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Rebecca White MP | Labor Member for Lyons

Budget reply 2020

“Working for Tasmania” Labor’s plan for jobs

*Check against delivery*

Madam Speaker, Memories are powerful.

I vividly recall the mix of fear, apprehension, frustration and concern in this Chamber in March as a global pandemic approached our little island at the edge of the world.

At first we watched with concern from afar as China imposed what seemed like unbelievably strict lockdowns to contain a strange and deadly virus in Wuhan. The scale of the emergency and construction of massive hospitals almost overnight were almost impossible to comprehend.

Then we saw COVID-19 sweep across Europe, overwhelming hospitals and crippling economies.

We witnessed the consequences of mixed messaging in the United States about the importance of social distancing and staying at home.

We saw the benefits for those countries that acted early and decisively to contain the virus - counted not only in lives saved, but livelihoods protected.

Madam Speaker,

Back in March, none of us knew which of these fates lay in front of us.

From fear and confusion we saw the best of our community and our political system emerge.

With the goodwill of bipartisanship, Tasmania closed its borders, businesses went into hibernation and we were told to stay home to save lives.

We will not forget the hundreds of health workers on the North West Coast that contracted the virus while caring for the sick, or those businesses that were closed during the lockdown.

We will never forget the 13 Tasmanians whose lives were lost to COVID-19. We grieve with the families of those who lost loved ones.

But we also acknowledge that we fared far better than most countries across the world.

Those early decisions undoubtedly saved lives.

Border restrictions brought relief for many, but the impact of lockdowns brought a different fear of the unknown.

For employers, how could they keep their staff when no money was coming in the door?

For workers, what would happen if they lost their job?

But again, from that fear, we saw the best from our political system emerge.

The introduction of JobKeeper saved jobs, it saved businesses and it very likely saved lives.

Similarly the increase in JobSeeker succeeded in lifting thousands of people out of poverty and proved to be an incredibly potent economic stimulus.

Madam Speaker, We should never forget what that period felt like. And we should never forget what was possible.

We need to remember that it is possible for Governments to move quickly. That it is possible to challenge the old ways of doing things.

That it is possible to identify problems and implement creative solutions to make people’s lives better.

We should not relegate these lessons to history in a rush to return everything to the way it was.

In the early stages of this crisis the Premier said no one should be homeless in the middle of a pandemic.

We should strive to ensure that no one is homeless after the pandemic either. It took a global pandemic for this government to reverse its cuts to health.

Our reliance on the advice of previously unsung public health officials also exposed the lie that there is such a thing as “frontline” and “backline” health workers.

Properly funded health care should not be reserved for a pandemic.

We should buy local, holiday at home and support local jobs, not just when the borders are closed, but because it is good for the economy and helps to build a stronger community.

Newstart wasn’t enough to live on before the pandemic, it was not enough to live on during the pandemic, and it won’t be enough to live on after the pandemic.

These policies worked to support our economy and help people, not just because there was a public health emergency, but because they work.

Secure jobs work. Money in people’s pockets works. Access to good quality, well funded public services works.

The lesson from COVID-19 is we all do better when government recognises its responsibility to govern for all.

Madam Speaker, COVID-19 forced us to reflect on the things that are most important in life: health, family, a secure job and our freedom.

And it has challenged us to think about how we can use the upheaval of this catastrophic global event as a positive force for change.

I have said before that we should not rush to return to “normal” after the pandemic.

There is a natural instinct to regain what we had, to retreat to what feels familiar.

But “normal” wasn’t great for far too many Tasmanians before this virus, with one in four people living in poverty.

Since the Liberals came to power in 2014, elective surgery waiting lists have blown out by 49 per cent, outpatient waiting lists by 64 per cent, public housing waiting lists by 55 per cent, and the number of school leavers engaged in work, training and further study has dropped by 31 per cent.

And Tasmania continues to compare poorly to the rest of Australia on indicators of life expectancy, disposable incomes, smoking and obesity rates, Year 12 completion and good health measures.

As the Shadow Treasurer, David O’Byrne, has rightly said: we must commit to improve these statistics because, behind every statistic, is a Tasmanian who deserves better.

If we think a “return to normal” is the best we can aspire to upon recovery, then we are selling ourselves short.

