24 March 2021
The Morrison government stands today in the midst of a political storm led by outdated ideology and a broken moral compass. They are frantically trying to avoid jagged rocks of scrutiny whilst looking for a passage back to calmer waters. Now that they're desperately paddling against the tides themselves what the Morrison government are failing to do in their basic duty as the government for Australian people is to realise that for too many Australians the water was never calm and there isn't any way back and it has been like that for years.
Insecure work and low wages have created the perfect storm for workers. The nature of Australia's workforce has been shifting for a decade. Wages are flatlining whilst the cost of living continues to climb. Job insecurity is rampant, directly impacting many workers ability to provide for families and to plan for their future. Combined with the chaos of COVID-19, these trends have manifested into a volatile environment for too many Northsiders in my electorate of Lilley who are now struggling to find their feet at all. Ill-designed policies have only exacerbated this reality. Schemes like the government's out of control childcare policy hurt Northsiders who want to work.
The Morrison government's contrived optimism about the economic and budgetary forecasts betrays the granular reality of an economy that doesn't work for too many in my northside community. What LNP governments never seem to be able to wrap their heads around is that budgets are about much more than numbers. They are about priorities. They are about your vision for Australia. They should be about people, the people that we are elected here to represent. The economy is supposed to work for the people, not the other way around. A slight improvement in budget and economic forecasts is pointless if people are still struggling to get by.
Labor has been arguing for some time now that we cannot allow the economy to snap back to business as usual, meaning how it was before. Instead the reconstruction of our economy should be used to fix what structural flaws that COVID has exposed. When talking to aged-care workers about the impacts of COVID in the suburb of Chermside, in my electorate, we talked about how COVID has actually been like an X-ray, in that has it has thrown up what was already there structurally and has exacerbated those problems.
When COVID hit, northside workers in insecure work—people who were casuals, contract workers, gig economy workers, labour hire workers—suddenly saw their hours slashed or taken away altogether overnight. Despite what the Attorney-General said at the time about casual workers earning more money to get them through hard times, the pandemic exposed the darker side of casual work. On those first few days when the COVID impacts were starting to hit our communities, I walked the lines of constituents of Lilley standing outside the Centrelink centres at Nundah and Chermside. I talked to them about why they were there and what they were hoping their government would do in this time of crisis. Those queues of jobseekers snaking down Sandgate Road in Nundah Village stretched for hundreds of metres. It laid bare the consequences of a casualised workforce. I spoke to one lady who was five months pregnant. She was a childcare worker, and because she was the last in she was the first out of the system because of the changes to childcare payments put in by the government. She was genuinely at a loss for what to do. I thought: 'You are doing such important work for us in our community. You are an early educator. You are five months pregnant, and, as a community, we have abandoned you right at your hour of most need.'
Over one-third of the workforce is insecure or non-standard forms of work, and the majority instantly fell through a trapdoor into financial abyss, without sick pay, holiday pay, family leave or annual leave. Initially they were left with no options and no support from the Morrison government, and many of them were forced to access their superannuation to tide them over. In fact, 14 per cent of men and 15 per cent of women used their super to pay down debt, and 13 per cent of men and 15 per cent of women used their super to buy food. Think of that—having to access your superannuation, your savings for your retirement, in order to put food on your family table that evening.
Low wages are only adding fuel to the fire. For too long Australian workers have seen their wages flatline while the cost of living continues to skyrocket. This isn't by accident. Last year the then Minister for Finance declared that wages were low by design as part of the Morrison government's deliberate economic strategy. Unsurprisingly, those same tactics have not been applied to corporate interests. While wages have hit the wall, company profits crashed through it pre-COVID. By August 2019 over 60 per cent of listed Australian companies had seen their profit margins grow in the previous 12 months. Corporate profits were growing at five times the rate of wages, and instead of profits going to the workers—the people who put in the work to make those companies grow—they were being privatised in returns to shareholders. Instead of getting their fair share, the workers were told to be grateful because the only way they were going to be able to keep their jobs at all was to settle for whatever was going.
Decent pay is in everybody's interest. Workers with money in their pockets to spend are the engine rooms of economic growth and our local community economies. Sixty per cent of our economy is domestic spending. That money is spent in small business, in our local shopping strips and in shopping centres, and that creates the demand our economy needs to generate more jobs. But, instead of addressing low wages or taking action to combat the rising cost of living, the Morrison government is telling Northsiders, 'It is what it is.' They're being told that spending on average $112 on child care per child per day is the best the federal government can offer. They're being told that they will have to choose between a comfortable retirement or buying a house because it is simply impossible to have both. To buy a house, to support your family and to keep up with the cost of living day by day whilst trying to tuck some money away into savings are simple aspirations. But, under this third-term government, we find ourselves having to defend these aspirations, to defend the basics of what Australians expect their government to help them to do.
I have a message for the Prime Minister: Northsiders are not going to jump on another ride on the merry-go-round of austerity. They are tired of more being asked of them whilst heads of multinationals pocket the profits generated from their hard work. To emerge as a stronger and fairer society, Australians need a government that can lead the way. National economic reconstruction will not happen by hoping for market miracles. Government has the responsibility to shape the future of Australia's economic security and to ensure it has a place for all, not just a few.
