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Payroll Tax Rebate (Apprentices, Trainees and Youth Employees) Amendment Bill 2020

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 19 November 2020

Tags: Jobs, Employment, Young People

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Minister, you have tripartisan support on this Payroll Tax Rebate (Apprentices, Trainees and Youth Employees) Amendment Bill. We recognise that it is a response to the 64 major recommendations that came from the Premier's Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council, and that the effect of this bill is to extend the payroll tax rebate as it relates to youth employees for 18 months from the end of this year to the middle of June 2022, extend the payroll tax rebate as it relates to apprentices and trainees for 12 months from 30 July 2021 to 30 June 2022, and expand the payroll tax rebate scheme as it relates to apprentices and trainees to all industries from 1 January 2021 to 30 June 2022.

These are necessary measures in a time of pandemic and economic contraction and deepening social costs as a result of those two factors. Certainly, everything we can do to retain young people in the workforce, to ensure there are more jobs available for young people, and to make sure that we have the apprentices and trainees with the skills we need for effective COVID-19 recovery is extremely important and necessary. This is necessary legislation.

We would argue, though, that this is a short-term approach to youth unemployment. We know that, disproportionally, young Tasmanians were dealt an absolute body blow as a consequence of the pandemic. Many young Tasmanians were coupling their studies at TAFE or university with part-time work in the hospitality sector particularly, but also in tourism-related businesses, and many young people have lost their jobs.

At the moment we have this large, untapped, young, work-ready generation who are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. The parliament needs to do everything that it can to harness the skills of those young people but, importantly, give them some hope for career pathways in the future, the capacity to have meaningful work, to be able to find a home, or to buy a home. These concerns should be primary for this parliament and we need to recognise how disproportionately and unfairly young Tasmanians have been affected by the pandemic.

It has not come up in conversation much in parliament today, but it is necessary to remind ourselves that young people are also experiencing deep climate anxiety. On all these levels our children and grandchildren are experiencing structural disadvantage and genuine fear about the future and the capacity of governments and parliaments to take meaningful action on climate change. They were already worrying before COVID 19 about how they were going to afford to university and carry a HECS debt, or afford to go to TAFE, which is still too expensive for many. Many of them have given up on ever owning their own home. The sense of anxiety about the state of the planet is deep.

We very much support the Government's moves in the mental health and wellbeing space to increase resourcing into adolescent mental health. This is long overdue. It has been a substantial area of unmet need in Tasmania and young people in the mental health system are being neglected, cast off. We have to do better by them and this suite of changes we are debating today is one step in the right direction.

We are going to need to take some substantive structural actions in order to make sure that there are enduring benefits to young people as we make our recovery from COVID 19 and tackle climate change. These are the twin crises that the Tasmanian Budget should have dealt with in an integrated way and which the Tasmanian Greens' alternative budget does. If you want to make those transformational changes to your society that bring down emissions, repair damaged landscapes and make sure that we are heavily invested in renewables so that to the greatest extent possible Tasmanians own their own power, then you need to, if you are being strategic, have twin courses of action where you are investing in COVID-19 recovery. That is social and economic repair, and at the same time you are investing in climate action, which is environmental repair that has substantial social and economic benefit. We would have liked to have seen much more of that emphasis and acknowledgement of the reality in this year's state Budget.

Every state budget is about the values of the government of the day. Every state budget is about choices. In Australia it is because of the choices of successive governments that we have widening and deepening social and economic inequality. It is not a glitch in the system. It is a feature of the system by design, and it has also been because of government choices that we are regarded globally as an absolute laggard on climate action, something of which we should all be ashamed.

In our alternative budget we have a suite of measures that we believe would help to generate jobs in Tasmania while tackling COVID-19 and climate, but importantly make sure that young people have an employment pathway and are gathering the skills they and this island will need in the future. Because we made choices in our alternative budget to invest in young people, we have allocated $240 million across the forward Estimates for a youth jobs guarantee. A genuine jobs guarantee, which guarantees meaningful work to people, would have to be funded at the federal level. It is not something that state budgets can bear, but it is important that we test this concept because the time is coming when governments are going to have to start thoroughly looking at some of their assumptions about the labour force. They are going to need to acknowledge that something has to give, because we have far more jobseekers in the country at the moment than we have jobs available.

Across most sectors there is an increasing level of automation, so people are already being shut out of jobs by the system and that will only accelerate. We know, for example, that for all the talk from both the Liberal and Labor parties about the jobs in the industrial fish farming industry, increasingly fish farming companies are investing in automation in order to bring down the costs of labour and increase their profits.