After bushfires we don’t rebuild houses the same as they were.

We seek to understand what made them vulnerable and how to make sure they are more resilient in the future.

That’s exactly how we need to think about our economy.

Tasmania’s biggest economic challenge before COVID-19 was job creation. The pandemic has only compounded the problem.

Over 20,000 Tasmanians lost their jobs at the height of the pandemic.

For a while it looked like those jobs were returning but there are worrying signs that Tasmania’s jobs recovery has stalled.

6100 payroll jobs were lost over a fortnight in mid- October – a decline of 2.0% - and a bigger loss than the national average of 1.6%.

The state’s unemployment rate has now jumped from 6.4% to 7.6%, which is particularly shocking considering even Victoria recorded an unemployment rate of 6.7% after months of lockdowns.

Tasmania’s youth unemployment rate is by far the worst in the country, and underemployment continues to wreak havoc for Tasmanian households.

There’s bad news for those who continue to hold onto a job too, with wages falling 5.4% since March.

And we cannot forget that many Tasmanian businesses are still relying on JobKeeper to keep their heads above water.

The State Liberal Government should be lobbying the Federal Government to extend JobKeeper beyond March.

For as long as there are government imposed restrictions on the ability of businesses to trade, there should be some level of government support.

COVID-19 exposed the weaknesses in our economy: an overreliance on certain industries, high rates of casualisation and underemployment.

We need to address these issues in our recovery or we will remain exposed to repeating the mistakes of the past.

Creating jobs and getting more people into secure and stable jobs is Labor’s number one priority.

Madam Speaker, Today I am launching “Working for Tasmania” – Labor’s fully costed jobs plan.

Our plan builds on the COVID-19 Recovery Package released in June, which formed the basis of our submission to the Premier’s Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council.

A Labor Government will deliver a Jobs Plan that connects education, skills and training, private sector investment, government spending and infrastructure development to achieve a common goal of getting more Tasmanians into work.

Our plan contains four key elements:

  1. Getting Tasmanians working
  2. Putting government spending to work for Tasmania
  3. Creating the workforce for the future
  4. Building a better and fairer Tasmania

Labor’s plan will create and support 35,000 jobs - 10,000 more jobs than announced in the budget. Importantly, it is geared towards creating high quality, secure, full time jobs.

Our plan is fully costed, it includes achievable savings and redirected government spending and, critically, it will work.

We make no apologies for heeding the advice of the IMF, the Reserve Bank and leading economists to use the government balance sheet to stimulate the economy.

Our modest and targeted additional spending is more than offset by the economic benefits it will create.

The best thing we can do to strengthen the economy and put the budget on a pathway back to sustainability is to get people back into work.

For Labor, an unemployment rate expected to hit 8.5 per cent is unacceptable. Madam Speaker,

Labor understands that creating jobs starts with creating skills.

Labor’s Free Tafe policy seeks to break down one of the key barriers to training: cost.

I have spoken to people during this pandemic who need to retrain to find work but they simply cannot afford the upfront costs.

Labor will fund free TAFE courses in areas of key skills shortages, including building and construction, tourism and hospitality and aged and disability care.

But we also know that Free Tafe is only one part of the solution.

One of the most consistent points of feedback received through Labor’s eight Industry Advisory Councils is that our skills and training system is failing both students and employers.

It is not giving people the real-world skills they need to get a job.

Our economic recovery will be forever constrained without a full overhaul of our skills and training system.

A Labor Government will rebuild TAFE from the ground up.

Tasmania needs a TAFE system that provides Tasmanians with the skills needed for meaningful jobs, and which match the needs of employers.

Labor will invest an additional $22.5 million on TasTAFE over four years to lift quality, improve delivery in regional Tasmania and enhance links with industry.

We will increase the TAFE teaching workforce by nearly 20 per cent, drawing new teachers and trainers from private and public sectors.

We will offer annual scholarships to put skilled trades people and industry specialists through a Certificate Four in Training and Assessment in order to qualify them to teach in their area of expertise.

Labor will also create an Industry Secondment Fund to provide support for 80 current TAFE teachers to take a three month full time secondment with an employer in the trade they teach.

This would enable teachers to keep up to date with the latest developments and technology in relevant industry sectors.

