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Motion: Call For Jobs Guarantee in SA

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (20:26): I move:

That this council—

1. Acknowledges the socio-economic shockwaves from COVID-19 will continue for years;

2. Notes that unemployment and underemployment were already a significant, ongoing issue prior to the pandemic;

3. Recognises intergenerational inequality has resulted in poor economic, health, and educational outcomes for thousands of South Australians;

4. Accepts that the majority of unemployed and underemployed people are in these circumstances through no fault of their own;

5. Understands access to reliable and livable income is essential to meet basic needs like food, housing, health care, transport, bills, and education;

6. Recognises that providing more work opportunities benefits individuals, society, and the economy as a whole;

7. Accepts that dealing with the colliding challenges of the climate emergency, long-term disadvantage and the impact of COVID-19 will require ambitious government action;

8. Notes that in the decades following the Second World War, the Australian government was committed to a policy of full employment;

9. Notes since the full employment policy was abandoned, the private sector has never employed all willing labour participants, even in economic booms; and

10. Calls on the state government to investigate how a jobs guarantee program could be adopted in South Australia to strengthen our COVID-19 recovery and support an economic transition to tackle the climate emergency.

This motion acknowledges the socio-economic shockwaves from COVID-19 that will continue for many years. It notes the unemployment and underemployment that were already a significant and ongoing issue prior to the pandemic. It recognises intergenerational inequality that has resulted in poor economic, health and education outcomes for thousands of South Australians. It accepts that the majority of unemployed and underemployed people are in these circumstances through no fault of their own.

It also understands access to reliable and livable income is essential to meet basic needs like food, housing, health care, transport, bills, and education. It recognises that providing more work opportunities benefits individuals, society and the economy as a whole, and it accepts that dealing with the colliding challenges of the climate emergency, long-term disadvantage and the impact of COVID-19 will require ambitious government action.

It notes that in the decades following the Second World War that the Australian government was committed to a policy of full employment. It also notes that since the full employment policy was abandoned, the private sector has never employed all willing labour participants, even in economic booms. It calls on the state government—the Marshall state government—to investigate how a jobs guarantee program could be adopted in our state to strengthen our COVID-19 recovery and to support an economic transition to tackle the climate emergency.

I rise to talk about not just the impacts of COVID-19, but to talk about how we move forward, to talk about a jobs guarantee, about how this is an opportunity to us here, and in this state, to go back to the future to revisit the old ways of doing things, the ones that worked, to find ways that we can care for our community, where the economy and the environment are indeed encompassed.

The impacts of COVID-19 have been devastating, and they will likely be intergenerational. Among other things, the pandemic has highlighted once again the power and security of stable employment while also highlighting the insecurity and lack of stability offered in many jobs and industries. It does not need to be this way.

As we work towards emerging from this pandemic, South Australians deserve new hope, new opportunity, old thinking. We have all been reassessing what work we can and should be doing over these times and whether or not we are really satisfied with the way things are at present. The past year has made it quite clear that normal was not working—it was not working for everyday South Australians, it was not working for our economy, it was not working for our society and it certainly was not working for our environment. We now have the option to do things differently, to go back to the future.

A jobs guarantee works for anyone who wants it. It is work for anyone who wants it. It is nothing new in Australian politics or our history. It is something we have done before. In a 1945 white paper, the Australian commonwealth government made a commitment to achieve and maintain full employment and that commitment lasted for 30 years. Such a commitment is reinforced by article 23.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that 'everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment'. That is one of our human rights.

The last year of full employment in Australia was 1975. It was also the year when the country had the lowest degree of income inequality in our modern history. Ignoring our history, policymakers and government have gone on since 1975 accepting unemployment and underemployment as somehow inevitable characteristics of a modern economy and, as a direct result, many people have gone on to face severe financial hardship and distress, often through no fault of their own.

When the number of people looking for a job is greater than the number of jobs available, not everyone who wants to work will be able to, and it also means that often those who do take jobs can be underemployed or will accept worse working conditions than one would normally accept just because they are desperate for work.

Anglicare's annual Jobs Availability Snapshot for 2021 shows that there are 27 jobseekers competing for each so-called entry-level job and three out of every 27 of those jobseekers face barriers to work, such as being older workers and having lost their jobs later in life, not having finished year 12, having a disability, living in a regional or remote area, or having a large gap in experience due to either previous or ongoing unemployment, illness or of course caring responsibilities.

I will note that, even in the wake of COVID, these are the figures after labour market conditions have improved dramatically in the last 12 months. Far more jobs are currently being advertised, including those entry-level jobs, and the total case load of people in the Jobactive network has declined since last year, but the problem is that the number of people who face barriers to work and who remain without work has barely changed since last year.

Anglicare have rightly pointed out that those who need the most help to find work and those who are likely to be long-term unemployed are not benefitting from the recovery in the labour force. Our systems are not working for these people and what is further perverse is that, not only are people who are unemployed then put on payments that are below the poverty line, they are also stigmatised. The government's frequent use of terms like 'welfare dependency' is an example of this, branding unemployment as a failure of the individual, not a failure of the economy. Put the blame where it should lie.