Governments are going to need to think about employment differently and they will need to understand that this is where government can play a role. Just as it was following the Great Depression in America when there was the New Deal, which recognised that government has a role in providing meaningful employment to people that delivers huge social and economic benefits, we are going to need in this country some evolved government, hopefully not too far in the future, that will recognise the need for a green new deal and a jobs guarantee. These are structural reforms which we believe will come.

Were you snickering, Mr Tucker?

Mr Tucker - I did not snicker.

Ms O'CONNOR - Okay. I will give you the benefit of the doubt.

Mr O'Byrne - He may have been giggling internally.

Ms O'CONNOR - Maybe, he is giggling internally, as we all do each question time.

I take up what Mr O'Byrne said about a casualised workforce and it is very interesting when you have a look at what has happened with the transmission of COVID-19 across the world and how outbreaks have started. In Ireland, the United States, United Kingdom, Victoria and South Australia it was a casualised workforce that led to the spread of COVID-19 into the community, because we restrict people's choices when labour is so precarious and they have no job security. So how can we blame someone who is working in one aged care facility in order to just pay the rent but has a second job as a carer in order to pay for groceries and other bills?

That is the system that unchecked capitalism and rampant deregulation of the labour market has created. Rampant capitalism has created the circumstances where, because of the workforce structures that capitalism likes - and that is precarious workforce conditions, casualised labour - we have seen people die. Capitalism and massive deregulation of the labour market has led to deaths. You cannot argue with that; that is what has happened right across all of the western world and those countries that I talked about. We need a better way. We need to do this better. We need to look after workers better. We need to start properly investing in people. We need to have an economy that works for people and the planet because at the moment it is totally the other way around. You have an economic structure that is degrading the quality of life of people at the same time as it is gouging the wealth and the ecosystems out of the planet, so we have to do so much better.

Our alternative budget also recognises that the costs of studying at TasTAFE can be prohibitive for some people. We made a choice in our alternative budget to invest in education, skills and training. We think it is possible for government to provide free TAFE for about $11 million a year. That is small change relative to the benefit that it would bring.

We also recognise that access to transport can be a huge inhibitor for people to access education, training, employment, and life opportunities out there. We would fund free public transport. Again, it is a choice that governments make.

We recognise that the investment in housing for this Government is significant which, for the first five years of its existence, underinvested in the increasing supply of social and affordable housing.

It is hard to argue against the notion that rather than investing so much of the State Budget in roads and bridges, if you pivoted a bit more around into social and affordable housing, you could double the number of houses that the Government wants to build. So, what do we have - a $300 million housing budget - I think it is for 1000 new affordable homes. Twice that much, 2000 homes for Tasmanians who need them. As we know from the information that came to the parliamentary inquiry on housing availability and affordability, we are about 11 500 homes short of the housing that is needed in Tasmania.

I have had the opportunity now to have a look at Labor's photo album that they presented the day before for their Budget reply and the first thing I will say is, 'Good on you for having a go'.

Mr O'Byrne - Damned with faint praise.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, good on you for having a go. I would note though a couple of things for anyone who wants to know how fundamentally humble the Greens are. We have one photo in our alternative budget. It is not of Dr Woodruff or me, it is a picture of farmlands in central Tasmania. Labor's photo album has 21 photos of Rebecca White, in 42 pages. A lot of pictures, not a lot of leadership in this document but at least you had a go.

I did want to ask some questions and it is a shame that I do not get to ask you questions at this point in my political career, but I -

Mr O'Byrne - This is exhibit A. It proves that we do not talk, so there it is.

Mr Street - I like page 40, if you get to that.

Members interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Order.

Ms O'CONNOR - Madam Speaker, what I was really interested to hear in the Opposition's reply was mention of the word 'climate'. It was quite heartening really and we had the climate mentioned even in this year's Liberal State Budget so at least parliament is catching up with the science to some extent.

Labor is talking about funding a climate action workforce which would be fantastic, but I cannot get my head around the numbers. It is an investment over four years of $15 million which we are told will create 200 jobs but the way it rolls out is that it is $3 million in the first year, $4 million in each of the out years. I do not know if Labor would be prepared to pay people as little as $25 000 a year. If they were, they might be able to employ 120 people but if you were paying people a reasonable but close to minimum wage of say $50 000, Labor might be able to employ 60 people.