TasTAFE needs to provide better training delivery in regional areas where it is not always practical or easy for students to attend a TasTAFE campus.

Many of these areas like Smithton, Deloraine, Scottsdale, George Town, Huon Valley, Sorell, Tasman Peninsula and the East Coast miss out on access to local delivery of TAFE courses.

Labor will create a $1.15 million Regional Delivery Fund to assist TasTAFE to deliver courses in regional areas.

We will also establish a representative Task Force to review the wider skills and training system.

And there needs to be a root and branch analysis of the governance structure, planning and delivery processes within TasTAFE.

These changes are about protecting the TasTAFE brand and ensuring that it is responsive to the needs of students and industry into the future.

Madam speaker,

In February, Federal Government statistics showed just 48 per cent of all Tasmanian school leavers were working, training or studying at university. This was down from approximately 80 per cent when the Liberals were elected in 2014.

Terrible statistics such as these are caused not just by a lack of post-school opportunities but also because school students are not being provided with sufficient guidance and mentoring about the post-school opportunities that are available to them.

Labor will fundamentally reform in-school career education by employing 65 specialist career educators in Tasmanian high schools and colleges.

We will embed career education in the curriculum and connect today’s learners with tomorrow’s jobs.

We want to give our young people every opportunity to get a good job here in Tasmania and Labor will make sure they get that chance.

Madam Speaker,

The SERDA Workforce Development program in my patch in Sorell has been working intensively with local government, local businesses and job seekers to get locals trained for upcoming jobs.

The program also works to remove barriers to employment such as a lack of suitable transport. The program has been very successful, with over 200 jobs filled since January 2019.

Labor will provide funding for ten Local Jobs Hubs in regional communities across Tasmania. Local Jobs Hubs will operate in a similar way to the SERDA program, though the design of each Local Jobs Hub will reflect the needs and existing support structures in each community.

Labor will make sure that job seekers across the state get the best chance to get a foot in the door to get a good job.

Madam Speaker,

I come from a family of small business operators. I understand the stresses and strains that come with running a business at the best of times, let alone at the worst of times we are experiencing currently.

We have seen through the pandemic the importance of government working alongside small business.

Labor knows there is no economic recovery without a small business recovery.

Working through existing Business Enterprise Centres, Labor will provide more opportunities for small businesses and sole traders to build up skills to support and grow their business.

Funding of $6 million will enable more business owners to access training in areas such as business planning, accounting software, social media and online marketing, and HR skills for managing employees.

Big business decisions often need expert advice. Labor will fund free legal advice for small business owners and sole traders on a range of common issues, to support growth and ensure resilience. This will support businesses through periods of change, enable innovation and foster job creation.

This support will be especially important for businesses looking to expand or take on staff for the first time.

A Regional Main Street Revitalisation Fund will provide $5 million for matched investments in maintenance or upgrade projects that improve the appearance or overall amenity of shopping, dining or retail precincts in regional areas.

The fund will bring forward maintenance or investments that might have been delayed due to the uncertain operating environment and will be open to local governments as well as private businesses or property owners.

Madam Speaker,

Labor’s Jobs Plan will also reduce the cost of red tape compliance for small and medium businesses.

Trade waste compliance is a matter of particular concern for small to medium businesses in Tasmania, and has already forced some to close their doors for good.

Other issues include provision of disability access to premises under the Disability Discrimination Act as well as compliance with the Building Code.

A Labor Government would provide matched grants to small and medium businesses to assist with the cost of meeting these obligations.

Madam Speaker,

Tasmanian businesses have a proud history of innovation. We know that innovation creates jobs.

Labor will establish a Tasmanian Jobs and Innovation fund to stimulate business investment.

This will be the largest business investment fund ever delivered in Tasmania’s history.

Every Government dollar spent will leverage at least two dollars of investment from the private sector. Experience with similar programs in the past have returned closer to $5 of private investment for every public dollar.

The fund will drive innovation in new industries as well as allow traditional industries like forestry, mining, aquaculture, manufacturing and agriculture to continue to grow.

The fund will stimulate at least $220 million of business investment and create 1,600 jobs.

Madam Speaker,

Industries that primarily employ women have been hard hit by the pandemic. That means women will be disadvantaged as we recover from the COVID-19 recession.

