MPI – JobKeeper payment

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Mr PITT: I want to acknowledge the member for Macquarie, one of the few on that side who have been in small business, I have to say. So congratulations. Having done it myself, I know it’s a difficult road. It is one where, every week, you have to think about where the money comes from in order to pay wages and pay your bills, and it’s one which many Australians take up.

In terms of my local electorate and the comments made by the member for Macquarie, we have similar problems and different problems. The first thing I’d point out is Enzo’s on the Beach, a well-known cafe in Hervey Bay. I’m sure you know it, Mr Deputy Speaker Llew O’Brien, as a local. It is opposite the state member’s office. While I have the opportunity, I want to acknowledge the retirement of Ted Sorensen, the former member for Hervey Bay, after 26 years of service. I think it is a phenomenal thing for an individual to put themselves forward for community service for that period of time.

Last time I spoke to Enzo, I learned that, quite simply, he has what was previously a seven-day-a-week business, serving coffee and food, mainly to tourists, and, unfortunately, he has only been able to operate four days a week. The reason for that is not being put forward by those opposite. The reason is that he simply cannot get enough staff. Can you imagine, Mr Deputy Speaker, in an area where we have a significant and substantial unemployment rate, not being able to get enough staff in hospitality to keep your business operational for seven days a week? So this is the problem for Enzo and any number of other small business operators in my region and in my electorate and, in fact, across a very large part of regional Queensland in particular. So, whilst it’s different, there are some things which are the same.

Mr Deputy Speaker, as I’m sure you know—it’s in your electorate—Fraser Island is doing it tough in terms of visits by international tourists. I would absolutely like to see support for the return of the route from Sydney to Hervey Bay. Of course I would. But, when I went and had a look, I saw that it’s actually planned. Jetstar have already announced that they’ll return to that route in May. They’re advertising right now, with tickets starting from, if I recall correctly, $45. I think $45 is a relatively affordable fare to travel from Sydney to Hervey Bay, and I absolutely congratulate Jetstar, because we do need those tourists from places like Sydney and Melbourne back in the regions and, in particular, in those areas which are directly affected by the loss of international tourism from the COVID-19 pandemic and outbreak and the subsequent actions that the government has had to take. We have made the right decisions for Australia, and the response of all Australians, in my view, has been quite simply magnificent. Australia has done a phenomenal job off the back of the Australian people doing what they needed to do, making the decisions that were necessary and making the commitments that they had to, with support from the Commonwealth. That will continue into the future. So I congratulate all of those people who are out there working hard and working in business.

As part of my portfolio, the resources sector have been fantastic. They have done an exceptional job. They have maintained their businesses. They’ve kept their staff employed. They have managed the hygiene requirements to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak, and to date, to the best of my knowledge, there has been no outbreak in the resources sector. They’ve done what is necessary. The people who work in the industry have spent months away from home because it was required. Many of them have relocated their families. I congratulate all of them on the work they’ve done.

And what are the results? The results are spectacular. In the December quarter alone, the resources sector was up 5.8 per cent in terms of employment. That is 14,000 jobs. We know that it’s the largest number of people employed in the coal sector since 2012. Some 264,000 Australians right now are directly employed in the industry. That is up from where it was in the previous year, and we know there are more opportunities. There are jobs right now in the resources sector right across the country. So we want to see those jobs filled. We want to see those opportunities taken up.

It is not just the big exporters—iron ore and coal. We are also working in the critical minerals space. The Critical Minerals Facilitation Office, which was stood up a couple of years ago, has the sole job of extending and expanding Australia’s operations for critical minerals. Of course, we are looking to ensure that we can provide downstream manufacturing and processing, particularly the final product, and we are working with like-minded democracies right around the world to ensure that we can provide those supply chains which are currently supplied from elsewhere. There is an opportunity here for our country to build new areas of manufacturing and new jobs, particularly in the regions, but it takes significant changes in terms of technology. We need to test the prototypes in terms of the processing facilities. Once we have done that, once the prototypes have been firmed up and we have proof of concept, I think there will be significant amounts of finance that will continue to come. There’s a great example of that, and that of course is Lynas in Western Australia, who have secured a contract with the US Department of Defense. Off the back of the work of the company and the Critical Minerals Facilitation Office, they have that opportunity now to extend their operations in Western Australia and provide more jobs.

