The Economy

February 13, 2019

I'm going to give you some figures. The member for Corangamite wanted some numbers: 1.75 million people—that is a pretty big number, and that's the number of people who are unemployed or underemployed in Australia. I've got to tell you, those numbers show the economy is not working for all Australians. What about another number—2.1 per cent? That would be wages growth, the lowest it has been. We've had two per cent and 2.1 per cent growth for years. Those numbers show how the other side of parliament has failed, and we know those are the numbers that really matter.

The economy is not working for a whole variety of people—for a start, young people. Let's take a look at how this economy is working for them. It takes longer for them to find a job when they finish their studies. There are more of them who are unemployed. An RBA study shows that the weaker demand for workers is having the single biggest impact on those young people. They are bearing the brunt. They're bearing the brunt of employers being unwilling to take people on. They're hanging on to the staff they've got. They're asking them to drop hours, but they're not taking new people on as fast as they were in previous years. It increases the unemployment and the underemployment rates, which, for young people, are twice the rate that they are for the rest of the labour market. You can't tell me that's an economy working for people. Then, when they do get jobs, so often these young people are not full-time, pay-as-you-go tax earners. They are self-employed, on ABNs. They're having to send out invoices, wait for payment; sometimes that payment doesn't come. They are their own small businesses without necessarily ever intending to set themselves up in that way. It's just that they have no choice. They have no paid holiday leave and they have no sick leave. That's a group the economy is not working for.

What about women? The University of Sydney's Professor Marian Baird has found that any growth in the economy disproportionately works in men's favour. Women are less likely to get a pay rise and more likely to get a pay cut, especially from cuts to penalty rates. As Professor Baird says:

If you are at the top of the labour market and doing well, you will continue to do well under the policy regime because the tax cuts will favour you and you will have more employability and bargaining skills so you can also fend for yourself better in that system.

But when you are in positions which are less secure, you have less bargaining power and security and your skills probably aren't as valuable to employers, and employers can churn employees more easily.

And that's where women fit. They are much more likely to not get a pay rise or to have to take a pay cut. So it doesn't work for women. But, when I look across at the other side, I guess I'm not really surprised that they don't know that. It doesn't work for young people; it doesn't work for women. We've basically got a bunch of middle-aged blokes on the other side, by and large. There are a few exceptions, like the member for Corangamite. No wonder the majority do not have any idea that the economy is not working for huge groups in our society.

The other group that is missing out very badly in this economy is small business. Young people don't have money to spend, and women are struggling with the family budget. I don't know how many people remember what it's like to get kids back to school. Many of those on our side have just gone through that. It's a few years—a lot—since I was doing that. But I always remember that, as a small business operator, there wasn't a lot of work in January for my sort of business. My clients were all on leave. So, by the time back-to-school came, things were pretty tight, and it usually took me a couple of months to catch up on all those extra expenses. That's exactly what families right across Australia experience with kids going back to school. So the economy is not working for so many families. Their household savings have fallen to the lowest rates in more than a decade. That means they haven't got wiggle room. Once you get through Christmas, the school holidays and the back-to-school period, things are pretty tight. It also means small businesses are not seeing the cash flow in my local community, in the Hawkesbury and the Blue Mountains. People just don't have the money to spend. That's where we're seeing the economy is not firing on all cylinders.

The other group who have actually gone backwards in this economy is pensioners. There has been a tax on pension indexation, $1 billion has been cut from pensioner concessions, and the seniors supplement has been under attack by this government—so pensioners are doing it tough too.