Pic source: businessfoundations.com.au
Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (17:09): I rise this afternoon to contribute to another senseless debate of legacy weeping by the Labor Party as they look over their failed tenure as the government of this country and their lack of investment and foresight and as they start to attempt to lay the blame for an economy in transition at our feet, which is simply not the case.
I am glad, Senator Carr, that you have chosen to join us in the chamber for this particular contribution, because the primary focus of the Abbott government and the primary focus of the Turnbull government is on Aussie jobs right through our economy and right through our nation—not just focused in capital cities, not just focused in old technologies and old manufacturing—actually understanding that our economy, coming off the mining boom, requires jobs in new industries. I will go to that a little later.
When we are talking about legacy weeping, we really only need to look at the jobs that were slashed under the Labor Party's tenure. I think about the live cattle export trade when Joe Ludwig and Prime Minister Gillard woke up one morning after they had got a few emails over the weekend and were very, very happy to shut down an industry and, with careless disregard, slash jobs right through regional Queensland, regional Northern Territory and regional Western Australia. That had flow-on effects right through those communities and those states, and those effects are still being felt.
They were very, very happy to whack on a carbon tax. Down in the La Trobe Valley, in Senator Carr's and my home state, there was grave concern from those workers in the coal mines about the effects of the carbon tax on their very livelihoods, on irrigators and on the dairy industry. The impact of that tax, that policy setting by the former government, slashed jobs. Indeed, it was the Labor government that saw the introduction of over 2,000—sorry, I got my zeroes wrong!—20,000 pieces of new red tape on business, burdening them with a regulatory impost which essentially sees a small business enterprise having to decide, within that tight regulatory framework, that it is not going to be able to put on new jobs and that it is going to be hiring less, hurting Australian businesses and costing jobs.
The Labor Party stand here today and criticise the government on unemployment when they have an appalling track record themselves. All these fumbles have cost the Australian economy and the Australian people millions of dollars and thousands of jobs. Since the Coalition government has come to power, more than 350,000 jobs have been created. More Australians are now in work than at any other time in history. Indeed, the most recent labour market reports show a 2.7 per cent growth in total employment. That has to be a good thing. If only we could amend this motion. Youth unemployment has fallen by 1.7 per cent and the unemployment rate itself has fallen to 5.9 per cent. I think it is important that everyone in this place recognise the travesty of high youth unemployment and particularly of high youth unemployment in regional areas, but I will go to that a little later.
I think that, on any reading of those figures, all measures indicate that our economy is not in the deep unemployment crisis that Senator Carr is claiming in his campaign of fear and misinformation. The Australian economy remains strong and stable. Last year, the Australian economy experienced economic growth greater than any of the G7 nations, and our levels of unemployment remain lower than in the majority of the developed world. Senator McAllister, in her contribution, raised several of the challenges facing the very developed high-wage economies, such as ours. There is a need to be agile; there is a need to be able to innovate; there is a need to have the skills, education and capacity settings within our communities to take advantage of all the opportunities that the 21st century has to offer.
Youth unemployment is a serious economic issue because of the economic and psychological health effects it has on our young people, but our youth unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the developed world. It is almost half that of the United States and of our European friends. That in no way diminishes my focus, and the focus of everybody in this place, on reducing high youth unemployment.
We do need to recognise that we need to change. A recent report by the Foundation for Young Australians looked at youth unemployment and recognised that 70 per cent of the entry-level jobs that young people would be going to will not exist because of three factors: globalisation, automation and a lack of digital literacy. When we look at how we will give our young people the skills and experience they need to be ready for the job opportunities that will exist in the future we need to ensure that the education system includes coding as a basic fact–
Senator Bullock interjecting—
Senator McKENZIE: Senator Bullock, you laugh—
Senator Bullock: No, I said, 'Hear, hear!'
Senator McKENZIE: Oh, good. Excellent. My apologies. Thank you, Senator Bullock, because more than half of Australian workers will need to be able to use, configure or build digital systems—not in 30 years but in two to three years. This is an urgent need for our community. I know that Senator Carr has a strong passion for STEM education, but it is such a pity that the way they are going to incentivise more people going into STEM education is by giving them a HECS incentive. I am sorry, but on any evidentiary basis that is an incentive that has not worked time and time again. If you were to go and survey students at Melbourne University right now, and if you were to ask any second or third year student what their HECS debt is, they would not have a clue. When you offer that sort of incentive, it just does not work. I was privileged, I guess, yesterday to be at ANU where Dr Finkel and Professor Chubb were both talking about the need to increase engagement with STEM subjects. Do you know what they suggested? It is all about inspiring teachers. It is all about having fantastic science, technology and mathematics teachers when you are in primary and secondary school.
Let us throw the money where we need to. Our government has recognised that quality teaching is where the greatest difference is going to be made. We produced a TEMAG report that goes to the fundamentals of teacher education and recognises that that is where we need to focus. I look forward to the Labor Party's support for those sorts of changes.