This also overlooks the vast number of Australians who do not receive JobSeeker payment but are dependent on government support with lucrative tax concessions for things like superannuation funds, business tax breaks and negative gearing. So while the unemployed and the underemployed are punished for seeking and receiving welfare, the rich and large corporations receive a wealth of support without any of the stigma.

The cost of unemployment and underemployment has not just been purely economic. Unemployment has also been shown in dozens of studies by economists, psychologists and other social scientists to have a wide variety of non-financial costs for the individuals concerned, for their families and of course for the broader community. The experience of unemployment has a permanent impact on the wellbeing of most people and a prolonged period of unemployment makes it difficult to get back to work.

It is particularly damaging to future employment prospects of younger workers and we know that it is young South Australians who have been hit hardest by this pandemic, although we must also recognise that our systems were failing them well before the pandemic started. We have had wage stagnation in this country for the past 25 to 30 years, so the system, by design, keeps wages low as prices go up. A third of all workers prior to COVID-19 had to live with their wage not growing at all.

We need to understand and accept, instead of paying lip service to this, that access to a reliable and livable income is essential to meet all the basics of life, like food, housing, health care, transport costs and other bills, as well as accessing education and training. South Australia is the only state with a jobless rate above 5 per cent, and this does not even factor in people who are underemployed, in insecure employment or who have simply given up looking. In fact, our underemployment rate is also concerningly high at 8.4 per cent, and South Australia's underutilisation rate has been close to 20 per cent in recent months, and would have been higher of course had it not been for JobKeeper, having been 15 to 16 per cent prior to the COVID-19 shock.

South Australia has had more than 10 per cent labour underutilisation continuously since 1978—1978! This contrasts with the first 30 years after that war, where Australia as a whole virtually had no underemployment and an unemployment rate which only once went to around 2 per cent. There is no greater demonstration of the utter lack of suitable jobs out there than the fact that approximately 23 per cent of people on unemployment payments have a job but do not receive enough pay or hours to live on.

We know that people want jobs, meaningful jobs, jobs where they can use their knowledge and their skills. People want to contribute to their community, and we know that the recipe for stable, prosperous and successful local communities and economies of course is to provide guaranteed work for those who want it, particularly amongst vulnerable groups. There are many, many willing hands seeking paid employment. Our communities have unmet needs; these hands could meet them.

To increase our social productivity and the wellbeing of local communities, we should bring the two together. Untapped human potential exists in our society and is a failure of both our economic system and successive governments that this potential continues to go unnurtured and unrecognised. This human potential, if harnessed wisely, has enormous capacity to lift the nation's productivity and wellbeing, as well as to tackle head on the entrenched cycles of socio-economic disadvantage in our state.

We continue to face the crisis of inequality and climate change in our state, and while a jobs guarantee is not a silver bullet, it is an important tool that we have for addressing these issues. We can pay people to care for their communities and for the environment, to learn new skills while doing so or to finally have the opportunity to use the skills they already have.

We can invest in repairing our landscape, in preparing for bushfires, we can fill much needed positions in health services, aged care and disability, and in short we can look after each other. That is what a society is for isn't it? Reliable and livable income is essential to meet our basic needs like food, housing, health care, transport, bills and education, and we need to recognise that since the full employment policy was abandoned the private sector has never employed all willing labour participants. Even in the economic booms the national unemployment rate has averaged more than 6 per cent since full employment policies were abandoned. In the 30 years before that, unemployment, as I said, only went above 2 per cent once.

A jobs guarantee will help smooth out and smooth over the expansion and contraction in the private sector, and what we have learnt through this pandemic is that when the chips are down the private sector does not come to our rescue. It has been governments, and even neoliberal governments like the Morrison government, that have had to insert policy to make those necessary changes to keep people from becoming homeless, from having nervous breakdowns, from ending up unnecessarily in our health system, and the problem we have—

The PRESIDENT: It would be helpful to the Hon. Ms Franks if that conversation was not taking place in front of her.

The Hon. R.A. Simms: Sorry, apologies.

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Ms Franks.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: Thank you, Mr President. The problem we have is that we entered a period of neoliberalism, where human beings became so-called units of productive measure, and people were placed in the too-hard basket, and you had an entire economic system that accepted large numbers of unemployed people in order to keep inflation down. That is no longer acceptable.

If COVID has taught us anything, it has taught us that we do not have to do things the way that we were. The work that is available and the whole employment space is changing, but the ones who are still missing out the most are young people and the long-term unemployed. We have to provide a better deal for them, tapping into that human potential. When we have a climate emergency barrelling towards us, this is not only desirable, it is absolutely necessary.

Everywhere you look, there are opportunities to connect the untapped potential of people with the unmet needs of the community. I urge this council to support this motion so that we can create meaningful jobs for all who want them and work together for the benefit of our community, our economy and, of course, our environment. I commend the motion.

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