Unemployment Matters of Public Interest

It is my pleasure to rise and speak on this MPI because it is indeed a matter of public importance—the issue of jobs for both mature-age workers and for young people all around this country. I just want to make a couple of remarks up-front about the attitude of senators opposite.

Senator Lines has just highlighted the reluctance to address the issues that cause displacement and unemployment for so many people. She has just accused the coalition of having no understanding and no empathy. How about Mr Martin Ferguson, one of the heroes of the Labor Party and the union movement here in Australia. In regard to penalty rates on Sundays, he says, ‘It is wrong to say that people absolutely depend on these penalties, because the way we are going they, the workers, might have the penalties in their awards but they might not have a job, because industry can no longer operate under the existing framework.’

So, how can the Labor Party sit there and make comments that close down any discussion about changing the issues that are actually causing the unemployment, when the heroes of their own side of politics have recognised that some of those fundamental conditions need to change if we are to see young people and more mature workers in work.

I want to talk a little bit about the unemployment rate. Again, Senator Lines has talked about this going up to 6.3 per cent. Statistics are wonderful things, but they can also be misleading. The ABC is generally no friend of the coalition, but I note that on the ABC’s website, Michael Janda, a business reporter, said:

The reason why unemployment jumped despite much better-than-expected jobs growth is that the participation rate soared 0.3 percentage points to 65.1 per cent.

‘Soared’ being the term he used. Because unemployment data is all about the population you are measuring, and your comparison, you can get quite misleading figures. So for those who are saying this is outrageous because it is a two per cent jump, I just want to make the point that there are some underlying factors about things, like the participation rate, that despite, in the ABC’s words, ‘much better-than-expected jobs growth’, we see a rise in the figure. That is not to decry the importance of unemployment for those people who are affected by it. The coalition is quite seized of that fact, which is why we are taking a number of measures to ensure that this government creates an environment where jobs are created.

Let us go to one of the commitments of the Prime Minister at the election. He said he wanted to be the ‘infrastructure Prime Minister’. In South Australia, we have seen this government commit $428 million to the north-south corridor, creating, for the Torrens Road to Torrens River part of that project, some 480 jobs per year during the construction phase and, for the Darlington Interchange, some 370 jobs during the construction phase.

In the Defence space, members opposite are saying that this is all dreadful and that we are presiding over high unemployment, but they are not acknowledging that, when they were in government, the $16 billion that they cut out of the budget for Defence—which in my state is one of the largest industry sectors—resulted in a 10 per cent contraction of the workforce in the defence industry. This government, in contrast, is boosting funding. We have brought forward funding to start addressing some of the remedial issues for catching up on defence bases and equipment that needed remedial work, and we have brought forward announcements just this last week about future shipbuilding. We are bringing particular projects forward, like the future Pacific patrol boat project, the future frigate project and the offshore patrol vessel project. This $89 billion investment is going to keep some 2½ thousand jobs sustainable into the future.

Let us look at mining. South Australia has great potential for minerals. We were hoping that the Olympic Dam expansion would provide great benefit to South Australia—literally thousands upon thousands of jobs. But why didn’t that happen? Why didn’t that go ahead? Well, the environmental impact statement was lodged in May 2009 but the decision did not come back until October 2011, by which time a number of things, like commodities prices, had changed. In 2012 BHP decided to defer that whole project and seek a cheaper way of extracting the copper. What else happened in 2012? It was the commencement of the carbon tax put in place by the Labor government. Olympic Dam mine is the largest consumer of electricity in South Australia. Electricity is the second-highest cost of extracting copper in a copper mine. The carbon tax which was brought in, starting in 2012 at $23 a tonne, was forecast by Labor’s own figures to go up to $350 a tonne by 2050, which would be right in the productive part of that mine’s life. Is it any wonder that BHP decided they would not go ahead with the plan and would seek a cheaper option? The policies that the Labor government put in place and are still seeking to bring back in—as we saw at their national conference—are job-destroying policies.

What is this government doing? We have got rid of the carbon tax. We are committed to having a low-cost, low-impact way of abating carbon. Importantly, we are also about getting rid of the duplication in things like environmental approvals so that we can see projects up and running more quickly, which means greater investment and greater job opportunities. To July this year, there have been, under this government, 173 final approvals, which represents nearly $1 trillion worth of major projects that will occur in Australia, which means huge numbers of jobs.

We are also looking at things like the Next Generation Manufacturing Investment Program. In my state of South Australia, this is part of the $155 million growth fund that the federal government has committed to helping people adjust from the auto sector. As Mike Devereux, head of GM, and GM themselves, said, the decision to close down their Australian operations was nothing to do with Australian government policy; it was a decision out of Detroit. But our response has been to find those companies that are innovative in their manufacturing methods, who have the potential to capture export markets, and to help them grow their capacity—companies like Seeley International, Ahrens engineering and Levett Engineering. Seeley, who are innovative in air-conditioning technology, now export around the world. Ahrens engage in large agricultural and commercial building construction. Levett produce high-technology advanced manufacturing parts for the Joint Strike Fighter engine. We are supporting those people to create hundreds of sustainable jobs in South Australia.

This government already has signed up to free trade agreements with Japan, Korea and now China. Those free trade agreements are going to bring huge numbers of jobs and opportunities, and yet again the Labor Party is opposing the China free trade agreement, which stands to benefit thousands of Australians in terms of work. This government is creating the environment whereby we can see people invest in this country, see export opportunities and create jobs—and the sticking point is those opposite. They come in here with an MPI that says that this government is presiding over high unemployment, when it is partly the way statistics are measured but significantly we are repairing the damage that has been caused by the ALP in the past and that they continue to inflict, through things like their opposition to the China free trade agreement, and that they plan to inflict in the future, with their plans to reimpose the kind of $209 per tonne cost on carbon which is going to impact on jobs.

We can look at their own heroes, people like Martin Ferguson—and Mr Acting Deputy President Smith, I realise you have written about this recently—on the subject of the Productivity Commission report about the factors that affect the ability of Australian companies to employ people. Rather than have a sensible, mature discussion about it, the first thing that the Labor Party and the unions want to do is to have a fear campaign and shut down discussion. But, as Mr Ferguson said, to dismiss the report out of hand would only be to the detriment of workers. If we want more people in work, I would call on the members opposite to listen to people who are heroes in their own organisation, like Mr Martin Ferguson, so we can have the discussion to continue our reforms, to continue our measures, whether it is productivity reforms, infrastructure investment, refining environmental approvals, getting rid of carbon taxes or creating things like free trade agreements. The coalition is about creating the environment and the capacity for Australians to invest and to employ, which creates jobs for future generations.