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Second Reading: Economic Recovery Package (JobMaker Hiring Credit) Amendment Bill 2020

It is my great pleasure to rise and speak on the Economic Recovery Package (JobMaker Hiring Credit) Amendment Bill 2020. In doing so, I proudly say, in addressing Senator Faruqi’s concerns she has raised about choice, that this is about choice. This is about a government that is making a choice to back young Australians. I have to say, I think many supporters of the Greens party, and to some extent of Labor as well, would be shocked to hear the level of opposition to the JobMaker scheme that we are now hearing in this debate in the Senate. What this says to young Australians is: the Morrison government stands with you. We recognise that you are Australia’s future. We recognise that, at this time of enormous uncertainty in our nation, in the midst of a pandemic, your future is critical to our economic recovery. That is why we are backing young Australians with this really important scheme.

We have seen unprecedented economic support delivered by this government in the form of $101 billion in JobKeeper; a doubling of the safety net in JobSeeker, a massive amount of support for young Australians not just with this scheme—100,000 new apprenticeships and traineeships are being supported by a 50 per cent wage subsidy; the new JobTrainer Fund, which will create up to 340,000 free or low-cost training places for school leavers and jobseekers; and more than 11 million taxpayers getting a tax cut, which has now been backdated to 1 July this year. Right across this economy our government stands with all Australians, as we battle this terrible pandemic and as we work hard together in our economic recovery.

The JobMaker hiring credit is a partnership forged between the Australian government, Australian employers and younger Australians. The hiring credit is designed to provide businesses with incentives to take on additional young jobseekers. It is designed, as our economy recovers from the ravages of the COVID pandemic, to assist young people to access job opportunities. Targeted at 16- to 35-year-olds, this important financial support will provide the JobKeeper hiring credit to employers for every new job created over the course of the next 12 months. It recognises that, when employers are making choices about who to bring onto their books, who to hire, there is that incentive to bring on young people who may not have the experience of older workers and, therefore, may otherwise end up at the back of the queue. We are determined that young jobseekers will not be at the back of the queue under a Morrison government. We want all jobseekers to get a fair choice.

It is extraordinary that Senator Faruqi, in her contribution, talked about supporting the public sector and not the private sector, which of course employs eight out of 10 Australians.

Why would the Greens be focusing on the public sector and not the private sector and demonising profits as if they were somehow evil? It is profits that create jobs. If businesses do not make a profit they cannot hire employees. I find the way in which the Greens have deserted young Australians, in opposing this bill, to be quite extraordinary.

This represents a $4 billion commitment from the Morrison government to support—I say the word ‘support’—an estimated 450,000 positions for young Australians. A great deal of my focus as a senator in Victoria, particularly in the Geelong region, in Ballarat, in Bendigo, in Gorton, in my patron seats, is to stand up for all of those wonderful job opportunities in those regional parts of Victoria. There are many wonderful employers in regional Victoria who want to do everything they can to get out there, to get through this as quickly as they can. At last, the ring of steel has come down or been lifted in Victoria, which means that Melburnians can now travel to regional Victoria and support thousands of wonderful businesses there, particularly in hospitality and tourism, where so many young Victorians get an opportunity to work, perhaps, for the first time. This is an incredibly important scheme, on top of the other incredible support that we have announced and delivered as part of our response, including the $101 billion for JobKeeper.

Under this bill, eligible employers will be able to receive $200 per week for every additional eligible employee hired between the ages of 16 and 29 and $100 for 30- to 35-year-olds. It’s to be paid for up to 12 months from the job creation date, for new jobs created, right through until 6 October 2021. This is a program aimed, fairly and squarely, at giving hope for the future to young Australian jobseekers. I think all Australians will look back with an incredible amount of pride at how our government has responded to this pandemic. It disappoints me that there is not bipartisanship, across the political divide, when you look at how hard our government has worked to ensure that all Australians are supported.

This program features a credit and reporting system, through the Australian tax office, to facilitate the initiative. There will be robust integrity measures drawing on the existing regulatory and enforcement infrastructure of taxation law and other laws relating to unfair dismissal. Again, I really do take issue with the Greens characterising this as a way of leading to the exploitation of young workers, because we have very strong laws in this country to prevent and prohibit underpayment and exploitation. To any employer who exploits or underpays an employee, I say, ‘Shame’. The law must and should come down very heavily on every single employer who thinks that they can get away with this.

I am very pleased to see, including in evidence before the Senate Economics Legislation Committee, that there was much broad support for this initiative, including from the Property Council of Australia, the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia, the Australian Retailers Association, and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Melbourne university’s Professor Jeff Borland said that, in his judgement, the size of the impact on young people and the potential scarring effects are large enough that if you were to target any job creation measure to a group it would be to young people. It is shocking to me that there is so much opposition to these incredibly important initiatives.

Youth unemployment is one of the biggest issues that we as a country face, and this is such an incredibly important measure to make sure we do not leave young Australians behind. We recognise that in the committee report and throughout those hearings there were some concerns identified. Treasury has provided very firm advice in relevance to the remedies which are available in the Fair Work Act, through the Fair Work Ombudsman and through administrative processes of the ATO. I do also say there are very strong prohibitions in relation to discrimination against older Australians who are seeking work. We do have a number of programs specifically targeted to older Australians. These measures provide historic support for young Australians. They are a very important part of our massive economic response to the coronavirus pandemic. It is a pleasure to commend this bill to the Senate.

9 November 2020


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