MPI – Employment

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Mr PITT: That was a very polite contribution from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, I have to say. I’ll go to his opening remarks about strolling in the grounds of the parliament. As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker O’Brien, I can tell you exactly where we’ve been strolling in recent weeks. It’s been in places like Cloncurry, the Cannington Mine, and Gladstone and Northern Oil. We’ve been to Humpty Doo and Darwin; we’ve been talking to the people of Townsville and right across the north. While I have the opportunity, I’ll give a shout-out to Humpty Doo Barramundi again. What a great Australian success story! It’s a small business that’s driving more jobs with support from the NAIF, which includes a second loan to put on more people, more Australians, in the north. I think that’s a wonderful story that we should all reflect on and be thankful for—that we still have those Australians out there having a crack, employing more people and continuing to grow.

But I’d say to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition: regional areas are actually desperate for people. The employers I speak to cannot find enough staff. Right now we have any number of businesses that would normally be open seven days a week but, instead, are open four, or that would normally be open five days a week but, instead, are open three. This is because, quite simply, they cannot get enough staff to be operational for that entire period. So, if you’re out there and you’re looking for work, I can say there’s a great opportunity in the regions. There’s an opportunity right now. Whether you’re in the member for Barker’s area, whether you’re with the member for Grey or whether you’re even with the member for Petrie—just north of Brisbane—there is an opportunity for you. You can buy a house, you can have a backyard, you can have two dogs and a cat and a couple of bicycles, you can have a horse if you want or two cows—whatever it is that floats your boat, there is an opportunity for you in regional Australia right now. Mr Deputy Speaker, as you know, people are taking up that opportunity. They are building new homes. They are shifting to the regions. They are taking up that chance, that opportunity and that choice to be in a life which suits them in a post-COVID environment.

JobKeeper was always intended to be a temporary support measure. If we want to talk about the support for small business, if we want to talk about manufacturing, there are a lot more people from small business on this side of the House than there are on the opposite side. There are individuals on our side who’ve been out; they’ve taken the risk; they’ve borrowed the money; they’ve employed Australians; they know what it is, every second week, to wake up and wonder how they’ll pay wages. They know what risks you have to take and what work you have to do to be successful, and I congratulate them all. And when it comes to manufacturing I’m very pleased that those opposite are interested in manufacturing. I genuinely am. I think there is a real opportunity for our country right now. This is a watershed point for our country to drive manufacturing back onshore. But the fundamentals of business will always remain the same, and the fundamentals are very straightforward. You need a competitive gas price. You need a competitive electricity price. You need available staff with the right skills. You need to ensure you’re not bogged down in red and green tape that makes it even more expensive for you to try and get your business up and operational. I’ve spoken to any number of Australia’s big manufacturers, who are all keen to look at expansion opportunities and many of whom will shift into the regions and open up those new opportunities for regional people. I think that is a positive outcome from what has been a very difficult year.

So we do have a plan for Australia’s economic recovery. There is the $74 billion JobMaker plan. I’m sure you’ve heard of it, Mr Deputy Speaker O’Brien. It is a plan for Australia, it is a plan for Australian jobs and it is succeeding. I will come to the actual statistics shortly. If in doubt, go with the facts! As the core of our plan, we will support a stronger economy, we will drive a faster recovery, we will invest in skills and higher education, we will prove the ease of doing business and we will support the manufacturing and energy sectors, which are so critical to Australia’s future success.

Now, our JobMaker plan is working. How do we know that? The unemployment rate decreased to 6.6 per cent in December 2020, with employment increasing by 50,000 persons and the participation rate going to a record high of 66.2 per cent. Those are the numbers. And 71 per cent of that increase in employment was full-time jobs—35,700—while the remaining 29 per cent were part time. The underemployment rate fell to 8½ per cent in December, down from 9.4 per cent in November, and is now at its lowest level since December 2019. Those statistics are a statement of fact. Since May, 784,000 jobs have been created, recovering 90 per cent of the 872,000 jobs that were lost between March and May. That is very positive news for those Australians who are out there doing it tough, who have been supported by the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth has ensured that they have every opportunity to be successful. We have a $1 billion JobTrainer program which is providing an additional 340,700 training places to help school leavers and jobseekers access short and long courses. We will continue not only to keep Australians safe but to provide opportunities for them to develop more skills, to have higher paid jobs, to develop their own sets of skills, to pay their own way, and that, I think, is the great Australian dream: to be successful, to be self-sufficient, to be able to make your own opportunities and to make your own choices.

I will come to my own portfolio briefly in the remaining time, the resources sector—what an absolute success story. I welcome the new shadow minister to the portfolio—it’s a shame that there are issues with Western Australia in terms of attendance—and I thank the former shadow minister for his brief contribution. Once again, the resources sector is leading the way for Australia. The sector has been the shining light of our economy. They have dealt with the pandemic, they have put in place mechanisms to keep their staff safe and operational and, as a result, they have been an absolute success story. We know it has been going well, but even I didn’t know it was going this well. Last week the ABS noted that the number of people employed in mining jumped by 22,000, or nearly 10 per cent, in the three months to November last year, providing jobs for 264,000 Australians. Mr Deputy Speaker, would you believe that 25 per cent of that additional employment came from coalmining? It came from the coal sector, Australia’s success story in resources for decades. That’s also a 23 per cent increase over the year and it is the greatest number of Australians employed in the sector since 2012.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I know it’s out of order, but we should be putting our hands together for the resources sector. They have helped this country through this very difficult period. They have increased the number of Australians who have a job, and they are well-paid jobs, they are good jobs and they are jobs that will continue into the future. Those statistics are without the over one million Australians who are indirectly employed by the industry. So we will have a resources led recovery, we will have a gas led recovery and we will have a jobs led recovery. This government will ensure that that is absolutely the case. The resources sector is continuing to do what it has done for decades: drive the Australian economy, provide the common wealth for the common people, provide opportunities for our kids to be employed and trained to have successful jobs into the future—and long may it continue. In fact, the value of Australian coal exports in December increased by an impressive 26 per cent from November and was worth $3.7 billion to the Australian economy.

So, regardless of all the noise and the things that we’ve read from some of those media outlets about how difficult it has been—and certainly there have been some trading challenges—the reality is, quite simply, that the coal sector and the resources sector have continued to go from strength to strength, continued to grow and continued to provide opportunity. Coal sales to Vietnam and India were stronger, reaffirming the competitiveness of Australian coal. We have a high-quality product, we are in the right position to deliver it, we can do it at a cost-competitive price into those markets, and there is demand.

Exports were valued at a phenomenal $272.5 billion in the 12 months to December, which was a significant increase on the previous quarter. That is due to the hard work of the men and women, in their high-vis jackets and suits and shirts and pants and their steel-capped boots, who did what was necessary to help deliver jobs and a stronger economy for this country. We should be absolutely thankful not only for the fact that they exist but for the fact that they are willing to do what is a very tough and difficult job.

Whilst we’ll always hear plenty of noise from those opposite about what they may or may not intend to do, it is the coalition that is delivering. It is the coalition that has put the commitment on the table. We are delivering in spades. The facts and data stack up. Everything that we are seeing is indicating that there are green shoots and strength in the economy. There is confidence from business, confidence from the Australian people and confidence from investors. It is confidence that matters, because confidence puts you out there to take risks, and those risks result in more jobs for the Australian people. Our JobMaker Plan will continue to deliver.