GOVERNMENT NEEDS TO SUPPORT JOBS AND BUSINESSES IN THE ILLAWARRA

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (10:00): I've only got a short time to address the House this morning, so I want to take the opportunity to make a call to the government to consider very carefully its response to the COVID pandemic in many regional areas, such as mine. Obviously, in my area, a lot of industry sectors have been affected by the impacts of the COVID response—a response we all, quite rightly, support—and there are a lot of businesses and workers in my area who have been relying on JobKeeper. I particularly think of industry sectors that are very important in my region—our university and the tourism and hospitality sectors. I'm very critical—and I've made this point many times—that the university sector was left out of the JobKeeper program. I think that was a very short-sighted decision. This was also the case for many in the entertainment industry. We have local performances and festivals, and many local artists, who are very important in our local community, obviously were not able to work for much of that period of time but were excluded from JobKeeper. So I still maintain that, in the way that JobKeeper was implemented by the government—after being extraordinarily reluctant to even introduce it, even though the Prime Minister now touts it as one of the most amazing responses to COVID—there were sectors that missed out and they're still struggling.

It's also the case that many that were able to access JobKeeper are not yet in a position to see that taken away. I have had conversations with my tourism industry operators and agents, in particular, who actually ended up having more work, not less, but it wasn't remunerated work. They were trying to help people who needed refunds and travel arrangements organised and so forth. So I would really plead with the government to seriously consider, before we get to the end of March, those sectors who will have ongoing impacts in a region like mine, to protect those jobs and those small businesses.

I would also say that one of the important things that needs to happen in your local community when you don't have international visitors coming is to keep domestic spending up. That means that the government needs to look at the JobSeeker rate, it needs to look at the cost of child care for families, and it needs to reconsider its industrial relations changes. We cannot have a proposition that this parliament looks at changes that mean people's wages are cut at a time when our local businesses and our local community are relying on that discretionary spending from locals to keep those businesses afloat and keep those jobs in place. We cannot leave people behind. We must be on their side, and I call on the government to consider these matters seriously.

Watch Sharon’s speech here.