Labor will establish a Treasury-led taskforce to examine the gender barriers in the economy that continue to impact on women. The taskforce will include representatives of government, industry, unions and the community sector, and will provide advice on structural reform.

To help parents and families to return to the workforce, increase their hours or enrol in training, Labor will increase the availability of before and after school care in government schools.

Labor will provide grants of $75,000 to assist with the set up costs of Outside Schools Hours Care in up to ten additional schools.

We will work in partnership with the local community to make sure services are designed to support children and meet the needs of families.

As Tasmania’s unemployment rate continues to rise during this recession, older workers are at increased risk. Without intervention, many older people who’ve lost their jobs may never gain meaningful employment again.

Apprenticeships can give people a chance to build a new career, and give them an income while they learn new skills in a workplace. But employers can be reluctant to take on adult apprentices because of higher costs.

Labor’s Second Chance Career Program will provide a $30,000 apprenticeship guarantee for older workers seeking a fresh career start as an apprentice, removing the financial disincentive for employers to take on a mature aged apprentice.

The $15 million program will provide 500 apprenticeship guarantees for workers aged over 35.

Madam speaker,

The tourism, hospitality and the art industries are facing the peril of three winters.

Many businesses rely on the increased summer trade to get them through the lean winter period, but with international flights suspended and many major events cancelled, this summer will be a challenge.

Labor’s plan will protect jobs in tourism, hospitality and the arts to get through to next summer.

A $5 million Reimagined Events Fund will support events and festivals to adapt to the changed environment brought about by COVID-19.

This might mean operating events across multiple smaller sites, running smaller, more premium events, or adapting the operation of festivals to ensure social distancing requirements can be adhered to.

Labor will give confidence to our events sector, from the Symphony Under the Stars to Festivale and Agfest by helping them cover higher insurance costs so these important events can proceed.

Business Events Tasmania will be empowered with $2 million to aggressively market and win conferences for Tasmania to bring more people to our state and support our accommodation, events and hospitality venues.

At the start of November, just over 30 per cent of Make Yourself at Home vouchers had been redeemed. Labor will redirect the funding allocated to unclaimed vouchers to a new round of vouchers for use in restaurants and other food and dining businesses.

Tourist and heritage rail can play an important role in our recovery, creating jobs and offering new attractions for visitors and locals alike. Labor will get tourist rail back on track by working with the Tasmanian Association of Tourist Railways to provide $500,000 to fund the public liability insurance over four years.

With the closure of Visitor Information Centres around the state it is more important than ever that businesses have a digital offering. Labor will put an additional $100,000 into the Digital Ready Program to help tourism and hospitality businesses build an online presence.

Improving infrastructure at our parks and other natural attractions is essential if Tasmania is to encourage visitors to stay longer, spend more and visit more of our regions.

Labor will invest $20 million in infrastructure upgrades in parks and reserves, which will future proof our natural icons and support up to 200 jobs.

Madam Speaker,

Labor’s Plan will put government spending to work to create jobs.

We will further strengthen the State Government’s approach to buying locally.

The former Secretary of Treasury and the current Chair of the Recovery Council, Don Challen, told a recent Parliamentary inquiry that governments have been too conservative in their approach to buying locally.

Buying local has to be more than a campaign slogan. It must be the rule, not the exception.

Under the Liberals’ policy any company is classified as Tasmanian if they have an office in the state.

That means companies like IBM are listed as Tasmanian.

A Labor Government would strengthen the definition of a “Tasmanian business” to ensure it captures truly local businesses.

And we would ensure that when interstate and international companies claim to be using local content those claims are independently verified.

We will mandate that on Government funded infrastructure projects one in five workers will be an apprentice or a trainee.

Public works, civil construction and GBEs will need to comply with this requirement, so when public money is spent we are also training the workforce of the future.

Labor will support job opportunities for Tasmanians living with disability by mandating that Government agencies spend 2 per cent of their supplies and consumables budgets with Australian Disability Enterprises.

The State Government has huge buying power and the ability to help build new markets for growth industries such as recycling and IT.

Labor will work with our Industry Advisory Councils to identify areas where Government procurement requirements are outdated and should be modified to better support innovation and new markets in local industries.

