11 May 2017

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR WORKPLACE RELATIONS AND EMPLOYMENT: I just want to make some comments about the Budget that was handed down by the Treasurer last night.
No wonder Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison no longer say “Jobs and Growth” – because buried in the calculations and forecasts of the Budget handed down last night is a calculation that there are fewer jobs – fewer jobs that will grow in our economy compared to the Budget handed down last year.
No wonder the Government has given up on the mantra “Jobs and Growth”. There are nearly 100,000 fewer jobs that will grow over the forward estimates according to the Budget. That is an indictment on this government. They say that they’re concerned about jobs. We have 1.1 million Australians underemployed. We have nearly 750,000 unemployed Australians. Two million fellow citizens, either not working enough or not working at all, and looking for work.
And yet this Budget does not deliver on jobs. So what we see immediately is this – wage growth going down in the first instance, job numbers going down, and seeing the actual unemployment rate going up.
And then we have these ridiculous forecasts, that have already been criticized by many independent commentators. Indeed, the eminent economist Saul Eslake has said it is “A bit aspirational” in his euphemistic way, to suggest somehow we are going to see wage growth increase by 3¾ percent by the end of the forward estimates.
We are now living at a time where we have the lowest wage growth in this country in living memory. In a generation. And yet we are supposed to believe that wage growth will increase by 3¾ percent over the next 4 years. It is fanciful. It is fairy-tale forecasting to suggest that wage growth is going to occur in that way, and indeed that unemployment in fact will fall in the manner in which its been described.
So, these are very brave assumptions as a public servant might say. They are fanciful, there’s no evidence to suggest that this is possible, and I have to say on that basis, given these assumption are so fanciful, the idea that we will reach a surplus in four years on the back of the forecast of wage growth being so much higher than it is today, is also spurious.
This is something the Government needs to respond to.
On top of that, we have a government that wants to see penalty rates cut in this country. So what we are seeing here is a Government wanting to see cuts in real income of wages for hospitality and retail workers and other workers, at a time where wage growth is at its lowest. We are going to see more people worse off as a result.
You are seeing them being slugged with more taxes. This is a budget, as Bill Shorten has said, for Multinationals and Millionaires. They’re going to get the tax breaks. And meanwhile, they are going to slug every worker in this country with a tax to the point where someone earning $65,000 a year will be paying over $300 tax in two years’ time. Meanwhile, a Millionaire will get a tax cut of $16,400 as a result of Malcolm Turnbull’s deal for his mates and the big end of town.
I am happy to take questions if there are any.

JOURNALIST: Just on the Demerit Point system, we’ve now seen more of the details on that, where would the Party stand now?

O’CONNOR: Look, every time the Government looks to do something in this space, they always get it wrong. They first started by saying everyone under the age of 30 should actually have to wait for 6 months to get any form of support whatsoever and in fact the Government said that it was based on the New Zealand model. That was found to be utterly untrue. That does not occur in New Zealand.
Then they moved from 6 months to say that people should wait for 5 weeks. Now they’re putting in place a system that of course will punish job seekers.
Now, we believe in mutual obligation. Labor is in fact the author of mutual obligation. Of course you must engage and look for work if you’re getting support. But what we don’t want to see is people being punished when in fact there are no jobs out there.
What the Government needs to do is to invest more in skills and training, create more apprenticeship places for workers in this country, provide more investment in areas of growing demand in our economy, so young people in particular can find work, and can find decent training opportunities as well so they can acquire the skills they need in the growing areas of demand.
We will look at the demerit system, will see if it’s punitive, unduly punitive. We’ll see whether it can be effective. The Government has got 7 demerit points already in this area of public policy. It always get it wrong. I think there are 9 iterations in this area since they were elected in 2013. So we will examine the detail. We will also ask many questions in Senate Estimates.
We don’t want to see scapegoats for the Government being young people who are looking for work but because there’s no jobs to be found they will be punished. If that’s the sort of thing the Government is considering, we’ve got a concern. If it’s about genuine mutual obligation and they’re provided with support, then we’re happy to consider embracing that concept.
But let’s remember, every time the government announces a policy in this area they get it wrong, they back track and start again. So we will have to take, given their history, we will have to look at it closely and of course conclude our views.

JOURNALIST:  Along that line too of mutual obligation in terms of the drug testing, would Labor support that? Malcolm Turnbull this morning saying that it’s going to also help people.

O’CONNOR: Well Malcolm Turnbull says it’s about helping people. I mean people that are plagued with drug dependency and drug addiction, and alcohol addiction, they should be provided support, and of course if they’re getting unemployment benefits they should be looking for work.
But we need to find the right services, the right forms of support to make sure that they’re not reliant indefinitely on public services. That they are helped with their addictions and any dependency they may have, so that they can actually get through that and be productive members of our society. Again, Labor will look at the detail. We don’t want to see people who are plagued with addiction being punished which will not only mean they will rely on more Government services, but of course their lives will be worse off and they will not be able to contribute to our society, to their communities.
So, again, we need to examine the detail. I hope it’s not just bashing up people who’ve got addiction and need assistance. I hope it’s a balanced approach that will say if you’re provided support from the taxpayer you have to enter into a mutual obligation to look for work. But if you’ve got challenges dealing with getting work – and one of those challenges might be an addiction to a substance – then let’s make sure we’re looking to attend to that problem, so that we can ensure that they can be employable and they can contribute in the way they wish to their communities and to this country.
So, again with everything the Government does in this space, Labor needs to examine the detail and hope they’re not just persecuting people for the sake of it. We’ll have a close look and respond in detail further down the track.
Thanks very much.

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