Senator McAllister made lots of commentary around research and the need for critical research infrastructure. I could not agree more. Unfortunately, the Labor Party did not fund the critical research infrastructure that our eminent scientists and researchers right across this country in our universities use—the NCRIS system. It is this government that has provided ongoing funding and a review into how we as a nation can provide ongoing funding to that critical research task and the infrastructure that supports it. We are the ones who are actually backing that—not Labor. You left it with a funding cliff, and you know it. So to come in here and claim that we do not understand the challenges of the 21st century and that we are all about rhetoric—no, no. We have put the dollars on the table. We put them on the table a year ago for that critical research infrastructure.
We are an innovative community naturally, and we are particularly innovative out in the regions because we have to be. We have to be collaborative. We have to be creative, we have to innovate to the environment and we have to adjust. That is exactly what we do and that is what is in our DNA. Our government has made very, very significant commitments to ensure that the natural advantage, if you like, of the Australian spirit and the spirit of regional Australia is supported. The industry minister, Christopher Pyne, has been very, very clear as to where he wants to see our innovation space grow and develop. And it is about research. It is about supporting start-ups. It is about changes to our tax system that actually support that. We have been very clear about that. To come in here and say that we are not assisting our economy to adjust to the challenges of the 21st century, from old manufacturing to those industries that are going to underpin our economy in the 21st century, is just a farce—an absolute farce.
The Deloitte report into 'after the mining boom' recognised that there are a range of industries that are going to assist us as a nation to grow and develop: tourism, agribusiness, the energy system, international education, financial services. Three of those are actually located in regional Australia, and they are going to create the jobs of tomorrow. If you look at the global outlook, tourism is doing really well. Tourism is a really great growth sector. Agribusiness is going gangbusters on the back of our free trade agreements, and international education, particularly from a Victorian perspective, is something we are very keen to continue to grow and develop. And it is our government that has put forward an approach. If you talk to anyone in international education, they are absolutely supportive of our government's approach to how we get the strategy settings for this right. Universities have previously seen the international student market as a way to address declining balance sheets and to buffer and support their operating costs. What we have done as a government is to say: hang on—this is a key export industry for us.
We need to do this better and it is important that we get the settings right. It is important that we get the visa settings right, that we get the trade relationships right, that we provide a quality and safe educational environment for our international students so that brand Australia is protected. It was this government that put an international education council, if you like, together with the immigration minister, the trade minister, the foreign affairs minister, the education minister and the industry minister to sit down with a blank sheet of paper and say, 'Okay. How do we get the settings for this right?' We are doing it right and we are consulting, and it is a fantastic strategy. Ask those involved. That is where the jobs are going to come from. Rather than looking to old industries and old ways of doing things, our government is showing how things can go forward in the 21st century and we are going to grasp every opportunity we can.
Failures of the last government saw $16 billion ripped from the defence budget, with expenditure reduced to its lowest levels as a percentage of GDP since 1938. The Coalition government has implemented the measures that will boost employment to ensure regional Australia gets a fair go. We have invested $6.8 billion in the new jobactive program, designed to encourage employers to hire new people. We recognise that short-term employment is an important stepping stone to entering the full-time workforce. It gives people the opportunity to enter industries and explore employment opportunities which were not previously available to them.
In my own home state of Victoria we have seen the benefits of the government's decision to invest in defence, to create new job opportunities in the manufacturing sector—in high-tech, advanced manufacturing, not old technologies. Earlier this year the government announced it would purchase 1,100 Hawkei vehicles at a cost of $1.3 billion. These vehicles are manufactured in the Thales manufacturing facility in Bendigo—the same facility that produced the world famous Bushmaster that saved so many Australian lives. This initiative will ensure that 170 ongoing jobs in Bendigo will be protected.
While Labor was in government total employment in manufacturing fell by 12.1 per cent. Be we all have to understand that this is an economy in transition and we are not the only country in the world experiencing these problems. For people to sit here and point at this side or that side misses the point. The Australian people want their children to have jobs in the future. The Australian people want it all to be about jobs—this whole finger-pointing exercise does nothing to solve the problem.
We need to understand that we are really poor at commercialising our research. We have fabulous researchers, and there is some fantastic, creative, innovative research being done right across our universities—out in the regions, up north, down south, you name it; every university in this country is producing world-class research in one sector or another—but we are really bad at commercialising it. You guys were bad at it; we are hoping to get better at it. The way that our education system has been built on over time in a bipartisan way is the way that we are going to solve the problem.
Youth unemployment is a scourge for all of us. We have to ensure our young people are digitally literate, that they are able to be flexible, that they can access the skills and set of experiences they need to be 21st-century workers and to take advantage of the opportunities available. Otherwise we will end up with a significant social and economic problem. No-one is going to be paying for our aged care, no-one is going to be paying for our health services but, more significantly, it will be the quality of life for those young people who are locked out of jobs in the 21st century. I know our government is committed to addressing those issues; I know we are committed to releasing an innovation strategy that will set up our nation for the 21st century to take advantage of those opportunities, to play to our strengths. I hope, Senator Carr, you can join us on that journey and we can, together, fund our research infrastructure and support each other so that funding is ongoing rather than being at the whim of government. I hope that together we can ensure that we focus on jobs for young people throughout Australia. Rather than focusing on the past, I hope that we can focus on the future. I look forward to our innovation strategy being released so that you can all eat your words!