For example, the innovative use of recycled materials such as tyres, plastic and glass in road building is possible under spending guidelines in some local government areas, but not in road building projects overseen by the Department of State Growth.

Labor’s number one priority is creating jobs but it is important that we create good jobs. This means creating secure, full-time employment that provides Tasmanians with sick leave, annual leave, and a level of security that enables them to do things such as purchase a home.

There are currently fewer Tasmanians employed full-time than 15 years ago, despite the fact Tasmania’s population has increased by 40,000 in that time.

And there are fewer men employed full-time than when the ABS began keeping records in 1978.

We will lead by example by identifying opportunities to convert long term contract positions in the public service to permanent jobs, including full time positions where appropriate.

We will ask the Auditor General to review areas where overtime is used to cover insufficient staffing levels, and where additional permanent employment could create jobs, reduce pressure on staff, help properly staff rosters and ultimately save money.

Nowhere is this more important than in health, which has an overreliance on locums, agency nurses and contract positions.

Permanent jobs in health result in genuine continuity of care and that leads to better health outcomes for Tasmanians.

Madam speaker,

The Liberal Party nationally has built its brand on reckless scare campaigns that present climate change action as a choice between jobs and the environment.

The truth is responding to climate change will protect the environment, strengthen communities and create employment.

Labor will invest $15 million in a Climate Action Workforce. The plan will support projects that will protect communities from the effects of a changing climate, support the revegetation of landscapes, eradicate weeds, save endangered species and protect valuable native habitats.

The jobs of the future will be different from today and an area where there will be substantial growth is in managing our environment. Labor will make sure Tasmania is on the front foot to not only support job seekers, but to make sure our community can be proud of our efforts as a global leader in addressing climate change.

Labor’s Climate Action Workforce will create 200 jobs, predominantly in regional areas.

Madam Speaker,

Labor has a proud record of investing in strategic infrastructure that has shaped our economy for decades.

During our last term in office, Labor unlocked today’s high value agriculture by establishing a statewide network of irrigation schemes.

We launched Tasmania as a major tourism destination by purchasing the Spirit of Tasmania vessels, which also support time-sensitive freight.

We delivered ongoing strength in manufacturing and industry through the Gas Pipeline, especially in northern Tasmania, and established Tasmania as a renewable energy leader through Basslink and wind farms like Musselroe and Woolnorth.

The current Liberal Government has no similar vision for the future of Tasmania’s economy. Their approach to infrastructure is piecemeal, haphazard and is driven by election cycles.

As an island state, Tasmania’s ‘Sea Highway’ is the most important highway we have. It supports our major export businesses in mining, forestry and agriculture, and brings high-value drive tourists to Tasmania.

A lack of investment in ports and other key infrastructure by the Liberal Government is constraining export businesses and putting a handbrake on growth.

Tasmania’s island status was central to keeping us safe from COVID-19. Labor believes it should also be the centrepiece of our economic recovery.

Labor’s Sea Highway Plan will increase port capacity to allow for growth in key Tasmanian industries, drive down costs for exporters, and get the delivery of the Spirit of Tasmania replacement ships back on track.

Labor will invest $80 million to upgrade the Burnie port to accommodate larger vessels, improve bulk storage capacity and further improve ship loading efficiency. This investment will also reduce congestion and delays for competing users of the port and create efficiencies to put downward pressure on the price of exports across Bass Strait.

$60 million will enhance the Port of Devonport with facilities to accommodate the new Spirit of Tasmania vessels and the 160,000 additional passengers they will bring to the state each year.

Berthing facilities for transport and logistics providers will be expanded, the port’s commercial fishing facilities will be enhanced, and the opportunity will be created for development of a marina and facilities for public events.

We will invest $10 million in the Bell Bay Port to create multiple berths for forestry and mining exports, increase the port’s fuel storage capacity and replace old fuel pipelines, and establish a new transport and wash-down system for forestry exports.

Critically, Labor will get the $850 million purchase of two new Bass Strait ferries back on track. There has never been a more important time to add more capacity to Bass Strait. New ships, with greater capacity will support the growth of businesses in the tourism sector, with associated job creation.

Increased capacity will also unlock growth in key industry sectors such as agriculture and aquaculture.

