)