It is positive to see Labor thinking about a capacity that could be harnessed in our community to tackle the biggest challenge that this state faces, but the numbers are rubbery. It is not possible to only invest $15 million and employ 200 people. It does not add up unless you want to pay people something close to unemployment benefits. That is partly Labor's plan but even when you do that, you do not get to 200 people.

I do not know Mr Street, I feel like I am walking into a trap here, but what happens on page 40?

Mr Street - I like the asterisks next to the expense's column on page 40 that basically says, look we accept all of the Liberal's budget.

Ms O'CONNOR - Oh, 'unless otherwise indicated, Labor will continue existing government programs'.

Mr Street - Exactly.

Ms O'CONNOR - Well, that was the safe path to take.

Mr Street - It saves hours of work, Ms O'Connor.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is right, but having made a modestly courageous effort to prepare a photo album alternative budget, it was politically, probably the only way they could go, but it is a bit disappointing. More than anything, I am disappointed by all those pictures. It is not about our faces, it is about our values and it is about the ideas that we bring into this place.

Before I sit down, I will talk about people at the other of the spectrum. We are debating legislation today that will extend payroll tax exemptions for young employees, apprentices and trainees and that is an excellent initiative but we cannot let ourselves forget - and we are not forgetting - that out there in the community right now, there are people who have been absolutely left behind. They were left behind before COVID-19 and they are still being left behind.

We have tried to bring in amendments to this place to the Police Offences Act to remove the criminal sanction that is applied to begging. We brought legislation into this place last year and then we were reassured by the then minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Management that legislation would be brought in and it would be Government legislation. Some months later an amendment bill appears to decriminalise begging. Excellent. Again, I hope some members recognise the value of having the Greens in this place because we push the envelope for all the right reasons and while we might not win for people on the day, we often end up winning for people and that amendment bill was a win for some of our most disadvantaged, down-on-their-luck Tasmanians.

The House passed the begging bill many months ago; I do not have the exact date but the House of Assembly passed the bill. It had in it an extra provision, which we argued was unnecessary, around police move-on powers. We said it was not necessary, argued strongly against it, and were ignored by Government. The bill went upstairs and the MLCs recognised that that extra provision was unnecessary. Basically, we know it was because the Government did not want to bring in a bill that was identical to the Greens. They had to just put something extra in it so it was not the Greens bill. However, you want to make yourself feel better, that is fine, but the Legislative Council saw straight through it too. They removed that extra clause and on 24 September just gone the bill went through Committee amended, so it went through the second reading and the Committee stage. The Government allowed it to sit at the bottom of their Order of Business for the best part of six weeks. Then it was brought forward for the third reading in the Legislative Council on 11 November and we now have the amended bill, which is exactly the legislation that the Greens brought in to decriminalise begging.

I understand that today we are going to knock off early potentially after we do the payroll tax legislation, so relatively soon. We have ample time to deal with the amended police offences bill to decriminalise begging. It would really truly be a 20 minute debate. There is ample time, but the Government has made a decision not to bring that amendment bill on. It let it languish upstairs for as long as it could get away with it, it arrives down here and we are going to knock off early today and the consequence of that is that the bill will not pass parliament this year.

The bigger consequence of that is that it means through the entire summer until we return in March next year it will be possible for police to arrest someone because they are so poor they are asking for money. The penalty for that is either a fine that a homeless person could not possibly pay or a stint in Risdon. That is what this Government is prepared to allow to happen because they are so pig-headed. It is pig-headedness not to let that bill go through because it would make Tasmania just a little bit fairer and a little bit kinder. Surely that is something we all want to be part of.

The Greens have no capacity to control government business for the day any more than what is provided for, but it is shameful because a decision has been made to allow that legislation which simply needs to be ticked off in here to sit on the bottom of the Notice Paper now until the Government feels that it can slip it through quietly sometime next year.

It is shameful. Seriously, if you ever wanted an example of how the decisions we do or do not make in this place impact on the lives of people, think about that bill and a choice that has been made by this Government to let those amendments sit for three or four months, which means beggars, poor people, people who are reduced to asking for money, face the risk of a fine they cannot pay, an arrest or time in jail. That is utterly shameful. What we demonstrated during the worst of the COVID-19 period is that we are capable of making choices not to leave people behind, but a choice has been made to leave a small cohort of desperate and poor people behind this summer.

So yes, we support this legislation, of course we do. We want to see more young people in work. We want to see this island recover from COVID and be stronger, but it is deeply disappointing that a decision has been made by government to leave one group of people completely behind while it engages in rampant self-promotion about this Budget. A choice has been made and it is a shameful choice.