Appropriately dubbed JobMaker, the government has unveiled a post-pandemic plan built on a sombre economic backdrop — predicting unemployment of 10 per cent and government debt above 30 per cent of the GDP.
The plan consists of several elements, including a state-led overhaul of a “clunky and unresponsive” skills and training system, more efficient taxes, less regulation, award simplification, access to finance and more.
Addressing the National Press Club on Tuesday, PM Morrison said Australia’s response to date has bought the time to prepare for the economic whiplash.
“Opening up will be harder than closing down. We will have to all retrain, to live and work in a way that creates a sustainable COVID-19-safe economy and society,” Mr Morrison said.
“The overwhelming priority of this reset will be to win the battle for jobs.”
Getting the economy ‘off medication’
Speaking about the government’s stimulus packages, the PM reiterated that they “must only be temporary”.
He also ruled out the possibility of a JobKeeper extension beyond September, explaining that at some point “you’ve got to get your economy out of ICU”.
“You’ve got to get it off the medication before it becomes too accustomed to it,” Mr Morrison said.
“We must enable our businesses to earn Australia’s way out of this crisis.
“And that means focusing on the things that can make their businesses go faster.”
These “things”, the PM said, include enabling skilled labour that businesses need to draw on, as well as access to affordable and reliable energy, research and technology, investment capital and finance.
The PM also hinted that the government will review the regulatory burden imposed on businesses and will reform taxes to make them more efficient, paying attention to whether “such taxes encourage them to invest and to employ”.
“Now that is the change agenda of our job-making plan, to enable Australia to emerge from this crisis and set up Australia for economic success over the next three to five years,” Mr Morrison said.
“Skills, industrial relations, energy and resources, higher education, research and science, open banking, the digital economy, trade, manufacturing, infrastructure and regional development, deregulation and federation reform, a tax system to support jobs and investment.”
He noted that more information on boosting small and medium business growth will be made available over the next few months in the lead-up to the budget.
“As we reset for growth, our JobMaker plan will be guided by the principles that we, as Liberals and Nationals, have always believed in: to secure Australia’s future and put people first in our economy.”
Mr Morrison also noted that business innovation will be a central part of recovery, with businesses and workers tipped to continue to “innovate their way through this crisis”.
“Many workers, I suspect, will continue to work from home, where it works for them and their employer,” the Prime Minister said.
“Cafés and pubs are plotting out safe distances for their customers to dine. Distilleries are making hand sanitiser. Now, many of these innovations will stay. Some will change. And others will come along.”
Industrial relations reform
Speaking about the vital industrial relations reform, the PM announced that beginning immediately, Attorney-General Christian Porter will lead a “new, time-bound, dedicated process” of bringing employers, industry groups, employee representatives and government to the table to chart a practical reform agenda.
The PM said: “The minister will chair five working groups for discussion, negotiation and, hopefully, agreement, to produce that JobMaker package in the following areas: award simplification, what most small and medium-sized businesses deal with in their employees every single day.
TAFE system and industrial relations will also play a central role in Australia’s recovery, which could take years, the PM stressed.
Changes to the current model will see federal funds worth $1.5 billion flow to the states for skills and training, annually.
“The Commonwealth has no line of sight on how states use this funding,” Mr Morrison said.
“Where targets do exist, they are aspirational. If not met, there are no consequences.”
Under his plan, Mr Morrison announced funding would be more closely linked to skill gaps, with industry said to be given greater power to shape training.
“The current National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development is also fundamentally flawed and needs to change,” the PM said.
He noted that lists of apprenticeships and skills migration will be replaced by detailed labour market analysis, provided by the National Skills Commission.
While elaborating on his plan to make vocational work more attractive, the PM noted that the extent of the damage wrought by COVID-19 on the Australian economy, and the “enormity of the challenge we now face” to get Australians back into jobs, means the policy priorities for recovery will be different to those in place before this crisis.
The PM said: “We now have a shared opportunity to fix systemic problems and to realise gains as a matter of urgency to get more people back into work.”
In concluding his speech, the PM made a firm promise to “get Australians back to work”.
“We will restore our nation’s finances. We will continue to guarantee the essential services that Australians rely on.
“Because we have done it before and we will do it again, and we will do it together.”