Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP speaks on the Economic Recovery Package (JobMaker Hiring Credit) Amendment Bill 2020

19 October, 2020


I rise to speak on the Economic Recovery Package (JobMaker Hiring Credit) Amendment Bill 2020. The JobMaker Hiring Credit will give businesses incentives to take on additional young JobSeekers. This is designed to help young people access job opportunities as the economy recovers. The JobMaker Hiring Credit will be available to employers for each new job they create over the next 12 months for which they hire an eligible young person aged 16 to 35 years old. I do have some questions around the delineation of 16 to 35 years old, but I will discuss that in a moment—this age bracket could lead to some serious discrimination.

The government has estimated that around 450,000 positions for young Australians will be supported through the JobMaker Hiring Credit at a cost of $4 billion from 2021 to 2022-23. I welcome a focus on youth. There is no doubt that they need it. The majority of the job losses in this recession have been lost by youth, with youth unemployment rising to double the official headline unemployment rate nationally. On the Northern Beaches the youth unemployment rate is 12.2 per cent—nearly triple the official rate of 4.5 per cent.

The businesses most affected by social distancing restrictions throughout this COVID pandemic are those most likely to employ young people: restaurants, bars, retail outlets, gyms, recreation and tourism businesses. The Grattan Institute points out:

Youth unemployment is always higher than general unemployment. The gap tends to widen during economic downturns and narrow when employment markets are strong. Young people tend to be the marginal employees – when employment demand is soft, employers are more likely to keep their existing (older) employees and not hire the same number of new (younger) employees.

In the 1980s and 1990s youth unemployment soared. We saw that for fresh, out-of-school or uni youth with no experience it was almost impossible to find a job. The longer they were separated from studies in their chosen field to landing a job the less chance they had. We simply can't afford for that to happen again. Both recessions became known as a lost decade for a generation of young workers, consigning many to lower paid positions and sporadic employment for the rest of their working lives.

This legislation aims to avoid that dire outcome for our youth in this recession, and I do welcome it—especially as a mother of teenagers in this very category. But the legislation could be improved through a number of mechanisms. More detail of the wage subsidy rates and eligibility could be included in the legislation itself, rather than putting it into a delegated instrument. More attention should have been paid to women in the budget, especially older women. And more attention could be paid to the industries that have most been impacted and that employ youth, rather than just a blanket program across the economy that discriminates against other age groups.

This bill does not prescribe the rate of the wage subsidy or the eligibility criteria. The lack of substance in the bill itself is becoming an increasing trend in this government and it is giving greater discretion and flexibility with the implementation of the policy. The Scrutiny of Bills Committee raises this repeatedly. This bill has such little substance that it is difficult to assess the merit of the program. The budget papers, Treasury briefing documents and media announcements give only the detail of the rate of the subsidy or the eligibility. There's nothing in the legislation to guarantee against a variation of the rate or eligibility.

I've been meeting with businesses such as Budgy Smuggler locally in Warringah. They are all asking me how this will apply, how they can apply and whether they will be eligible given their particular circumstances. I simply can't answer their questions. The Australian Taxation Office website itself says:

We will provide further information on eligibility criteria and how employers can register for the JobMaker Hiring Credit as it becomes available.

So in the interest of transparency and accountability I urge the government to give the detail required as soon as possible.

We can't talk about this recovery without talking about the impact this recession is having on women. I would have to say they have been completely forgotten by this government. It's been stated many times that women, like youth, have been hard hit by this recession. Yet there was no tailored approach in the budget to addressing female unemployment in sectors as we are now seeing with youth through this bill. The response that has come from government has been, 'Well, ladies, you also get to drive on the roads.' With due respect, that's just not good enough. The budget was silent on measures to specifically address female unemployment, apart from the extension of the previously announced Women's Economic Security Statement. The response from the government is simply not good enough. Many women who have suffered job losses as a result of this recession work in sectors such as retail, hospitality, tourism, fitness and caring. They are essential service workers in child care and nursing. They will be competing against youth who will have subsidised wages as a result of this legislation. So I fear that this will result in discrimination against women who are over 35, and that will mean a range of consequences from this policy. I fear for women, particularly older women, as we progress through and emerge from this recession.

Women over 55 years of age were already, prior to this pandemic, the fastest growing group facing homelessness in Australia. That is just a horrific statement to have to say to this parliament, and I simply don't understand why this is not resonating louder with the government. The Australian Human Rights Commission found that the number of women over 55 seeking support from homelessness services has increased by 55 per cent in the last decade. The Australian Bureau of Statistics found that the rate of homelessness in older women has increased by 31 per cent since 2011 alone. With them facing lower job prospects and without any tailored support for their demographic or the industries in which we know they work, I fear that older women will suffer further and this trend will be exacerbated.

There's no doubt that, in our response to the recovery, we should be looking at industry-specific packages. The packages presented in this bill are tailored to address a demographic trend. I would argue that a fairer and less discriminatory approach to the problem that has been posed by COVID would be an industry focused recovery package. The arts, retail, hospitality and tourism industries have been decimated by the pandemic. They are also the sectors where a disproportionate number of women and youth are employed. A program tailored to assist those industries, rather than just a demographic approach, would be much fairer than the blanket youth demographic subsidy.

There are many other programs that could have been considered and should have been the subject of the budget. Government could expand some existing programs, such as New Business Assistance with NEIS. They could expand the eligibility and assist those older people who might find themselves retrenched and without work, but far too young to retire. We've seen in previous budgets the government talk about encouraging people to work to an older age, but there are no measures to facilitate that. There is nothing to assist or encourage businesses to go down that road. So, while I welcome the government's efforts to address the impact on youth of this recession, I urge the government: to provide the parliament and the Australian people with the detail required to implement the policy; to do more for women, particularly older women, who could be even more disadvantaged by this legislation; and to do more for the industries impacted most by this recession.

I met with a number of travel agents within Warringah, and they are desperate. They are calling on Minister Birmingham to do something about their sector. They're desperate that there either be some travel corridors or something to address it. They are in a situation of no pipeline of work for some 12 to 18 months, as we face worldwide uncertainty over what is happening with the pandemic. We can't just assume that a vaccine will be available and it will be a return to business as usual. We must prepare and have a long-term plan. These industries are crying out for assistance but, for the moment, they're cries are falling on deaf ears. I urge the minister to take note.