Those on the other side of the chamber who want to look in the rear-view mirror and pine for the destructive, trickle-down economics of the Thatcher and Reagan years—I see that the member for Goldstein has entered the chamber!—have abdicated their responsibility to guide Australia through a crisis that has exposed the depth of inequality of opportunity in this country. Australians need a comprehensive, progressive plan for economic reconstruction that will see us emerge with a stronger economy, one that ensures that all Australians can look forward to a future that offers secure and decent jobs and a vibrant future for their families and for the communities that they love.
Only Labor has a plan to tackle exploitative, insecure work. A federal Labor government will defend your penalty rates and rights at work. We will legislate to properly define 'casual work'. We will explicitly insert job security into the Fair Work Act. We will crack down on cowboy labour firms to guarantee same job, same pay. We will put a cap on back-to-back short-term contracts for the same job. And we will enforce portable entitlements for workers in insecure industries. Only Labor has a plan for strong wages, especially in female-dominated industries, which are too often overlooked. A federal Labor government will strengthen the ability and capacity of the Fair Work Commission to order pay increases for workers who are in low-paid female-dominated industries. We will legislate so that companies with more than 250 employees will have to report their gender pay gap publicly. We will prohibit secrecy clauses and give employees the right to disclose their pay if they want to. We will take action to address the gender pay gap in the Australian Public Service, because we understand that you can't ask the corporate sector to do what you are not prepared to do yourselves.
Only Labor has a plan to make sure that early education is affordable, accessible and high quality for working parents. A federal Labor government will scrap the $10,560 childcare subsidy cap, which often sees women losing more money from an extra day's work. We will lift the maximum childcare subsidy rate to 90 per cent, and we will increase childcare subsidy rates and taper them for every family that is together earning less than $530,000. Only a federal Labor government will actually invest in nation-building infrastructure that creates jobs, instead of just making grand announcements in high-vis and hard hats with absolutely no follow-through.
When is comes to creating jobs on the north side and boosting our local economy, I am not just talking the talk; I am walking the walk. To identify funding gaps in local infrastructure and our local community projects, which will create new jobs on the north side and boost our local economy, I have conducted suburb-specific community surveys across the electorate of Lilley for the past six months. The responses I have received from those community surveys, from my constituents in Lilley, in addition to feedback I've received by conducting mobile offices across every suburb and at community events across the electorate, have been used to inform the drafting of the 2021-22 Lilley budget submission. This is a budget submission by the people of Lilley for the people of Lilley. It includes a list of our local funding priorities, relating to sporting infrastructure, roads and transport, the Urban Congestion Fund, health, education and community initiatives.
I seek leave to table the 2021-22 Lilley budget submission for the consideration of the Treasurer, ahead of the release of the next federal budget in May.
MINISTER: Leave is not granted. There are other avenues for the member to follow.
I didn't expect much different, and I will, from here, head straight over to the Treasurer's office and hand deliver him the Lilley electorate budget submission, because my community has worked very hard to put it together, and I am here on their behalf, trying to work with the federal government to get things done on the north side. That's what I was elected to do, and that's what we are all elected to do, as 151 different communities in this place. I think, particularly after the past month, what our constituents are crying out for is to see a bit of responsibility, a bit of dignity in this place, and a bit of bipartisanship, working together to actually get things done and make things better.
This isn't a partisan document. I am just trying to tell the government what we need on the north side in order to create jobs, what we need in order to boost our local economy. For leave to table the Lilley budget submission to be denied is disappointing. But, as the minister said, I will use the opportunity to go directly to the Treasurer after this and hand deliver that submission myself. I will do that because, now more than ever, targeted community driven infrastructure projects are fundamental to creating jobs and to improving our local economy on the north side. That's exactly what this budget submission does and what the initiatives, if taken up by the government, would do.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused far-reaching and ongoing difficulties for communities right across Australia. As the federal member for Lilley, I know how difficult COVID-19 has been for the 108,608 Northsiders I am privileged to represent. Approximately 8,687 Lilley residents currently rely on JobSeeker support, 4,716 more than the number of pre-COVID-19 recipients. We also have 1,792 businesses and 5,515 workers who are still relying on JobKeeper even to this day and who will be negatively impacted when the scheme is axed on 28 March, in just a few days.
The end of JobKeeper will rip away approximately $2.7 million a week in support of the Lilley economy. The extended period of economic turbulence experienced by businesses and workers in Lilley is in no small part due to a result of the unique characteristics of our electorate. We are home to the Brisbane domestic and international airports as well as the 6,600 aviation workers who work there. The tourism economy is critical to the economic recovery of the north side of Brisbane, with approximately 23.8 million passengers travelling through those airports each year. One in 70 Queensland jobs are enabled by Brisbane Airport. Over 425 local businesses are located in the Brisbane Airport precinct, employing nearly 24,000 people. With international passenger numbers down by 98 per cent, terminal retailers have been forced to close, and thousands of workers who support international and domestic movements have been stood down or made redundant. The mass job loss experienced at the Brisbane Airport has had severe flow-on effects for jobseekers outside of the sector as aviation workers have flooded the job market.
I know Northsiders have aspirations and they want a government that invests in them but this government has phoned in any real plan by turning a blind eye to the plight of our workers and electing to parade failed policy. As elected representatives, this is our moment. We have been asked to meet a challenge we could not have foreseen and with no road map. I want a pathway forward for the north side.