Canberra Doorstop 18/02/21

18 February 2021

SUBJECT: Labour Force Figures; Community anger over Facebook’s news blackout




SUBJECT: Labour Force Figures

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Richard and I are here to respond to the most recent jobs data, released an hour or so ago. We welcome the increase in jobs in the economy. We have said throughout, that any increase in employment, any improvement in the economy, is obviously welcome, and also inevitable, as we emerge together from the deepest, most damaging recession in almost a century. We need to point out, as we welcome the new jobs created, that these jobs numbers are driven exclusively, or almost exclusively, by the improvement in the Victorian economy after the reopening of that economy. We also need to recognise that there are millions of Australians who still can't find work or can't find the hours that they need to support their loved ones. We need to recognise that even with this welcome improvement in the unemployment rate, the official unemployment rate is still higher in Australia, than it is in the United States.

So a recovery in our economy and in our labour market is welcomed, but people are still struggling. There are still workers, small businesses, communities and industries right around Australia, for whom this still feels like a recession.

What really matters here is the type of jobs that we create together in the recovery. Labor is on the side of secure, well-paid jobs, with better conditions. We want people to be able to work hard and get ahead and provide for their loved ones. What the government is proposing is a recipe for all of the job insecurity, and stagnant wages, and underemployment, which weakened the economy for much of the eight years that they've been in office. The Treasurer, once again today, when asked about his plans for the future, pointed to the industrial relations changes. The government's industrial relations changes will make things worse rather than better. The government's cuts to wages, cuts to super, and a budget riddled with rorts, will not create the kinds of jobs and opportunities that we still desperately need in this country.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks, Jim. We welcome the drop in the unemployment rate, and we welcome the drop in the number of Australians who are underemployed. But the truth is that the drop in the unemployment rate is incremental. There remain 880,000 Australians who are unemployed, and a further 1.1 million Australians who are underemployed. And what that means is that there is the better part of two million Australians on this day who are looking for work. And with two million Australians looking for work, the elephant in the room is what happens to the 1.3 million working people, as the rug is pulled from underneath them when the government ends Jobkeeper in six weeks’ time. Because at the end of the day, this is a government which has no real plan for the generation of jobs within our economy. Just last week, Mobil announced the closure of its refinery in Altona. And we are reminded, again that this is a government which definitely doesn't have a plan of rebuilding industry in this country. This is a government which doesn't have a plan for turning science into jobs. And this is a government which doesn't have a plan for getting small businesses in the tourism sector through this crisis with the necessary close of our international borders. Hoping for the best is no substitute for a plan. And policy drift is definitely not reconstruction.


Any questions?


JOURNALIST: On Jobkeeper, do you want to see it extended or- inaudible.


MARLES: Well, the first point to make about Jobkeeper, is that Jobkeeper in our economy only is there because Labor asked for it and campaigned for it last year. The first play of the Morrison Government when the pandemic hit was to have no wage subsidy at all. Jobkeeper is a product of Labor's advocacy. And all along what we've said is that Jobkeeper needs to transition with a realistic assessment of what's going on within the economy. Now, if you're the 60,000 people who are on Jobkeeper on the Gold Coast alone, an economy there which is entirely based on tourism, where there is no real prospect that we see it getting back to normal in six weeks time. If Jobkeeper ends then, then the one thing we know is that thousands of businesses will go bust. And we will see tens of thousands of Australians who lose their jobs. So what we want to hear from the government is; what's the plan? Because Jobmaker on its own doesn't cut it. If you're over 35, Jobmaker leaves you on the scrapheap. Jobmaker isn't going to get the tourism sector through. So, we want to hear what is the plan from the government. And there's only six weeks to go.


JOURNALIST: You mention the over 35s, the RBA Governor, Phillip Lowe said they were actually covered pretty well in the pandemic in getting jobs – inaudible – What is your response to that?


MARLES: Well, we need plans for everyone within the economy. And there are certainly plenty of people who are over 35 who have been affected by this pandemic and whose employment has been affected as a result. And what we have from this government is essentially no policy response in the face of COVID-19 for people who are over 35. But ultimately, the suite of measures that the government has in place for six weeks time is not going to cut it. So the question is what happens to the 1.3 million working Australians when Jobkeeper comes to an end in six weeks?


JOURNALIST: What do you want to see to see – inaudible.