Madam Speaker,

Last year I announced Labor’s Housing Works Policy, which will fast track the building of 490 more affordable homes, over and above the properties planned under the Government’s Affordable Housing Action Plan.

The intensive construction program will create 550 more jobs for Tasmanians, including 75 apprenticeships.

But building new houses is only part of the picture.

There is currently a $60 million maintenance backlog in community housing and problems such as rising damp, mould and poor insulation have made some of these houses unliveable.

Beginning to address this backlog will not only help to ensure all Tasmanians are living in safe, healthy and warm houses, but will provide a massive shot in the arm for businesses and workers in our building and construction industries.

Labor will immediately invest $17.5 million to help clear the maintenance backlog.

This will fund:

  • $10 million of general maintenance
  • The installation of 1,000 heat pumps, targeted at homes occupied by people over 55
  • $2.5 million for energy efficiency upgrades, saving approximately 2,000 tenants up to $400 each

Madam Speaker,

We can’t fast forward to the past, we must have our eyes firmly on the future.

Labor’s Jobs Plan is grounded in the fundamental belief that creating jobs requires a multi-dimensional approach, delivered in partnership with the private sector.

It is ambitious and forward-looking but, importantly, it is achievable. Last week’s budget fell short of what is needed in this moment.

We saw the Premier attempting to pick up the broken pieces of the economy that existed before the pandemic and hastily sticky tape them back together.

Peter Gutwein has promised to build Tasmania out of recession but his government has shown it is incapable of building anything.

He is doing the same thing he has always done and expecting to get a different result.

Infrastructure projects will not create jobs if they never get out of the ground.

But measuring our recovery based on the numbers of bridges built and roads mended actually misses the point.

This Budget should be judged on how well it supports people.

Peter Gutwein is taking Tasmania into record levels of debt that will take generations to pay off but what do we have to show for it?

The Government’s budget is not a plan for jobs, it is a plan for unemployment.

Despite record debt, unemployment will remain above eight percent for at least the next two years.

This budget locks in two years of recession.

Promises made at the last election to open more hospital beds and have been pushed past the next election while a brand new hospital building in Hobart sits largely empty.

Funding for emergency accommodation is needed right now but it won’t be delivered until the end of the forward estimates.

The skills and training system is broken and yet the only additional spending in skills runs out after two years.

Peter Gutwein’s latest budget is based on old measures of success.

It was a model that failed too many people before the pandemic, and it will fail people now.

We must lift our ambition. Madam Speaker,

The thing that unites all Tasmanians is our pride in this island.

We are proud of our communities and our excellence in agriculture and tourism, of our renewable energy advantage and of how safe we feel surrounded by that great big moat.

The Tasmanian brand has grown and earnt a global reputation that is the envy of many.

We have a responsibility as stewards of this brand, of this place, to protect and enhance it.

We also have a responsibility to make sure that all Tasmanians gain the benefits of living on this island, whether they’re newly arrived to our state or their families have been here for hundreds of generations.

 

Building a strong community and society is advanced when people have economic security and the dignity of a good job.

Tasmanians deserve better than the failed Liberal experiment and its singular focus on infrastructure, and Tasmanians deserve better than the opponents of progress, the Greens and their divisive politics which too frequently leaves people behind. Especially working people.

Madam Speaker,

I said at the start of my speech that COVID-19 has forced all of us to reflect on what is truly important.

For the Labor Party the pandemic has served as a reminder of why Government exists.

It is there to provide essential services, to coordinate emergency responses, to support the most vulnerable in our community, to step in when markets and businesses fail.

And it’s there to not only imagine what a better and fairer state could look like, but to help forge it.

My Labor team is working hard across the state every day. We are all passionate about Tasmania and we are driven to make sure we use our time in Parliament to make a positive impact.

I am optimistic about Tasmania’s future, but I am also realistic about the magnitude of the challenges we have ahead of us.

Out of the chaos of COVID-19 there is opportunity.

Madam Speaker, We can’t go backwards to reclaim what we had. We must go forward to rebuild something better.

Labor has a plan to create 35,000 jobs for Tasmanians. We will stimulate our economy and generate more revenue for our state.

Labor’s plan will build a better and fairer Tasmania.plan will build a better and fairer Tasmania.

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Rebecca White

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