12 May 2020

There are competing views about what a post-COVID economic landscape will look like. There is the back-to-the-way-it-was scenario, held by the government. Whether this is a snapback or a slow return seems to be in debate amongst those opposite, but they definitely want to go back. But there is another view, which is that COVID-19 has changed our world fundamentally and will change, in significant ways, the way we work, invest and develop. The Leader of the Labor Party yesterday outlined a vision for this country, a vision of what could be with the right will and policies. The shadow Treasurer today spoke of an opportunity to ask what sort of country we want in this next stage of our history, post the COVID crisis. Both speak of hope and the opportunity to build a better future, not going back to what we know was a world of anxiety, underemployment, insecure work and an economy being put in reverse, where inequality was growing.


Our Labor leader has defined a new view to build a better future, putting everyday people at its heart. It's a view that governments have a role to play in steering that future. Those opposite do know there is a role for government in pulling levers to drive the economy. We know they know because they've done just that during this crisis. They've worked with the opposition and trade unions to work out what the levers have to be, because it's not in their DNA to even begin to understand that type of response. We were happy to help.


It isn't perfect. We've highlighted the significant shortfalls with the jobseeker and JobKeeper schemes—about those tragically left without support. I notice that the previous speaker, the member for Petrie, did not mention the workers at dnata—many of which are in his electorate—who have been tragically left out. We worry about the future under this government—that this new-found role for government in supporting incomes and livelihoods will evaporate in an ideological cloud.


The Leader of the Opposition has said that the crisis should change our social and economic priorities. It has shown us the importance of focusing on skills and training, supply chain diversity, research and development, commercialisation of ideas, advanced manufacturing with local markets, regional development, social housing, retirement, social income and, so importantly, job security, decent work with decent conditions and of course the support of the unions that look after their members. This vision is not fanciful.


In the northern suburbs of Melbourne, around Geelong and in many other places we have hundreds of small, innovative, brave manufacturers. Many are exporting. Manufacturing still employs around 900,000 Australians. They're good jobs. But there could be many more. With proper collaboration between universities and companies, with incubators and investment funds, with real assistance for exporters and with procurement policies we could double the size of our manufacturing sector. But governments at all levels have to believe in it and have the courage to act—the courage for change.


Social housing projects will see the sustainability of the construction industry and more jobs. The crisis has shattered businesses and people's incomes. It has highlighted the fragile nature of the workforce. That's why a focus on skills, a return to decent jobs and the jobs compact will be a key requirement. If we are to maintain social cohesion and have a workforce able to build the infrastructure of the future, then the unemployed, older workers needing to re-enter the workforce and others will need real support. As a nurse, I particularly welcome the view of our leader that we need to have decent jobs in the public sector, including in the rapidly growing health and welfare sector. We've seen in the crisis the importance of these jobs.


I'd like to thank everyone in this House, including the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and so many of my colleagues, for their thoughts and condolences during a very difficult time for me and my family. It meant a lot to us. I thank you. My father-in-law, Mike, died of coronavirus. He was a thoughtful and wonderful man. We saw firsthand the role that nurses played in caring for him and others affected by the virus. Today is International Nurses Day, and I want to send a big thank you to all the nurses.


We've seen in this crisis that jobs like nursing are essential. They're not second-rate jobs. They're not just add-on jobs for women to work part-time for a bit of extra money. They are real, critical and economy-stabilising jobs. The looming problem for our social and economic transformation will be the political battle to come and how we view things like the care industry. The conservatives amongst us will want austerity, deregulation, lower wages, fewer environmental and workplace protections, and a host of other changes. We on this side of the House have a vision that we can build a better future.