MARLES: Well, the point we've been making since 2019, is that the level of Newstart, as it was then, is too low. Living on $40 a day is impossible. And this is the opportunity, the moment for the government to act on it. We want to again, hear from the government about what its plan is in relation to Jobseeker. And what is going to be the permanent level going forward here? There needs to be an increase. But ultimately, this is a matter for the government. This is not an election issue. This is a matter for six weeks from now, not from May of ‘22. And so we need to hear from the government right now about what is their plan in relation to Jobseeker? And are they really going to let people go back to just $40 a day?


JOURNALIST: Mr Chalmers, do you think the government deserves praise for the unemployment rate dropping?


CHALMERS: We’ve said all along, including today, that we welcome an improvement in the unemployment rate and we welcome new jobs created in the economy. But we need to acknowledge at the same time that there are still millions of Australians doing it tough . We need to acknowledge that 2 million Australians, as Richard said, can't find work or can't find enough work to provide for their loved ones. So the government shouldn't be declaring victory prematurely here, the government shouldn't be congratulating themselves, when there are millions of Australians doing it tough, millions more trying to exist on what have been historically stagnant wages. We give credit where it's due, but it's time for the government to acknowledge that the economic picture is not as rosy as they suggest for millions of Australians, not just during the pandemic and afterwards, but all those millions of Australians who had to contend with historically stagnant wages on the coalition's watch even before the pandemic.


JOURNALIST: So you wouldn't agree then with the Treasurer when he says the latest job tickets demonstrate the resilience of the labour market then?


CHALMERS: Look, again, Richard and I have both said that we welcome an improvement in the labour market, but we need to recognise that in this case it's driven by the reopening of the Victorian economy. Most of the other states are either flat or negative when it comes to job creation. But overall, it's good to see an improvement in the unemployment rate and we want to see new jobs created. The type of jobs created really matters here as well. We want secure, well-paid jobs with better conditions. That is exactly what Anthony Albanese and Tony Burke have been talking about for much of the last week, along with the rest of us. The government wants to cut wages, cut super, and their budget is riddled with rorts - and that won't create the jobs and opportunities that Australians desperately need and deserve.


JOURNALIST: Well, I suppose, in terms of the labour market improving in that case, surely do you think the government does have some kind of credit for that, at least?


CHALMERS: Well, I think a lot of what we're seeing in the labour market is the inevitable recovery from the deepest, most damaging recession in almost a century. I think every economist, and certainly our expectation for some time, is that when you come off such a deep and damaging trough as we experienced last year, there will be jobs created as we emerge from that recession. And when a big state like Victoria is more or less closed down for a period and then it reopens, then inevitably there will be jobs created there. And that is probably the defining feature of these numbers today, the fact that Victoria contributed 43,000 new jobs, and the net improvement nationally was 29,000 jobs. So that tells a story about Victoria's contribution to the improvement in the labour market today. But our point is for the government to remember and to recognise the millions of Australians doing it tough. The 1.3 million Australians the Treasury expects to be on JobKeeper this quarter. The 100,000 Australians that Treasury expects will lose their job when Josh Frydenberg cuts JobKeeper next month. This should be the focus of the government, not patting themselves on the back, not declaring victory over this recession prematurely, but understanding and recognising people are doing it tough. Their cuts to JobKeeper, their cuts to super, their cuts to wages, and a budget which is riddled with roads from top to bottom will make a difficult situation worse, not better.


JOURNALIST: And Josh Frydenberg has just been out speaking about the government reaction to Facebook, pulling news content locally, what do you make of that?


CHALMERS: Australians are understandably filthy at what Facebook has done here. We are concerned, in particular, for all of those Australians who rely on Facebook to get news about disaster season, or health updates during the pandemic. So this has been a very damaging development, there's a lot of anxiety in the community. People are understandably furious at what Facebook has done here. It's for the government now to explain what they're going to do to fix this mess. The government was standing here yesterday, declaring victory over the tech platforms. Josh Frydenberg, not for the first time, was giving himself a big pat on the back for having fixed all of these issues. The issues are clearly not fixed. Otherwise, we wouldn't have had the moves taken by Facebook today. So we recognise the anger in the community at Facebook. at this mess that they've created. We have said throughout that we support a workable code, we want to see journalists paid for the content that they create. We want to see a code that sees the tech giants pay up but that means implementing this code effectively. We’ve supported an effective code from the beginning. We've raised concerns from the beginning about the government's capacity to implement it properly. And we've been worried throughout that the government's been more interested in announcing that this is fixed, then actually fixing it. Thanks very much.


MARLES: Thank you.