Western Australia—as much as I don’t like to raise it, obviously it wasn’t the result we were looking for on the weekend! But the point I want to make here is that 25 per cent of the budget of the WA state economy is propped up by the resources sector—predominantly and overwhelmingly by iron ore. Over 25 per cent—that is a significant contribution to paying for the essential services Australian rely on. Whether it’s hospitals, roads or schools, it’s off the back of the resources sector that that work is done. Of course, that also drives jobs into those local communities.

There is another challenge out there, and it’s the challenge of state premiers. If we want to keep Australians in the domestic tourism space, they need confidence. They need confidence that they are not going to have a state premier pull the rug out from under them when they have booked, planned, travelled and gone to a regional location to have a holiday, only to find they have to turn around, on a handful of hours notice, and return to their state before their borders close. What we know, quite simply, is that confidence is lost when state premiers put up snap border closures. Is there an alternative? Of course there is. You only have to look at Premier Berejiklian and what she has done in New South Wales. They have not closed their borders, they have managed COVID outbreaks, they have worked with the health system, they have ensured their contact tracing was absolutely bulletproof, and they are managing it. Once again, when state premiers continue to suggest to Australians that they will close borders at the drop of a hat, you cannot expect Australia’s domestic tourism industry to stand up to those sorts of changes. You simply cannot.

There is lots of opportunity being driven by the Commonwealth. One of those areas, of course, is the gas led recovery. Of the five strategic basin plans I announced and what will they will do for jobs, the first one out there is the Beetaloo Basin. Why are we looking at the Beetaloo Basin? Quite simply, it’s because it is probably the hottest player in gas in the planet. We expect there is over 200,000 petajoules of reserve out there, and that is a significant amount of gas. We want to bring that on and we need to connect it to market, and industry will do the rest if they have the confidence to invest. So, to give that confidence, we announced as part of the Beetaloo Strategic Basin Plan $50 million in terms of support for exploration and drilling. We want to see that work done in this dry season and the next dry season. We’re providing that encouragement to bring that work forward because we know that if we can firm up the resource, that will firm up confidence and provide more opportunities for industry to drive jobs into the Northern Territory.

Right around Australia, this government is standing up for those people looking for work. We are ensuring that in the short, medium and long term, those opportunities will continue to come to fruition. We have made significant changes to the tax system. We have provided significant support through the COVID period. I think Australians absolutely understand that this is the only country in the world to be in, in terms of the outbreak of this pandemic. We are ensuring that they are staying safe; we are ensuring that they’re provided opportunities, particularly for employment; and we are looking to the future in a post-COVID environment, in particular to drive manufacturing back on shore to this country. To do that, we need affordable and reliable gas, affordable and reliable electricity and an available workforce which has the right skill set, which is in the right location and which is ready to go. We need to ensure that red and green tape is out of the way and governments stop getting in the way of businesses who simply want to invest, drive jobs and provide opportunities. I think there is no greater example of that than the Bravus mine, formally known as Adani, in Central Queensland. It was a bunfight—there is no doubt about that. But what is the result? There are 2,200 people with jobs and a significant amount of money committed—$1.5 billion to contracts, driving some 9,000 indirect jobs into the project at a time when it is desperately needed.

Once again, I would say to those opposite that we are dealing with these issues, we are providing opportunities, we are working hard to ensure the Australian people have an opportunity in the future for a well-paid, reliable job from which they can pay for their own way, their own mortgage and the education of their own children.